A Process or Product Educational View?

After reading the Ellis article this week, I think that I am more of an advocate of the “process” point of view when it comes to education and curriculum, though I will also argue that the “product” viewpoint has its place in education as well. The article spoke of Jerome Bruner, an advocate of the process approach. He claimed that “to instruct someone in these disciplines is not a matter of getting him to commit results to mind; rather, it is to teach him to participate in the process that makes possible the establishment of knowledge” (Ellis). In other words, memorization holds only so much importance in education. What really matters is that the students understand how to investigate, to come to conclusions, and to learn about learning. Because what use do we have for memorizing when we can use calculators, find something on Google, or ask Siri to tell us answers to questions we might have? Technology has really changed how we see and use information and facts. Once I finished with my undergrad, I found that practically none of the knowledge I had learned in school was useful to me. What I found useful in working was my previous job experience, volunteer experience, internship experience, and experiences in class that were hands-on or project-based (and also related to my job). When I was interviewing for preschool positions, often I did not know exactly what I needed. But I know how to find answers when I have questions, and I know how to get information I need, and that was what employers found more valuable.

However, memorization should not be discounted entirely. In the classes I tutor, I see kids use calculators to find answers to simple math problems such as 2/2, 4×10, and 28-9. In the Ellis article, Lynne Cheney argues that the process approach believes that “we can teach our children how to think without troubling them to learn anything worth thinking about…that we can teach them how to understand the world in which they live without conveying to them the events and ideas that have brought it into existence” (Ellis). Her argument is that we shouldn’t be teaching how to learn without giving them something to learn.

I believe that a combination of both, with an emphasis on the process approach, is an effective model for teaching. A later quote from Bruner mentioned that in order to help students remember those facts they are supposed to memorize, there needs to be some connection, some process that allows them to create that link. As teachers, I think it is important that we be able to help students organize these facts in their minds by giving them a toolkit for investigation and research, but at the same time ensure that they aren’t missing out on something vital. In a younger math class I tutor (4th grade), the teacher spends several days working on the process of a strategy, then spends several days helping students translate that to their paper. He gives them the language they need to be able to do this, and the kids love math. Plus, they’re pretty good at it. An example would be when they were learning how to multiply large numbers. They spent a few days working on arrays with square manipulatives (multiplying relatively small numbers), then they began drawing them on paper. After a few days, they then learned open arrays with much larger numbers. By the end of the unit, the students were all math wizards.

I do not believe there is one right way to educate kids. I think that pulling an idea from here, a philosophy from there, helps me to see that since no one way works for all students, then I need to find what works for students as individuals. The process and product approaches to curriculum are the same. When I am in charge of my own classroom, this is something I will certainly keep in mind when implementing curriculum.

Ellis, A. School curriculum. Educational Foundations. Retrieved from: http://mountainlightschool.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/session-9-ellis-school-curriculum2.pdf

Teaching a Lesson Based on Principles of John Dewey

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This week, we discussed John Dewey’s contributions to American education. He was a big proponent of progressive change, and disagreed with tests of knowledge, high-stakes testing, and short-term learning (Scheuerman, 2014). According to Dewey, it was more important to build an appreciation on lifelong learning in students, instead allowing them to choose their own learning (Scheuerman, 2014). The teacher should let the natural curiosity of their students guide their teaching, and he supported experiential learning (Scheuerman, 2014). For this week’s blog post, I am writing ideas for a week-long project for a group of fourth grade students based on John Dewey’s ideas, with the topic of state geography and incorporating Common Core standards for reading informational text.

Fourth grade is generally the time when students start exploring more of the world around them, including the geography, history, and government of their home state. Assuming I am teaching in Washington state, my class will be learning about the Cascades, the Yakima Valley, the Ring of Fire (there are many options to choose from here), fault lines and tectonic plates, agriculture in Eastern Washington, the Puget Sound, the Olympic Peninsula, and a variety of other interesting and unique geological features. I am also assuming that throughout the year, we are moving through these topics individually, so currently, my class is discussing agriculture in Eastern Washington, including the Yakima Valley, and what makes it ideal for growing the fruit they are famous for. This unit will be about incorporating research from informational texts, analyzing and interpreting visual, oral, or quantitative information, and determining the sequence of events in an informational text.

