After Memorial Day

Memorial Day has its roots in the years following the Civil War. In the nineteenth century, on Decoration Day*, people honored their loved ones who died serving our country in war, by decorating their graves. In 1971, it was designated Memorial Day, a federal holiday.

Sarah Orne Jewett, author of short story "Decoration Day" (1892).

Sarah Orne Jewett, author of short story “Decoration Day” (1892).

I prefer the old name, though, because it conveys so much more. While some still decorate graves on Memorial Day, it has the feel of a day that is celebrated at-arm’s-length, like something that we watch on TV. That lulls us into forgetting that death—and great suffering—is part of war.

Perhaps you remember the controversial, reauthorized ban by President George W. Bush, on the media publishing photographs of our returning dead from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I believe that when we see the awful results of war conveyed by flag-draped coffins, we cannot hide from our responsibility to make peace.

What’s a parent or teacher to do with that huge agenda? After Memorial Day, teach toward peace. Teach children to write letters to representatives, senators,to the secretary of defense, and to the president, and express their opinions. Hang your American flag every day.

Photo by K.Nollet, 2015

Photo by K.Nollet, 2015

Most importantly, teach children how to make peace with neighbors, friends, and family, and then set the example.  Our world has never needed this practice more than it does today.

*Click here to read “Decoration Day” by Sarah Orne Jewett

Should Parents Help with Homework?

An article in yesterday’s Boston Globe about homework caught my eye.  Its subtitle is “Should parents nag, assist, or [let kids do it…]?”

Heavy backpacks are a health problem. (Photo by K.Nollet, 2015)

Heavy backpacks are a health problem. (Photo by K.Nollet, 2015)

I once ran an after-school  homework club for students. It began with a snack and fun conversation between the students and the volunteers who staffed it.  The environment was quiet but not silent.  All the tools students needed were in reach.  Volunteers circulated to answer questions and provide help when needed.  If students finished early, they read.  Then everyone played outside until their rides arrived.

Students went home happy and with the bulk of their homework complete.

Parents loved the homework club because it helped them understand the essentials of getting homework done–through conversations with me and a newsletter I sent home.  Snack. Relax. A quiet environment. Tools and help available. The student does the work.  Read and play.

Some commonly asked questions I received follow:

Do homework in a different environment. (Photo by K.Nollet, 2015)

Do homework in a different environment. (Photo by K.Nollet, 2015)

What if the homework is too hard?  Let the student do as much as possible alone.  Then help, but remember that helping is assisting, not doing.

What if the homework is boring?  Ask the teacher about the rationale for it.  Request a challenging twist for your child if you think he needs more.

What if the homework is repetitive, like packets of worksheets?  Ask the teacher why they are assigned.  Sometimes we parents learn that they are assignments that the student didn’t finish in school.  But homework should not be make-work, punishment, or mind-numbing for students.  If it is, discuss this with the teacher.  It’s okay to ask the teacher for modifications that help your child to love learning.

What if the homework consists of test prep?  Research shows that this kind of cramming test prep does little to raise scores, although it may help students with some types of questions. If a school’s curricula is well-designed, properly resourced, and aligned to the Common Core or your state’s curriculum frameworks, there is no need for burdensome test prep.

 

 

 

 

 

Common Core Plus S’mores

Our daily conversations are full of fractions and estimation:

I’m half way there…The project is 75% complete…About a quarter of a piece

What fraction best represents this slice?

What fraction best represents this slice?

That’s why it’s important to thread these skills into teaching whenever possible. And since this Friday, May 15, is National Pizza Party Day, pull out all the stops!

Remember math worksheets with pictures of pizza showing how     ¼ + ¼ = ½ ? Without a visual, it’s hard for some students to understand that when they add fractions, the piece gets bigger but the denominators get smaller.

Guy Fiori's S'mores Pizza.  Photo by Yunhee Kim, Food Network Magazine

Guy Fiori’s S’mores Pizza. (Photo by Yunhee Kim, Food Network Magazine)

This isn’t just for young children, either. I’ve known many students who needed the help of visuals and manipulatives right into high school. Providing these aids is not babyish, nor is it some kind of crutch, nor should it be shaming. Knowing that you need tools to help solve a problem is smart.

When you have a pizza party math lesson, it’s an interdisciplinary feast! Allow students to make the dough and choose their own combinations and amounts of toppings.

Will you use 1/2 of the bag? (Photo by K.Nollet, 2015)

Will you use 1/2 of the bag?
(Photo by K.Nollet, 2015)

Next, students write out the recipe using fractions and demonstrate making their pizza, explaining their math along the way. You might even have a taste testing to choose the most delicious variations.

Sprinkle about 1/8 of a bag on each slice.  (Photo by K.Nollet, 2015)

Sprinkle about 1/8 of a bag on each slice. (Photo by K.Nollet, 2015)

There you have it.  Common Core math and English language arts, plus a built-in assessment.

National Teacher Appreciation Week

Forego the mugs, the trinkets, the gift certificates. I speak for many teachers when I say, “If you must give me something for Teacher Appreciation Week, I’d love a handwritten thank-you note.”

