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Book Review

This semester, we read Rethinking Elementary Education. Overall, we found the book to be very interesting and relevant to classroom situations today. The book had very creative ideas about how to deal with different situations in our classrooms and we found it to be very relatable in terms of teachers telling their own personal stories from their classrooms. We didn’t read the whole book, especially the parts that related to the subjects of Math and Science (everyone in my group has a focus in Language Arts, so we usually don’t enjoy math and science as much). However, the parts we did read left a lasting impact on us and what we expect our classrooms to be like when we start teaching.

After a while, we got a bit tired of the book and just assigning readings from it, so we moved on to watching video clips, particularly Ted Talks. We enjoyed these a bit more because it is more interesting listening to someone talk about their own experiences and seeing their faces as they describe their different situations. The Ted Talks seemed a bit easier to discuss in our groups too because we all seemed to have the same reactions to the messages.

Overall, we decided that Rethinking Elementary Education is a book we would want to hold on to and keep in our personal classroom library as a refresher on how to deal with certain social-justice issues in our classroom. In times of need, we can always flip back to it and reread articles that seem relevant to us.


Helping Refugees in American School Systems

This past week in class, we focused on immigration and refugees and how to incorporate these students into American schools.

As a PLC group, we watched a Ted Talk called, How To Help Refugees Rebuild Their World, which discusses the immigration crisis in our world today. Melissa Fleming, the speaker, stated that half of Syria’s population has been uprooted. She went on to state the alarming fact that only 20% of refugee children are in school. Watching this video gave me a great deal of insight into what life in a refugee camp would be like. It also made me realize how much I take for granted. I complain about going to class, yet these children would give their lives to go to school. The final point of Fleming’s talk was just how important it is for our world to invest in refugees. These children have so much potential and so many dreams and goals, but they are not able to go to school because of their conditions.

Watching this Ted Talk and discussing immigration in class caused me to reflect on my experience in middle and high school. In the Chapel Hill Carrboro City School System, there are a great deal of Karen immigrants. Many of these students and their families came from refugee camps in Thailand. The Karen people group are in danger if they remain in their home country of Burma (or Myanmar), which has caused many  to flee to camps along the border of Thailand. During the summer following my sophomore year of high school, I was given the opportunity to teach English for a month in Thailand and to visit one of these refugee camps. It was an experience I will never forget. Getting hands on experience at a refugee camp and becoming friends with some of the girls at my high school who lived in camps really opened up my eyes to the fact that our country does a very poor job of making immigrants feel welcome and included.

As a group, we discussed some of the challenges that having immigrant students in our classroom would present to us as teachers. There would be language barriers and cultural differences but also, some of these students have gone through more pain and suffering in their short lives than we could possibly imagine. As a teacher that is a challenge. How do you help your immigrant student feel loved and supported? How do you get them the resources they need? How do you help them to keep up with the class if they don’t have much experience in a formal school setting? How do you help them cope with the things they have seen and been through and show them that you care for them beyond just the fact that they are your student? As a group, we had so many questions and realized just how big of a task this is. After this discussion, I feel inadequate to do the job. These children are important and their education is important and as a country, we need to do a better job of equipping teachers and creating environments in schools where immigrant children are given opportunities for success rather than being faced with failure.

How Do We Fix a “Broken” School?

For our last PLC, we watched another TED talk: “How to Lead a Broke school.” because we have found them to really helpful and motivating as future teachers. Linda Cliatt-Wayman did not disappoint and was very inspiring. Through the semester in our case studies, we have discussed a wide range in variety of schools from Urban to Rural, from wealthy and private, to poor and public. A school labeled “low-performing and persistently dangerous” school discussed in this TED talk was in Northern Philadelphia. She said, “For far too many schools, for kids who live in poverty, their schools are really not schools at all. But this can change.” (4:06ish)

From this talk, we discussed some ways we could implement some Wayman’s theories regardless of the school we’ll be teaching in.   Every morning on the announcements she would say, “And if no one has told you today, remember that I love you.” From this particular statement, we discussed how important it is to build meaningful relationships with our students. We may be the only support person they have, making it extra important to show by our actions and words of affirmation that we care. We connected to a teacher who recently went on “Ellen.” [TEACHER’S NAME] spends an hour every morning in her first grade classroom making sure all of her students have on clean clothes, have eaten breakfast, and are ready for the school day. MORE ABOUT TEACHER

Another theory of Wayman’s is lead. It sounds scary but the little changes they made around their school are easy ways for us to lead at our future (or current) schools. They assigned all students a locker, decorated every bulletin board in the school with inspirational sayings, cleaned the classrooms, and replaced old dull light bulbs with new ones. However, we discussed the other examples she used in her school may be harder to implement as teachers. One of them was the reconstruction of the school’s daily schedule. Wayman’s new schedule included all extracurricular activities, remediation, hours course, and counseling all during the school day. Her schedule allowed for those unable to stay after school because of transportation, job, or any other reason to participate. This is a huge issue we’ve discussed over the semester: access. Depending on where a student goes to school and how much money they have influence which activities (if any) they can participate.

