A calling ...

"We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims."

"Make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone."

- Buckminster Fuller

Thursday, December 30, 2010

My Response to Jay Mathews Blog

Class Struggle - Are math scores lagging because U.S. parents are clueless?

According to the Pareto Principle, 80% of production comes from 20% of the inputs. Following Pareto's logic, educational leaders should consider examining the number of standards in the curriculum and take a serious look at which are "the vital few" that generate the results that we are looking for, i.e., being competitive as a nation in Mathematics.
Recently, I read the statement in a brain-based education book that concluded, "too fast doesn't last". In another book called This Is Your Brain On Music, the author noted that it takes a minimum of 10,000 hours to become world class in any discipline. I find it amusing that someone would say that it's criminal that 4th graders don't know addition facts; a substantial number of 7th graders don't know their multiplication facts. Try adding fractions with unlike denominators without automatic recall of multiplication facts! Students who have automatic math fact recall tend to have lots and lots of connections. Students who have lots and lots of connections have a far easier time recalling facts. Students who have lots and lots of connections, as a rule, have had rich and varied experiences with numbers. Sadly, a lot of math students don't get a lot of rich and varied experiences with numbers. Too often, the joy of understanding is beaten out of children by teachers who are forced to stick to mandatory pacing guides. Too often, Math teachers are in too big of a hurry to teach in developmentally appropriate ways..
Mandatory pacing guides don't take into consideration the developmental stages and base number sense of a highly diverse population, which leads to educational mis-matches, particularly at the bottom and top portions of the bell curve. It's painful as a teacher to have to force children to learn math procedures when the children aren't ready. A greater emphasis on differentiated instruction nationally would probably require a greater focus on the "vital few" that generate the greatest results. Eliminating clutter would involve important choices about which are the "vital few".

Thursday, December 23, 2010



I was doing some research on Electric Circuits to avoid getting shocked while taking down my antenna rotator off the roof when I stumbled across this amazing science resource (click on the link above). This will definitely go on my PortaPortal (it may already be there). The information is visually arranged in a "web" format, a format we teach young writers who are in the planning stage. Each bubble is a link to to specific information. Very comprehensive!

Ultimately, I phoned my friend Ricky, who remembered that the electrical source for the rotator was inside my pantry.  A simple unplugging will do.

Holiday Tech Projects: Remove a Trojan, Build a Homemade HDTV Antenna, and other adventures

How to build a HDTV Antenna....CHEAP!

Over the holidays, I'll be trying out the plans listed in the link above to build a homemade HDTV antenna that I can mount it in the attic. The bolts connecting our outdoor antenna to our rotator stripped out, sending our antenna onto our roof ... again. The rotator, which is absolutely critical for getting a clear signal, is very heavy and the winds come whipping over our hip roof. The metal on the rotator is too soft and the leverage generated by the height and weight of the antenna causes too much stress at one point. Now that the snow has finally melted from our roof, and the winds aren't too high, it's safe enough to go up on the roof now to take the old antenna down. I'll scavenge the parts, especially the old rotator, and use them to build my homemade antenna.

My two Karens have been politely reminding me every day about my problem: Karen Kurland has been writing me notes, and Karen Epley has been joking with me every time she catches me in the driveway... she hasn't referred to the Beverly Hillbillies yet, thankfully.

My downstairs fridge is well stocked with Sam Adams and Heineken beer, so I'm ready to call my old buddy Ricky to help me with the electronics, etc. I'm scared of doing electrical work, because I'm afraid if I mess up I'll burn the house down. Thank God for Ricky! I can always count on him to bail me out!

Recently, Joe was researching Pokemon cards on my computer, and despite Kaspersky Internet Security 2011, he clicked on the wrong thing -- now my computer is infected with a Trojan. Someone violated my computer and now has the ability to easily rip off my personal information and delete files and use my contact information to infect my family and friends. Therefore, I'm learning lots about Trojans. The way they attach themselves to critical files, without which a computer cannot run, makes Trojans nearly impossible to get rid of without reformatting the hard drive! I clicked on a contact us link and found myself communicating with Kaspersky's 911 Customer Service, getting instructions either from somewhere in Russia, or from another place where I was redirected; yesterday, I found an email in my Junk Mail from Kaspersky written in Russian. I assume it says, "We don't speak English!" Today, I tried contacting Kasperky again, but it's Christmas Eve. I think I already know the script!

It looks like I'll be calling my brother Mike again to help me reformat the drive and preserve my critical files. I'd better come up with the $200 I still owe him for the Motherboard he gave me when he built me a new computer after the last virus killed my last computer. Thank God for my brother Mike! Since I can expect this problem to happen over and over, this time I'm going to learn how to fix the problem myself.

Since I'm searching for new ways to pay the bills and pay for a Masters Program so that I can continue to teach, and since Les Brown is affiliated with the program, I committed myself to a program called Mindset and Internet. The program involves setting up a website designed to generate an income. It's a do-it-yourself-program, supposedly, with all the tools to set up an income generating website. I got stuck on step 1: find a niche market. I haven't done anything with the program since. Meanwhile, I'm getting billed on my Credit Card. So it looks like I'm either going to need to get with the program or bail out. Do-it-yourself programs are somewhat of a lost American art, and I have too much personal pride to give up on my very own Do-it-yourself program so easily. So, I'm thinking I'll feel the fear, but do it anyway. Yikes!

