Category Archives: Teaching

I Cheated in 3rd Grade Math

Flash CardsI have a secret to share with you all: I cheated on one of my 3rd grade multiplication quizzes, and it was all because I was obsessed with getting to the top of Multiplication Mountain. Many elementary school classrooms feature a similar approach to teaching times tables. Students get to move to the next level after mastering a set of numbers, from their 3s to their 4s, their 4s to their 5s, and so on all the way up to 12s. In my case, that meant the summit of a very impressive peak on our classroom’s massive bulletin board. Continue reading

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Friday 5: Mobile Art, Solar-Powered Education, Volleyball Smackdown

Father Jim Holy Spirit Catholic School

BRING IT.

Holy Spirit Volleyball FundraiserI speak from personal experience by saying that no Catholic school fundraiser is complete without a sponsorship from a local bar. A friend recently brought to my attention this upcoming volleyball tournament to benefit Holy Spirit Catholic School in her home town of Norway, MI. (Yes, that’s a place, and it’s lovely.) If you happen to be passing through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula along US 2 Continue reading

One Shining Example of Social Studies Education at Work

George Washington's horse.

Original artwork from my niece. We’ll just say that this is George Washington’s horse.

I learned last night that my niece, who is in the 5th grade, is currently in the middle of a social studies unit about American civics. I was practically giddy with excitement over this as I went through some flash cards of terms and concepts with her. (I think my enthusiasm confused her, but she’s more or less used to my nerdiness by now. Also, I’m glad she’s learning about impeachment from her class instead of from Monica Lewinski and CNN like I did when I was in 5th grade.) Continue reading

Friday 5: Band Geeks, Daydreaming, Brian Williams

Brita Thorne Euph Chicks ShirtI was never in marching band, but through serendipity I’ve been surrounded by bandos for the last seven or eight years. (The shirt design was drawn by my best friend Brita Thorne for her euphonium section of the Michigan Marching Band. Even the girls end up with serious guns by the end of the season). This Huffington Post article “17 Signs You Were a Band Geek” caught my eye Continue reading

The Pope, a Bullet, and Character Education

Pet Blessing 1994

My brother and me at our school’s pet blessing in 1994. That fish was definitely holier than any of the public school kids’ fish were.

When I was a 2nd grader at a Catholic elementary school, Pope John Paul II was like a real-life Santa Claus. Everybody my age liked him so much, we didn’t even care that he was never going to pop down the chimney and leave us presents. Just like Santa Claus, he was always smiling, he wore the same iconic outfit all the time, and whenever he talked, everybody cheered. Many of my Catholic friends to this day refer to him as JP2. Continue reading

Friday 5: My Favorite Education Discoveries From Around the Internet This Week

Science TeacherI wasn’t able to find a citation for this beauty, but easily my favorite comment on it was “For every action, there is an equal and opposite class action lawsuit.”

University of Michigan Law Library

A place for people to learn how to file all of those class action lawsuits mentioned above.

In honor of National Library Week, CNN posted this article and accompanying photos of 27 libraries from around the world. I could sit and look at those pictures all day long. The article doesn’t include these photos of the University of Michigan Law Library, but I’m posting them because that building is near and dear to my heart. The place is basically a cathedral of books. Even undergrads are allowed to spend endless stressful hours in there.

Law Library at Night

Source: Lord, Aeck, Sargent Architecture

FLI LogoNext, I’m excited about  the latest newsletter from the Family Learning Institute, an education nonprofit in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I did an internship there while I was studying for my master’s degree. FLI provides one-on-one after school tutoring to low income children in Washtenaw County. Students are paired with a volunteer math or literacy coach, and they work together for just one hour a week during the school year. Despite the small time frame, FLI’s model gets big results in terms of academic improvement. The organization also offers programs to combat summer learning loss and help rising 6th graders prepare for the social and academic challenges of middle school. And new this year, FLI is expanding its reach through an Algebra Academy, college prep workshops, and a community access television show for parents and families.

