Gifted MisBehaviors: A View Through Two Lenses

img_2497Now that I am approaching fifty, my eyes are changing and I have two pairs of glasses. My “close” glasses are for reading. My “far” glasses are for watching plays from the balcony. It is easy to get these lenses mixed up, but I can’t bring myself to do the bifocal thing because, let’s face it, it’s difficult to adjust to two lenses.

Like with my glasses situation, I use two “educational lenses” in my roles this year as both an elementary school assistant principal and a district-wide K-8 gifted coordinator.

As a gifted program coordinator, I see that teachers and parents readily refer children for programming based upon “gifted behaviors,” such as insatiable curiosity, intensity, and the ability to ask and understand complex questions.

As an assistant principal who manages much of the school’s discipline, children are referred for different reasons–most which involve a failure to follow school norms.   As with my mixed up glasses, I sometimes find myself looking at misbehavior through a “gifted” lens, and a variety of referral questions emerge…

Misbehavior Referral? Student doesn’t stop activities when it’s time to stop, and has difficulty transitioning from one activity to the other. Gifted Referral? Why is the student so engrossed in activities? Gifted students can find it difficult to stop an activity when their minds are engaged. Is the student exploring them in depth? Could it be difficult for this student to leave certain activities and subjects behind? Would this student benefit from some uninterrupted time to work on a passion project?

 Misbehavior Referral? Student pushes humor too far and is therefore disrespectful. This was not a time for jokes. Gifted Referral? Verbally gifted students find plays on words, figurative language, and humor to be irresistible. Is there an opportunity that would help this child to explore humor and figurative language in a positive way?

Misbehavior Referral? Student’s responses do not match the situation; the student gets upset or angry over insignificant things and acts out. Gifted Referral? Gifted students can be sensitive and emotionally intense. Some are perfectionists. Why was this student so upset? Could perfectionism or an acute sense of justice have triggered the behavior? Would this student benefit from an opportunity to engage in meaningful dialogue about these ideals?

 Misbehavior Referral? Student keeps talking out of turn when asked to be quiet. Gifted Referral? For a gifted student, the ability to use advanced vocabulary and to express oneself eloquently may be a source of self esteem and pride. Although this student needs to listen and show respect for others, how could we make sure that this need for challenge and expression in the area of language arts is met in the classroom?

Misbehavior Referral? Student appears to have no respect for the rules and questions everything. Gifted Referral? Does this student understand the reasons for the rules? When it comes to students with a profound sense of justice, the reasons behind the rules matter.   Creatively gifted students may challenge the rules and prefer to try “their own way.” Could this student who “bumps up against the rules” be a strong candidate for gifted programming?

Of course we cannot presume that misbehavior is related to giftedness, nor can we ignore it for that reason. All children, including gifted ones, need limits; in schools, we need consistent, respectful discipline, and appropriate consequences for misbehavior. “Turning a blind eye” to misbehavior by calling it “giftedness” would not only be unsafe, it would cast aside our responsibility as educators.

However, as we see and respond to misbehavior, taking a glance through the “gifted” lens could produce a revelation. Among the discipline referrals, might we catch a glimpse of a gifted student who is paradoxically being overlooked because of “gifted misbehavior”?

For me, switching spectacles back and forth may work in the short term, but for the long term, it may be time to adjust to one pair of glasses through which I can see “close” and “far.”

Likewise with gifted misbehaviors; time to put on the bifocals.

Packing Up My Classroom: What I’m Taking With Me

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Last week, I packed up my classroom after ten years of teaching to begin a new chapter in my career as an elementary school assistant principal/gifted coordinator.   Perhaps because these years have been so full, I was surprised that the boxes and bags I packed fit so easily into the trunk of my car.

What am I taking from my teaching experience to my new role as an administrator? I prefer to travel light, so I’ll condense it down to one item – respect for this beautiful, challenging, and impactful profession.