Thank God I've learned how to laugh at myself.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Sub Job Gone Bad

Since I never identify schools or school systems, and since so few people are reading my blog, I can blog truthfully about my experiences without causing a firestorm.  Recently, I subbed at a high school where I had a few students on one end of the spectrum who demonstrated attitudes and skills that would get them into any college in the country, and had another class where I was genuinely concerned for my safety, the safety of the students, and an overall lack of respect for the academic environment in the classroom and in the halls.

In 2nd period, I taught an honors class.  I saw a wide divide in the quality of academic attitudes and analytical skills even in that class.  Responses to one question revealed differences in the quality of thinking perhaps more than any other:  explain the differences between Homo Neanderthalensis and Homo Sapiens. Many students wrote the same answer that Homo Neanderthalensis were "less creative" than Homo Sapiens. Since it was obvious that students had copied each other rather than read the article, I replied that their conclusion about Neanderthals lacked creativity.  Another student noted some of the anatomical differences listed in the article:  Homo Neanderthalensis had a thicker jaw, more body hair, and a smaller brain than Homo Sapiens; she too noted cultural differences, but backed it up with evidence of cave paintings and tool differences reported in the article.  I held up the A quality answer to compare and contrast solid analysis versus uncritical thinking.

My 6th period class was a "normal class".  Upon entering the room, one girl who arrived after the bell wearing stilleto heels, bold pink lipstick, and a hot stuff attitude, pulled out a perfume bottle and sprayed it into the air in the direction of the person next to her.  Another girl talked breezily about the baby she was carrying, and felt it okay to leave the room without permission to help deliver candy canes.  Students who had no business being there entered the classroom without invitation.  I mentioned the possibility that I might have to call security to remove them.  Several others felt it okay to sneak out the back door.  As an announcement came over the loudspeaker that schools would close 2 hours early, a number of students in the class became loud and unruly, which made it impossible to hear the announcement about changes in the lunch schedule.  The hallways began to fill with a mob of unruly students.

Minutes later, a student in another part of the building pulled the fire alarm, forcing the entire school to exit the building into the snow and the fire trucks to arrive.  The class's emergency folder had no class rosters, no evacuation route, and no procedures for reporting whether all students were present and accounted for.  In exiting the building, a number of children in the hall began running and screaming.  Students, who seemed to have no prearranged gathering place, milled around the street until I urged students to move out of the street.  Had there been a real fire, I would have had no way of confirming whether all students had exited the building.  At least 10 students failed to return to class.  Concerned about the level of school-wide pandaemonium, I protected myself by having students sign in and stood guard by the rear door.  I remembered a training session on school safety I had attended shortly after earning my license.  The tagline:  don't be a victim.

Within minutes a second false alarm occurred.  The entire school was again forced to stand out in a snow storm without coats.  We remained in a waiting pattern for over 40 minutes while we waited for the firetrucks to arrive a second time.  During that time, I noticed a few students drive away.  I shuddered to think of what would happen if an inexperienced driver ended up wrapping their car around a tree after leaving school grounds under these conditions.  Again, some of the same students failed to come back to class or were more than 10 minutes late. Again, I had students sign in.  At the end of the day, I went to the Sub School Office and compared attendance sheets with the sign in sheets to identify students who had taken advantage of the situation.  I then highlighted the names of students who had failed to return so that they could be held accountable.

On a second day, sometime during first period, one student climbed inside a cabinet to skip class without anyone noticing – I called Security after he suddenly popped out from inside a cabinet during 3rd period.  During 5th period, I accepted one child’s quiet recommendation that I call Security to have a student removed from the class.  The self-proclaimed “smartest kid in the class” had been defiant and had been mocking me so I quietly called Security.  He pleaded with me not to call, but I had had enough.  We quietly discussed the matter while waiting for Security to come, and the young man shared with me that he was afraid that he would be kicked out of the school, which had made a special arrangement allowing him to attend AP classes there.  The rest of the class was visibly relieved.  Throughout the class, I was able to offer lots of one-on-one coaching with a complex reading assignment.  It was nice not to have to compete with a disruptive student.

In my sub report, I noted that the emergency folder lacked fire drill instructions, lacked class lists for taking attendance, lacked a clear evacuation route and gathering place, and that students had demonstrated a total lack of readiness for an emergency situation, as evidenced by their yelling and running in the classroom and in the halls.  Plus, I noted that several students failed to return to class, so I reported them.  Hopefully, since I kept my report in-house, my comments will be interpreted as feedback, rather than as criticism.

