Archive for February, 2009

A Friday Assignment!

February 27, 2009

         I read a book this afternoon and strongly recommend it to anyone who is interested in reforming our current high schools! The title of the book:  “The Global Achievement Gap” and the author: Tony Wagner.  The sub-title of the book gives us a hint about what’s between the two covers:  “Why even our best schools don’t teach the new survival skills our children need – and what we can do about it!” 

           A good portion of the book is an analysis of what our high schools are doing today and the author’s position is that much of what we’re doing isn’t helping the kids in their development of what he names: The Seven Survival Skills!  They are:  1) Critical Thinking and Problem Solving, 2) Collaboration Across Networks and Leading by Influence, 3) Agility and Adaptability, 4) Initiative and Entrepreneurialism, 5) Effective Oral and Written Communication, 6) Accessing and Analyzing Information, and 7) Curiosity and Imagination. 

           Instead of helping our kids develop these ‘survival skills’, he suggests, we’re placing far too much emphasis on ‘high stakes’ tests and memorization.   He defends his own position by suggesting that ‘.  .  our world has changed in three significant ways, and methods of teaching and learning must adapt to these changes:  1) All students need new skills to thrive in a global knowledge economy, . . .. 2) In the age of the Internet, using new information to sold new problems matters more than recalling old information, . . .. and 3) Today’s youth are differently motivated when we compare them to previous generations . . .  . ‘

           For all people who want our education system to more effectively reach the kids of this new era – the technology era – this book should be required reading!  Find it!  Read it!  And we can chat about it!!

 

 

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Time for another ‘R’ – Recess!

February 24, 2009

Hello, my friends!

   

You have heard me rant on about the importance of playtime for children (and, a child in my eyes is anyone under 94 years!!!) and this article published yesterday supports my beliefs perfectly!  Over the years we’ve heard about the importance of the 3 R’s; recently we’re hearing about the importance of 2 R’s – rigor and relevance; and I would add that ‘Relationships’ should be included.  So, when I learn that we should pay attention to ‘Recess’ too, I want to say, ‘Amen!’ 

 

The 3 R’s? A Fourth Is Crucial, Too: Recess

    By TARA PARKER-POPE, Published: February 23, 2009

The best way to improve children’s performance in the classroom may be to take them out of it.

Should schools make recess and outdoor time a bigger priority for children? Join the discussion.

New research suggests that play and down time may be as important to a child’s academic experience as reading, science and math, and that regular recess, fitness or nature time can influence behavior, concentration and even grades.

A study published this month in the journal Pediatrics studied the links between recess and classroom behavior among about 11,000 children age 8 and 9. Those who had more than 15 minutes of recess a day showed better behavior in class than those who had little or none. Although disadvantaged children were more likely to be denied recess, the association between better behavior and recess time held up even after researchers controlled for a number of variables, including sex, ethnicity, public or private school and class size.

The lead researcher, Dr. Romina M. Barros, a pediatrician and an assistant clinical professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, said the findings were important because many schools did not view recess as essential to education.

You can read the whole article by going to: <http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/24/health/24well.html&gt;.

On A Sunny Monday 2/23/

February 23, 2009

            So, I’m driving home with my Ollie at my side and the discussion on NPR is on a topic not often addressed publicly by people – the question of one’s own death!  I’m not thinking about my death, but as I continued to listen I observed that there were many questions arising from the hostess, from the guest and from the callers about the relationship between one’s attitudes (how someone thinks and feels) and one’s behavior (what one does)!  So, I thought I’d use this space to raise a couple of questions and enter into a discussion with each of you.

            Does ‘How We Feel?’ influence how we behave, or does “How We Behave’ influence how we feel?  It’s kind of a chicken/egg question isn’t it?  But, maybe there’s more to this than just deciding which comes first!