There is a ton of information and discourse about schools and colleges on the internet, but there’s comparatively little that addresses nonprofit education. I want to give people an opportunity to learn more about the really important contributions that nonprofits make to education. If you’re interested in learning more about FLI, here’s a link to their website.

Teachers After School

Source: Aliza Eliazarov

 This article from the Huffington Post details a brilliantly simple photo and interview series for photographer Aliza Eliazarov. The series, titled “See Me After School”, captures the appearance and emotions of NY teachers during the part of the day that few people but teachers think about. This is a diverse selection of people who work teach the gamut of subjects, but there’s a common thread: Just about everybody is exhausted at the end of the school day, and these educator’s days aren’t even over yet.

And finally this week, I absolutely had to include this gem of a video, or as The Huffington Post calls it, “The High School Lib Dub to End All Lip Dubs.” Students at Avon High School in Indiana put together this massive undertaking to raise money for a local children’s hospital. If you’re interested, you can donate through this link. I promise this will make your day.

 

 

 

How Can We Encourage Confidence in Girls?

But what if I mess up?

Failure can be a scary thing.

The Confidence Code, a new book authored by ABC’s Claire Shipman and BBC’s Katty Kay, reveals new research into the differences between men’s and women’s confidence and how those differences affect important areas of life such as workplace performance. This dynamic certainly begins even earlier, in the classroom. As Shipman points out, girls of today tend to work hard and strive for perfection in their grades rather than take academic risks. When they graduate from college with impressive degrees, the skills that helped them earn those degrees don’t necessarily transfer to the workplace. In an article posted today on ABCNews.com, she notes of women, “Perhaps we’ve contemplated taking a larger step – a run for local office or a change of career – but we opt for caution over risk.  For most women, such feelings are so commonplace we’ve discount[ed] them. But, in truth, they represent a profound confidence gap between men and women, especially in the workplace.” In contrast, men tend to be assertive in their contributions to discussion, decision making, and leadership. Women often take a back seat, fearing that they might make mistakes or be perceived as over-bearing.

As an educational researcher, I can’t help but wonder what educational structures and practices reinforce this confidence differential in schools. The article states that there are genetic and physiological determinants of an individual’s confidence levels, but the study also finds that individuals have agency in this. How can we teach girls the same non-cognitive skills of self-confidence and assertiveness that help boys succeed in the workplace? How can we encourage girls to take risks and view failure as a learning opportunity? Answers might be a long time coming, but the discourse generated by this research could go a long way in shifting educators’ approaches to preparing boys and girls alike for success in their careers.

Interested in taking The Confidence Quiz and contributing to this research? Click here for the link.

 

An Open Letter to Girls Everywhere

photo1

Chances are, your teachers and parents have been telling you for a long time that when you grow up, you can be whatever you want to be. This is exactly what they should be saying to you. But I want to give you some advice. Achieving what you want is going to be very, very difficult, and the media isn’t going to make things any easier for you and other girls. Here are three things that I want you to know before you graduate and go out into the world:

1. If you want to be a politician, be prepared for people to regularly point out your emotions.

At times, female politicians are accused of being too emotional to do their jobs, and the media loves to run with the controversy. In reality, many of the world’s most influential events have been fueled by emotion. This includes men’s emotions. The Boston Tea Party was fueled by emotion. So was the Emancipation Proclamation. And so was Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Those men were fueled by a righteous anger over the injustices they witnessed, and they took a stand about it.

Women have every right to these same feelings, and sometimes they’re what we need to motivate us to do the right thing. Sen. Barbara Mikulski spoke this week about the importance of her emotions in her fight against the gender pay gap. Here’s what she had to say:

I’ll tell you what I’m tired of hearing. That somehow or other we’re too emotional when we talk. You know, when we raise an issue, we’re too emotional. Well, I am emotional… It brings tears to my eyes to know how women every, single day are working so hard and are getting paid less. It makes me emotional to hear that. Then, when I hear all of these phony reasons — some are mean and some are meaningless — I do get emotional. I get angry, I get outraged, I get volcanic.

