Sunday, March 8, 2015

Benge's Brain Farts?!?

When I started blogging the summer of 2014 my intentions were to blog what was going on in my classroom, what and how I was doing with whole brain teaching, activities that I'd tried and how they had worked -- or not worked.  I started that way. But as I was encouraged to blog, the theme shifted from class oriented to importance of education topics -- my blog grew into something else. I believe I was externally influenced from reading articles and blogs on twitter.  My blog evolved and became a tool for me to share my thoughts on the issues facing educators, the challenges of the demographics of my students, the politics of education, and so on. 

Yesterday was a fabulous day at EdCampOKC and I attended a session on blogging. I got to hear the passion, motivation, and back-story from three bloggers that I follow and whose opinions I have sought out and whom I respect, Claudia Swisher, Rob Miller, and Rick Cobb.  The Oklahoma bloggers in the room had opportunity to share theirs (see this on symbaloo). Mine came up on the screen, and it became obvious to me that the graphics/stylization and title of my blog no longer fit that which I blog about. I need a blog make-over.

So, now what do I do? Yes, I am asking for input. Please give me your input on titles. The first new blog name that came to mind was Benge's Brain Farts. 

While Brain Fart is not exactly a professional blog title, it is catchy! Then I thought of Benge's Brain Food. My plan is to keep the Benge's Brainiacs blog for my students to blog what we do in class – and to do new/separate blog for my professional/educational opinions.

So...thoughts for a new blog name? PLEEEEASE comment below.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Why Is Change So Darned HARD?

Change, no matter how you approach it, can be difficult. 
  • Change can begin as a soft breeze, whispering in one person's ear. 
  • Change can come in the form of a tornado, ripping everything off the foundations, leaving a blank slate.  
  • Change can seem confusing or odd, indistinguishable when close up
  • Change can be frustrating or even infuriating while figuring things out.  
Imagine, if you will, a Rube Goldberg creation.  I would like to call this machine CHANGE. There are many intricate facets to this "change," and all parts are trying to get to a point where they work together. Each little part in the machine is curious and exciting, each part is a cause which brings about it's own effect, but then it becomes a yet another new get the point, right?

The Automated Napkin
Now imagine, if you will, that education in the state of Oklahoma (perhaps even the entire United States?) is a Rube Goldberg machine.  We know what we want this machine to do. We want it to be efficient and effective (and it sure would be nice if everyone oohed and aahed over it).  However, we are at that exasperating part mid-creation of putting the machine together and figuring out the timing of it all...figuring out which facet to adjust first to make the biggest improvements (or fastest, or easiest, etc). The problem is that when we adjust the doo-hickey over here, then...

...this little gadget's placement is off...

...which adversely affects timing of the what-cha-ma-call-it..., that makes several other gadgets will...





So, I now have a visual of the problem. I have goal of what I want my "machine" to do. But, I still do not understand what makes people reticent to change. What makes even the idea of change cause the hairs on the backs of our necks to rise? 

Well, I did a bit of research on the matter. First, as an ELA teacher, I ensured I used the correct homonyms choices for affect/effect.  In looking it up, I LOL'd.  I chuckled. Audibly. (No, really, I did!) Look at what I found at an online grammar dictionary:

Affect is a verb. It means to produce a change in or influence something.
Effect is a noun that can also be used as a verb. It means a change that occurred. When an "s" is added, "effects" means personal belongings.   
<<emphasis/highlighting mine>>
So, quite possibly we are frightened by the possible affects of change, but we appreciate the effects that occur after the change...?
(Re-read and let that percolate or simmer or digest...whatever your body does best.)

In my quest to determine why change is so blasted tough, I read articles, definitions, and blog posts.  I'd like to share with you one I found helpful, entitled Why Change Is So Difficult (and 9 ways to make it easier) . I found the crux of the matter in the last two sentences:

A tree can choose not to bend in the wind. 
Eventually, though, conditions will produce winds strong enough 
to break the tree if continues not to bend.

I'm not proclaiming to be an expert, but after my search I think our state finally has a great captain at the helm of S.S. OSDE, Oklahoma State Superintendent Joy Hoffmeister. Joy seems to be making great strides towards the end goal of our state educational system becoming effective and efficient.  Thank you, Mrs. Hoffmeister, for removing writing field tests from our students' plate!  I ask you, the reader, to please tweet a thanks, yourself (@joy4ok). 