Whether making a U-Turn or simply changing lanes, it can be difficult to take a new road in life. Years ago, when I “packed up” my career as a lawyer to follow my dream of becoming an elementary school teacher, I worried that others would think I “failed in the law.” When I shared this concern with my education program advisor, his wise response emboldened me: “Yes, they will…Do it anyway.”

So I did it anyway. And over the last ten years, I have developed a profound respect for teaching. A teacher’s work is never done, and there is always more to learn.

As a teacher, I’ve learned that a positive classroom community that welcomes diversity and builds trust is essential for learning. Without such a community, instruction is like dancing on air, and it can’t last very long.

Moreover, I’ve discovered that when students come to school, teachers cannot always “see” their joys and sorrows.   We do not see all of our students’ interactions with others, and we may even have difficulty seeing their talents, struggles, and obstacles that they have already overcome. When working with students, I have learned to acknowledge these sight limitations.

But despite such challenges, I’ve found that teachers can and do make a difference, and it is the wonderful relationships we build with students, families, parents and colleagues that make it all happen.

As I pack up my classroom, I am bringing along a respect for teachers everywhere.

I don’t have many boxes or bags, but my heart is full to bursting.

Instant Grit? A Recipe for Teaching Perseverance

Photo on 2-24-16 at 10.29 PM

“Instant Grits.” I smile to myself when I see them on the store shelf, because as a Chicagoan, I always associate grits with vacation ease in a warmer climate. Grits are supposed to take time—you sit down and savor them with honey and biscuits.

As an alternative to instant grits, a “grit” I’ve encountered in professional development sessions has potential:

In the education arena, psychologist Angela Duckworth asserts “Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not jus for the week, not just for the month but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint”[1] According to Duckworth’s research, “grit” is an essential ingredient for success—even beyond I.Q.

So, as teachers we may ask, “Can grit be taught? If so, what is the recipe?…Can we just add water?”

For some, grit seems to be about prolonged attention span and perseverance even when activities are not immediately rewarding. This idea of “grit” sounds akin to pitting cherries, shelling peas, or husking bushels of corn. The world is full of mundane tasks for “teaching” grit in this way.

Yet, in the classroom, it does seem more palatable to teach students to develop grit by striving and persevering for their own goals, rather than chasing unfulfilling ones. In light of this, some educators suggest that “grit” can be naturally fostered by having children identify their own passions or engage in project based learning.

I do believe that passion projects bring joy to learning, and even students who otherwise lack “grit” may choose to stick with projects that are authentic and meaningful to them. But passion projects are unlikely to guarantee instant grit. Deciding what one’s passion is in the first place requires a respectable bit of perseverance for some students. Moreover, on the road to pursue passions, some students “fall out of love” with their projects when challenges arise. Perhaps in order to prepare students to achieve excellence in any subject, we need to make “developing grit” a more intentional part of our daily routine.

One suggestion I have heard during discussions about teaching “grit” is the idea that “children need to fail.” Rather than being coddled and protected from failure, children need to learn to scrape themselves off the ground and try again.

Although I will never know the complete recipe for “grit,” from what I have tasted, I find that the essential ingredient is not found in failure, but in student success.

Teaching grit means helping students to see the connection between individual effort and excellence, and this can apply to any subject. As teachers, the challenge is to teach “grit” everyday. Celebrating effort and realizing the results – even incremental results – again and again is what motivates students to develop the habit of striving.

Given this reality, the secret ingredient for teaching and learning “grit” may be time.

…time to develop and create thoughtful work products.

…time to revise work to achieve excellence.

…time to break tasks down and master each part of a skill

…time to practice each skill until it comes easily

…time to recognize progress

…time to celebrate success

…time to reflect on what could have been done differently

…time to change direction

…time to try again

…time to ask questions

…time to come up with new ideas

We may need to make time from scratch.  But there is one thing for certain —

There is no “Instant Grit.”


[1] “The Key to Success? Grit.” Angela Lee Duckworth:. TED Talks, April 2013 Web. 24 Feb. 2016. <;.


