Posts Tagged ‘Art of teaching’

Another Pandemic Positive: The Expansion of Outdoor Education

December 31, 2020 Comments off

Students in Portland, ME may not be getting the academics they need but, as AP’s David Sharp reports, thanks to an expansion of outdoor education, they ARE getting a great education on nature and an imaginative means of coping with the challenges posed by the pandemic. 

Portland ME is offering outdoor education in December? What happens when it is cold and it snows? When Mother Nature gives you cold you learn how to bundle up and when it gives you snow, you study snowflakes! As Mr. Sharp notes, Portlands littlest students, the Pre-K and Kindergartners, take their naps “…in hammocks in wool-lined sleeping bags filled with hot water bottles” and the teacher are finding that the students are begging them to go outdoors. And why not? 

“It’s the healthiest, safest place for us to be right now. Anything that we can do to get kids outdoors for longer periods of time is vital. This is where we need to be right now,” said Anne Stires, an outdoor learning consultant and advocate in Maine.

And what happened in a recent snowstorm? 

Cindy Soule’s fourth graders in Maine’s largest city have studied pollination in a community garden. They solved an erosion problem that was damaging trees. They learned about bear scat.

Then came a fresh layer of snow and temperatures that hovered around freezing — but her students were unfazed.

Bundled up and masked, they scooted outside with their belongings in buckets. They collected their pencils and clipboards, plopped the buckets upside down in the snow, took a seat and went to work.

The lesson? Snow, of course, and how snowflakes are formed.

As Mr. Sharp’s article indicates, Maine is not the only State embracing outdoor education no matter what challenges the temperature or weather presents. Colorado, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and— based on personal knowledge– Vermont are all offering support for outdoor education… and Portland found that the public enthusiastically provided warm weather gear for their neediest children when they put out a call. 

What will happen when the pandemic ends? If the experience of Portland educators is any indication it will remain:

This is Portland’s first widespread use of outdoor learning, and the goal is to keep it going even after the pandemic.

Teachers are encouraged, but not required, to take their classes outdoors, and a school survey shows about half of teachers doing so.

Soule said her students will never forget the pandemic’s hardships. But she hopes studying in nature will be among their good memories of 2020.

They’re seeing the outdoors around them and it brings relevancy to what they’re studying,” Soule said. ” They will remember that forever.”

Given Portland’s daunting weather it doesn’t seem like bad weather should be an excuse for ANY school district… and given the relative ease of maintaining social distancing and mandating masks (what student ISN’T willing to cover their face in sub-freezing weather?) it seems like a natural way to return to school AND learn some practical life long skills. It seems far more energizing and memorable than starting at blank boxes on a screen! 


Motown Sound a Legacy of Detroit Public Schools… Alas, Standardized Tests Do Not Promote the Same Level of Creativity

November 13, 2020 Comments off

Writing for JStor, a weekly blog that provides interesting slants on history and contemporary culture, Livia Gershon describes the role music education played in the early days of Motown records. I was somewhat surprised and pleased to read that Martha Reeves, the lead singer for the Vandellas, cut her teeth on Handel as a high school student… and glad to see that the Detroit schools provided a means for talented young performers to share their talents in popular music— unlike the suburban junior high school I attended in the early 1960s that was disdainful of anything that was written by anyone in the 20th Century.

Sadly the push to use standardized test scores as the primary metric for schools is driving out high quality music programs from urban schools except for magnet schools whose attendance is limited to “gifted and talented” students in music and the arts. Music education in Detroit Public Schools left a lasting positive legacy. The legacy of standardized test scores, though, is shameful.

DonorsChoose Honors Teachers by Empowering Them to Identify and Fund Student Needs

November 5, 2020 Comments off

I’ve read and written countless posts on the “universal needs” of students and the government’s’ failure to provide the funding required to meet those needs. Among the “universal needs” are equitable access to technology, PPE and training for teachers, and the provision of social services and basic needs for students living in poverty or encountering stress.

Charles Best, CEO of DonorsChoose, a philanthropy organization that provides small bore grants to teachers, is looking at the smaller and arguably more important needs that are unique to each student and providing teacher with the means of identifying those needs and meeting them with small grants. While I am generally no fan of philanthropic funds displacing local funds and, thereby, displacing the local decision making that is achieved trough democratic means, I was immediately supportive of the approach taken by DonorsChoose. By empowering teachers to identify and solve small bore problems that are unique to them and their students, DonorsChoose is meeting unique needs by funding items that school boards could not afford, especially in the coming months and years when state and local funds will be increasingly difficult to raise.

Forbes contributor Michael B. Horn describes some the problems teachers identified and solved, and one problem in particular is a good example. Headphones, it turns out, are far and away the most requested “technology”, a need that most members of the public would dismiss as frivolous but one that turns out to be vital in households where many are using computers in a small space or households where small children, animals, and noises from the outdoors compete for the attention of students attending Zoom classes.

Mr. Cook has come away from his experience as CEO of DonorsChoose with a new respect for teachers:

“They’re so determined for their students to have the materials and experiences they need for great education that they spend time outside of their working hours telling the world about a set of materials that their students really need,” he said.

Thanks to the funding model of DonorsChoose, determined teachers can get the materials their children need relatively easily and quickly— especially when compared to the hoops they would need to jump through to get these materials through the traditional budgeting process.

Maybe after the pandemic is over school districts could develop a similarly empowering means for teachers to secure funds for ad hoc needs and, in doing so, discover “technology gaps”— like headphones— that could be addressed quickly and cheaply.