Could it be the more impassioned the educator, the more passionate the response to change we have? Or are educators in our state tired of status quo and are ready to MAKE a change happen?  I'm not sure, but perhaps I should sum up my thoughts this way: 

Passionate educators who are passionate about the goal (or end result) feel more passionately about the journey of how we get there.

Yeesh...somehow that doesn't quite "fit," but at 1:15am on a Monday/Tuesday, I think I'd best leave the unsettled business for another post. I'm not solving this tonight. (That's JOB SECURITY, Joy!)

Care to comment?  I would love to hear your thoughts!

Cathy Benge

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Take Time to Let Them PLAY!

Yeppers, I played along with 60,000 others -- give or take a several dozen--though the most I had in my classroom was 38.  :)  Today was the first annual Global School Play Day. Check out the Twitter feeds-- #GSPD and #GSPD15 --to see the fun that went on around the globe. 

I had seen a few tweets about #GSPD about a month or two ago and it sparked an interest in me, but I was afraid it wasn't a middle school type activity. Well, thankfully, my coworker and friend, Anthony Purcell,  (@MrP_tchr) brought the idea to our grade level meeting nearly three weeks ago. I was THRILLED when we as a team all saw the beneficial aspects of a sixth grade play day.

I'm probably not telling you anything you don't know, but most kiddos these days are "plugged in" an awful lot. They're plugged in to games, smartphones, music, computers, iPads, laptops, and other devices. They're plugged into team sports, academic team, dance, music lessons, drama club, cheer, band, and loads of other organized activities. Studies are coming to light that show an increase in attention-deficit issues, stress and depression in direct correlation with a decrease in playtime. Children are  so busy and plugged in so often there is little time to simply play and create and imagine. Here is an article that highlights many of the free-play benefits and has a link to such research.  

In addition to the "plugged-in" diversions, my students have added roadblocks of poverty and familial responsibilities. There are some students who babysit for several hours a night most school nights while parents/adults work second or third shifts. Some of the homes represented may not have funds to buy toys or games -- or perhaps the adults don't see the benefit of games.  I'm not sure, I'm merely speculating.  

All this to say our kiddos don't really know 
the art of playing. 

Nearly three weeks ago the sixth grade teachers at my middle school organized the subject area classes into areas of play: card games, board games, jigsaw puzzles, logic puzzles, cardboard box construction, physical game/playground games. Each teacher chose an area(s) for their room. We tied in academics, too--students with the highest AR points got "Play Passes" which would allow them to travel to a non-scheduled classroom for an hour. The top 20 students received 5 passes, the next got 4, and so on.  Students with less than 10 points didn't receive Play Passes.  They still played, but they didn't have the added benefit of choosing the room in which they played. (I think I saw a few kids kicking themselves for not taking a few more AR tests. Ha!)

I snapped a few photos of the creative chaos.  While it gives you a glimpse into the GSPD of room 212, these photos don't show you what I was privileged to see...

  • Academic strugglers who became class leaders with ingenuity and creativity
  • Painfully shy students working intuitively and cooperatively
  • "Big kids" pretending and dressing up
  • Tough kids laughing...a LOT!

The starting pile for cardboard creations
Lots of robot-styled "hats" or "helmets"
Entire robotic suits! 
Head Bandz!
Boys in a BIG box
Letter blocks

Magnetic experi-play
More magnetic fun


Tangram Fun

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Discriminate: to tell the differences in

In my last blog post, I mentioned a gamified human rights unit I had finished.  The 3 month labor of love has been completed, the game board finalized (and even translated into Spanish!) and instructions and scorecard written out. The students have completed a week of their self-directed learning. I have even prepared a spreadsheet with class pages so I'm ready to record their points!

As I mentioned in my last post, to introduce the unit, I did a set-up.  As they did their bell work the week before we started the unit, I meandered through the room, fist full of dum-dums, and handed them out to select students...those wearing red.