            First of all:  What would change in our lives if we could always – ALWAYS – look for the positive – the best of things – the best of others?  You’ve read of the older woman who was being moved from her home to the rest facility, and with every statement people made to have her accept the move, she responded with some positive statement:  “You’ll enjoy the people there.”  To which she responded, “They’ll be perfect for me!”  “You’ll enjoy the colors in the room.”  She said, “Those colors are just what I wanted!”  “You’ll like the view out of your window.” And she jumped right in with, “It will be just right!”  When all who were moving her asked how she could be so sure about things she had not seen, she told them that when she makes up her mind to enjoy something, she always does enjoy those things – How She Felt Influenced Her Behavior!  And, I’m going to place my bet on her continuing to enjoy life in the rest facility just as she had enjoyed her life at ‘home’!  We could all relate a story of someone we’ve known whose attitudes were always negative, and sure enough, most of those prophesies become a reality and their lives are lived in misery – Misery of their own making???

            Secondly: On the other hand, there are many who believe that if we act as if things are going well and will turn out for the best, these behaviors might dictate our attitudes.  When we laugh boisterously and often, that laughter might bring about a change in our feelings – maybe that’s the root of the statement, “Laughter is good medicine!” originated.  Seeking out people with uplifting attitudes and working side by side with them might have a positive effect on those who might otherwise be negative. Performing act of volunteerism, of giving to others, of being a ‘present’ friend in times of potential hurt in others might all contribute to our having more joyous, mote pleasant feelings about the rest of the day.  Attending a meeting of people dedicated to creating a more positive world might infect each of us with positive feelings!  For many, attending an uplifting religious meeting can lift one’s spirits above the mundane, not-too-pleasant activities of our everyday world.  Get together with a group of people – family, friends, audiences – and join in a ‘Sing-a-long’ might influence how you feel for a long time.  Years ago, one night a week, our television would bring us “Sing Along With Mitch”, and we’d watch this vibrant man leading the singing in front of a screen with the words and a bouncing ball – it was a television ‘sing along’ program.  I observed that people invariably seemed to be less troubled, more peaceful, serene, and joyous after one of those shows

So, what do you think?  Can we change our behaviors by changing our attitudes?  Can we change our attitudes by changing our behaviors?  Do you want to come down on a non-committal position of ‘Both’?  Let’s chat!! 

Games for dinnertime with kids!

February 17, 2009

I’m more and more convinced that we much teach our children more than those items that can be successfully measured on Paper and Pencil tests. These test the memory (and perhaps recognition) and ignore some of the more advanced ‘intelligences’ that are also necessary for a person to live a life filled with joy and happiness!  The development of a creative mind, the cultivating experiences which necessitate imagination, leadership, confidence, analyzing, evaluating, and many others too numerous to be mentioned aren’t measured by these ‘high stakes’, content driven tests that are scored on a computer.

 In my last piece I pointed out how play can help a child master some of these other ‘intelligences’!  And, a couple of you asked if I knew any ‘games’ or ‘structured play’ which will promote these important things.  Here are a couple – we still use them occasionally when we have company, and the company often enjoys the sharing and always the attention! 

 Try this one:  We called it “True or Silly”!  After the food was passed or distributed, we would ask each person to make a statement  – about anything, something they’d read, something they’d heard in school, anything!  Then the rest would have to decide was the statement true?  Or Silly?   One evening, Jamie offered this statement: “Dinosaurs eat rocks and stones!”  The discussion that followed still creeps into our conversation from time to time.

 Try this one:  We called it “Good News and Little Upsets”!  One by one everyone at the   table (yes, company included) would have to share a little upset – something that made them unhappy in the last 12-24 hours.  Everyone else was to listen and no one could explain what he or she’d just heard.  When Carrie would say, ‘MY UPSET WAS WHEN PAUL CAME INTO MY ROOM AND TOOK MY CD!’ Paul could not explain, he had to realize that this WAS her upset, and her statement may not be 100% true, but probably not 100% false either.  (Kids learn to accept feedback without explaining it!) After everyone has shared, we go around again with the ‘good news’ – where everyone shares something that really made him/her happy within the last day.  Often the speaker would say, “I’ve go two!” or “I have more than one, can I share them all?”  The whole rest of the meal was given to sharing the ‘good news’!  Don’t be at all surprised if, when you come to visit, you need to participate in ‘Good News and Little Upsets’!

 Jim 

‘Tis Tuesday!

February 17, 2009

Tuesday morning!