You might just be giving your own speech on the floor of the US Senate someday. In order to be the leader you want to be, you’ll need to defend yourself and what you’re trying to accomplish for people. Don’t let a fear of consequences keep you from doing what you believe is right.

2. Want to be a scientist, an engineer, or a mathematician? That’s amazing, but don’t expect to see many faces like yours represented when the media talks about those fields.

There are a couple of very accomplished STEM researchers on TV right now in Danica McKellar and Mayim Bialik. These women are some of the greatest thinkers of their generation, but they’re not on TV because of their achievements in math and science. They’re on TV because they’re actors.

These women were fortunate to study STEM subjects in the first place. There have been few female scientists throughout history for the sole reason that girls have not been encouraged to pursue math and science until very, very recently. This is why you don’t see many women when you watch Cosmos. That show offers some of the best educational programming out there, but it’s almost exclusively about men’s roles in the pursuit of knowledge. You deserve to see more stories about women’s contributions to knowledge in society. One of these days, you’ll be the one that kids learn about in school.

3. Don’t expect to be featured on an institution of comedy like a late night television show.

If you become a comedian, you might be able to be a guest on those shows from time to time. However, we’re still waiting to see a woman’s name on the marquee of a network show. Even if you do get your own show, chances are you won’t get on TV without first getting the help of a well-established man in the business. This won’t be your fault. This is how people like Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Lena Dunham got started in television. It’s impossible to get experience if no one gives you a shot in the first place, and you can’t get ahead if you don’t have experience. That said, there will most likely be people who won’t let you forget that a man had to help you out. Ignore those people.

There will also be crummy people who say that women aren’t funny. That women can’t hold down a comedy show. That women belong in daytime. That women like to watch female hosts while both men and women like to watch male hosts. Ideas like this will take years to change. It’s doesn’t need to take years, but it will. These ideas will be infuriating, but hopefully they serve as motivation for you to prove everybody wrong.

Don’t forget that no matter what, comedy is still a business. Decisions are made based on numbers, and the current phony wisdom is that women don’t rake in those numbers like men do. Despite this, you’ll still find a way to be funny. When you’re successful, you’ll be the one giving a funny young woman her shot.

What This Means for You

Chances are, you’ll have to be better at what you do than men are just to get the same recognition. The people who make us laugh, the people who make us think, the people who make decisions for us—most of the ones you see in the media resemble the dead guys on our bank notes.

In the future, you’ll see progress in positive portrayals of successful women, but that progress will come too slowly for you to be satisfied. That’s why the world needs you. Even if people around you don’t have the same goals or ideas or sense of humor as you, we need you to be exactly who you are and believe in yourself. We need you to fight for your beliefs and build things and make us laugh. Throughout your education and career, look at what the boys are doing and then do things your way anyway. Someday, the media will be enlightened enough to give girls and women like you the recognition that you deserve. Other girls will fulfill their own dreams by writing those stories.

 

Many thanks to Brita Thorne and Ann Thelen for their assistance in editing this post.

Dan Frechtling: An Educator with Peace Corps Liberia

Dan knows everybody. When we were in college together, whenever we went anywhere on campus, people would stop us every few minutes to say hi to him. And they usually did it very enthusiastically. You’d have thought he was a local celebrity. This all seemed so odd to me because, as one of our mutual friends likes to say, “There’s quiet, and then there’s Dan.” The guy really doesn’t say much unless he really has something to say. How on Earth did he know all these people?

After knowing him for a couple of years, things started to make sense. While we were in student government, he worked his way from assembly member to the executive board in just a year. By his junior year, he was an RA and president of a state-wide residence hall student government representing dozens of colleges and universities. Throughout that time, he became fast friends with just about everybody he met. He’s always ready with a quick smile and a kind word. In short, Dan puts himself in a position where he can make an impact on people.

He did this quite literally in June of 2012, when he arrived in Liberia as a Peace Corps volunteer. His assignment was to teach high school science at a small public high school. While I knew he was undertaking an incredible commitment, I wasn’t surprised by his desire to do so. He’s all about making meaningful commitments and seeing them through.

