Half way to Full Circle

The beginning of my blogging began with the beginning of my teaching program. I was incredibly hesitant, dare I say frustrated with the prospect of “having to blog” (insert heavy sigh and eye roll). The first quarter was rough. I struggled to blog, the idea of having to blog on top of everything else required in my life only added to my developing discontent for it.
With two more quarters passing me by I surprised, however, to find blogging an effective tool for reflection. Blogging has become an outlet for my deeper thinking on some heavy educational topics. It has pushed me as a writer- something I normally feared in my coursework. The Blogs I look back on that show this growth is my first blog and my most recent. I can clearly see the style which I write change from a stiff formal platform to more relaxed and reflective. I am no longer concerned with length or if “I sound deep”.
This past quarter has been one of growth in terms of my commenting on my classmates blogs. The number has gone up and the questions and ponderings have strengthened. I love that I feel more confident to respond to a classmates blog, and relish when we actually communicate back in forth! I also find it incredibly helpful to read their responses and find myself thinking deeper on the questions I bring up.
As we have reached our half way mark for the program, I am excited to see where my blogging takes me in the next few quarters and beyond the program.
Happy Holidays everyone!

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Keep It Cool and They Just Might Take Reading Seriously…

Last week I did a read aloud with my eight graders on Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. The students enjoyed the book and handled the tough concepts of internal struggle and duel identity well. And though my exit activity proved to me that they were engaged in the reading, and they were thinking critically the real results of the reading reveled themselves this week. Three students asked where they could get the book to read on their own time. I will repeat this, three students asked to read the book outside of school, a book not assigned or to be graded, and something that will be devoured with pleasure not in the troughs of homework agony. When this was asked of me “where can I get this book to read?” I had to “check myself” not to respond with a loud three cheers for reading and above all resist high fiving them! Least I deter them with my teacher “un-coolness” , but rather I helped them track down the book and gave them a hearty , “ I am so excited for you read this- let me know what you think when you are finished .”
No, this was not the entire 89 8th grade English lit student body begging for the book, and yes, I am aware that the goal is the get them all reading, reading and more reading. But, this felt like such a victory! And you know why, because they reached out to me, asking for the book and it was a book they heard in class. Though a small amount this has huge success written (or should I say read) all over it. This is a perfect reminder that all those hours we pour into lessons and units and scaffolding or teacher tricks that feel lost on glazed eyes and foggy brains focusing on homecoming or food or anything else rather than class – that we can still reach out to the students. We can get them perked up in class to learn and discover on their own outside the classroom. Because isn’t that the point of why we teach? I want my students to become lifelong learners! I do not want a former student to come up to me and say “I just loved that very specific but random thing you said about Shakespeare that one day a long time ago…” that would just be unrealistic, and a little surprising at such a fabulous memory. But rather I want to hear “hey that book you read really got me into reading that authors work..”. This week as the perfect reminder of why I want to teach and why I think reading is such a magical experience!

Food Journal Reflection

Over the course of this summer B term – the most challenging assignment for me was keeping an active food journal. It was a surprising struggle to be mindful in tracking my eating, exercise and sleeping patterns. Initially I perceived my eating habits as very healthy; I exercised regularly and sleep well most nights. And though at the end of this experience I am still as healthy as an eater I assumed I learned that I have few habits I could work to eliminate from my lifestyle. Those habits were stress snacking, and drinking too much coffee and mindless eating at social events. The stress being the biggest proponent of these concerns, and this crossed over into my sleeping pattern and regular exercise.
Looking back at what I logged the first week I noticed some positive trends in my diet/lifestyle. With the exceptions of Sundays, I have the same breakfast, lunch and mid- day snack: a fruit smoothie in the morning, for lunch a veggie salad and lean protein (one teaspoon of olive oil) and for a mid-day snack some mixed fruit or veggies with hummus. I exercised at least four days a week and was active when possible (i.e. walking instead of driving, planning active activities with friends like beach volleyball etc.) and every Sunday I go on a long distance run with a close friend.
However, I noticed a trend that in the evening I tend to not be as mindful of what I eat or the portion size. I also noted that I snack (more than needed) after dinner as well. When looking at my water intake I was not drinking enough and seemed to compensate with too much coffee. I reflected that this over eating or “mindless snacking” occurs at night because my brain is off “school/work” mode and I tend to mull over the various stressors in my life. This is, I am assuming, what is causing me to not sleep as well. I thought I could function on five-six hours of sleep but know we all need seven –eight hours. I saw the trend clearly: stress leads to over- eating/high caffeine intake which effects sleep that curbs energy to exercise. The following week I tried really hard to maintaining my eating habits (which sometimes was derailed due to birthday in class treats!) and not over snack. I started drinking more water and forced myself to go to bed early to get more sleep. I am already seeing the results from it but am still in progress to fully eliminate and improve these tendencies.
I can see how this would be a great tool for students. It could help them and their family track positive and negative eating/lifestyle patterns and become motivated to improve on their diet and lifestyle. Students tracking what they are putting into their body in relations to its effects on their sleep, activity ,health and school work will make them see food as fuel and not just “stuff” they crave or mindlessly eat. This will make them care about what they eat and care about their lifestyle, giving them the tools to carry this mentality into adulthood successfully.
This could also be put into the classroom by integrating it into various subjects such as math, science or writing. Like measuring their food properly, learning what makes up their favorite foods, and keeping a journal that tracks their reflections on the matter. It might seem daunting to my future students to keep a food journal, and I will fully anticipate their resistance (since I had many reservations and struggles with it myself) but once they make it a part of their daily life , the positive effect it will have is sure to leave a lasting impression on their lifestyle. Which, I believe, it paramount in the learning experience for children.

