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 cause...you 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...  

...so, 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 books...lol...sorted 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?


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