 

For nearly all of my life in education, I have advocated ‘play’ as an important venue for learning and development.  In children, play contributes much to the most important skills necessary for the rest of our lives – imagination, creativity, problem solving, decision making.  Throughout my own life even beyond the formative years, playing games has helped me in many ways, and I’ve encouraged my own children to ‘play’ games as well. Now in my senior years, I still work to have people come together, ‘play games’ (card games now!), and continue to learn all that ‘playtime’ has to offer.

       So, I read this article with much satisfaction, knowing in my heart that this path I’ve chosen is at least found to be desirable in one part of the education establishment!  

“All Work And No Play Makes For Troubling Trend In Early Education” by Anne Haas Dyson

           ScienceDaily (Feb. 12, 2009) — Parents and educators who favor traditional classroom-style learning over free, unstructured playtime in preschool and kindergarten may actually be stunting a child’s development instead of enhancing it, according to a University of Illinois professor who studies childhood learning and literacy development.

          Anne Haas Dyson, a professor of curriculum and instruction in the U. of I. College of Education, says playtime for children is a “fundamental avenue” for learning, and attempts by parents and educators to create gifted children by bombarding them with information is well-intentioned but ultimately counterproductive.

          “That approach doesn’t appreciate the role of play and imagination in a child’s intellectual development,” Dyson said. “Play is where children discover ideas, experiences and concepts and think about them and their consequences. This is where literacy and learning really begins.”

          What Dyson calls the “banning of the imagination” in schools may be influenced by what some critics have called the “Baby Genius Edutainment Complex,” a cottage industry of mind-enrichment products developed specifically for infants and toddlers and marketed to anxious parents eager to give their children’s cognitive abilities an early boost.

          “I see this ‘Einstein in the crib’ trend as a societal reduction of children to the means for fulfilling parents’ desires for intellectual distinction,” Dyson said.  .  .  .  .  .

          Dyson said that having an early-childhood curriculum reduced to isolated test scores or other measurable pieces of information doesn’t take into account a child’s interests or an ability to imagine, problem solve or negotiate with other children, all of which are important social and intellectual qualities.

          “All tests tell us is how many letters and how many sounds children know,” she said. “I think there should be this grand societal conversation about what’s intellectually motivating and exciting for our children.”  .  .  .  . 

           “We have to intellectually engage kids,” she said. “We have to give them a sense of their own agency, their own capacity, and an ability to ask questions and solve problems. So we have to give them more open-ended activities that allow them the space they need to make sense of things.”

          So what can parents and educators do to stimulate children?

         “I think parents ought to engage with their children,” Dyson said. “Follow the child’s interests in people, objects, places, and activities, and talk with them. It’s social interaction that creates a link between the child and an ongoing activity. Help them learn how to articulate themselves and participate in the world.”

 Dyson is a co-author of the forthcoming book “Children, Language, and Literacy: Diverse Children in Diverse Times,” which discusses the nature of contemporary early-childhood programs and children’s language learning.


 

A Thursday Message for Many

February 12, 2009

So, I’m driving to Kingsville to speak to an award’s banquet and I’m listening to my favorite radio network – NPR.  During this hour, presenters are authors of a book which is made up of six word memoirs – a story with meaning in six words.  I was amused by some!  I was puzzled by some!  I found some really poignant!  And, then each of the presenters – one man, one woman – was asked to pick their personal favorite from the book, and they both immediately remember an entry by Ernest Hemingway.

 I listened to the words and wondered as I heard them how many stories have been written over the years that are much longer and don’t contain the feelings expressed in this one!  I wondered how many potential moms and dads will feel a tear well up in their eyes when they hear these words!  I just thought this was a powerful little piece of literature!  I’ll be interested in what effect, if any, this has on you!

 A Short Story in Six Words!

              For Sale,

             Baby Shoes,

           Never Worn!

 Jim 

Monday Evening 2/9/09

February 9, 2009

 

In today’s mail I received this intriguing piece from a long-time wonderful friend who knows the trials and the joys of being a parent – Thanks, Allen!  

So, for all of you parents out there:  Let me hear your response to this piece!  Does it contain a kernel of truth?  Have you ‘been there, done that’?  Do you think this paradigm will ever cease to exist? 

