Preparing Society’s Future Conscience

It's a really big job.
It’s a really big job.

If I said to you that this person’s work ensured that 10 years in the future your community would continue to be a safe place to live and work—that crime rates would continue to be low. You would probably say that person’s job was important.

If I said to you that this person’s work meant that we could continue to enjoy litter-free sidewalks, the beauty of fresh streams to fish in, woodlands in which to camp, hike and hunt, the majestic flight of the bald eagle, clean water to drink and fresh air to breathe, you would probably applaud that person’s work.

If I said to you that this person’s work meant that technological advances to improve the lives of the vulnerable, injured and sick would be possible, that your community could be the birthplace of inventors, scientists, engineers and lawmakers, you would be excited to meet that person and call her “neighbor”.

If I said to you that this person has the job of preparing the conscience of the human race to meet the challenges of the future, you would probably say “Wow, that person has a big job. We better get the best person we can in the position, and support her as much as possible.”

That person is the teacher in your child’s classroom Continue reading “Preparing Society’s Future Conscience”

Literal Power

Old Advice for a New AgeThere are few things in life that can truly give a person power. Learning to speak multiple languages is one of those things. Becoming comfortable with mathematics is another, and learning to read is another. And one more: being able to read. There is incredible power in being able to read. In this era of technology, screen media, and audio and visual stimuli, we often overlook the power of simple literacy.

However, ask the parents of the four-year-old who can suddenly read the signs on the vendor carts at the State Fair—how hard is it to redirect the little blossoming literary critic to the parents’ agenda now that she can read “ice cream”? Just that little bit of knowledge has given that child new power and her parents new headaches. Continue reading “Literal Power”

Back to School

When he was in his late 70's Daddy bought this car and completely rebuilt it.
When he was in his late 70’s Daddy bought this car and completely rebuilt it.

Around here the arrival of cool mornings, warm afternoons and cool evenings brings with it, not only the migration of birds and the chirping of crickets, but also the beginning of a new school year. As someone who thrived in academia, I love this time of year.

Not all people love school as much as I did (still do—any excuse to take a class), even really smart people. My dad was one of those really smart people who did not fare well in school.

From a very early age Dad was taking things apart and discovering how they worked, from two-cycle engines on model airplanes to the bicycles in Grandpa Arduengo’s bicycle shop to his first car. But his performance in school was a different matter. He writes:

“As a youngster I spent a lot of time day dreaming. I guess I still do. In school I would always take a desk in the back of the room next to the window. (I got moved a lot.) I did not like school. Sometimes I had subjects that I liked, such as ancient history. I knew I was smart, but I had a hard time memorizing things, especially spelling and multiplication tables. I remembered things when they interested me, but not when they didn’t.  My dislike of grammar school and junior high left me ill prepared for highschool, and I was 20 before I finally graduated.”

Daddy didn’t learn by sitting in a desk and listening. He learned by doing and figuring things out, as with his first car: Continue reading “Back to School”

Read Quietly? Heck No!

One of the many books that we just can’t read quietly.
There is nothing like a parent-teacher conference to make you stop and think about your child and how you have raised her. Our conferences this fall went extremely well, with no surprises. However, I can’t help but think about the things we do with our child and the effect they may have on her, particularly when it comes to success in the classroom environment.

One goal of educators is to produce young readers. My husband and I agree whole heartedly that a young reader is a good thing. So, we have diligently followed the advice of the experts and read to our daughter at least 20 minutes every day. She has a library card and bookshelves full of books in her bedroom and in her play area in the basement. She sees us read the newspaper; she sees us read books. She sees us read for work and for fun.

In following expert recommendations so thoroughly however, we may have ill-prepared our child for school. Continue reading “Read Quietly? Heck No!”

Education Innovators

I had the opportunity to attend the keynote address of the Wisconsin Science Festival. The address, given by Sir Ken Robinson, was entitled “Creativity, Truth and Beauty” and served the dual purpose of keynote address of the Science Festival and kickoff of the “year of innovation” at the UW-Madison campus.

Robinson is a noted speaker and thought leader on issues of creativity and education, and his work is recognized across the globe. He has given TED talks, worked on the issue of peace in Northern Ireland and the issue of educational reform in the US and the UK.

In his book, The Element, Robinson tells an amazing tale of creativity in early education that is truly beautiful in its simplicity. Its success in raising student performance in language and reading is almost unprecedented, and it DOES NOT involve increased classroom time, more teachers, or additional standardized test preparation. According to Robinson, 70% of the 5-year-olds coming out of this program are reading at a third-grade level or higher.

Let me retype that: 70% of the 5-year-olds coming out of this program are reading at a third-grade level or higher.

This innovative program involves two pre-K classrooms that are located in an institution outside of the normal elementary school building. The classrooms are essentially fishbowls—four glass walls. The walls stop a foot or so short of the building ceiling, and the sounds of the children reading, sorting, playing and singing filter out to the surrounding hall.

Anyone passing by can see and hear all of the activity and business of the young children and their teachers. These rooms are located in the middle of the main path to the cafeteria. Occasionally passersby will inquire of a teacher, “What are they doing?” Continue reading “Education Innovators”