Start with these two  words. (K.Nollet, 2015)

Start with these two words. (K.Nollet, 2015)

It’s the soul of teaching that matters to us teachers. Who could stick to such a difficult profession if there weren’t more than a marginal salary to it? We’re devoted to your children. We know we shape the world. We love the career that chose us. To us, it’s a calling.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t tough. One of my students, an Army vet learning to teach middle school math, told me that she thought teaching was harder than basic training. Student difficulties, family problems, and student social-emotional-behavioral issues affected how her students learn (or if they learn) every day.

Above all, National Teacher Appreciation Week is not about what parents or the PTA think that they should give to teachers. Help shine a teacher’s soul by writing a personal thank-you note, an act that speaks volumes to a teacher.

From Zymurgy to Zyzzyvas

IMG_3741

Photo by K.Nollet, 2015

Are you a dictionary lover? If so, you enjoy holding the book in your hands while browsing through its pages. You relish the distraction of looking up a word, because you see lots of other cool words along the way.

I never mind when students do that; in fact, I encourage it.  At their age, I’d visit my grandmother’s and tuck away in a corner with her 1937 version of Merriam’s Collegiate Dictionary, Fifth Edition. It was an adventure and I loved the last word in it, zymurgy (p. 1174):

IMG_3744

Photo by K.Nollet, 2015

 

leafhopper

Image from unvegan.com

Today I click on Merriam Webster online and get to the point without distractions, a real loss. Also, I need to know the word for which I’m searching, which takes the fun out of it. The last word in today’s unabridged version (you pay for it) is zyzzyvas, a genus of South American weevils. Notice the amazing snout of one in the photo.

There’s value in having physical dictionaries in classrooms and homes.  It’s not just about finding the word.  It’s about the pleasure of finding a word that’s your very own discovery, as you hold a book in your hands.

 

 

 

 

 

Image:  http://unvegan.com/reviews/a-nightcap-at-smokes-poutinerie/

 

My Mother the Yodeler

“Yodel-ay-hee-hooo!” sang my mother in the car. She had a natural talent for it, learned it as a camp counselor, and once she got going, she’d spin the yodel part like this:

          Yooooo—de-yo-de-yo-de-yo-de-yo-de-lay-hee-hoooo!

After The Sound of Music movie came out, and Julie Andrews sang “The Lonely Goatherd,” it was fun to have a mother who could yodel on request. No one else’s mother could.

Yodeling originated in the Alps as a form of communication, which makes this Jimmy Fallon/Brad Pitt Tonight Show video  even more hilarious:

 

Buried Treasure: X Marks the Spot

Before students write a story, ask them to draw an illustrated map.  Visualizing, creating, drawing, painting, coloring, and discussing a map stimulates the imagination in ways that words sometimes cannot.

It worked for Robert Louis Stevenson (1854-1894), who spent a rainy day with his son drawing this map, which inspired his masterpiece Treasure Island:

This marvelous text in Treasure Island came to Stevenson after he drew the map:

“The paper had been sealed in several places with a thimble…The doctor opened the seals with great care, and there fell out the map of an island…shaped…like a fat dragon standing up…three crosses of red ink…”Bulk of treasure here  (Stevenson,  p.47).

 

 

Stevenson, R.L., (1911). Treasure Island. Illustrations by N.C. Wyeth. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. (Original work published 1883).

Source for map:

Source for text: OpenLibrary.org: https://archive.org/stream/treasureisland00stev#page/46/mode/2up

 

An Education Spring “Why Not?”

Your students take forever to settle down and start the Do Now. Or you wish there was something new to add to that unit on European history. Maybe there’s a certain dullness today that needs a spark.

Try an Education Spring Why Not?—a semi-serendipitous drop of shine in your students’ day. They learn something new. It activates energy. And you all have fun.

Here’s Francois Couperin’s (1688-1733) Le Tic-Toc-Choc ou les Maillotins, a three minute piece of joy:

 

Verdi Starts the Day

In one school in which I was principal, I played classical music over the intercom to start every day. It  created a happy atmosphere and gave every adult and child something to share.  It’s easy to build good connections using pieces from Verdi’s operas, especially when a student says “I know that one!”

Integrating music into teaching doesn’t have to be heavy duty, like designing a major curriculum unit.  Show your students this video of The Three Tenors having fun with a Verdi piece everyone recognizes.

Ultramarine Utopia

There’s nothing like the blues of the ocean for clearing the head, lifting the spirit, and finding utopia.

The Merrimack River where it meets the Atlantic, as seen looking north from Plum Island toward Salisbury, MA  (K.Nollet, 2015)

The Merrimack River where it meets the Atlantic, as seen looking north from Plum Island toward Salisbury, MA (K.Nollet, 2015)

Every season at the beach has its unique beauty and tone.  One teacher colleague of mine believed this was essential science for children. She took her class on an annual field trip to her Maine beach house, to teach them about the ecology of the winter beach.

Spring beach trips in New England are chilly and unpredictable.  Last weekend I went to Plum Island in Newburyport, Massachusetts, and the infinite shades of ultramarine blues in the sea restored my creative spirit.