What bothers me is that the majority of students are there to learn, and the teacher has developed quality assignments, and keeps snakes and other live animals as pets, but teachers and students alike are too willing to tolerate defiance and disruptive behavior from a loud and obnoxious minority.  The class average is a 63%, which reflects an inability of the average student to focus.  A few brave students quietly helped me, but something is definitely wrong with the culture.  Responsibility should be the norm rather than the exception.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Mastery, Masters, and Marketability

During my first long-term sub assignment in 2006, one of the teachers on my hall told me that it took him 3 years before he felt comfortable teaching.  I've heard the 3 year figure bandied about in other circles.  In going the Career Switcher Alternative License Route, I missed out on the experience of student teaching.  The Reading Specialist at the school where I recently completed a long-term assignment as a Kindergarten teacher recommended that I needed student teaching experience to become more marketable.  Since a professional license requires a certain amount of professional development, and since I realize how much I would benefit by collaborating with a master teacher, I'm ready to follow the advice I'm being given.  Tonight, I went to an information session at Marymount University and was advised that since I already hold a professional license in elementary education, it made sense to pursue a Master's in a complementary area such as K-12 Special Education or ESOL.

This week, I've subbed in math and reading remediation courses in middle school and in an ESOL class in high school.  In both cases my experience teaching elementary school helped me teach within the zone of proximal development of the students.  Yesterday, I helped struggling learners develop confidence in following step-by-step procedures for adding and subtracting mixed numbers, highlighted and celebrated all steps done correctly, and identified consistently missing steps.  Students became so excited about how proficient they were becoming at solving these problems and teaching each other that they chose to continue solving problems on white boards rather than playing a math game.  Today, I taught beginning literacy voice-to-print matching and directionality concepts of print I learned while teaching Kindergarten to high school ESOL classes.  Not surprisingly, the sensitivity to feelings and respect for learners that I have developed while teaching young learners, is appreciated in higher grade levels.  A Masters in Special Education will make me more marketable, plus I'll get that student teaching experience I've been missing, but I'm already an effective teacher.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

My response to a question posed by Mortimer Adler and Max Weismann

Response to #599 “Words and Meanings”

I would approach “Words and Meanings” from a slightly different angle than Adler and Weismann.  I would simply ask, how are words, things, and meanings related?  Then, I’d close with a question that naturally follows, why are words important?

My exposition requires a postulate: given a thing and a mind capable of understanding the thing on one or more levels, words relate the thing to the mind capable of understanding the thing on one or more levels.  The relationship between the thing and the mind can be simple or complex, just as things and minds can be simple or complex.  Words are tools that manage the relationship between things and minds, however simple or complex.  Words connect things to minds, generating a variety of representations in ways analogous to how DNA encodes for protein synthesis. Based on everything I know, I would conclude that words function as intermediaries that carry little if no other value outside that limited role.

The power of words to connect minds to things can be strong or weak.  Weak words imply weak connections to things.  Strong words involve multi-level connections including visual, auditory, and kinesthetic representations and feeling responses; strong words connect minds to things in a variety of ways, and on a variety of levels, generating mental schemas to various degrees.    Further, I’m sure strong words generate strong neural connections that can on some level be mapped.  Great writers use images, allusions, and concepts that endure because of the power of their words to connect relationships of space, time, and feelings.  Shallow conversations, on the other hand, involve imprecise words that relate to little or nothing and are quickly forgotten.  The words people use to converse in speaking or writing reflect the quality of their thinking.

Just as there are many kinds of things and minds of various capabilities, there are many kinds of words which serve a variety of functions.  Just as things and minds can change, so can words.  Etymology involves the study of word origins, and a good English dictionary will show Germanic or Roman/Greek roots, reflecting the evolution of the English language.  Functional relationships are encoded in words to varying degrees.

Some things are not subject to change; these are called absolutes.  For example, mathematical words that describe observable patterns such as the Fibonacci sequence or the golden rectangle describe observable unchanging absolute numerical relationships.  Statistically, a one-to-one correspondence can be observed between the numerical relationship and the things described by it.  Similarly, the idea of Platonic solids are rooted in unchanging space-time numerical relationships.  I think Plato’s argument can be boiled down to a simple observation:  there are absolutes and we can find evidence of absolutes in nature.

Other things involve unchanging social/moral relationships that generally become too complex in practice to be easily quantified.  A just relationship is just such a thing; whether a relationship is just or not is not subject to change, however, since the relationship itself is inherently just or unjust.  Fair share division problems provide a simple model of a just relationship.  Constitutional framers generally have strived to design institutions in ways intended to maintain just relationships, understanding that minds are capable of understanding justice on a variety of levels, but are incapable of apprehending justice directly.  Wasn’t that the idea of Plato’s the Allegory of the Cave?  Thus, words that connect minds to the thing we call justice continue to evolve, just as our institutions evolve.

If words are merely intermediaries between minds and things, why are words important?  Words encode the progress of human thought like DNA encodes our proteins.  Words lower the amount of energy needed to achieve higher levels of thinking.  Powerful magic, words are.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Dan Pink on the surprising science of motivation | Video on TED.com

Dan Pink on the surprising science of motivation | Video on TED.com

Dan Pink compares the effectiveness of extrinsic motivators (carrots and sticks) versus intrinsic motivators (autonomy, mastery, and purpose) in business. I wish every educator sees this video, because it could spark a revolution. Educational Leaders have been taking their cues from business since the roaring 90's (i.e., No Child Left Behind), and a carrot and stick approach has become the dominant model in education. Dan Pink's case for moving away from the carrot and stick approach toward autonomy, mastery, and purpose should cause Educational Leaders to pause and reconsider how we measure student and teacher performance in our schools.