I started class just like BEFORE:  I took role, then did the dum-dum walk.  After I passed out suckers, I asked a usually opinionated student -- who did NOT wear red -- how they felt about the suckers I've been handing out.  No one was pleased, but not one student was rude or disrespectful. I explained the definition of discrimination, and then we discussed the difference between discriminating and discriminating against.

discriminate: to tell the differences in 

discriminate against: to show favor for or agai

discriminate against: to show favor for or against because of difference

I fessed up and admitted that I had been showing favor to the students wearing red. Then, to drive home the difference between "discriminating" and "discriminating against," we did some move-around-activities.  I had the students separate by eye color (brown and not brown), shoe style (sneakers and not sneakers), pant style (jeans and not jeans...thankfully no skirts or dresses). Each time I divided the class, I asked if it was just or right for me to notice the differences.  Yes, it was just.  I was stating a fact. Then, I would concoct a scenario...the brown eyes have to go to detention, but the not-brown-eyes get to go with me to Cherry Berry! They were quick to point out THAT instance was unjust. ;) Smart cookies! We discussed discriminating tastes, genetics/DNA, and just/unjust situations. There was banter over whether or not one could permanently change hair or eye color. And then? 
Then I introduced my classes to THE BOOKS!
I went through and briefly described the way I had "discriminated" the them...see what I did there? I had a huge, nearly overflowing bin of books for civil rights, and more bins for women's rights, those with different cultures (kids helped me with that bin topic--migrant workers and Japanese internment), Jews during the Holocaust, Native American rights, rights of those in other countries (Ghandi and Mandela), rights for those with physical/learning differences, and America's rights (Revolutionary and Civil War times). Not all are as enticing as others, but it was so incredible to see the kids' eyes light up as they saw ALL OF THE BOOKS! I had several students ask if they could begin reading the books...IMMEDIATELY!

Is it wrong to take personal joy in seeing 
middle school students drool over books?


Monday, January 19, 2015

Barricades on the Road to Freedom

While watching the newly released Selma, the movie, believe it or not, I thought about school. Last week we began our unit study/gamification on all sorts of rights. Our unit includes human rights, civil rights, migrant worker's rights, women's rights, children's rights (and child labor laws), etc. Our unit also includes what happens when those rights are ignored or even snuffed out: genocide, Nazi treatment of Jews and minorities, America's seldom-mentioned Japanese internment, Native American atrocities, et cetera. I have also included amazing activists for students to learn about.  

It took me months of mulling the idea over and over and around before boiling it down.  During the movie I had an insanely strong urge to jot down a note so as not to forget it. Thankfully, hours later, I was able to remember!   

So. Back to Selma, the movie. 

It dawned on me the reason all people want and deserve the rights that have been fought for...we all deserve to be free. 

There have been many things keeping the human race from arriving at freedom. There have been many things blocking the road to freedom. It could be that the road to freedom is the way it is because elder generations haven't known any other way. It could be that changes come and we don't see it happen. Change never comes easily to our species. Regardless of our history, future Homo Sapiens deserve FREEDOM from all forms of bondage:

F aith 
R ace
E ducation 
E levation
D ifferences 
O rigin 
M orality 

If all men and women were created equal -- truly equal to all others -- then why do we have so many speed bumps and barricades on the road to freedom?

What are the speed bumps or barricades on your road to freedom?

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Talking About a Revolution

Let's talk about a REVOLUTION.  I want to start one..., I don't want a revolution based on Women's Rights...

  ...and I don't want to rehash the Mexican Revolution, either.

I want to start a student revolution...
        ... a revolution that will break the bondage of student to teacher.
        ... a revolution that will make students more independent.
        ... a revolution that will make students more self sufficient.
        ... a revolution that will make students more self-capable. 

(Wait, did I just make up a new word?  Oh well!)

This revolution will be fought in a non-violent, educational manner.
This revolution will be for independence.

Why do some of my students come to me as though their 
situation is DEFCON5? 
Have they even read the instructions? 

I saw a poster at a school in Arkansas and have searched the internet trying to purchase it.  Coming up short, I created my own.  

I numbered in order of the steps students should take, hoping this will assist my students in improving their self-reliance skills. A co-worker reminded me of another self-reliance strategy, "C2 B4 Me," or in other words, ask two other students before you go to the teacher.