“Question Me An Answer”

Question me an answer bright and clear.
I will answer with a question clear and bright.
Even though your answer may be wrong 
my question will be right…

The Right Question

From Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s song, “Answer Me a Question” performed by Bobby Van in the 1973 movie, “Lost Horizons.”

Teachers fuel meaningful, deep, classroom discussions with questions that deepen student knowledge and encourage critical thinking.

Although asking questions may sound simple, teaching resources for questioning abound. We have Webb’s “Depth of Knowledge” that designates four levels of activities of increasing cognitive complexity.We have the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy with six levels of knowledge including Remembering, Understanding, Applying, Analyzing, Evaluating and Creating.

In fact, for teachers who wish to help students develop questions at a “higher” level there is a dizzying array of Bloom’s Taxonomy “question stems” out there for students to write questions from a template of “high level” starters such as “”What would happen if…”, “How would you improve…” “Would it be better if….”, and “What evidence can you find?”

As a teacher of high ability students whose mission is to encourage critical thinking and deep exploration, I have piles of print-outs filled with question stems. Yet, I seldomly reach for them.

Questions are personal creations; they grow from the raw, grasping desire to know. Answers are out there—but questions come from inside of us—from the heart. For me, reaching for “question stems” for students feels like I’m reaching for a defibrillator.

 So yesterday when we discussed Laurence Yep’s memoir, The Lost Garden, in our Sixth Grade classroom, this is what we did:

  • The students took a few minutes to think of the most interesting questions that they could ask about the memoir.
  • In small groups, they generated four questions that they felt would make an interesting class discussion about the book.
  • After reflecting on these questions as a group, they wrote a brief reflection explaining why these questions were likely to spark an interesting conversation.
  • After the students wrote their questions and discussed their answers, I compiled the questions to create a list.

Today, I introduced a table that provided the four levels of Webb’s “Depth of Knowledge” (Level I: Recall and Reproduction, Level II: Basic Application of Skills and Concepts, Level III: Strategic Thinking, and Level IV: Extended Thinking).  We talked about kinds of questions that would fall into each group. Then, I showed the students a chart that sorted their questions about The Lost Garden according to the Depth of Knowledge level each question reflected.

The students immediately recognized that their most interesting discussion questions fell under higher depth of knowledge levels.   However, they found that none of their questions reached the highest level, “Extended Thinking.” So, we discussed how we could ask even more thought-provoking questions about society and culture that related to the novel.  To find answers, we recognized that we would need to extend our thinking  by exploring a broad variety of sources and authors.

As the class ended, the students were soon revising and enriching their queries to probe for deeper meaning in the text. They were searching for better, more intriguing questions!

I’m not sure what answers my students will discover.  However, I hope that if one day these students reach for my pile of “question stem defibrillators,” it will be when they recognize the warm, lively heartbeat of discussion – authentic, high level questioning.

…And their questions will be right.

Find more information on Webb’s Depth of Knowledge levels at NYC Department of Education Website
Find more information on Bloom’s Taxonomy at Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching Website

Public Transportation: A Learning Destination Worth Visiting

IMG_1938Are you planning a downtown adventure with your child this summer? Public transportation is not only an economical, efficient way to reach city attractions; it can also be a fresh “destination” for learning.

Rather than tow your child along as you navigate the train or bus schedule, engage her in the journey.  Look over the departure and arrival times and answer questions together. At what platform will the train stop? How many hours can we stay downtown if we take the 8:00 a.m. train and leave on the 2:30 p.m. train? Should we choose to walk or to take the bus from the station?

Challenge your child to read the train schedule, to explain the subway map, or to choose the correct bus. Not only will your child to gradually learn to navigate the city with adult supervision; he or she will experience how to reach a goal by making real, responsible choices in an authentic context.

Best wishes for a safe, fun, and memorable trip!

Looking Back on the Year

IMG_1917Another school year has sped by and I am again looking “through the rear view mirror” at another journey in the classroom.  Although bumper to bumper end-of year parties, assemblies, and classroom textbook return may create a sizable jam, I find that building some reflection time into those last few classes is essential.

