Friday, December 26, 2014

Risk taking is learning

Are your students or own children afraid to make mistakes?  Children need to know that you can't learn without taking some risks.  And new research is confirming that overprotecting children actually does more harm than good.

I got thinking about this topic after reading a great condensed article in Reader's Digest titled:  The Revolution Will Not Be Supervised. (A longer version of the article is posted here for those who'd like the full read.) The article gives an overview of the safety movement for children's playgrounds that began in the 1970's and how in general it has not really made children much safer.  This was a surprise to me at first, but if you read the article, some of the reasons make perfect sense. One example - modern playgrounds are nearly always blanketed with shock absorbent material like rubber designed to protect children from falls.  Yet, despite this, there's evidence that injuries on these surfaces have not decreased, and for some types of injuries, they may have actually increased.  The reason is simple.  When children know there's a safe surface below them, they are actually less cautious.  This leads to more falls that lead to bone breaking injuries.

Ellen Sandseter, a researcher and professor of early-childhood education at Queen Maud University College claims that safety regulations have transformed modern playgrounds into "sterile, boring places" with no imaginationIt's true that today one playground looks like pretty much any other.  And sadly, if you drive around the town where I live at least, you'll hardly see more than a handful of kids playing on our playgrounds.  If you do, they are never alone.  There are usually parents sliding down slides with their kids in their laps or hovering below their child with their arms outstretched ready to catch them if they fall off something.

Sandseter has concluded that children "have a sensory need to taste danger and excitement."  When we, as adults, strip our children of reasonable opportunities to take risks, then we are taking away an necessary part of their brain developmentAn interesting research fact from the article - children who injured themselves from a fall between the ages of 5 and 9 were actually less likely to be afraid of heights at age 18. In other words, kids who aren't given opportunities to explore heights at a young age are actually more like to develop phobias of high places.

Okay, fair warning here's my "old man, pining about the good old days" moment...

I am amazed how much child's play has changed in just one generation. When I was a kid, I climbed tall trees.  I built forts out of scrap wood and rusty nails.  We built a tree house in an empty lot that was our "secret hideout."  We would climb up on the roof of our friend's house.  One time we even jumped from the roof on top of the bounce house his mom had rented for his birthday.  I threw rocks at things.  My friends and I played "Star Wars" with sticks we'd find. My friends and I would use our pocket knives to carve "spears" and see how far we could throw them.  We cut an old broom stick into "nun chucks" and played Bruce Lee.  We played tackle football.  My younger brother and I played "WWF wrestling", usually until one or both of us was  crying.  We went swimming with our friends, unsupervised by adults.  My friends and I built ramps and jumped them with our dirt bikes.  I crashed and fell sometimes.  I never broke any bones, but I had bruises on my body and scabs on my knees and elbows for most of my childhood.  You did not call them "boo-boo'sYou showed it off to your friends as a badge of how "tough" you were. I played outside until it got dark and my mom and dad had no idea where I was most of the time.  

So what has happened in the last 30 years?

The article mentioned above describes a fascinating counter-culture
Peter Yang/August
experiment taking place in Great Britain called "The Land" that provides children with playgrounds quite unlike those we see in our communities.  Its playground equipment includes lots of lose, moveable parts and even "dangerous" elements like a fire pit and a rope swing over the creek.

From the article:
"Other than some walls lit up with graffiti, there are no bright colors or anything else that belongs to the usual playground landscape: no shiny metal slide, no yellow seesaw with a central ballast to make sure no one falls off, no rubber bucket swing for babies. There is, however, a frayed rope swing that carries you over the creek and deposits you on the other side, if you can make it that far (otherwise, it deposits you in the creek). On this day, the kids seem excited by a walker that was donated by one of the elderly neighbors and is repurposed, at different moments, as a scooter, a jail cell, and a gymnastics bar."
The author of the article's son playing
around "The Land's" firepit (Hanna Rosin)
The concept  of this playground is for kids to explore and take risks without direct adult supervision or direction.  It is designed to encourage creative play and socializing with peers.  The space is staffed by specially trained "playworkers" who closely observe but do not interfere unless needed.  This sounds to me like the type of place I would have loved as a kid.
Camp Pransky.  This little pop-up has
seen a lot of the country

My family likes to camp a lot. We have taken our little pop-up camper from as far east as Maine, as far west as Yellowstone in and as far south as Savanah, GA.  These trips have given our family some of our most cherished experiences together.

