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Holidays 2014 Recap

Before it’s too late, here are pictures from my Christmas festivities.  I’m still trying to see whether I can combine my own life with an education blog… The good news is, almost  no one is interested in either! haha. 😀

Christmas 2014:

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This year’s winner of the ugly sweater competition. Scott took his game up a notch by gaining a few and buying a whole body suit!

I went to Tyson's to get some last minute shopping and had to document this brave soul.

I went to Tyson’s to get some last minute shopping and had to document this brave soul.

Facetime with the nephew.  He could not believe he had NINE presents under the tree.  He is the sweetest little guy.

Facetime with the nephew. He could not believe he had NINE presents under the tree!!! I hope one of them was Power Ranger Gloves, because heaven knows he needs those.   He is the sweetest little guy.

Opening presents on Christmas night.  We waited for B to fly in from Florida that afternoon.

Opening presents on Christmas night. We waited for B to fly in from Florida that afternoon.

The xkcd book answers absurd hypothetical questions, like, "What would happen if a pitch was thrown at the speed of light?"

The What if? book! it answers absurd hypothetical questions, like, “What would happen if a pitch was thrown at the speed of light?” It’s written by Randall Munroe, the xkcd guy. Ps. Did you know he’s only 30?

Road trip to Atlanta!  To see my brother's family.

Road trip to Atlanta! To see my other brother’s family. Sunshine and clear skies. I listened to the first five episodes of Serial on the ride.

My nieces! First order of business was a bike ride to go see their neighbor's dog Sadie.  In this picture, my niece is telling my, "One time Sadie yict (licked) my pants!"  Hahaha.  They kill me.

My nieces! First order of business was a bike ride to go see their neighbor’s dog Sadie. In this picture, my niece is informing me that, “One time Sadie yict (licked) my pants!” Ha. They kill me.

The wake-up fairy committee.

The wake-up fairy committee.

Hugs.

Hugs.

 

The Botanical Garden lights.

The Botanical Garden lights.

 

Other memorable moments:

My little sister saw me putting makeup on the other day and asked if she could wear some.  I put some on and she thanked me about 15 times.  She is so easy to make happy!

One of my nieces would really like a kitty-cat. Coincidentally, she cannot say the ‘k’ sound.  Bless her sweet little three-year-old heart, she is constantly asking for a ‘titty-tat’.  She says, “Mom, can we pu-weeeeeese det a titty-tat? Pu-weeeeese?”  Hahahaha.  I die.

 

Thanks for reading! Happy New Year!

Teaching in Finland

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During “Major Time” (study hall) we had spirit games to play on specific Fridays. I can’t remember what game we were wrapping up here, but it looks like it was a good one! I had a stellar group of kids in my class.

First: MERRY CHRISTMAS!!  Hope you got lots of lovin’ from all the friends and family you hold dear.

I’m reading The Smartest Kids in the World by Amanda Ripley and learning about what makes Finland’s education system so successful and so different from schools in America.  Here’s what I’ve learned:

  1. Finland has only eight teacher training programs– in their entire country.  The application process is rigorous and competitive.  Typical applicants have high grades and high test scores.  Historically, only 20% of this pool of applicants is accepted.
  2. Today, the acceptance rate into any teacher training program in Finland is actually much lower– comparable to our acceptance rate at M.I.T.
  3. In America, most education colleges have no admissions requirements whatsoever.  We invite literally anyone to teach.  In Ripley’s words:  “The irony was revealing, a bit like recruiting flight instructors who had never successfully landed a plane, then wondering why so many planes were crashing”.
  4. In order to teach in the U.S., a teacher needs to pass a standardized test, although most of these are content-related and have almost nothing to do with actual classroom teaching. I actually already knew that, but I hadn’t thought of how illogical it seems compared to what Finland does: require passing of a content-based test to get into  a teaching program and then require passing of a rigorous teaching based test to graduate.

