Friday 5: Finland, Swim Class, Sod Schoolhouses

The one-room schoolhouse is the stuff of legend in modern-day North America, and in an era when 4,000-student high schools are not uncommon, it’s easy to forget that one-room schools still exist. In “Lessons to be Learned from a One-Room Schoolhouse” from CBS News, we hear about how in some towns across the country, education is still flourishing the old-fashioned way. Challenges are great for these teachers, who must also act as guidance counselor, principal, and just about every other position staffed at a typical school. The rewards are great, however, and many of the parents featured in this story choose to send their children to these tiny schools despite having the option of larger local schools.

I also highly recommend the French documentary “Etre et Avoir (To Have and To Be)”, a film about a teacher in a one-room school in rural France who is in his final year of a decades-long teaching career. Good luck not bawling your way through it. That film is as sweet and heartwarming as it gets.

Here are some charming photos of schoolhouses of yesteryear, courtesy of the Kansas One Room Schoolhouse Project. Easily my favorite is the sod construction of the District 15 School in Thomas Country, shown above. That was probably an excellent idea until a prairie twister or the big bad wolf rolled through.

Finland gets a lot of attention from education scholars in the US, mostly because Finish schools are generally excellent and American schools are generally. . . not excellent. This article from last week’s Salt Lake Tribune details a recent trip by a group of Utah teachers and BYU faculty to Finland. These educators were interested to see first-hand just what makes Finish schools so successful. While many Americans agree that students could benefit from greater teacher training and compensation like their Finish counterparts, Finland’s distinct lack of emphasis on standardized testing lies in sharp contrast to the accountability policies of No Child Left Behind. This article gives an excellent summary of just how different these two education systems are.

In “The Trouble with Bright Girls”, social psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson discusses research suggesting that even from a young age, academically successful boys and girls meet intellectual challenges in very different ways, and the boys have a leg up. Research conducted on 5th graders finds that if girls come up against new and difficult material, they are likely to believe they can’t accomplish a task and therefore give up. Boys, however, tend to see new material as an exciting challenge and dive in.

Researchers hypothesize this dynamic results from the different types of feedback that girls and boys receive regarding their schoolwork. Girls, who can more easily apply themselves, develop the belief that intelligence is a trait that one either has or doesn’t. Boys, being the balls of energy that they are, often hear parents and teachers say that they can succeed so long as they pay attention and apply themselves. That is, their effort is what leads to academic success.

“The net result: When learning something new is truly difficult, girls take it as sign that they aren’t ‘good’ and ‘smart’, and boys take it as a sign to pay attention and try harder.”

Halvorson points out that when girls’ uncertainty in their problem-solving abilities transitions into adulthood, that uncertainty can have as big an impact on their careers as any external factors. You can learn more about this research in the link above or Halverson’s book Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals.

For 44 years, Julie Bragg has been throwing kids in pools for a living. The resident of Macon, GA teaches kids how to swim in her backyard pool using a no-nonsense style that has made her something of a local celebrity. The article and accompanying video “Macon Woman a Teacher of Swimming, and More, to Generations” describes her tough love approach to instructing her students in the pastime she loves and how former students adore her so much that they send their own children to her now. I should stop by and get some pointers on my backstroke before summer’s end.

The Capitol Dome and Its Two Cities

Capitol DomeFor a year after I graduated from college, I worked as an educator in the shadow of one of the weightiest symbols in the world, the embodiment of all of the ideals that make up the great ideological experiment that is America. The Capitol Dome feels omnipresent when one travels around Washington, DC, and the city planners have made sure of that Continue reading

25 Years After Tiananmen, We’re Still Learning

tiananmen-vase-banner

“Don’t be a vase.”

“In darkness dwells a people which knows its annals not.”

                               –Ulrich B Phillips

So much of what happened at Tiananmen Square in 1989 is still unknown to the Chinese people and the rest of the world as a result of the active information suppression and distortion by the Chinese government.

They don’t want their people to know of the atrocities that the government committed there, but they also don’t want their people to know about the 7 weeks of non-violent, student-led demonstrations that preceded the bloodshed. Continue reading

Identity Impacts Education, and Vice Versa

Education and IdentityThere’s a growing body of scholarship around how students’ social identities impact their educational experiences, but it’s so important to consider how education affects their identities as well. In fact, I think it’s entirely possible that identity and education interact with each other as a cycle, or even a series of them, in which identity and our experiences in education feed into each other in different and overlapping ways. For some students and teachers, that cycle plays out every day and in some unexpected (and challenging) ways. Continue reading

Gordie Howe and the Voyageurs Sparked My Love of History

Michigan MapI really liked school when I was a kid, but in 4th grade, I discovered that history was my first great love. It all started with my Michigan state history class, when I learned that my goofy-shaped home was a pretty great place to live.

The textbooks we used—some of the first that I had encountered in my young educational career—had worn-out brown covers and were Continue reading

LeVar Burton Was My First Black Friend

LeVarBurton_headshotYou might say that LeVar Burton is one of the first black people I ever met. And that’s exactly how the producers and executives at PBS wanted it.