Lots of food for thought here!  I’ll watch for your responses.   

WORRY

Is there a magic cut off period when offspring become accountable for their own actions?  Is there a wonderful moment when parents can become detached spectators in the lives of their children and shrug, ‘It their life,’ and feel nothing?

When I was in my twenties, I stood in a hospital corridor waiting for doctors to put a few stitches in my daughter’s head. I asked, ‘When do you stop worrying?’ The nurse said, ‘When they get out of the accident stage’. My Dad just smiled faintly and said nothing.

 When I was in my thirties, I sat on a little chair in a classroom and heard how one of my children talked incessantly, disrupted the class, and was headed for a career making license plates. As if to read my mind, a teacher said, ‘Don’t worry, they all go through this stage and then you can sit back, relax enjoy them.’ My dad just smiled faintly and said nothing.

When I was in my forties, I spent a lifetime, waiting for the phone to ring, the cars to come home, the front door to open. A friend said, ‘They’re trying to find themselves. Don’t worry. In a few years, you can stop worrying. They’ll be adults’. My dad just smiled faintly and said nothing.

By the time I was 50, I was sick & tired of being vulnerable. I was still worrying over my children, but there was a new wrinkle… There was nothing I could do about it. My dad just smiled faintly and said nothing. I continued to anguish over their failures, be tormented by their frustrations and absorbed in their disappointments.

My friends said that when my kids got married, I could stop worrying and lead my own life. I wanted to believe that, but I was haunted by my dad’s warm smile and his occasional, ‘You look pale. Are you all right? Call me the minute you get home. Are you depressed about something’?

Can it be that parents are sentenced to a lifetime of worry? Is concern for one another handed down like a torch to blaze the trail of human frailties and the fears of the unknown? Is concern a curse or is it a virtue that elevates us to the highest form of life?

One of my children became quite irritable recently, saying to me, ‘Where were you? I’ve been calling for 3 days, and no one answered. I was worried’.

I smiled a warm smile.

The torch has been passed…

‘Tis Sunday Morning!

February 8, 2009

            It’s a Glorious Sunday morning at the Kern’s place and if you’re ready, we’ll take a walk for about one mile – to the end of our Walking Path and back!  Ollie is going along, and he’s not in any of the pictures!

sago-palm

As we walk out to the path, we’ll pass one of my favorite plants – a Sago Palm.  We bought this several years ago, planted it here and wondered if there would be enough sunlight for this beauty!  It’s doing just fine!

sports-court

              We’ll walk right by the Sport’s Court – lots of memories here!  When all the kids would come around to celebrate some special event, we’d go out here and play volleyball!  Many good times here!  And, when Jamie and Katie were growing up, we four would go out to play a game we called ‘Foo Foo Tennis’!  We used a ‘smurf’ ball and played according to regular tennis rules.  I don’t remember a time when Katie and I lost!

 

start-here1

        And, here’s the beginning of the Pathway!  This little persimmon bush will mark the starting place and, of course, we’ll end up here too!

path-to-the-north

 It’s a long ways down there, isn’t it?  We’ll be walking by many of Texas plants including Yukka Cactus, the Desert Candle, Aggravation, Oak trees, and cedar trees along with many flowers in the spring and summer after a rain.

desert-candle

          The desert candle shoots a high blossom up about six to seven feet in the air.  At the top there appears a white blossom and this candle can be seen from a long ways away!

keep-walking

        And, we’re nearly at the end of the first 1/8th mile!  The end is down there, trust me!

theres-the-end

       You can see the end now – it’s that cedar stump ahead of us!  Clearer in the next photo!

turn-around

        And, there it is!  We’re finished the first portion of our hike!  We now return to the persimmon back at the beginning and then do that three more times and we’ll have our mile in!

returning

               Walking here has several advantages over walking on the road – it’s level (up hill is tiring – REALLY tiring – , no traffic, and very often we see many white tailed deer leap out of some resting place to scamper ahead of us!  When Ollie is along the scamper turns into a dash! 

             It’s a pleasant activity!  Want to join us??

 

Special Saturday Solitude!