Any classroom teacher who has seen that "deer in the headlights look" has seen how easily children are overwhelmed by performance pressure. Fear has become, perhaps, the dominant motivation in schools, and I think fear is the answer to Mrs. B's question, "I'm not sure what happens to students after they leave Kindergarten." The key to helping students become independent learners is to help students overcome their fear of failure.

Lucy Caulkins methods for teaching children how to write are designed to help students become independent learners. My little Kindergarten friend Ethan wrote me a book as a going away present, which I need to scan an share because it serves as evidence of everything Dan Pink is talking about.

As a teacher, had I not been intrinsically motivated by autonomy, mastery, and purpose, I would have never have taken on the challenge of becoming a long-term sub in a Kindergarten class. I got to witness Ethan's brilliance in spite of external motivators, which would have led me elsewhere.

Notice how Ethan solves a series of problems: what is a story that matters to me? what details should I include in my picture? what is the initial sound? what is the ending sound? how should I stretch out the sounds that I hear? how do I keep different words separate? When should I use upper and lower case letters? Ethan is a child who is thriving because of intrinsic motivators, not because of performance pressure.  He did the pictures and words all by himself because he had a story to tell.  That's what Poetic License is all about!

In early October, Angeline's wrote about how her mother had problems with an umbrella.  She was learning to write in a meaningful way, and felt safe enough to express herself the "best that I can."  By the time I left in December, Angeline was writing complete sentences all by herself.
Intrinsic motivation is the answer to Mrs. B's question, "why are Kindergarten students so happy?" In Kindergarten, education is intrinsically meaningful to students. As external motivators are take over, education loses much of it's intrinsic motivational appeal.  No wonder there's so much learned helplessness in our schools.

When we consider the 21st century world for which we are preparing children, and the kinds of tasks that children will need to be able to perform, Dan Pink makes a strong case for changing the way we do business.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Jon Stewart Destroys Bernanke In Four Minutes in [Market-Ticker]

Jon Stewart Destroys Bernanke In Four Minutes in [Market-Ticker]
The other day I was listening to Les Brown on The Skype Files, when he joked, "I get hives when I don't have enough money." Another funny line was, "when there's no finance, there's no romance." I totally understand.

One late night coming home from the classroom recently, I was listening to Danny Rouhier with Bill Rohland on 106.7 The Fan, just before they went off the air. Bill had some breaking news that Ryan Seacrest had just signed a $60,000,000 radio deal. The guys working the late shift in radio are at the bottom of the food chain, and the guys often joke about their relatively low pay. Danny had just been doing some brilliant impersonations and the two had been leading a brainstorming discussion for how the fans of Cleveland could roast Lebron on his return home. Very funny stuff. After the news of the $60,000,000 contract broke, Danny went on one of the funniest rants I've ever heard on radio. Danny's rant was about how someone who he felt had far less talent than he could be paid such an ungodly amount of money. I laughed so hard I cried.

What does money and the Federal Reserve have to do with Education? Consider the book Swimmy by Leo Lionni.
All of Swimmy's brothers and sisters are eaten in a single gulp by a giant tuna. Swimmy survives, ventures out into new waters, and finds another school, but the school refuses to leave their hideout because they are afraid of being eaten, so Swimmy teaches his new friends how to swim in formation to create the appearance of being a big fish, with Swimmy as the eye. Swimming in formation allows the little fish to swim with the big fish without fear of being eaten. Swimmy is a metaphor for social justice, the theme of Russell Crowe's latest interpretation of Robin Hood and many other children's stories. After I read Swimmy to my Kindergarten students, they cheered spontaneously.

There are a number of groups who want to destroy the Federal Reserve. My father, on the other hand, has an idea for transforming the Fed so that its powers could be used to finance the vision of Buckminster Fuller, Louis Kelso, and William Ferree, and create a new generation of owners, who would become the owners of the new technological frontier, without taking anything away from existing owners. Today, as Jon Stewart jokes, the only thing standing behind the dollar is government debt. What my father and others are proposing is to put the productive capacity of Americans behind our currency while building a nation of owners. That is the essence of The Capital Homestead Act, which my father hopes to have passed on the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's Homestead Act.

I have a simple idea that would use inexpensive technology to vastly improve reading fluency and comprehension. With help from an infusion of capital credit, I believe that my very simple, obvious, and inexpensive idea could transform reading instruction.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

MyPlate - Food Diary & Food Calorie Counter | LIVESTRONG.COM

MyPlate - Food Diary & Food Calorie Counter | LIVESTRONG.COM

My Plate is an appropriate use of numbers and measurement. Measure caloric intake. Measure calories burned.

DRA Word Analysis is also an appropriate use of numbers and measurement. Numbers and measurements can be useful guidelines for setting and achieving goals.