I grew up in a very white bread town in Northern Michigan. With the exception of a handful of Native American residents whose families lived on that land long before the voyageurs ever showed up, the vast majority of folks in that town and for hundreds of miles around were white. Despite that, I still felt like I knew people who looked and lived differently than I did, Continue reading

Friday 5: Adult Napping, Diversity, Graduation 2014

I’m not in the habit of throwing around free advertising, but this new Google Search commercial is a fantastic tribute to 2014 graduates. It showcases the terrors of being a freshman to the triumphs of senior year and everything in between. It’s worth your 90 seconds.

Education Week Teacher put out a call a couple of weeks ago for teachers to upload representative photos  of their workdays to Instagram. The result is a compelling compilation of snippets of a teacher’s day, as recorded by teachers themselves. The photos are  vibrant and thought-provoking and oh-so-real. From the pre-dawn alarm clock to the late-night grading session, this gallery captures the hectic, exhausting grind that these people undergo day-in, day-out. And interspersed with the stresses and tedium are the bright moments of joy and inspiration that teachers get from their students. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who puts in longer days than these people.

Here’s an outside-the-box strategy to expand diversity in higher education: recruit transfer students from community colleges. Joshua Wyner, Executive Director of the College Excellence Program at The Aspen Institute, recently wrote “A Certain Path to Diversity (With of Without Affirmative Action)” for the Huffington Post. He points out that community colleges are more diverse than 4-year institutions, saying,

Today, community colleges enroll 7 million degree-seeking students — more than 40 percent of U.S. undergraduates. Community college freshmen are much more likely than selective four-year college freshmen to be students of color. Indeed, half of all Hispanic-Americans — the fastest growing segment of the US population — who enroll as undergraduates start at a community college.

With the recent US Supreme Court decision upholding states’ abilities to ban affirmative action, colleges and universities are scrambling to find new ways to increase minority enrollment. Innovative solutions like recruiting high-achieving transfer students could be key in doing just that.

UGLi Napping Station

Source: GoBlue/Imgur

 Now here’s an idea that would have made my undergraduate degree much more bearable. The University of Michigan’s undergraduate library, usually referred to as “The UGLi” by students (yes, it’s apt), recently implemented napping stations during the height of finals. When I was an undergrad there, I definitely fell asleep in public in some odd places on a regular basis. I’ve even seen people set up camp by claiming an entire table, draping clothes over the sides, and sleeping under it like it’s a tent. For so many reasons, this is one of the best ideas the UM student government has ever had. I can guarantee that the only problem they’re going to have with these cots is that they’ll be too popular for the demand.

Teen's Illuminating Invention

Source: NBC News

And here’s something that makes me feel like I’m doing nothing with my life. Teen inventor Ann Makosinski  of Victoria, British Columbia came up with a way to harness the energy from body heat, a renewable resource that doesn’t require anything other than, well, being alive. Her interest was sparked by a friend in the Philippines who was struggling in school because she didn’t have an adequate light source in order to do her homework at night. The result of this problem and Makosinski’s ingenuity was a flashlight, seen above, that’s powered by simply holding it. She has since developed a headlamp prototype that stores energy during the day so it can be used at night. The ideas behind these gadgets are so simple and elegant. What a great example of how a child’s mind, uncluttered by lectures and book knowledge, can develop some striking solutions to complex problems.

“The Best Commencement Speeches, Ever”: A Whole Lotta Wisdom in One Place

Cap and Tassel

According to NPR, I’ve been present for 3 of the best commencement speeches ever given.

Every once in a while, I have a moment when I discover yet another reason why I am exceedingly lucky. It usually sneaks up on me. A good friend sent me this link the other day to an NPR compilation of over 300 of the best commencement speeches ever given in America. It’s so well-indexed that you can search it by name, school, date, and theme. Of course I searched for my Alma mater, the University of Michigan. But I was surprised to find that I’ve attended 3 of the speeches on this list. That’s probably more than almost everyone in America.

Larry Page, the founder of Google, was the commencement speaker of my graduation in 2009. Richard Costolo, the founder of Twitter, was the speaker at my master’s graduation last spring. I believe the University of Michigan was trying to send me a message that pursuing the humanities was the wrong course of action for me. I also got to listen to President Obama’s speech when one of my friends graduated in 2010, which involved a great deal of people laughing hysterically at him chuckling at himself. The man’s got a lot of fans in Ann Arbor.

I have to admit that I didn’t fully appreciate sitting in the stands of the Big House during those speeches, and I suspect the nerves I experienced during those days (and let’s be honest, the several boring minutes involved) have kept me from remembering many of those wise words. For those reasons, I’m really grateful that those moments were recorded and are now available in this impressive list. And I’m glad that other people now have the chance to hear some of the wise words that I’ve heard.

Here are the links to those three speeches, along with my favorite quotes:

Larry Page, 2009

“Find the leverage in the world so you can be truly lazy.”

President Barack Obama, 2010

“Government shouldn’t try to guarantee results but it should guarantee a shot at opportunity for every American who’s willing to work hard.”

Richard Costolo, 2013

“When I was your age, we didn’t have the Internet in our pants. We didn’t even have the Internet not in our pants. That’s how bad it was.”

 

 

 

“The Recyclers”: Music Education–and Hope–for a Community

Watch this clip. You won’t believe your ears. Last night’s episode of 60 Minutes featured a story about a school orchestra in Paraguay. But this is no ordinary group. Their instruments are composed entirely of materials found at the local dump. Continue reading