Our group slogan Wayman used was “So what? Now What?” In their school, they use this phrase when trying to solve any problem. It’s a great way to get students of all ages, not just high schoolers, to examine the situation and use critical thinking to solve each problem they encounter without consciously doing so. Already in my Kindergarten classroom, they are using these basic questions to build homes for the three little pigs.

This video is generally a great example of how to be an effective leader in a school; however, it’s especially great to use when going into a “low-income” school. From out class, we’ve learned that as educators we can serve as catalysts for change in public school systems.

As we come to an end with our PLC, we’ve learned a lot about discussing and disagreeing with one another; however, it is difficult to gauge how our real PLCs will be. It would be helpful to have us plan a lesson as a PLC with the standards of Common core.

Our book, Rethinking Elementary Eduation, was overall a great book. As a group we felt some of the articles were not as productive as others.

The best kindergarten you’ve ever seen

For this week we watched a Ted Talk by Takaharu Tezuka entitled “The best kindergarten you’ve ever seen.” Tezuka is an architect that designed a kindergarten in Tokyo that consists of one large building with two floors. The upper floor has a track where the kids can run around, as well as a tree for the kids to safely climb on. The lower floor has classroom and table space that is completely open; there are no doors and windows to confine the kids to one area. By being allowed to roam around in an open area, the kindergarteners are truly able to explore and be kids.

The kindergarten also has a play area in which kids are faced with obstacles that are challenging to maneuver through, which creates a sense of danger for them. Tezuka describes that it is important for kids to feel that aspect of being in danger, as it allows them to understand that at points in their lives they will not always feel safe. It also adjusts the kids to the feeling of an adrenaline rush that occurs when you are doing some “dangerous.” We also think that one of the best parts about this play area is that the kids will often work together to move around obstacles. This helps teach the kids team building, a skill that will help them be successful throughout their lives.

Thinking about this kindergarten, one of the aspects we thought was most interesting is that each morning, parents will drop their kids off at this big, open space and feel totally comfortable leaving them there for the day. This says a lot about the culture, and that there is a feeling of trust amongst the parents of the children who attend the kindergarten. We feel that this is a good lesson to take from the Toyko kindergarten.

For next week, we are all going to find a different Ted Talk that we feel relates to our future practice as elementary teachers, and share what we found valuable from the videos with the rest of the group.

The “New” Math of Common Core

This week our group read two stories about math in the elementary classroom. The articles were entitled “Percent as a Tool for Social Justice” and “I Thought This U.S. Place Was Supposed to be About Freedom.” Naturally our conversation turned toward the “new” way of teaching math in the classroom. Some of us taking Math 307 through the School of Ed have already begun dissecting the Common Core way of teaching math. From our knowledge, this “new” method really focuses on children’s holistic understandings of math and the belief that children should be able to understand why and how to solve a math problem instead of just using a simple algorithm.

An example of the “new” math we learned in Math 307 is the implementation of pictures into mathematical learning. Now many students use pictures to solve addition and subtraction problems and they use things such as strip diagrams, snap cubes, and number lines to represent the problems that they are working to solve. This is different from what we did in elementary school, which was simply solving problems with a universal mathematical algorithm and simply because the teacher said to solve it using that single method.

I found this article online that summarizes the changes to elementary school mathematics under the new Common Core standards. For us as a PLC the Common Core seems to be an enigma and is generally confusing because it so different from the way that we understand and learned math as a young student. This article really breaks down the new standards for Common Core for Kindergarten through third grade, relaying the old standards and comparing them to the new ones presented by the Common Core.

As I previously stated we believe from our learning of the Common Core methods that students are encouraged to know the why and the how behind their mathematical thinking and the article gives support to back this claim. “The math practices (in Common Core) are asking kids to explain their mathematical thinking, to represent their ideas and to make sense of other people’s ideas,” says Megan Franke, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. The belief of these professionals is that children will be able to solve almost any math problem because they will know the background knowledge and thought processes that are behind the solution. Clearly this “new” math was created to help improve students understandings of the how and the why behind math problems and this will result in more confident students that know they can solve any problem they are faced with.

I Am Jazz – The Importance of Acceptance

Meet Jazz Jennings –

Jazz Jennings is a transgender teenager from Florida. She has her own documentary TV show on TLC which follows her as she maneuvers life as a transgender youth and how it affects her and her family daily. Along with this, Jazz also has her own YouTube channel where she has been making videos about her life for a while. She is one of the youngest transgender females to speak publicly in history about transgender issues. Jazz identifies as being female, so I will refer to her as “she” throughout this post in order to respect her as an individual.