The most effective goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. My plate makes counting calories simple and visual. I love it.  One of my favorite features of My Plate is the Loops feature.  Using the Loops mapping feature, I was able to easily measure the various loops I use to walk Mabel and figure out how many calories I burn when I walk her.  Setting diet and exercise goals has never been easier.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


Being able to "go beyond the information" to "figure things out" is one of the few untarnishable joys of life.  One of the great triumphs of learning (and teaching) is to get more than you "ought" to.  And this takes reflection, brooding about what it is that you know.  The enemy of reflection is the breakneck pace -- the thousand pictures.  (Jerome Bruner, The Culture of Education, p. 129)

My biggest fear is going in front of a class and not being fully prepared.  That's probably why I've always worked ungodly hours, and why I've become such a committed planner.  Now that I have the opportunity to enjoy some downtime, I'm taking care of me.

Today, I went to see Dr. Printz.  Karen has been bugging me to go for weeks, because I've had a cough and sinus issues for over a month, but I had refused to go to the doctor until after I had finished my Kindergarten assignment.  Today, my blood pressure was 130/75, which was okay but I can do better.  I told Dr. Printz that Joe had made fun of my belly.  Dr. Printz suggested that I join Joe in practicing Tae Kwon Do.  I replied, "I'd kick his butt even as a white belt."  I need to get healthier because I want to have more energy.  Good health is a matter of personal responsibility, and I am a responsible person.

At Dr. Printz's office, I noticed charts that could help me set SMART diet and exercise goals.  When I returned home, I revisited Livestrong.com and rediscovered My Plate, an easy-to-use diet tool for tracking diet and exercise.

I've been watching The Skype Files, recordings of the motivator Les Brown, and Immunity to Change, lifescaping strategies by Paul Martinelli, because I need to make changes in my life, and I need to feed my mind with a steady diet of transformational thinking.  As a cancer survivor, Les discussed how he changed his diet and how he gave up meat, and joked that every time he picks up a phone, he now sees a drumstick!  My dad's a cancer survivor, just like Les.  He too has disciplined himself to eat right, and exercise daily.  I fully understand the benefits.

It irritated me that one of my coaches recently told me I needed "student teaching" to make myself more marketable, even though I already earned my 5 year teaching license and have now launched 3 classes.  I know my coach was right.  I know that I missed out on an essential component by going the career switcher route.  I've been coached by literacy and math specialists, have had high level help with classroom management, my plans match curriculum pacing guides, my classroom transitions were working with my Kindergarten class, and I've pretty well mastered the small group instructional model, but I need to be coached through the observation process.  It has been a steep uphill climb to get to where I am, and I know I am capable of taking my teaching to the next level.  I'm just not sure how to pay for it.

I'm going to follow Bruner's advice and "figure things out."

Monday, December 6, 2010

Robots: Good or Bad?

When I read the email conversation sent to me by my father, I was reminded of a quote from Sir Francis Bacon cited by Lauren Eiseley in The Starthrower.  This quote has always stuck with me:

[W]e would in general admonish all to consider the true ends of knowledge, and not to seek it for the gratifications of their minds, or for disputation, or that they may despise others, or for emolument, or fame, or power, or such low objects, but for its intrinsic merit and the purposes of life, and that they would perfect and regulate it by charity. For from the desire of power the angels fell, and men from that of knowledge; but there is no excess in charity, and neither angel nor man was ever endangered by it.   (Source: http://history.hanover.edu/courses/excerpts/111bac.html)
(My father writes):
Under Capital Homesteading these robots would be owned by 
citizen-shareholders, so that the profits from the productiveness of 
advanced labor-saving technology (what Bucky Fuller called "energy 
slaves" would be distributed as earned income throughout the 
population. That would democratize power and control over the 
enterprise using robots, as well as the fruits of capital in the form of 
dividends to purchase the strawberries or other marketable goods and 
services. And it would free people to pursue what Aristotle described 
as "leisure work", the unlimited creative work beyond economic work, 
work once done by servants and slaves, work that those who own do 
without economic compensation, what he called "the work of 
civilization." See chapter 2 of the first Kelso-Adler book on our 
website, entitled "Economic Freedom: Property and Leisure."

Thanks, Joshua, for bringing this relevant info to the attention of this 
discussion group.


Norman G. Kurland, J.D.
Center for Economic and Social Justice (CESJ)
P.O. Box 40711, Washington, DC 20016
(O) 703-243-5155, (F) 703-243-5935
(E) thirdway@cesj.org
(Web) http://www.cesj.org

"Own or be owned."

On 12/5/10 2:40 PM, Joshua N Pritikin wrote:
> "A typical berry field one square kilometer in size takes about 500
> hours to harvest. With its speedy evaluation, the strawberry picking
> robot could cut this down to around 300 hours. Not only that, but every
> berry would have a quantifiably similar level of ripeness based on
> color, and would be harvested with a minimum of bruising. Robots will
> also be able to harvest during the night (as shown in the videos below)
> allowing for the fruit to reach market closer to optimum freshness.
> These improvements in speed and quality will likely translate to
> millions of dollars saved each year for the industry as a whole. Even if
> we focus on strawberries alone, robots like this one make a lot of
> sense."
> http://singularityhub.com/2010/12/04/japans-robot-picks-only-the-ripest-strawberries-video/

Sunday, December 5, 2010


Teachers get way too much credit and way too much blame for how well students do in school.  Children like Ethan who have wonderfully supportive parents like Mandy have an advantage over other children.