Dan has gotten to meet some fascinating people in the last couple of years (yes, that’s Bono above, along with a US Congressional delegation and some fellow volunteers) but knowing him, I suspect that his favorite part of his volunteerism has been building relationships with his students and colleagues.

You can read a fascinating account of Dan’s work and travels through the Peace Corps in his blog The Winding Road: Twenty-seven Months as a Member of Peace Corps Liberia. Anyone interested in education, especially international education, should take some time to read his writings.

Please give us a little background about your educational experience, including any social identities that impacted you as a student or educator.

I grew up between the small towns of Williamston and Perry, in Michigan. I attended school in the Perry Public Schools system from kindergarten through the twelfth grade. I was awarded a full-tuition scholarship to the University of Michigan by the Cook Family Foundation, and so I attended the University of. Michigan from 2007 to 2011 and completed a Bachelor of Science in Cellular and Molecular Biology.

After a year as an intern with the Michigan Department of Community Health (working on science outreach for students) I entered the Peace Corps and came to Liberia, which is an education-only program.

Volunteers in Liberia are placed in junior and senior high schools to teach math or science. My training consisted of two weeks of technical sessions followed by two weeks of model school. I taught 11th grade chemistry during the model school, during which I was observed by experienced volunteers and staff. I wrote about that experience on my blog in this post. After the remainder of Peace Corps’ training I was sent to Gorblee Central High School to teach chemistry to the 10th-12th grades. GCHS is a small, resource-poor government high school. As time went on and teacher shortages became more pronounced, I started teaching physics and math classes as well. Somewhat ironically, I never taught a single biology class in Liberia.

After one year I became a Peace Corps Volunteer Leader and was put in the role of training new volunteers to be teachers. I worked in the training of 38 new volunteers during July-August 2013.

In my role as a teacher I was definitely helped by the social identities of being white and male (I’m actually half Vietnamese but am generally perceived as white in Liberia). I was afforded respect for those identities that was greater than the respect given to a host country national of the same age.

What about your personal experience inspired you to pursue this career? If this doesn’t apply, why has a career in education been the right choice for you?

You know, I didn’t choose to pursue a career in education; I applied to the Peace Corps and it was decided that my educational profile fit what was desired to help with Liberia’s shortage of trained teachers. I enjoyed a lot about my time as a teacher – I got the opportunity to work with classes of up to 45 students (that’s small for Liberia) of very different ability. It definitely gave me a different perspective on education and the challenges that teachers can come up against. My time as a teacher and my subsequent job as volunteer leader have given me a glimpse of how the overall health of a system can impact the quality of education.

Please share a time when you were working in education and you were strongly reminded of being a student yourself. This can include memories of instructional techniques your former teachers used, teaching a favorite subject, interacting with educational institutions, etc.

The differences in ability level between the students at the high school that I attended and the one I taught at in Liberia is so vast that as a teacher I often thought back to how my favorite teachers had approached topics and wondered how they would approach a topic. Teaching physics, chemistry, and math is very different when you can be reasonably certain that the students know how to multiply and divide. I remember my friends and I breezing through assignments because foundational skills from earlier grades allowed us to focus on the concept at hand.

Tony Danza (yes, that Tony Danza) recently wrote a book entitled I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had. In it, he details working as a first-year English teacher in a Philadelphia High School. Time and time again, he experiences a great deal of remorse for his behavior as a student now that he finally understands just how difficult teaching is. As an educator, have you ever experienced this sort of remorse and empathy toward your former teachers, counselors, coaches, or administrators? Please explain.

I won’t say that I ever experienced this sort of remorse, no. I like to think that I didn’t make life too tough on teachers, and I certainly spent enough time making copies for teachers! But you do definitely gain a deeper appreciation for how difficult the job is – coming up with lessons that hit different parts of the experiential learning cycle, assessing students fairly, differentiating lessons for different ability levels, and so on—so I would say that I probably never thanked the faculty at Perry Public Schools enough.

You may contact Dan with any questions or comments at dfrechtling@gmail.com.

Dan would like you to please note that the views expressed here and the contents of his web site are his personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.