Hand out kazoos to your students and celebrate National Kazoo Day on January 28. Democracy—a system of the people, by the people, for the people—prevails because everyone can hum.
You can make kazoos out of recycled materials (toilet paper roll, wax paper, and a rubber band) or buy them at a dollar store. Hum a song into it that everyone knows in unison, harmony—it’s all up to you. Aren’t these kazoo choir students impressive?
Not everyone gets to play in a band. But with kazoos, everyone gets the thrill of being part of a large group. Whatever your contribution sounds like, it adds to the forward movement of music.
Here’s a group from 2008 trying to break a record for the world’s largest kazoo band. (There’s a long intro, so begin watching at 4:30.)
…The woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best.”
I love this quote, attributed to Henry van Dyke (1852-1933). It encourages us to grow our talents and share them with the world. It’s also the way we encourage students to aim high, practice, and try even harder. It’s only then that we help them uncover new abilities, whether they are gifted and talented or not.
Think about this when you work with students in school today, and listen to The Four Seasons by Antonio Vivaldi (1723). It’s recognizable to almost all and is full of energy of imagination.
Your two granddaughters come to visit while their mother copes with a new baby. Every morning, you pour mountainous bowls of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes for each one before they come downstairs.
You set out spoons and the yellow milk pitcher. You have firm ideas about the propriety of leaving the cereal box on the table, so you put it back in the cabinet.
Years ago, I was one of those little girls and severely disappointed. Why?
Because I’d been deprived of one of life’s pleasures–reading the cereal box while eating.
Have you noticed how we all read cereal boxes over and over? It’s entertainment and learning, something today’s grandparents love to provide.
Lots of preschoolers can read plenty on the box because they recognize the logo, colors, shapes, and easy words. Older grandchild will notice the kayaking and Kellogg’s free cruise contest. Why not help them enter?
The nutrition information alone is full of math and science possibilities—percentages, measurement, minerals, vitamins—and you can practice Spanish and English at the same time.
On the back of the box, there’s a message just for you. “Discover the possibilities” the next time you serve a bowl of corn flakes.
Eighty-five years ago, 11-year-old Venetia Burney sat at breakfast with her grandfather, who was a university librarian at Oxford.
He talked to her about the latest exciting news story, that a new planet had been discovered. A suitable name hadn’t yet been found, he pointed out.
Venetia’s teacher had taught her students that the other planets were named for Greek and Roman gods and goddesses. The teacher had taken the students outdoors on a “nature walk” to make a model of the solar system. Clumps of dirt were placed apart to show the planets’ relative distance from the sun.
When Venetia’s grandfather asked her what she’d name the new planet, she replied, “Pluto,” the Roman god of the mythological, dark underworld.
Impressed, he relayed this suggestion to an astronomer friend, who brought the name “Pluto” to his colleagues, who voted in favor of it.
Venetia’s grandfather rewarded her with £5 and wrote a note to her teacher, recognizing the “capable and enlightened” instruction and the value of the “nature walk…[where she learned about the] gloom of distance.”
What does this story teach us? First, when grandparents talk with their grandchildren about current events, it matters. Conversation knits generations together and helps children learn to think.
Second, when students learn interdisciplinary topics like mythology and science, they put together their learning in wonderful ways we cannot predict.
Third, when a grandparent writes a letter of thanks to a teacher, it is not only recognition, but also a gracious act of goodwill and appreciation.
“It’s Shark Week!” The radio voice awakened me with this news, which I thought was an awesome way to start the day.
Sharks thrill us with wonder, curiosity, and fear. Once you learn more about sharks, though, the fear usually turns to respect. That’s how I feel when I visit the beach in Venice, Florida.
Prehistoric sharks’ teeth wash up everywhere. One look at these shiny dark triangles and my mind starts organizing a math lesson. Or a science project. Or writing and art. You get the idea.
This summer, why not collect objects from the natural world to bring to your children? It doesn’t matter if they’re from your local park or someplace exotic. Display your finds at a child’s level, add a few books, and watch their curiosity grow.
We teachers and administrators must speak out when articles like this one appear. I take seriously my responsibility to cultivate social justice in the world. The Common Core and other state standards do no harm as a road map. It’s when we set children up for high stakes testing that policymakers go awry.
Make no mistake, test prep is everywhere and in every grade. If your kindergartner comes home with piles of worksheets, well, there you have it. Just because a five-year-old can learn to multiply doesn’t mean they should spend time on it. No body of research on young children supports this type of learning.
Children from privileged families in well-to-do areas don’t attend worksheet kindergartens. Children from generations of poverty and illiteracy do. Yet they are the ones who need play the most, to help them develop into socially and emotionally healthy people.
All kindergartners deserve creative, loving, well-provisioned kindergartens—complete with wonderful play areas that include small furniture, blocks, dress-up supplies, tools, and homemaking areas with pots and pans. It’s hardly an understatement to say that our society depends on it.
When I heard that today was National Fudge Day, I dug out my grandmother’s recipe book to find “Fudge Without Cooking.” Grammy reused and recycled many things, including two pieces of plywood from her friend Mrs. Bagelmann’s husband, a pharmacist. Inside, she handwrote, typed, or taped recipes on stiff manila cardboard pages.
Following a fudge recipe with children creates the perfect opportunity for practicing math skills. It’s a great way for students to help build confidence using math. Recipes involve other skills, too, like reading, comprehension, vocabulary, planning strategies to solve problems, thinking, rethinking, timing, and lots of measurement and estimation.
Plus, it’s fun to hear students hypothesize about why a potato is in the fudge.
Approach using this recipe any way you wish. I’d probably provide the ingredients, tools, and a microwave and tell a small group of students that I had faith in their ability to figure it out. Then, I’d assess them along the way.
For others who prefer to take it step by step, consider this approach:
1. Students read the recipe. Ask “What ingredients do you need and how much of each? What is your plan to obtain them?”
2. Student read the list of ingredients. Ask “What units of measurement are used in this recipe? What tools will you need? How is unsweetened chocolate different from a candy bar? How many potatoes do you estimate make 1/3 cup?”
3. Students explain the tasks that the verbs indicate, including if they need tools to complete them. Ask them about melt, blend, mix, sift, add, knead, turn out, press.
(I encourage teachers, parents, or grandparents to let the child talk more than you do. It’s easy to jump in and tell the answer, but don’t. The best hands-on learning lets students discover on their own.)
Continue and release the responsibilities as much as you can. Click on the recipe to enlarge it.
This recipe was originally printed in Parade magazine, in 1971 or 1972. The Parade Food Editor was Beth Merriman and the photo was by Walter Strelnick.
My children attended a high school that encouraged its students to listen to music if it helped them focus on their work. Neither ear buds, nor phones, nor iPods were banned.
I like this philosophy of beginning with trust. It shows both faith in a student’s ability to make appropriate choices, and then values the student’s choice.
Students who were distracted by music received help or support depending on their needs. The teachers’ overarching goal was to help students learn what worked best and helped them concentrate.
For me, it depends on what the task is, so I adjust my environment accordingly. Favorite musical soundtracks, jazz, or early music are some of what I use. Today, I offer Frédérik Chopin’s (1810-1849) Prelude No. 15 in D-flat Major, also known as the “Raindrop.” How does this piece work for you?
An article in yesterday’s Boston Globe about homework caught my eye. Its subtitle is “Should parents nag, assist, or [let kids do it…]?”
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:
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
There you have it. Common Core math and English language arts, plus a built-in assessment.