My class was very blessed to have 9 families volunteer as chaperones for our Kindergarten field trip to Cox Farms in October, including Mandy.  I had perfect attendance at Parent Teacher Conferences, where my message was pretty simple:  parents need to spend time reading with their children.  I was on the phone with parents at least once per week with parents.  After I called one night to share something wonderful a child had done, I received a follow-up email the next day from a parent who said how happy I had made her.  After I suggested that many of my students could benefit from reading Dr. Seuss independently, I had children coming to me to proudly recite rhyming words from Hop on Pop.

One student who left with his family for an extended visit to the family farm in Sudan took pictures and drew pictures and wrote about his experience in a journal, just as I had suggested.  I had 5 parents show up at my going away party, and left with a bag full of gifts.  I approached every day as just doing my job, yet parents appreciated my efforts as if what I was doing was special.  I appreciate being appreciated.  Thanks to all the wonderful parents who are there for their children and the teachers who are there to serve them.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Leap onto the Lily Pad

Leap onto the Lily Pad

While we were walking in the woods this morning, Mabel and I came upon a man named Larry and his boxer, Dixie. We struck up a conversation about dogs and family and education. Larry told me about his brother in Georgia who has taught Science in a High School for many years and is so frustrated that he's thinking about quitting. We started talking about problems in education. I told Larry that I felt the source of the problem was the misapplication of business metrics (Total Quality Management) to people, as if we were producing robots on an assembly line.

Since I have a business background and know how to use statistical analysis appropriately, I cringe at the way educational leaders routinely misapply such powerful tools. As someone who loves mathematics and baseball and building things, measuring things is one of my great passions. When it comes to measuring people, however, particularly children, my spider sense goes off violently.

Having recently launched a Kindergarten class as a long-term sub, having worked with the nicest, most supportive, most creative team I've ever collaborated with, I'm convinced that the salvation of American education is in the application of Kindergarten philosophy instead of business philosophy to the business of developing people.  Yesterday, as we were leaving, Mrs. B and I were talking about the books we might write one day. Mrs. B's title was, Do you like my ship? (It doesn't have any guns) My title was In Kindergarten, there is no box. If American education is so perfect, what happened to American creativity, which is what the Japanese people who popularized Total Quality Management used to admire most about Americans? Mrs B. said, "Kindergarten teachers are different, all the children are wriggly. " She wondered, "Children are so happy walking down the hall in Kindergarten, I'm not sure what is happening after Kindergarten?"

As a male career switcher, I am the black sheep whenever I enter a school, but I connect naturally with children. The saying, "to err is human" has become anathema in our schools, which is probably why Total Quality Management (TQM) has struck such a chord with educational leaders. I recently read a passage from Chip Wood's classic, Yardsticks, which states that to correct a 6 year old when he writes a symbol backwards might be exactly the wrong thing to do. A major difference between me and many other educators is my approach to error. I say, "Great try! What are some other possible answers?" Too often, educators find fault instead of celebrating gestalt.

Ethan and I connected during Writing Workshop, a scripted program developed by the Master, Lucy Caulkins. One of Lucy's earliest lessons is, "we do our best and then we move on." Ethan became comfortable taking risks in his writing. His drawings tell stories about his experiences making friends at school, taking family vacations to the mountains, etc. and he is writing meaningful sentences. He is consistently recognizing beginning and ending sounds and using them to decode and construct words. Wow!

In saying goodbye to my students, I invited them to safely continue their conversation with me. I set up a way for children to safely correspond with me through their teacher. When I was studying classics at Georgetown University in the early 80's, I learned that authors and readers are part of a conversation spanning centuries, oceans, and even languages. When a person becomes literate, even dead people can converse with them. In studying educational philosophies, I've learned that skilled readers don't blindly accept what is written. Instead, a skilled reader always brings his or her own history to an author's message. Now more than ever, we need to be developing people who can think and hold a conversation, not holding people up to someone else's artificial standard.

Over the next few days, I'll be planning out my next move. I'm excited about the connections my students and I made during my last adventure. The pace of my blogging will pick up for a while as I seek my next adventure.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Journaling: Joe's first hit

While Writing Workshop started out great with my group of Kindergarten students, journaling was not particularly fun this past Friday.  My main problem when journaling has been my expectations about how I should be helping students who are just developing initial concepts of print.  Why did I lose momentum in Writing Workshop and become frustrated?   Honestly, I didn't stick with Lucy Caulkins' plan for using both pictures and words, like famous authors.  That was a mistake.  I can get back on track by introducing the lesson, writers write with both pictures and words.