Here are five “fuel efficient” ways for teachers to assess how the year went and to make next year even better:

  • “Scale” Response: A simple classroom feedback scale is an excellent tool to help students communicate general feelings about their classroom experience. Soliciting anonymous student feedback about what was “too much,” “too little,” or “just enough” during the school year takes only a few minutes, but can provide invaluable insights for improving instruction.[1]  These are also easy to administer online with survey tools such as Google Forms.
  • “How-To” Pamphlet: At the end of the year, our students are the “experts” on being in our classes. Accordingly, I encourage students to share their expertise by making “pamphlets” to guide next year’s students through a successful year. A black sheet of paper folded into thirds with such headings as, “The Year in Summary,” “Tips for Success,” and “This Year’s Highlights” provides a terrific end-of-year wrap-up and a peer-supported welcome when school resumes in the fall.
  • Pre/Post Assessment Review: In my language arts class, at the beginning and end of each year, students take a pre-assessment and post-assessment in which they answer the same literature analysis questions.   At the end of the year, I distribute these assessments for their review (before teacher feedback/grades are shared). Challenging students to identify two or three specific areas of improvement on their own reinforces a sense of “ownership” of their learning. Moreover, encouraging students to share their observations provides a wonderful “wrap up” discussion about the year’s accomplishments, learning trends, and accomplishments.
  • Written Student Reflections: Student self-reflections are another meaningful way to collect information about whether “it was a good year.” They also provide insights about student understanding, readiness for additional challenge, and activities that students find particularly meaningful. Student reflection questions that yield meaningful feedback may include prompts such as: What challenged you the most this year? What about this class would you enjoy? What would you change about this class? If you could plan a lesson that would improve this class, what would it be? (I have sometimes found some wonderful, fresh ideas for instruction this way!)
  • Invite Parent Feedback: Keeping school-home communication avenues open throughout the year is essential for classroom teachers. In addition to the fact that strong family-school partnerships support student learning, children will sometimes share perspectives with their families at home that they do not express at school. At the end of the year, sending home a form for parent written reflections and suggestions is one way to invite summative feedback from parents. Also, a simple email or phone call to parents at the year’s end to celebrate their child’s success, provide suggestions for summer practice, and/or identify areas of strengths and challenge is a natural way to open dialogue that can potentially deepen a teacher’s understanding about the overall classroom experience.

[1] Dr. Richard Best modeled the “too much” “too little” “just enough” categories to collect feedback in his graduate class in Educational Leadership at National-Louis University.  This idea for collecting feedback to be helpful both when leading professional development sessions for colleagues and when teaching elementary students.

Content Knowledge: Let’s Hear it For the Underdog!

photo from Microsoft Word Clip Art



As educators, is our lamenting that there’s “too much content to teach and not enough time” drowning out our enthusiasm about the “stuff” of learning?  In the tug-of-war of professional priorities, do we too casually make content knowledge the underdog?

For elementary school teachers, professional development related to Common Core State Standards, assessment, differentiation and social-emotional learning is important for keeping up on best practices.  But how much time per year do we spend expanding and deepening our own knowledge about the content that we are teaching?  If we teach Social Studies, Reading, Science, or Mathematics, do we set aside time to expand our knowledge and explore topics of personal interest related to these subjects?  Do we regularly enjoy meaningful discussions and share resources with our colleagues about these topics?

As educators, when we make it a priority to pursue and share content knowledge among ourselves, we naturally convey to our students a sense of renewed excitement about the “stuff” we are teaching and learning.

So if we haven’t cheered for content knowledge lately, let’s do it together…

Hooray for the amazing pleasure of learning lots and lots of new things!


Spring Morning: Bringing Schools To Life


This morning was the first warm Monday that Chicago has experienced for a while — the sun was bright, and there was a high temperature of around 45 degrees.  As I stood at my crosswalk post, the sunshine revealed a crowd of diverse families and students entering the school doors, bringing the school to life again.  