At the beginning of the week, I would introduce the topic. Since Dewey didn’t think the teacher should be giving the children information, instead letting them experience knowledge on their own, my introduction would cover basics. This would be enough to give an overview of possible topics on Eastern Washington Agriculture, such as the rain shadow, the climate, the soil composition, or types of fruit that thrive in the region. During this time, I would also bring up our topic question: what makes Eastern Washington ideal for agriculture? Once my introduction is over, the students would then take a “field trip” to the library, where we would be able to use library resources (including computers, if they have them) to find articles, books, and other sources of information (approved by teacher or librarian) about one of the many subjects available to them involving agriculture. This gives the students the ability to choose their own learning, while at the same time they are aligning their choices with subjects that need to be taught in 4th grade. Each student would need to find at least two texts about their subject. This could be sped up by having the librarian help find specific books and articles before hand, or I could find them myself, but I also think it is important for the students to learn how to find the information for themselves.

The next few days will be spent working on reading and analyzing the texts that the students found. Common Core standard CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.4.9 states that students should be able to “integrate information from two texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably” (Common Core State Standards Initiative, 2014). Students could discuss their subjects in groups, sharing their information as they find it, or they could journal about it. I would ask guiding questions, and in particular emphasize that we are learning about why their subject contributes to our overall theme (what makes Eastern Washington ideal for growing fruit). Students would search for key ideas and themes related to this question, and would be learning how to “explain events, procedures, ideas, or concepts in a historical, scientific, or technical text, including what happened and why, based on specific information in the text” (CCSSI, 2014), as stated by standard CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.4.3. They would also be spending time interpreting graphic information and statistics, which would then be incorporated into their final projects. This fulfills the standard CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.4.7, which states that students can “interpret information presented visually, orally, or quantitatively (e.g., in charts, graphs, diagrams, time lines, animations, or interactive elements on Web pages) and explain how the information contributes to an understanding of the text in which it appears” (CCSSI, 2014). If there is time, I would also include a short documentary video about agriculture in Eastern Washington. Afterward, we would (as a class), list some interesting facts that might help us in our project while practicing interpreting oral and visual information.

WS Agriculture

Example of visual media students may choose to analyze and interpret

During the final day of the project, students would present their findings to the class, including what they studied, why it makes Eastern Washington an ideal place for growing fruit. After listening to several students’ projects, as a class we would create a poster (or some other form of visual media) describing a variety of reasons for agriculture to be popular in Eastern Washington, again using several (secondary) sources to form knowledge about a specific subject.

I would like to point out that while John Dewey’s ideas of progressive change have recently hit a setback (Scheuerman, 2014), I don’t think that this means his ideas can’t be incorporated into the classroom. The Common Core standards can still be taught while allowing children the freedom of choice. During this unit, the class had a chance to choose the direction of their learning, all the while gaining valuable skills in analyzing texts and visuals, synthesizing their findings and sharing them, and look for key ideas within a text to answer a question they may have about a subject. I think if these kinds of processes are practiced throughout the year, students will have a pretty good grasp on them by the time they head to 5th grade. And while they may not remember exact facts about the rain shadow in the Yakima Valley, they will have at least gained some valuable skills.

Scheuerman, R. (2014). Progressivism and intellectual development [PDF document]. Retrieved from http://mountainlightschool.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/session-8-progressivism1.pdf

Common Core State Standards Initiative (2014). English language arts standards: Reading: Informational text: Grade four. Retrieved from http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/RI/4/

Horace Mann and his Contributions to Education

This week, we learned about Horace Mann’s contributions to society, and specifically his contributions to public education. He wrote that “teaching is the most difficult of all arts and the profoundest of all sciences” (Mann, 1838), bringing the attention of the public to education, and creating state-funded programs for teacher training. This, to me, was his most important contribution.

