Thursday, May 27, 2010

Silly Bandz Being Banned in Public Schools

I tried finding a free photo of the Bandz but resorted to an Amazon picture when I could not find one.

As a freelance writer I have seen several requests for stories about the Bandz products. I have not yet seen the craze emerge among my relatives and friends' children so perhaps we have just escaped this particular marketing frenzy. I never took the assignments because I just could not imagine what to write 400+ words about these items. As with most crazes they found a niche that appealed to children and it took off.

The problem is not the item in schools. The behaviors that result from them are the issue. The bracelets used as intended are harmless. However, they can become a huge problem when they become a marketable item in school. We have found this with trading cards and other toys over the years. Children like the interaction with friends, but like all capitalistic systems, trading is not regulated to guarantee fairness. Children can be cheated or just have regrets after trading away a favorite band. This creates discipline problems. Parents often expect schools to regulate these markets. Teachers and schools are not designed to be a toy stock market exchange.

If you have ever watched these situations get ugly among parents you can sympathize with administrators and teachers who move to shut down the free market trading in classrooms. This is not what children are sent to school to do or what teachers and administrators are paid to do by taxpayers.

The distractions that arise as children play with these toys, taunt each other with new acquisitions, and then expect teachers and administrators to protect property rights just makes an already challenging job, more difficult. It is just easier to leave the toys at home and have kids trade under parental supervision. Leave the parents to determine what kind of market they want their children to participate in and how to handle it when deals go bad. There is no way administrators and teachers are going to make a plan that will keep parents from complaining their children are not being exploited by other kids.

The best choice would be not be to ban the items, but for parents to support the law of natural consequences. Students who fool around with Silly Bandz in school can no longer wear them in school. Those who are responsible and do not create problems by playing with them during class get to wear them. Unfortunately, our society has deemed this policy discriminatory. I would also support the law of natural consequences for trading. The school does not support trading of Silly Bandz in school. Any child that gets involved with trading of Bandz will not be punished, but will suffer the consequences of trades that go bad. Any behaviors resulting from bad trades will not be justified because a student was cheated. Students were warned that trading could result in cheating. Now they have to learn to handle the consequences. This is an early lesson in buyer beware. I would also be clear that these things can be stolen when students do not secure them and teachers are not going to be responsible for property that is lost. If students risk their Silly Bandz by bringing them to school, the parents willingly took that risk by allowing the behavior. While the school does not condone or support stealing, they are not going to spend hours investigating Silly Bandz thefts either.

If parents still want to allow children to wear the Silly Bandz to school under those conditions, then it would be their choice. The students would learn about risk, reward, and consequences of their actions and choices. Bans do little to teach children, they just contain a problem to allow teachers to continue forward when parents do not want to deal with the consequences of children's actions.

There are more important things you want your teachers to be focused on then Bandz trading regulations.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Time-Travel Math: An Advanced Geometry Adventure

I saw an interview with the author and a review of this book in our local newspaper. It motivated me to find out more about the book. I always loved the chance of being able to combine curriculum areas. With limited teaching time, having kids explore history while learning math, science, or language arts concepts extends learning time and allows more information to be covered.

The author of the book, Amy Bernstein, is a teacher of gifted and talented programs who decided to put some of her classroom experience in book format.

The stories remind me of the Magic Tree House Series that has been popular in introducing science and history topics to children. In fact, like the Magic Tree House series, the main characters are a boy and girl who time travel. Thomas and Harriet’s interactions with historical figures will feel comfortable to children already introduced to Jack and Annie in the Magic Tree House Adventures.

This is not a traditional geometry workbook. The stories and discussions are designed to help children work towards understandings of concepts like ratio. The da Vinci story has the characters working through the math involved with ratio to help the young artist improve his drawing skills and keep his job as an apprentice. There are activities for students to do that engage and lead them in learning about ratio as well. This should be viewed as a challenging math approach for kids as it is not spelled out in a first do X then do Y format. However, children who are able to work through independent challenges would benefit by this type of approach.

Amazon does provide a limited preview of this book that allows you to see some of the stories and project pages. This is beyond their normal table of contents previews that you can access online.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Massachusetts Moves to Regionalize Testing

The announcement that Massachusetts wants to stop using the MCAS and move to a regionalized testing system, is prompting all the wrong arguments. Supporters of the current MCAS testing system argue that this is being done to support Unions and others who have long fought the testing system. Teachers argue this is going to create another level of issues in standardizing curriculum and teaching programs to match the demands of a new testing program.

The issue that lies behind this is a move by the federal government to gain control of local education by offering states bribes to do it the federal government’s way. Massachusetts currently sets the goals and curriculum standards for MCAS. Like it or hate it the standards are locally controlled. When we move to regionalize those standards to reach testing criteria acceptable to a regional system, we are now controlled, not at a state level, but by a regional board. By accepting a federal bribe, we have ceded more local control of education to the federal government. Once surrendered, this control will not be easily regained.

Those who like or hate MCAS should not support regionalization of our state education system. There are always ways to reform education locally and those discussions must be active locally. Once we cede control of our system in return for federal dollars, we sacrifice that option and all our freedoms that we value in local control of education.