So schools in Finland benefit from a select group of educators, whereas in the U.S., many people know that the teachers are not the smartest or the brightest of the bunch.  A Finnish teacher union from the 80’s said, “A Finnish teacher has received the highest level of education in the world.”  Indeed, in Finland, teacher training is every bit as challenging and competitive as medical school.  And to support teachers, they are compensated as well as doctors.

I’m heartened and encouraged to learn about Finland’s success in education and I’m curious to know exactly what their teacher training programs teach and expect of their students.

Thank you for reading along.  Hope you had a wonderful Christmas and have something exciting and meaningful to look forward to in 2015.

Moth Story Slam & the Power of Stories

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Cory introducing the Story Slam. I took this picture riiiiight before they asked us not to take pictures. 😀

 

I went to see a Story Slam put on by Moth up in San Francisco  with some friends a couple weeks ago and …. it was fantastic!  I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the stories were powerful and inspiring.  Some of the storytellers were so honest and vulnerable, so skillful with their words and emotions. I felt like I learned a lot about being human and about what we have in common.

The theme was art.  Storytellers (all from the audience) had prepared a true story of an experience that required all of their creativity.  There were several that I really enjoyed.  One  gentlemen told a story about his experiences as an actor in New York.  It sounds like he had a decent career in soap operas, but the real story was about his dog’s career as an actor and model in ads and such. His dog actually became quite renowned in the business.  An older woman told about her husband recently leaving her for a younger woman and her subsequent decision to sell all of her belongings and move across the country.  She is now living with her daughter and has courageously started a new career, a new chapter. She seemed genuinely happy in spite of a gut-wrenching curveball that had been thrown her way. I have immense respect for her.

Another woman told of her concern that her son would treat her cross-dressing friend badly (spoiler– he doesn’t!) one man told of a close friend of his, who was brutally charming, but coincidentally also a pathological liar and swindler; another woman told of her experiences as a flight attendant in the 60’s, when their only real requirement was to look nice and speak sweetly to the passengers….

NPR takes the stories and vets the best ones here.  Take a look!  They are pretty cool.

One thing I have learned in Montessori is how motivating stories can be.  And one of my colleagues tells the most riveting stories. Students beg for them at every chance!  Lunchtime, free play, after-school… they always want more stories.

An Indian proverb says: Tell me a fact and I’ll learn. Tell me the truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.

Stories are powerful because they give the listener an opportunity to absorb information through their own paradigm.  I can tell my students: “You should love learning!  You should work hard!”, or I can illustrate learning and hard work through impressive experiences and  listeners can draw their own conclusion freely. They can file the gist of it into their own decision-making framework.  The partaker can create his or her own vision of success and feel inspired to take a new direction. Stories replace bossiness.  Stories create autonomy.

As a teacher, I can tell a story to illustrate a quality (persistence, apathy, patience, humility), to teach a bit of history, or simply to entertain my students. And, in telling personal stories, students usually feel a new respect for the story-tellers vulnerabilities and dreams. People form bonds through story-telling.  Leaving the story slam a couple weeks back, I felt like I really knew the story-tellers.  I respected their life experiences. 

Thanks for reading! And Merry Christmas, ya filthy animal.

NASA Ames Research Center 75th Anniversary

Back in October I got tickets to see the NASA Ames Research Center Open house.  They open it once a year and I was pretty excited about it.

My family is a NASA family. Growing up, my brothers really loved keeping up with NASA’s recent shuttle or mission so that was often dinnertime conversation at our house.  And I think we watched Apollo 13 about 9387408 times. I’ve got that thing memorized. And then of course, we were super bummed when the Shuttle Discovery was retired in 2011. Anyway, although I’m not an expert in space or aeronautical engineering (or, let’s be honest, anything really), I try my best to fit in with my family and represent. I was excited to see the hangar where they worked on shuttles, the wind tunnel and all the booths they had up showing what’s going on in the private industry now.

Here are some pictures:

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The hangar!  I really didn’t learn much about this on the tour.  Reading online I’ve learned that it originally was used to house the USS Macon a Navy Airship first used in the 1930’s.  It was only turned over to NASA in 2003.  It is an incredible feat of engineering.