Prior to Mann’s influence in the early- to mid- 1800’s, there were no state laws making public education mandatory. In fact, if a child lived in a rural community, likely they didn’t have a school to attend, and learned everything from their parents, relatives, and community. It wasn’t seen as important to ensure that everyone received an education, but Mann put the problem in terms of economics. He said that “education is the lifeblood of commerce” (Scheuerman, 2014), and expressed to the readers of his first annual report why education was important to them as well as the children. He believed that if properly supported and provided for, public education could be the means of creating a better society. This is a belief that we have in common. I think that in order to create a better society for the US, providing a “better” and proper education for all its inhabitants is a requirement. However, I don’t think that that education must be a certain way. Mann believed in providing reading and language instruction, which I agree is important (especially in terms of communication). I also think that there is more to education than just your basic standards. Trade schools are becoming more popular of an option for students who have graduated high school, but what about younger students? While we are so focused on standards, we tend to ignore other areas such as art, physical sciences, and humanities. But these are just as important.

Another contribution from Mann that I believe is significant today is his emphasis on teacher training programs. There are many of these today, including the STARS training I went through as an early childhood educator. From personal experience, I can say that the STARS classes and the other trainings I went to while teaching preschool were not only helpful to me, they were beneficial to my students. As a future elementary teacher, I still think continued education for educators is highly important. It helps to keep teachers’ knowledge fresh while also providing a forum to share ideas, learn new methods, and bring about further positive changes in the classroom.

Mann, H. (1838). First annual report. Boston: Dutton and Wentworth.

Transdisciplinary Learning

This week in class, we discussed several items in a list of transdisciplinary categories for conceptual learning. Since I hope to be teaching fourth grade, for my blog post this week I will be relating these categories to an elementary level classroom, in various subjects.

One category is cause and effect; what is the action, the change, or the condition that is happening? In an elementary classroom, we might be reading the book Tuck Everlasting. Once the unit is over, not only do I want the kids to enjoy the story (though I do) and be able to identify the main elements, but I want them to understand what the story is saying. What is it’s underlying meaning? In order for them to be thinking critically about the story, I could ask questions about the town’s reactions to the Tuck family; why did they fear the Tucks? What happened for them to change their minds, and was that something immediately obvious? If it’s not one explicit thing that angered the villagers, then what was it? How did the villagers or the Tucks feel about each other, and did that change? I think these questions are important for encouraging critical thought in a reading lesson.

In a science lesson, cycles and change have much to offer. Is this effect repeated over time? In the 4th grade classroom I tutor, they are learning about precipitation cycles. They have a heat lamp in the corner, and under it each table group has a wide, shallow bucket of “land”. Above it is a sheet of clear plastic that collects the water as it evaporates (more or less). When the “sun” is turned off, the water trickles back down into the ground, and when the sun is turned back on, it evaporates again. This cycle can be repeated often (with some water replenishment, but it’s actually pretty effective). The kids not only get to explore for themselves in a contained environment how the precipitation cycle works on a basic level, but they get to ask themselves important questions about how frequently this occurs. Is it always the same? Would location change the cycle? Elevation? Time of day or month or year? These questions are ones that the kids can ask and investigate on their own, with direction from the teacher as is needed.

I think the most important thing to be gained from our lesson this week is about how students should be able to learn something on their terms. A teacher is a guide, and is there to show new strategies and help the students consider new ideas and knowledge, but ultimately, if the students are learning the way they want to, they are learning the way that is probably best for them. They aren’t just being told things to absorb like a sponge, but they are making discoveries and coming to conclusions on their own, and I think that that is the true power of a good teacher.

Searching for Meaning in the Role of a Teacher

This week, the most meaningful topic to me was about the role of a teacher. We discussed encouraging learning and reflection without authoritarian direction. To me, this is the most important part about being a teacher. Keeping kids in a tight box of rules and regulations only stifles their growth as individuals and creative young minds. John Amos Comenius claimed that classrooms should “engender as much pleasure as fairs” (Scheuerman). If my classrooms had been as exciting to me as going to the fair was, it’s a pretty safe bet that I would never have wanted to leave for the evening. We discussed different ways to make a classroom exciting, like building a reading loft or having a “listening corner” and a giant terrarium. I think my favorite idea was to build a reading loft, but how do I know if it is safe? Part of having an exciting classroom is also making sure the excitement isn’t risking the safety of the children. To find out what kinds of structures are safe and within the rules, I would discuss my ideas with someone who understands how to build lofts as well as someone who knows the policy for such things.