Whitewater rafting in the Adirondacks.
I think camping has given my kids opportunities to take reasonable risks and to learn from them.  We have done overnight backpacking in bear country, mountain biking, white water rafting, and horseback riding among other things - all involving some degree of danger.  (Sometimes, even something innocuous like going to see the world's second largest ball of twine can lead to adventure.)  These activities have given my kids opportunities to make choices, adapt to situations, and I think, as a result they gained confidence in themselves.

One of my friend Greg's signature
"teepee" campfire starts
Fire is, of course, a staple of camping.  While we sit around the fire, we usually talk and tell stories about our day.  Everyone is around the fire as opposed to at home where we may tend to be drawn to our favorite, but separate, areas of the house to hang out.  My son, in particular, likes to "play" in the fire.  For example, he likes to find a long stick that he can hold over the fire and once its lit wave it around as you might do to a sparkler until it smolders out.  And while he's never really burned himself (or anyone else) by the fire, I think it has helped him to respect fire and its power.

Similarly, my son was always keenly interested when my friend Greg would split the firewood into smaller pieces to use as starter wood.  One day, Greg decided to teach him the proper technique to do it safely without embedding the hatchet in your foot. Now, this is one of his favorite camping activities and he's gotten quite good at it.

One of my favorite camping memories occurred at Emerald Lake State Park in Vermont.  We had done a lot of hiking and site seeing in the area when Lilly, my friend's ever-quotable daughter, started acting bored and tired of it all and replied snidely, "You can see all this on the internet!The adult rolled our eyes at this and made a mental note to remember this comment for the scrapbook.

Rogan and Lucas cruising on kayaks on Emerald Lake
Later that trip, we decided to rent some kayaks to take out on  Emerald Lake.  It is aptly named as it is a beautifully clear, cold, and deep glacial lake.  We soon came across a rope swing that someone had tied high up to a tree that hung out over the lake.  Despite the element of danger and the fact that it was probably illegal, we just couldn't pass up on the opportunity to give it a try.  We all took turns swinging out over the lake and diving/dropping in.  It was frightening but extremely fun at the same time.  

At one point we each decided to say something clever while we were swinging.  My friend's son, Lucas shouted, "Live Free, or Die!", New Hampshire's state motto which he had taken on as his personal credo.  But, Greg topped us all by turning his daughter's quote around on her as seen in the video below.

I think its important for all kids to take reasonable risks.  After all, we can't wrap them in bubble wrap and protect them for their whole lives.  Life is messy, and it involves skinned knees and bruises from time to time.  In fact, I couldn't imagine childhood without these things.

If you are interested in more on this topic.  Check out this great article, Three Huge Mistakes We Make Leading Kids...And How to Correct Them.  I also would recommend this terrific Ted Talk by Gever Tulley that makes some of my same  points.

5 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Children Do

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Better Lesson Planning Using Google Spreadsheets

Create Lesson Plans that are more complete, efficient, and collaborative with a Google Spreadsheet


Thanks to Juliet from Teaching Trio for the Link-Up.  I found this through my friend and co-teacher's blog Mary over at 4th Works and I'm glad I did.  I thought I'd share an idea I've used for years now that has truly saved me time on my lesson planning while at the same time making it more functional for everyone I teach with.  

I adapted this idea from Tammy Worchester Tang a great presenter who I saw once at a conference and then started following through Tammy's Tip of the Week.  Sign up for that - its always great.  She is a google guru and had a really neat and simple way to use google spreadsheets for lesson planning.

First, here's what my plans looked like a few years ago when I was teaching a mostly self-contained fourth grade classroom teaching ELA, Math, and Science.

So, what are the advantages to creating your lessons in a google spreadsheet, you ask?


#1  Easy to share

If you work with the special ed teacher, title reading teachers, tutors, speech, etc... it is very easy to share your lesson plans in google so that everyone is one the same page.  If you co-teach, you could even give editing privileges and create lesson plans together.

#2 Easy to refer back to later

I like to look back to my plans from previous years as a starting point to help me plan this year's lessons.  How I do this is I simply create a new "sheet" for each year (see those tabs at the bottom?)  That way, all I have to do is click a single tab and I can look at what I did in past years.  Searching is easy, too.  Sometimes I'd want to search for the title of a novel like "Sarah, Plain and Tall" so I could see what activities I did with that book.

