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.

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