How do we keep our schools alive?  Quite simply, school leadership can keep our schools healthy by building connections with the families who nourish them.  In fact, the following types of activities/practices offer a few ways that educators can bring families and schools together:

  • Welcome parents and family members to school and greet them as they come to the door. 
  • Schedule a rich variety of inclusive school events at different times throughout the year so that families with diverse schedules and interests will be able to attend and feel welcome. 
  • Routinely provide opportunities for parents to share their perspectives about the school and to better understand the needs and interests of families.  Such opportunities can range from one-to-one interactions, to coffees, town meetings, and surveys.
  • Engage with the community, understand its assets and struggles, and develop relationships with business owners, community leaders, and institutions. 
  • Take walks through the community, getting to know the surrounding neighborhood and its residents.
  • Understand the needs and preferences of families for communication avenues, so that school communications cross language and cultural barriers, and all families feel a part of the school community.  

As the weather turns warmer, it is a wonderful time for teachers and principals to look for new ways to step outside and open doors for the diverse families that are our schools.  Let’s keep it “spring” all year round.

Ubi Caritas


UntitledDuring these days of tight school budgets, schools must make it a priority to support and treasure programs in music and the visual arts. One important reason for this is that we find so many talented, inspiring teachers in the arts who fill the school experience with creativity, meaning, and joy. In fact, here’s a personal story …

I remember myself as an eighth grader. As one of six siblings, all of whom played the violin, I had grown up in Corning, New York with music and was also a serious student. So, when the conductor of the high school Choristers, Mr. Perry, led an information session for incoming freshmen, I asked him, “What should I do if I’d much rather sing in the Choristers, but I’ve been told I should take Latin instead?”

He quipped with a laugh, “That’s easy! Join Choristers!”

So, I did.

For me, singing in the high school chorus was an experience that brought joy as well as learning. We sang a wide variety of music, explored musical theory, practiced singing in multi-part harmony, and learned how to perform with dynamics and expression. Mr. Perry’s content knowledge was extensive, and his musicianship and high standards for excellence were captivating. His rehearsal room was always filled with laughter.

When I think of what makes a great teacher, I think of Mr. Perry who developed personal relationships with students and demonstrated time and again how with perseverance and practice, a cacophony could evolve into beautiful music. Mr. Perry was authentic and approachable—and the learning that took place in his rehearsal room was lasting and genuine.

In high school, when I followed Mr. Perry’s advice to “Join Choristers,” I found that true joy in learning came, not by thoughtlessly following a course set by others, but by following my dreams—a journey that led me to teaching. In the end, I never took a Latin class, but from Choristers my heart is filled with beautiful song lyrics that we sang together—in Latin.

At the Copy Machine


            I have heard that the true nature of a person reveals itself when “no one is looking.” There is no truer place where “no one is looking” than the elementary school copy machine.

            The two copy machines at my school churn out paper for over 600 students; they are always warm. Warm – like the teachers who stand in line waiting to use them as they ask, “Are you in a hurry? Do you want to step ahead of me?”

            And then there is that fifth grade teacher with a classroom right across from the hallway copy machine. I suspect he knows how and where the copier “clogs” just by the noise it makes.  After school, I’ll see another teacher standing there with the machine beeping and flashing, trying to decipher the “fix it” diagram on the machine display.   Ten to one —before the teacher finishes reading, that fifth grade teacher has already opened the doors, removed the jammed paper, pulled the levers, and restarted the job.

             Are you into corporate team building? Standing at our elementary school copy machine may be the most meaningful professional development opportunity out there.

            In fact, one of my most memorable learning moments as a new teacher happened at the copier. I remember waiting for my turn to use the copier as a “veteran teacher,” who was just a year or two from retirement was straightening his finished worksheet stack.  He looked so composed.  Yet for me, as the machine whirled, images of student behavior issues, new curriculum, and parent calls cranked through my mind—everything new; everything impossible.

          When it was my turn to use that machine, I lifted the tray to set my paper down on the glass.   Then, something sparkling caught my eye — two pieces of dark chocolate wrapped in pink foil resting on the ledge by the “start” button.

           “The dark kind is good for you,” he gently advised as he walked away.