If you want to join the Student Self-Reliance Revolution at your school, please join in! 
My poster is available for you to use if you so desire.  
Do you have something revolutionary to share? Let's use the hashtag 


Sigh. I've strayed from the provided curriculum. Fortunately, my administration has said several times it is an option and that I may use it as a tool in teaching, or find other tools.  So my toolbox has grown in 5 months.  I have used various online news sites for nonfiction lessons.  We have read a novel together.  And I had a grant from DonorsChoose allow me a class set of monthly literary magazines for many other genre options.  Now? Now I want more. Over the past semester I have learned that my students are sadly unaware of our history...or of their histories! I use picture books for skill lessons, and one or two were able to correctly tell me who Harriet Tubman was. There were a few each hour that knew erroneous snippets they could rattle off. "She freed slaves." Harriet Tubman helped slaves get to freedom." "Wasn't she the one who took people to those train stations? I mean, not real train stations, but the houses? But this comment? "She was the one who rode the train in America." This was one that made me cringe.  As a certified middle school social studies teacher, now, I feel compelled to teach tolerance as I teach reading skills.  

I read a blog post by @bluecerealeducation (#WhiteSilence, Teacher Edition) that made me wonder if I were falling into the category of white woman teaching tolerance to diverse students.  So, I commented on his blog post...and as I wrote, I felt better. I now know I am not "teaching" tolerance or diversity or culture.  I am leading the learning. I am opening a door to a place where my students may choose and learn, and HOPEFULLY fall in love with true American heroes!

The following is my comment to @bluecerealeducation's blog post:
I am a 40-something white, married woman teachIng 6th grade literature in a middle school with 75% minorities (66% are from bilingual homes) and 99% free lunches/1% reduced lunches. The education powers that be in our state deemed us a failing school.
I have been amazed at how little my students (even those of diversity) know about American heroes and of the history of their rights. So, as an educator, I'm preparing my classes for my upcoming unit to teach them. I have selected a hodge podge of rights: human, civil, migrant workers, women's, children's, etc. Since Wednesday, I have handed out candy to those wearing red (one of our school colors), only the students have NO IDEA WHY I'm handing it out. Two students have asked why "those kids" got suckers but the rest didn't. Another was argumentative stating "It's not fair! I've been working hard and I've been quiet. Why didn't I get one?" Many others have noticed and have even shot looks back and forth, questioning each other in looks about my qualifications for suckers. When students ask to use the restroom or get a drink, I cringe. Those wearing red are allowed, those not wearing red are not allowed. I based my "faux preferential treatment" on a clothing color rather than eye or hair color since we have so many dark hair, dark eyed students. It would end up looking like racially based preferential treatment. That's not at all what I wanted!
So how am I approaching such a wide-spreading topic in literature? I'll have a brief group lesson on a reading skill of focus for the day, then students have choices from a reading activity game boardgame board, of sorts, to help them select ways of showing comprehension. What will they be reading? Picture books. Lots and lots of picture books about Jews in Nazi Germany, Jackie Robinson, Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King, Jr. , Elizabeth Stanton, Frederick Douglas, Suffragettes, American child labor of the late 1800-1920's, Ruby Bridges, Harriet Tubman, Cesar Chavez, Mahatma Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, and so, so many more.
All this to say that I'm either totally insane, completely naive, or both! I am passionate about allowing them to know who true heroes are. I grow weary of rap stars and athletes being held in such esteem when true heroes are literally unrecognized in my classroom. I feel my students deserve to know from whence America has come.
**stepping off soap box, clearing throat**

I'm busy, busy, terribly busy...PROGRESS, not perfection!

Is anyone else familiar with the lyrics to Veggie Tales, "Busy, Busy?"  I think it's been my theme song for the past 5 months...

Having been a SAHM for the most part of the past 12 years, I'm fairly new to balancing everything that comes with teaching full time, 3 kids, a 19 year marriage, 2 dogs, and family in town. But this is a new day, the start of a new week, and we are in a NEW YEAR! I am trying to become more balanced at work.  Not yet on top of everything, but certainly getting better.  I think I've logged only 1 late night the past two weeks, instead of one night home by 4:00 in the two weeks, as it had been.  Progress, not perfection. With the new year, I have decided to focus on one word instead of several goals or resolutions.

My #oneword ?

I need to simplify my closet to make mornings easier.
I need to simplify my lessons (not learning or engagement) so students and I can better focus.
I need to simplify my assignments and grading so my desk...wait, where is my desk...oh, yes, its under Mt. Paperwork!
I need to simplify my activities so I can have more time with my family.
I need to simplify.
I simply need to simplify.
Simply simplify...

Sounds simple, right?