In our PLC group, we have read and talked about many issues involving acceptance in the classroom and the importance of teaching children that differences are okay and should be celebrated rather than ignored. More explicitly, we read an article titled “It’s OK to Be Neither,” which discusses teaching methods that support gender-variant children. It tells the story of a little girl named Allie who feels more comfortable wearing clothes and doing her hair in a way that generally would be associated with being a male. Because of this, however, people tended to refer to her as a boy, even though she wanted to be referred to as a girl, even though she may have resembled what a boy might look like. The children weren’t quite sure what to make of this situation and began to ask Allie somewhat incriminating questions about why she looked like a boy if she was actually a girl, and the teacher saw this as a great teachable moment for her class to talk about gender stereotypes.

The teacher knew that the first step she should make would be to broaden the students’ ideas about what was acceptable for boys and girls. She also pointed out little things that many teachers do daily and how they relate to gender stereotypes. For example, instead of saying “boys and girls” when referring to the class, she simply uses gender-neutral terms such as “children” or “students” so as not to alienate a particular child. All in all, Ms. Tempel wanted to teach her students that it’s okay to be different, along with bettering both hers and other teachers’ classrooms to become more sympathetic towards gender-variant children and the struggles that they deal with daily.

This article ties in with Jazz’s story because although Jazz identifies as a girl and is not necessarily gender-variant, transgender students go through many of the same challenges that Ms. Tempel illustrates in her article. Children don’t often understand such heavy topics as being transgender, particularly because adults don’t always take the time to explain just what it means to be transgender to such young children because they think the topic is a bit too mature for them. However, Jazz explains that even though she was born a male, she knew that she was a female from before she was even 6 years old. So, if Jazz can know that she is transgender at such a young age, don’t you think it’s important for other children at this age to understand what it’s like to be transgender or gender-variant, so as not to isolate children like Jazz? It’s definitely OK to be different, and it’s important to understand and accept these differences.

-Natalie D.

Information about Jazz –
Trailer for “I Am Jazz” – see link at top of page

For next week, we are watching the Ted Talk by Rita Pierson titled “Every Kid Needs a Champion”

Reading and Writing Toward a More Just World

For our PLC group meeting on September 21, we had read the first 3 sections of chapter 2, “Reading and Writing Toward a More Just World” in Rethinking Elementary Education. Though this reading was informative and gave valuable advice, we all came to the agreement that we did not enjoy this week’s sections as much as the weeks prior. We found it slightly dry and difficult to engage with.

The title of the first section of reading was “Teaching for Social Justice”. It discussed the importance of involving children in their education, encouraging them to fight for causes that they are passionate about and allowing them to view different perspectives in order to establish opinions of their own. We really admired the way that the teacher in this passage approached learning and thought it was important that he put in the time to get to know the backgrounds of his students. He took creative approaches in order to help everyone feel included and strongly encouraged their participation and questions. We read about an activity he does with his class where he forms a timeline around the classroom. Students then put notecards with their name and birthday on it in the proper section of the timeline. Each week, they add notecards for their parents, grandparents and important people in history. We found this to be a great visual for children to help them put things in perspective and see that even though they are a small dot in history, we all have the capability to create powerful and lasting change. Additionally, we really respected the fact that he was teaching his students to question everything they are reading, even at such a young age. This led to a discussion about our own schooling and we all felt that we weren’t truly taught the importance of this until high school or college.

The next section of our reading was entitled “Writing for Change” and was about teaching persuasive writing and involving students in promoting change. On page 58, the teacher asks an important question: “How could I juggle my goals for their growth as individuals, as writers and as citizens?” As a teacher, you must realize that your influence extends far beyond the classroom. The faces looking up at you while you’re instructing are not just students. They are individuals. They are community members. They are creators and thinkers, artists and inventors. We felt this teacher perfectly demonstrated the importance of having your students make personal applications and write about things that hold true meaning in their lives. He promoted creativity, community involvement, worldly awareness and taking action that helped the children in his class grow and develop in immeasurable ways.

The final section we looked at was called “Patterns and Punctuation” and was about teaching grammar, punctuation and the foundations of language and writing. As a group, we discussed how we thought that this type of teaching was declining in our education system. It wasn’t until much later in our schooling that we learned these things, and even still, in the age of spell and grammar check, there is very minimal importance placed in these areas. Even to this day, we all agreed that we do not feel confident in knowing which type of punctuation to use where in our writing. We liked how the teacher stated, “In the classroom, I often use familiar content to teach a new process or a familiar process to teach new content” (68). We think it’s important to build a solid learning foundation and always teach students how concepts relate to other things they’ve learned and be able to make personal connections. However, despite some of the interesting points presented in this section, we found we didn’t entirely agree with her argument. On page 71, it says, “By beginning a study of commas and quotations marks with student observations and thinking, we can empower children to think critically as they notice patterns and ask questions about the world around them.” We felt like this was a bit of a stretch to make the connection between punctuation and empowering children and thought it was slightly dramatic and over the top.

For next week, our group decided to jump ahead to chapter 3 and read the first three sections (pages 159-171), which we will be discussing on September 29.