-Patricia Steinmeyer

Jumping In


This week, at Keuka Lake, New York my forty-nine-year-old husband enjoyed swimming with the kids–jumping into the lake off the dock repeatedly. When he emerged from the water in a state of pure euphoria, he announced, “It doesn’t matter whether you are nine or forty-nine…jumping off the dock into a lake always feels the same.” I couldn’t agree more.

Yet, I remember that as a nine-year-old staring down into the smooth, glassy deep water—I couldn’t bring myself to leap. I was too afraid.

Eventually, I overcame it. Maybe it was my father, who patiently waited at the end of the dock for me to jump in, promising to catch me if I went under. Maybe it was my mother, who waded in the water with me until I gradually gathered the courage to swim in the deeper water. Maybe it was one of my brothers and sisters, who jumped in laughing, making it look like such fun. So now at forty-seven, I can leap right in laughing and shouting; I have learned to override that split-second tinge of fear—but it nevertheless remains an element of the jump.

For me, like jumping off the dock, plunging into a new year of teaching brings back childhood sensations. The distinctive, soapy-rubber smell of fresh school supplies, the click of a new lunchbox fastener, the early morning dew on the grass, the fog lifting as we set off. The first day of school has a sensory experience all of its own—clean, smiling, hopeful.

How will the first day of school 2014 actually feel for teachers, parents and students? With so many school rules and procedures to convey, paperwork to complete, and “rigorous” curriculum to deliver in preparation for state testing, we may be tempted to dive in mindlessly. However, in her book, The Essential Conversation: What Parents and Teachers Can Learn from Each Other, Harvard University Professor Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot discusses the powerful role that childhood experiences have in forming teacher and parent attitudes toward school. In parent-teacher conferences, she observes:

There is something immediate, reflexive, and regressive, both for parents and teachers, about their encounters with one another, a turning inward and backward, a sense of primal urgency…The adults come together prepared to focus on the present and the future of the child, but instead they feel themselves drawn back into their own pasts, visited by the ghosts of their parents, grandparents, siblings, and former teachers, haunted by ancient childhood dramas. (Lawrence-Lightfoot 4)[1]

This observation reflects a crucial understanding that the innate responses formed by our own experiences of school—positive and negative—have profoundly deep implications for our children now and in the future.

The truth is that on the first day of school, while many of our children celebrate “jumping” into a new school environment, others may not. For educators, it takes patience and time to encourage those who hesitate to adjust to the “deep water” of new relationships, expectations, and challenges. Consequently, external classroom demands that tempt teachers to hurry, “toss the students in,” and mechanically tread water to keep afloat with curriculum and testing schedules may result in a learning experience that doesn’t even get our toes wet. After all, when it comes to both school and deep water, “It doesn’t matter whether you are nine or forty-nine…jumping off the dock into a lake always feels the same.”

[1] Lawrence-Lightfoot, Sara. The Essential Conversation: What Parents and Teachers Can Learn from Each Other. New York: Random House, 2003. Print.


Keeping “Calm on Core” Standards

Ah…summer! A perfect time to pour an iced tea, reflect and luxuriate over next year’s lesson plans. In this leg of my teaching odyssey, I am a blissful lotus eater. On my summer island, the Common Core State Standards, this year’s new PARCC Assessment, and the new teacher evaluation process seem like a dream…

But these are reality for teachers, even as debates about the Common Core rage on.

In fact, last year, we “unpacked” those Common Core Standards. (“Unpacking” is Eduspeak for, “We read them closely to figure out what they meant.”)  So, now that I have an idea of what these Standards say, the next step is to find a way for my students to meet them.

As I review a couple of the Standards, I note that my 6th Grade Reading students will need to do such things as “Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says…” and “[i]ntegrate information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words to develop a coherent understanding of a topic or issue.” [1]  This means that my students will need to read closely and understand what authors say.  Also, my students will need to be able to analyze different texts and media to learn something new.  Important stuff for kids who will be writing the news someday…and voting.

