Thursday, December 30, 2010

Grow some bulbs!

This is a learning activity that I loved the most.

I bought some inexpensive bulbs at the hardware store, went to the local nursery and bought some river stone ($5 for a bucket full!), then planted them.

You can plant them in anything.

I used an old aquarium, a plastic pot, as well as some prettier containers.

Keep them covered until the roots begin to grow.

Each day, the kids can measure their growth, take a photo, and make charts and graphs of the progress of the bulbs. I brings a bit of nature into the classroom.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Full-day kindergarten vs. day care

This has been an interesting experiment. Parents have demanded day care, not full-day kindergarten. There is a misunderstanding that only teachers can teach children in school.

love of reading
role play
The new Ontario full-day kindergarten involves a half-day period with a teacher, and a half day with an ECE graduate. Now, I have a B.A. in Early Childhood Education (ECE), as well as a teaching certificate (B.Ed. & M.Ed.). My four years taking my ECE, with 900 hours of practicum placements, support the two-year ECE certificate program that college students take. I am a retired teacher.

Critics say full-day kindergarten was rushed into place, before it was researched. I agree. I participated in a study, but unless you understand the differences between day care a kindergarten, you miss the point.

Let me tell you about day care.
Prereading - recognition of letters
Day Care
An ECE, teaching crafts, and songs, with an afternoon nap, the news said. How do you 'teach' a craft?
They need play time, snack time, circle time, and a rich environment, hot meals, good food, nap times, with language, discipline, structure and routines.

A teacher teaches (they say) listening skills and routines. Routines? With 25 - 28 kids? Humpf. This is crowd control. The teacher is well-paid, with a 40-minute preparation time (20 minutes when the class has French), with no contact with the children. The ECE grad, paid much less, doesn't get this union-bargained right.

Fun with fine muscles
To my mind, it is far better to have free exploration, in the style of Montessori schools, with teachers (ECE) who do not believe that all crafts must look the same. ECEs who allow the kids to play with paint, paper, water, sand, clay, and explore. Manipulating, listening, speaking, taking turns, respecting other.

Reading buddies - to promote literacy
Studies show that kids learn best when they can choose activities, when they develop a bond with their teacher (either ECE or 'teacher'), and have more of a caregiver/facilitator than teacher. With one-year at the Faculty of Education, teachers do not necessarily understand thematic, play-based learning opportunities. They follow a curriculum, and routines: indoor play, outdoor play, Core French, circle time, songs, delivered by someone who may not understand Piaget, or activity-based learning. You can judge this by the kids who bring home a craft that shows little initiative, or creativity. In day care, their crafts look like they did it themselves.

You cannot teach in a class of 25. I know. I've taught in day care, nursery schools, JK - Gr. 8. The bottom line is you empower the kids to learn what they want to know. You give them a selection of games, activities, toys (sand play, water play, dress-up centre, embed toileting routines) and the learn through play. No wrote learning. Pre-reading skills, recognition of shapes, colours, number are not important. Kids learn this when they are ready. I've seen 3-year-olds reading and using scissors, and 5-year-olds who cannot. They inspire each other. They laugh, use fine and large muscles, and participate in a variety of hands-on activities.
Play time!

Far better we give children a supportive, open-ended learning environment, rather forcing on them pre-reading skills. Some kids come to school never having had discipline, routines, and in a day care, with a loving, caring ECE grad, they will find success at their own speed, at their own level.

I am not in favour of full-day kindergarten. The teacher-student ratio alone supports those with advanced skills, frustrates those who need lower ratios, more individual attention, and activities that meet their individual needs.

  • We need working parents to be able to find caregivers (especially for disadvantaged kids) who can provide a safe learning environment in which these skills are not taught (read forced), but facilitated, at the speed at which the learner is able to handle them. 
  • We need ECE grads who understand pedagogical practices, with sociology, psychology, and an understanding of the Key Experiences in Early Childhood, e.g., Classification (attributes, similarities, difference), seriation (ordering), numeracy, literacy, spatial relations (behind, up, down), temporal relations (today, tomorrow, yesterday). 
  • We need caregivers who can manage a child in day care, who are trained, responsible, and understand ages and stages.
  • Caregivers who know the questions to elicit thinking skills.
  • We need caregivers who understand that 'curriculum' is a dirty word in early childhood, and that the Ministry of Education cannot enforce cookie cutter learning expectations for 3 and 4 and 5-year olds.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

How Canadian schools are ranking

A big discussion on Cross Country Checkup: there is great fear that Canada has fallen behind in International (PISA) Tests. Perhaps it is only the media generating the conflict!

The test: OECD: Education: Korea and Finland top OECD's latest PISA survey of education performance

One commenter, John Myers, of OISE, wrote:
What nonsense! 10 points out of 500+ means a drop over 3 years of 2% which could be measurement error, especially given the different societies and systems that are being compared and when you think of the increased percentage of those graduating from secondary school and the ethnic and linguistic diversity in parts of Canada.

Too much homework, not enough. The debate continues.

Science experiment!
All of these things influence whether a student achieves.
I believe that the most powerful influence is the cultural of the child's family. That is, do they believe in a work ethic?
Do they support the value of education?
Are they responsive to their child's needs?
Do they read and write standard English?

If they were successful in school, chances are the kids will do well.
If parents value reading and writing, if they believe that their child should learn math, and can learn math, then the teacher has a much better chance.

To predict school success: look at the education of the parents. In many cultures homework and a work ethic is valued. In some it is not. Kids involved in extra-curricular activities do not want homework.

Chinese kids have to do well, or they end up going to bad schools. They do not have school choice. When Chinese kids emigrate, they show their work ethic and amaze their peers.
In Canada, we do not fail kids. Kids have no chance to review, relearn or remediate what they do not know.

Many still advocate for the three 'R's. Back to basics? When have we not taught reading and writing. Oh my. Our Canadian system is doing well. We teach a wide range of kids: those living in poverty, those who have lived through trauma, those who are victims of war, violence and famine.

It is the unmotivated kids come to school focusing on their iPods, not their lessons, who bring down test scores. These kids who find familiarity in failure. They fear school. They fight it.
Do not blame the teachers.
There are many kids who work hard, who come well-fed, prepared to learn and want to succeed. Let's hear about them!


Sunday, December 5, 2010

Spirit of the season

I found December the most fun when teaching. We practiced our beliefs year-round, mind you. 
I loved those AHA moments when they realized that candles and light were infused into their friend's religious practices too!

We always talked about one another's celebrations. I created a questionairre for the kids to interview each other about their celebrations. One December, because of the moon and dates aligning, we had kids celebrating Eid-ul-fitr, Hannukah, Christmas. It was a blessed month with symbols of lights, special foods, music. We share stories and told tales about our special events.
We wrote the 12 Days of Holidays. Gosh, that was funny. We sang it at the December Concert.

The only sad part were the Jehovah's Witnesses who did not. I had Muslim kids making Xmas tree fridgies, Christian kids having fun with the moon and stars (Eid begins when the moon appears), and then the poor JH kid who couldn't do such crafts.

The qrre went flat, too. As I'd planned that they interview one another. Even Diwali, in Oct., was a celebration. This one kid didn't go anywhere, do anything. So sad! 
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