Tomorrow, after explicitly making the connection that real authors write with both pictures and words "and you can too," instead of using the example of Courderoy, by Don Freeman, I'll display a page from Noisy Nora, by Rosemary Wells, as I've already been using it as an anchor text to teach rhyme. In the lesson, the teacher shows how some authors put the picture up top and put the words down below.  The Teacher asks, point to the picture, then point to the word.

Next, the teacher shows how Don Crews uses a different approach when writing:  he labels his pictures.  I discovered a link to the Harper Collins website that will allow me to display part of his award winning book on Freight trains on the SmartBoard. http://www.harpercollins.com/browseinside/index.aspx?isbn13=9780688170875

Since we'll be journaling again tomorrow, I'm going to use an example of my own writing (seen above) as another example.  I'll put it up on the SmartBoard.  Tomorrow, I'll introduce the After Workshop Share.

Hopefully, I can get the Writing Workshop back on track.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Generating interest for reluctant readers

by Nancy E. Krulik
illustrated by Richard Walz
Random House
ISBN: 037580000X
Ages 4-6
32 pages

Jar Jar Binks is sooooo clumsy. Sebulba is very angry with Jar Jar, and that's never a good thing! Can Jar Jar learn to take his time and be more careful, or will Sebulba have him done with?
”  (quoted from the website)

My son Joe has about 10 Clone War Series books written by Jude Watson (a pseudonym).  I have found these books to be both well written and entertaining.  A reluctant reader, my son devoured the Clone War Series.  I never knew the Step into Reading series existed.

Joe’s in 7th grade taking Honors English and is now reading the Last of the Jedi series, also written by Jude Watson.  These are longer books with slightly more mature themes.  Joe’s capable of reading more difficult books, but he knows all the characters and their histories, conducts research on the Internet, reads cross-section and other Encyclopedic style books, plays with lego sets, etc.  Joe knows the geography of the main planets.  He’s watched every movie several times. Tonight, he was using his training sword as a light saber.

Over the summer, I encouraged Joe to read Tuckett’s Travels, a Western based on the period of 1845-1849.  This action-packed, highly suspenseful collection of five stories by Gary Paulsen was one of my most enjoyable recent reads.  I finished it in 2 sittings, because I was so curious to see how the main characters would develop.  Joe enjoyed the stories, but he wasn’t hooked like he has been with the Star Wars books.  He needed my support to keep going.  I would love to see Matt Damon play Jason Grimes in a movie, because he is such an interesting character – maybe Joe might enjoy the movie and want to read other books by Gary Paulsen if Tuckett’s Travels were to come to the big screen.  It’s tough to compete with the Cartoon Network and a full library of Star Wars DVD’s.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Empowerment Mentoring

Empowerment Mentoring

Click on the link above to see Les Brown's video on Empowerment Mentoring.  Don't be fooled by Les's informal clothing. Les Brown has been underestimated for his entire life. Long ago when I was a bucking maverick, I was encouraged by a wise friend to enroll at the Dale Carnegie Institute and take a course called Effective Communications & Human Relations/Skills For Success-- my wise friend, now deceased, promised that the Dale Carnegie Course would change my life, and my career and human relationships blossomed as promised. http://www.washingtondc.dalecarnegie.com/local_courses_desc.jsp?cCode=DCC There I met a beautiful person named Barbara Giallotta (probably mispelled) who introduced me to Les Brown's motivational tapes. Hungry and hooked by the Les Brown story, I replayed Les's tape so many times over the next year that I quickly wore it out.

As a 4th grade teacher, I was mentored by a beautiful person who helped me grow as a teacher.  She taught me teaching skills and processes for small group instruction that I needed to know.  She co-taught and co-planned with me all year.  My good friend and mentor encouraged me not to give up on a dream of becoming a teacher that was inspired by Les Brown, despite some of the problems I had encountered.  At the end of the year, my good friend advised, every master is at one time a disaster.  Ouch!

Last week was my second week as an emergency Kindergarten teacher (the teacher went on maternity leave before the first day of school, but not before leaving me the best set of plans I've ever seen).  As a male Kindergarten teacher, wherever I go, everybody in the school is watching.   The first day, I was stopped in the hall by the School Nurse, who had never seen me.  The watching is both necessary and unavoidable.  Last week, I was approached by the Title I Math Specialist, who offered coaching and co-teaching opportunities.  I understand the gravity of my responsibility as a  teacher, and I offered, "as far as I'm concerned, Title I Math Teachers walk on water -- they are the best."  On Friday, my new mentor helped plan, observed and participated in my lesson.  Afterwards, she offered tough, accurate feedback, and I gratefully accepted her help.  I told her how much I appreciated hearing the observations now, so that I could anticipate problems and adjust before they became problems.  My new mentor recognized my talent for integrating technology in a math lesson, but stressed repeatedly, "less is more."  Later, the Reading Specialist mentioned to me that she had stopped in and noticed what we were doing.  I never noticed her.