So, it’s time to keep calm, pour another iced tea, and try some of the following:

(1) Surf the Internet and Twitter for some insightful professional conversations and resources related to the new core standards.

(2) Become familiar with school district resources and any new Common Core teaching materials for my classes that are accessible to me this summer.

(3) Identify which of the Common Core Standards are addressed in existing lesson plans and how they are assessed.

(4) Make notes about Common Core standard objectives that are not met through the current lesson plans, and brainstorm ideas to adjust and differentiate existing lessons for student success and engagement. (These can be discussed and developed with colleagues in the fall.)

(5) Develop tools to help students track their progress and reflect on their learning.

(6) Discover some meaningful ways to integrate technology for 21st Century Learning.

It’s a long summer…so why panic?. . . Pass the sugar and the lemon.

[1] See Common Core State Standards Initiative

Math-Magical Ropes

Last spring in elementary school, we had “Dress Like A Teacher Day.” Several of the girls showed up dressed like me–the long skirt, the glasses, and the cardigan sweater.   These girls had the ensemble down: I’d actually be delighted to wear some of those outfits!  But the accessories my elementary math students sported were befuddling — short pieces of rope they called “math-magical ropes.”

Why ropes?  I had no idea why the kids were carrying ropes!

At last someone told me the answer:  Apparently one day in class, I was explaining a math concept.  But the children were not listening.  Instead, they were gazing at a crane with a dangling, rope-like cable operating just outside the classroom window.  When I followed their eyes and saw the apparatus, I exclaimed, “Wow!  There’s a math-magical rope!”

That was it.

The students may have forgotten that day’s lesson, but they sure remembered the math-magical rope.  Students have an astonishing capacity to carry around words that their teachers forget.

It’s helpless.  We teachers may never be able to math-magically reverse the number of forgotten words.  But we can definitely try to choose the ones that are light and easy to carry.




Summer “I Spy” for Parents

Summer is here, and it’s a great time to watch your child in action. In the classroom, I find that simply observing is one of the best ways to learn about children.  So, if you are looking for some new ways to keep your child geared up for learning, a little bit of friendly “spying” may tip you off!

1). Observe your child typing.

Yes. Typing. How long does it take your child to type a sentence? A paragraph? To search the keyboard for the “n” key?…With the dawning of the new Common Core State Standards, by fourth grade your child should “demonstrate sufficient command of keyboarding skills to type a minimum of one page in a single sitting.” By sixth grade, this expectation increases to three pages.

Increasingly, students are completing classroom work on computers. Now, look at your child typing.   Would a few minutes of daily summer typing practice be helpful?

2). Observe your child playing.

Is it difficult to do this during the long, summer months of camps, swimming lessons, and structured activities? If so, get rid of some clutter and give your child some play time to explore, dream up creative activities—and to deal with finding their own solutions to occasional boredom.

When there is nothing to do, does your child head straight for the television and video games? Try giving the screen a day or two “off”—It’s amazing how creative children can be within those limits. Challenge them to find something fun, inclusive, and safe to do or create on their own “electricity”!

3). Observe your child reading.

Does your child avoid reading new books and stories, and continually go back to the same, comfortable reads? It may be time to “shop the library” together for some new stories.

Do you observe that your child starts reading, finishes part of the first chapter, and then gives up on a story? Try helping your child discover a new story by reading the first few chapters of the book aloud to your child. Once engaged, he or she may find it easier to pick up the book and finish reading it independently!

 4). Observe your child using mathematics.

Does your child need to add and subtract when playing board games, talking about sports, buying an ice-cream cone, or measuring ingredients to make instant pudding? Observe your child’s math use during the summer, and let your child know that you notice. Also, share how you are using mathematics in your daily life.

…What if you do a great job spying, but you find that your child is not using math? Look for opportunities to enjoy mathematics that are easily within reach. Bake a cake; try some origami; plan a lemonade stand; build a fort; design a container garden; play Monopoly; track the number of miles walked in a week; map and create a budget for the next family outing; clip coupons and see what you can save together for an “end of the summer” treat…