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Ok so if I understand this correctly, this object here on the right /\ /\ is a megawatt arc jet and it somehow simulates speeds and temperatures so it can test samples of materials that will withstand the fire and pressure of exiting and re-entering the atmosphere.  Or… something like that.  Am I right, Douglas and Paul…?

 

 

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/\ /\ The wind tunnel! Apparently this can operate between Mach .30 and 1.50.  Which is like, really really fast.  Like I can’t even imagine how fast that is.  And on the right /\ /\ is a remote controlled Mars Rover.

 

One other thing we stumbled on, but I don’t have a picture of, is this space-simulating incubator that medical researchers have used to grow cells.  The incubator doesn’t have any gravity, thus the cells can grow in all directions ( as opposed to with gravity, cells can only grow on two planes– length and width), thus they can test cancer treatments on the three dimensional tumor-like tissues that are grown in the incubators. Their tests are much more realistic than tests on 2d objects.  I thought that was nifty.

I guess now that NASA is broke (and you must know what a tragedy this is) I will have to invest more learning into SpaceX.  I’m curious to learn more about and see what the private industry will show the world!

 

The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way by Amanda Ripley

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Maybe I am reading more than ten books right now…. and that never ends well.  But this is a book I’ve heard good things about  and it’s piqued my interest in what other countries are doing in education that leads them to be more successful than America.

The book follows three American exchange students (teenagers) in their studies abroad; in Finland, South Korea, and Poland.  Finland is leading the way in education and has been for the last several years.  What I have heard and read is that 40 years ago,  a large focus of their economic reform plan was to improve education, especially the quality of teachers in school.  This article goes more into detail about their success.   What strikes me the most in the article is the optimism of the teachers; how much faith they have in each of their students (including poor and historically underachieving populations), how they refuse to label a student ‘lazy’.  It’s the exact opposite of the experience I had teaching in the projects.  I felt like teachers there had nowhere near the support or funds they needed to run a classroom.  And the pain and discouragement, the cynicism, the bitterness in the school was palpable.  You could touch and feel this dark lethargy in the classroom.  The teacher turnover rate was fast.  No one wanted to stay and many teachers who did stay became very jaded; certainly not a lot of hesitating to call students ‘lazy’.  I wish I could say I think those schools are few and far between in America— but I don’t.  I think defeatism is all too prevalent in our school system.

So I’m excited to read this book and find out what we can do to emulate these places.

Here are my questions I’m looking to answer as I read.  I’m about 30 pages in.

 

1) How do these countries get rid of bad teachers?   Of course, paying teachers better than doctors (Finland) does a lot to make the job appealing and competitive.  Can we do that in America?  But even in a competitive field, bad teachers can still show up.  How do bad teachers get fired in Finland?   Trying to fire a teacher in America is almost impossible.  How do they evaluate teachers?

 

2)  What are the training programs for teachers in these countries?  Are they more rigorous than our college programs in America?

 

3)  What does this rigorous education translate to in these economies?  Does their program of studies line up with the demands of the workforce?  What is their unemployment rate?   At what age do students begin specializing in whatever field they would like to work in?   Because the ultimate goal of a good education is to have students who are capable of solving problems and meeting the demands of society; it is to have proactive, employed citizens.

 

4) How can America adopt a different attitude and approach to education?  What are the underlying ideals in these countries that make their schools tick?

 

I don’t want it to be political, but of course it is.  In the last chapters of Sal Khan’s book One World Schoolhouse he talks about how we’re tempted to want the best for our children, but not necessarily for everyone else’s children.  And although no one will admit to that, we really don’t have a strategy for improving our public school system the way other countries do.  In many parts of the country, we throw lots and lots of money at education, but that often does not translate to successful results that are showing up (via the PISA, among other methods) in Finland, Korea and Poland. Honestly, considering the overall affluence of America, there is no excuse for our performance on the PISA.

The PISA came came to Mount Vernon High School where I taught and I thought it was a solid test, very different from other standardized tests, but that’s another post for another day…

 

I love school, I love Finland, Korea, and Poland, and I can’t wait to read this book!

A very heartfelt thank you for reading.