February 7, 2009

As soon as I’ve put this piece together, Denise and I will go for our one mile walk – and, yes, we’ll take Ollie along!  North of our house, but still on our property, I have fashioned a walking path which is 1/8 or a mile long, so we walk back and forth four times and we have walked one mile.  These walks have been really good for me – I sleep better, I’m less stiff and I feel ready to take on the day after that walk!  I strongly recommend walking for people who need to exercise and don’t go regularly to a gym or workout facility.  In fact, I think walking outdoors is superior to an indoor walk – just my little opinion!  I remember several years ago, when I lived in Minnesota (where the weather creates a natural barrier to walking outside in many ways) one of my co-workers saw the value and the necessity of working out, so he joined the local YMCA.  Every morning he would drive his car those four and one half blocks to the Y and then after a 20 minute workout, drive back home!  What’s wrong with this picture?

 On anther day, I’ll take my camera down on the ‘Walking Path’ and take you with me for my daily exercise – you wont’ tire watching the pictures!  We’ll be taking Ollie – oh, how he likes that!  When I say, “Let’s go for a walk!” he runs to the front door and sits down!  Once outdoors he starts his ‘ranging’.  First, he won’t walk on one portion of our lawn between the house and the path as he’s encountered ‘sticker-burrs’ there and he doesn’t like that at all, so he runs clear to the east to avoid that area.  And, then he runs – far to the east, then far to the west and then gallops ahead of us reappearing behind us!  He jumps up – puppy like – to nip our fingers.  He likes it best when I’m wearing my skiing gloves as he can bite pretty hard into them!  After the four laps, one of us says, “Let’s go in, Ollie!” and he runs for the front door and waits for us to come along!

ollie-32

 Another advantage of this walk is the time Denise and I have to just ‘share’ the things that might not otherwise come up in conversations.  We talk about her school, we talk about my day (that’s pretty boring sometimes), we talk about finances, we talk about politics – no phones ringing, no interruptions, no radio, no television – just chatting!  It’s good for me!

 So, it’s walking time for me – wind and all!  I will take you along, soon, I promise, in pictures for now, and when you come southward, we can all go down there to walk and chat together!

First Friday in February

February 6, 2009

For blog Feb 6 (respond at: <jimkern@gvtc.com>.

         Friday, February 5, 2009!  The time goes by so quickly and before we get all of the winter work done, it will be springtime and summertime!   I went to my garden this afternoon with 68 degree temperatures and a slight breeze out of the south to clean up another portion of the garden!  On Valentine’s Day, I’ll be pruning my roses and starting the harvest of my beets – the first will be very small beets, but I need to pull some so that others can expand and grow into the mature beet!  My onions are standing up tall and strong and will taste so good when their harvest begins!  They’re called 10-15 onions in Texas (Walla Walla in the northwest and Vidalia in Georgia – all sweet onions!)  When I first moved to Texas and people spoke of the 10-15 onion, my curiousity rose up and I asked, “Why 10-15??  Well, I had to remind myself that there are no foolish questions when I heard the response – ‘.  .  .  that’s the day we plant them . . . ‘!

         My greenhouse is full to over-flowing with all kinds of plants ready to be brought out to  various places around our home!  I’ve mastered in the last couple of months, the reproduction of begonias!  I had been trying so hard to get them started so they could be full and strong by June and July!  In my reading I learned that ‘misting’ the cut portions would allow them to thrive and grow rapidly – sure enough, that works!  I’ve misted them about once per day since I cut and planted these stems!  They’re doing fine!  And, I have a large crop of Angel Wing Begonioas growing.  I truly enjoy planting and caring for flower plants and veggies!

greenhouse

                      And, this afternoon I dug up a three year old iris bed – these bulbs have reproduced so many additional bulbs!  I’m going to try to give a bunch of them away, but there are some in Texas who, when offered free, healthy iris bulbs, will respond as my friend Brian did today!  “Oh, no!  My mother-in-law gave us some, we planted them and this spring I’ll have to dig the whole bed up to replant!”  My son, Paul, said he thought the home-owners association where his house is located forbids them to be planted there!  So, now I came to you – would you like some (lots of them) iris bulbs???