But a loft isn’t the only idea I liked. While I was walking through Pike Place Market, one of the sellers had created small teepees, which I immediately thought would be an excellent addition to a classroom. Not only is it a fun and cozy place to go read, or sit if you need a quiet moment, but it’s also a topic of conversation about culture. Having the visual and the “experience” can really bring out ideas in children, and can really drive home certain concepts.

For more ideas, I think a preschool classroom is actually a great way to get ideas about creating a fun and interactive classroom. While I was teaching preschool, I had created all these “learning centers” which had games and toys that were all geared toward learning about a specific topic. During the fall months, we made bread and butter during our science and math time, and we had leaves in our sensory bin. Having all these visuals was very important for students to make connections and ask questions. The concept is the same for elementary kids; the visuals are still there, but the questions might change. I think another great place to get ideas is from other teachers. There are so many resources online for teachers to share ideas, it doesn’t make any sense to try to do it all on your own. I also travel quite a bit (even if it’s just within the state), and I think visiting other teachers’ classrooms and asking what they do that is effective can really help you improve your own classroom. Teacher collaboration is a very important step in creating an environment that is the ideal situation for learning.

When I have my own classroom, I would like to learn what is allowed and what is not, especially with regards to student safety. But once I know that, I can work with the administration and colleagues to help build a fun and exciting classroom.

Scheuerman, R. Humanism [PDF document]. Retrieved from Mountain Light Blog: http://mountainlightschool.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/session-5-humanism1.pdf

Observance of Sacred Festivals and Meaningful Education

During class this week, one of the topics we discussed was “Educational Means”. The one I felt was the most important (at least to me), was the idea of “Observance of Sacred Festivals.” We discussed powerful ways to impact students in our classes, aside from just learning about a subject. This is important to me, because as a child (and even as an adult), I struggled remembering the things I was supposed to remember about one subject or another unless I interacted with it. As a teacher, I want to bring education to my students in a way that they find accessible and fun, so that not only do they remember what they are learning, but they do so in a way that a deep sense of how and why are instilled in them. I want my teaching to be meaningful, and not just another check in a box of things they should be taught.

We discussed examples of holidays that are required to be taught in school; for example, Martin Luther King Jr. day, and Veteran’s day. These two holidays in particular are holidays I never particularly cared about. We had assemblies, I got the days off, and that was it. But as I got older, I came to appreciate the meaning of these holidays a little more, and I wish that my younger self could appreciate them as well. Ways we discussed to make these more meaningful were to have candlelit ceremonies for active duty military, which the kids bring in; or have the kids put on the assembly. These activities have the students doing the planning and explaining and learning.

I think the same thing could be said for other holidays as well. Thanksgiving is a major American holiday that most people associate with food, turkeys, and pumpkin pie. But why? It is one thing to say that Thanksgiving is about bounty and sharing, being grateful and kind. It is another thing entirely to bring this holiday to life with joy journals (a record of things that brought you happiness every day for a few weeks leading up to Thanksgiving), compliment posters for each student in class (from the other students to show why they are grateful to each other), or having a day of outreach where the entire class goes on a field trip to bring their pre-made thank-you cards to a community member, or even just people within the school. These kinds of activities where students participate in their own learning are what create meaningful thoughts, values, and learning.

Are holidays the only things we can celebrate in this fashion? Personally I believe that everything can be taught this way. A lesson about alpine meadows can be compounded by a field trip into the mountains, or a science lesson on force can be accompanied by the class building a trebuchet. My high school was conducted in this way, actually. We took field trips to museums, the Port of Seattle, our local city hall (during elections), the waste water treatment facility, the mountains to see glaciers and take soil samples. We built machines, created biodiesel (which we then presented to the school board as an alternative fuel source for our buses), volunteered and did job shadows. A large part of what we did was finding primary sources, so we also did a lot of contacting people who worked in a specific area of inquiry to find answers, opinions, and information we weren’t even looking for. These experiences not only helped shape my learning, but they also prepared me for much of what I had to deal with in the world outside of school. When I do have my own classroom, this is the kind of teacher I would like to be; one who provides interactive experiences, and allows her students to design their own learning (while subtly directing it). I think the best way to learn something is to discover it yourself, and while memorizing multiplication tables is also very important, I think supplementing teaching with hands-on experiences is what makes a quality teacher.