Be clear, changing MCAS is not about testing, it is about state control of public education. Retaining that right is important. Those who wish to reform or abolish MCAS can definitely continue those discussions within the confines of state control. However, ceding control to a federal authority will only achieve minor financial gains. The misguided attempt to score wins against political opponents in current debates about this issue will have long lasting educational consequences. Massachusetts must retain local state control of education. Reforming, changing, or maintaining MCAS is an issue that must be resolved within our state borders and without federal interference. Once we retain the ability for Massachusetts to control its educational system, the political arguments over the benefits or dangers of MCAS or another system can continue unabated. While the federal government is attempting to take control of our system, we must put these arguments aside and both sides must agree that Massachusetts should control the state education system, not the federal government. All other arguments can wait for another day. No matter how tempting we must walk away from federal bribes to surrender our educational freedom. Once our state’s educational rights are secure, we can continue debating the merits of testing.

Picture Credit:

Friday, May 14, 2010

Paint Recipes

There are always people looking for ways to make craft materials for children. Buying paint can get expensive for kids and they love to use it. I will list links for recipes as I find them.

Finger Paint Creative Kids at Home

Frugal Finger Painting Living a Better Life

Paint About.Com

Paint Recipes Holiday Zone

Picture Credit:

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Glue Recipes

As a child, I remember making certain products at school and home and then it seemed everything was produced commercially. With the economy as it is more people are returning to making products again. I found this first site while researching an unrelated topic. I will add more if I find them.

Glue Can Teach

Glue, Glitter Glue, Library Paste, Paper Mache Holiday Zone

Recipe Goldmine Scroll Down Through Ads

Picture Credits:

Monday, May 10, 2010

Strengthening Science Education in Primary and Elementary Education

There was an interesting study released by Wheelock College (Wheelock Study) regarding improving science education in at the pre K-6 level. As usual when I read this study, the article in the news was not accurate. It had a narrow focus, making the illogical premise that pre-K science was the sole focus of the study. We suddenly were trying to create MIT geniuses in the preschool. This in fact was not the focus of the study. It looked at Pre-K-6 science, math, and technology improvement.

In fact, there are practical issues surrounding how preschool can involve more engagement with science and math, but hardly the physics and chemistry labs needing to be built at preschools across the country as the article I had seen implied. This was more in line with what I had come to expect from Wheelock’s philosophy of education. Studies aside, it has been my experience that suggestions tend to stay within the college or university’s comfort zone. They rarely stray far when making suggestions for improvements.

The best idea from this study is one that is not new. Preschool and elementary teachers require better math and science training. When I was teaching, I paid out of pocket for several additional courses in science education. Science, unlike math and elementary reading just does not get the same attention for training and materials for educators to utilize in providing students with learning opportunities. Teachers need additional training, not just in core content, but also in better strategies to teach science. This study failed to address what we already know, while we have discovered multiple ways of teaching reading and even math to reach learners with different abilities and learning styles, science still lags behind in differentiation.

Another suggestion that bothered me when I taught and still bothers colleagues today is that we need to spend more time on science even though states have mandated blocks for reading and math. Do any of the people writing these studies read a clock? I sat on a committee to rewrite our town science curriculum across the elementary grade system so we would meet state standards and not duplicate efforts. The biggest issue we had was how much material we had to cover and how little time we had in the day to cover it. We used science material as reading material. We combined math and social studies where possible with science to maximize our time. However, at the end of the day there are only so many minutes of teaching time. Once you carve out specials and maximum blocks for mandated math and reading, just where will this mandated science time come? I have no objection to more science. Kids always were interested and I hated taking away the time to explore and learn the material that this study rightly says they need to know. I am sure I am not the only teacher who has read this study and asked where in the day would you like me to add this?

This is why homeschooling has become so appealing since I have left teaching. I love helping homeschoolers work on curriculum. I have come to appreciate the flexibility and valuable TIME to explore subjects that we lack in public school.

Picture Credit:

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Best Kind of Different

I saw Curt and Shonda Shilling doing an interview about this book on tv and decided to reserve it at the library. As a Red Sox fan I was familiar with their work on skin cancer and ALS, but I had not heard of their experiences with Aspergers.

My first experience with Aspergers was with a student about nine years ago. Our school provided great resources for teachers on learning disabilities, but our resources on behavioral disorders were not as wide. I found myself utilizing outside resources to educate myself on the topic. It was frustrating as an educator that practical resources were hard to come by and I can only imagine how parents felt. I was fortunate to find parents groups that welcomed me online and shared their wealth of knowledge and places to look.

This book was a great read. I was thinking this would be a great book to share with family and friends as one is trying to introduce them to the topic of Aspergers. The book is autobiographical, but it does address the factual issues of Aspergers and parents and teachers who have walked with families through a diagnosis can relate to the story. For family who may be sports fans it introduces the topic through the story of a sports family. I can think of some people this would have been useful to have given this to as an early read. For family members who may not be able to relate to the behaviors, the technical terms, and issues that start with the diagnosis, this may be a good introductory point.

I was able to find this book through interlibrary loan. That may be a great place to test the book to see if you find it helpful. I will be purchasing a few copies as gifts.