Bingo!  There's that introduction lesson!

#3 Saves a ton of time

One you have the format of a regular week (which I'll acknowledge, takes some tinkering to get it just right) use the magic of copy/paste to add your other weeks.  Have a rock solid awesome lesson plan from last year?  Copy/paste into this year.  Have a routine activity that you do every week.  Copy/paste.  It's that easy.

#4 Allows for more detailed lessons

Because they are typed in I have more space to add detailed notes about my lesson.  Since I use them year after year, it doesn't bother me to put a bit more detail into my plans.  Back in the day, my handwritten lesson plans always had a ton of my own personal shorthand that would have been indecipherable to a sub.  But with my current plans someone could walk into my room on a moment's notice in an emergency and follow my plans pretty easily, I think.  (At least that's what my subs have told me.)

#5 You can print them out and keep them on your desk, just like you're used to.

I usually would print my lesson out in two sheets like below and put them in a binder with my other lesson plans on my desk.  Getting the spreadsheet formatted to fit properly for 8.5 x 11 paper takes some trial and error, but once you've got it, then the other weeks will be all set up and ready to go
My morning
My afternoon

#6  You can easily modify or make changes as the week goes on

I'm a visual person so I like to use color to help me "see" what my week looks like.  This is helpful to me, especially when I have a week with a lot of programs or other things that break up the flow of a normal week.  Also, sometimes you move faster than you expected.  More often (for me at least), you don't get as much done as you thought you would in your plans.  Sometimes you have a snow day or two or fourteen (like last year) and your lessons become a jumbled mess.  Making changes or moving lessons around in google spreadsheet doesn't require a giant eraser, just a simple keystroke of command-c and command-v.

Are there any downsides to using a google spreadsheet?

Yes, there are a few.  First, formatting your text in a spreadsheet is a little tricky. One tip is to use Option + Return to make a new line in your cell.  A regular Return jumps you to the cell below.  Also, any formatting choices you make apply to the entire cell too so it needs to be all centered, all bold, etc.. in the cell or none at all. As I mentioned a couple times, formatting your lessons for printing will take some tweaking to make them look nice, but once you've got it the way you like it, that job is done.

I hope that gave you some good ideas for using google lesson plans.  I started using them years ago and haven't turned back.



Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Task Card Freebie! - Curently December

Thanks to Farley over at Oh Boy 4th Grade for the Link Up.  I wasn't prepped for it ahead of time, so I pulled this one together quickly.  Hopefully I am not too late to the party. :)

Listening to...

My printer.  Between my kids school projects and the things I have to print for school, we go through a lot of printer ink in our house.  I've heard people say before that it can be cheaper to continue to buy new printers rather than buy the ink to replace them.  I can believe that.


Having my kids home.  Our kids had the great opportunity to travel to Disney World with the Anthony Wayne Marching band.  They were gone for one week over Thanksgiving break.  It gave my wife and I a small peek into what the house will eventually look and sound like sometime in the near future when the kids fly the coop.  We both missed them terribly and were anticipating when they would call us each night to tell us about their day.  So how did it look with the kids gone?  Much less cluttered.  How did it sound?  Quiet, too quiet.

Here's a peek of their marching routine at the park:


of what to get my wife for Christmas.  My wife is truly wonderful in every way.  But, she is really, really hard to buy for.  She doesn't collect anything.  She doesn't have many hobbies.  She's not into jewelry.  I wouldn't ever attempt to pick out clothing for her as we have totally different tastesShe likes to cook, but she's got about every tool or gadget for the kitchen that she wants and our kitchen is overflowing them.  Today, I bought her some art that she mentioned she liked when we were at an art festival over the summer.  It was expensive, but I'm still thinking of something nice to get her.  Got a great idea for me?  Please feel free to post in the comments.

The new Apple Watch.  I don't know if technology can be made sexy, but if it can be then Apple has done it.  I just wish they had this thing ready for Christmas.  Judge for yourself.

A haircut.  Done.  Went to the new "Great Clips" in town and got my hair cut for just $6.99 + tip.  I got a haircut from there the first day they opened for just $2.99!  My friend said that it looked like I spent at least a $5.  :)

One of my new task card products for free.  Its Christmas themed and great for review.  I hope you enjoy it.

 Have a great few weeks up until Christmas everyone!