The Six Pillars of Civic and Moral Education

This week in class, we discussed the “architecture of moral education”, and the six pillars that hold up what we value in terms of our rights, such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These pillars are what the education committee wanted to instill in K-12 education in order to create a democratic American society. Service, honesty, civility, kindness, participation, and commitment all support our rights for speech, assembly, religion, and life.

In an elementary school classroom, I think that all of these cardinal values should be taught on a day-to-day basis, rather than in a single lesson. We can think of it as a lesson plan for the year, actually. Kindness should be praised and encouraged every day. Students should be given opportunities to collaborate and work together, sharing ideas and helping each other figure something out. In two of the classes I tutor (third and fourth grade), the teacher allows time for table groups or table partners to work together on their math. The teams put together factor arrays cooperatively, and help identify mistakes or correct answers for each other. This is excellent team-building skills that the kids will need later in school and in life.

Commitment is another thing I think should be encouraged every day. Students (especially struggling ones) often tend to give up when something is too difficult. I think it is up to the teacher to stay with them and make sure these students are challenged, but they should be challenged at the level they are at, rather than at a level high above their own. Students need to be shown how their hard work can pay off. In an elementary classroom, this can be done with charts that the students create themselves, or posters they create to show their cumulative knowledge of a unit. If they can hold tangible evidence of their own success, I think it will create a sense of pride and accomplishment within the student that will allow them to bring more commitment to the work they do.

Another pillar is civility, or obedience, with the idea that students who are raised to respect their society will become fair and democratic citizens. Again, I believe this should be taught every day, and never explicitly. I know from experience teaching preschool that telling a student that they need to follow the rules, and actually having students that follow the rules are two separate things. Being a role model for respecting and listening is, as I have found, far more effective in teaching students civility. However, I also believe that it is important to praise good listening and good behavior.

In a year-long lesson plan, it is important to provide many opportunities for students to volunteer or somehow service their community. Even in young children, it is something we can promote early, if students are given the chance. A second grade classroom might have field trips where they pick up trash in a park, meanwhile learning about pollution and how waste affects the environment. They could also work on their reading skills in a nursing home, reading letters or books, or writing skills in creating valentine’s cards for the same people. Older kids can brainstorm ideas on their own for bringing their own particular talents to their community, and might come up with ways to raise money or awareness, help clean up the environment, bring companionship for people who may not have it, and many other methods of community service.

The last pillar is honesty. Valuing trust is an important step in a democratic society, since it is important for the people to trust one another and their political leaders. In an elementary classroom, it is sometimes difficult to determine when a student is lying about one thing or another. As teachers, we see how some lies can affect others, or the student’s own success. In some cases, I think this goes back to teaching commitment and a good work ethic: lying about an assignment will not let a student succeed. Allowing them to chart and monitor their own success may help to teach them that lying about an assignment may not be their best move. On the other hand, lying about a person or lying to them can hurt them. We, as teachers, can help them talk out why they lied and show how feelings were hurt, but I think that often the bigger picture doesn’t really get across their minds, especially in young kids. So how do you teach honesty as an object lesson? Kids seem to think that lying about something can change the truth of it somehow. If you say you didn’t do it, then you didn’t! Even though you did…Teaching honesty in a more concrete way could be a very valuable lesson, and can be done multiple times throughout the year (and even at home). I read about some interesting ideas involving putting salt on ice cream and covering it up with chocolate (does the “chocolate lie” really cover up the taste of the salt?) or other objects that allow students to use their senses to discover the truth.

Again, I think it is very important to keep each of these cardinal values in mind during classroom time throughout the year, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be specific lessons for each value that explain what it is and why it is important.