The Dopamine Lollipop

MEMORY and LEARNING

As my spring quarter nears its end- I have felt the increasing stress with due dates and reading workload. The amounting stress leads me to worrying that I will not to be able to remember what I have just read, a vicious cycle that all students go through. It got me thinking how my students will handle stress in the classroom when approached by new learning experiences. In a fabulous coincidence I came across Leaps and Bounds for Teachers with John Medina (author of Brain Rules) the hour long audio interview covers his thoughts on understanding the brain truths of the learning experience of our students. Trying to tackle the overstretched ever confounding question “why it is hard for students to remember what was just taught to them?”
Identifying the two types of memory, declarative memory and autobiographical memory, it is the declarative type that impacts students. Medina gives a good explanation – but basically the definition of the declarative memory is when you declare something as verbal proposition. We process new information then it goes through an immediate memory buffer (this takes thirty seconds), if it is not stored after that (though information is only stored up to two hours) then our brain dumps the information. To avoid “dumping”, that information needs to be repeated, after that information will be placed in our working memory. However, to stimulate the working memory there needs to be another interval of repetition. By Median’s standards- students would effectively learn if lessons were set around an interval of every two hours and thirty seconds.
What struck me the most was how this makes complete sense to me as a student, future educator and person: repetition makes memory sticky. By sticky, I mean it will go into our brain and stick, making it all the easier to open up that “file drawer” to answer a question or recall something. This interval of repeating information every two hours and thirty seconds would have students retaining the lessons and guarantee they are more relaxed while learning. If they miss it the first time, they know they can catch it the seconded time around or the third. Median calls this cycle of repetition The Dopamine Lollipop.
The fear of “missing an important part” of a lesson weighs heavily on most students. This weight surmounts to stress, and we all know stress is a disease in learning. When the brain is stressed it shuts down to all learning, making it nearly impossible to have the lesson stick.
So what do we think? Will creating lessons around repeated intervals help our students learn and remember what they have learned? I know this is something I will strive for in my classroom.

Cover of "Brain Rules: 12 Principles for ...
Cover via Amazon

Take a Hike

Got a Meeting?: take a walk

I came across this Ted Talk “Got a meeting? Take a walk”by Nilofer Merchant at the most amazing moment right after a hike with a friend (let’s call her sunny). I came home reflecting what a wonderful time I had on the hike and what great conversation I had with Sunny. Some if the best conversations, ideas and realizations have come to me during a hike, bringing me to my thought “why not take a hike in the classroom?” What I mean is, if there is a connection to fresh air, walking and thinking, why shouldn’t learning in the classroom take a hike?
Though I think this is a great idea, and most likely not the first of its kind, I am pondering how to make it effective for students. Obviously taking a group of 20-38 students on a hike would create all sorts of distractions from the topic of discussion, but what about small group conversations? And for that matter, it doesn’t need to be in the wilderness, this could happen in city and suburban areas. The fresh air and physical activity will stimulate critical thinking of the discussion, and the students could draw from their surroundings as well.
This could be an effective tool not just for student learning but for teacher- to -teacher conversations. One-on-one meetings could happen during a walk, and staff meetings could happen on an actual hike. Imagine the creative energy that would flow during this kind of meeting, and how it would strengthen the community of the school and staff. How to make this a reality in the school community I will be a part of as a future educator will be on my “to do” list.