While setting up my SmartBoard, the technology specialist suggested that I use Kidspiration to construct a simple patterning lesson -- I built and tested the tool on Thursday evening, knowing and fearing that I was going to be closely observed on Friday.  During the lesson, in which I introduced the SmartBoard for the first time, children loved personally interacting with this powerful technology. Students rotated through three stations, where we used sentence strips programmed with two levels of pattern difficulty to guide children in constructing patterns using connecting cubes, pattern blocks, and links.  Student needed to construct patterns on their sentence strips and name their patterns using letters ABAB, ABCC, etc., then name the pattern using colors.  During our conference after the lesson, my mentor suggested that we could re-use the Kidspiration tool on Monday, and re-use the same stations.  Less is more.  Les is more.

Last Friday, on Citizenship Day, I borrowed a procedure for establishing rules that I learned from Chris Fisher, a beautiful and talented GT (Gifted and Talented) teacher.  I wasn't having any success in establishing class rules in my first year of teaching, and Chris Fisher offered me a lesson that she had used with her 2nd grade GT students:  Chris wrote down three simple rules on sentence strips, "I take care of myself," "I take care of my friends," and "We take care of our environment."  She then had children come up with their own examples of each of these ideas ... e.g., I raise my hand before talking, We pick up the trash, etc. She then had children categorize the sentence strips they had created and put them under the 3 headings she had created, then one-by-one, she pulled each of them away leaving their 3 simple rules.  I wrote down the lesson on a napkin while standing in the hall.  I tried out Chris's lesson with my 3rd graders and it worked.

Having introduced Writing Workshop on Thursday, following the Lucy Caulkins model, I modeled how Kindergarteners could write stories about any one of the three big ideas, using examples we had experienced over the past few weeks.  Earlier in the week, one child had approached me because he was afraid of going down a tall pole -- I advised my little friend that he may want to wait until he could reach the pole more easily, and used this as an example of I take care of myself -- I sketched a big tall pole, and included the detail of a tiny child who could barely reach it the pole.  I used the example of how two girls had helped one of our little friends avoid a dangerous situation on the playground by stopping him from using a certain swing that is reserved only for handicapped children as an example of  I take care of my friends.  Then, I pulled out a can of playdough that had been left without a top and tossed it in the trash with dramatic flourish -- I then showed one of the children snapping the top on the playdough to show how "We take care of our environment."  The children then came up with their own stories.  Later, when one child who had I had been closely monitoring for the past two weeks came to me and showed how she was taking care of our environment by snapping the tops on the playdough, I excitedly gave her a Mustang Ticket.  On Monday, the children will sign our Class Constitution with our 3 rules, I take care of myself, my friends, and our environment.  We will refer to these three simple rules until I finish my assignment in December.  If someone is talking during instruction, I'll be able to ask, "How are you taking care of yourself?  What should you be doing?  What are you going to do?"  Or even better, I'll be able to simply point to the Constitution and give the child a look as a reminder.

Les is more.

YouTube - "The Secret of Oz" trailer - How to Fix the 2010 Depression - directed by Bill Still

YouTube - "The Secret of Oz" trailer - How to Fix the 2010 Depression - directed by Bill Still

Here's a huge problem that my parents and my generation, the Baby Boomers are passing on to our children:  run-away debt.  Click on the link for an informed look at a problem that won't simply go away without a paradigm shift.  Unless problem solvers identify root causes, the problem can only continue to grow like a cancer, a plague on our children that can be avoided with intelligent action.

The following observation was forwarded to me in my email

On 9/16/10 5:47 PM, Bell Olson wrote:
 Just an observation:

To those who do not think Justice is important and would leave it out of their arguments for change or any other consideration, I would remind you that it is the cry at the heart of everyone on Strike, every Revolution and every call for action of any kind by citizens of any nation. It may not be Justice as some would want or understand in every case, but in the heart and reality and belief of those in Revolt, IT IS JUSTICE! EVERY TIME!

 Barbara O.

My father recently returned from meetings at the University of Chicago with groups of concerned citizens affiliated with Max Weissmann, a co-founder of the Great Books Academy, along with Mortimer Adler.   .http://www.greatbooksacademy.org/  They discussed the formation of Justice University, the brainchild of Robert Brantley, a member of CESJ, the Center for Economic and Social Justice. http://www.cesj.org/

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Lesson Plans

The lesson plans I've received from a teacher going on maternity leave next week confirm a belief that I have held for a long time.  The best teachers I've seen have mostly been primary teachers.  Kindergarten students enter school around the age of 5 knowing virtually nothing about school.  Every procedure, every expected behavior, every learning skill, even snapping the tops on markers, or twisting the orange part of the glue bottle rather than unscrewing the white part must be anticipated.  The 18 page detailed plans I received describe the most well-thought out system for inviting students into our schools that I've ever encountered.  They cover a period of the first 2 weeks and beyond.  The first weeks happen to be the most critical period in the school year.  Her plans could form the skeleton for a book, a book that would sell!

No wonder it has taken me 3-4 days to wrap myself around her plans, and I'm still wrestling with her plans.  Every resource is listed.  Every teaching procedure is described. Her plan describes the order and sequence of how to teach and practice using materials and proper behaviors to get multiple learning centers up an running "the kindergarten way".  Need the right music and rules for quiet time, she has it in her plans.  Everything has its place.  Activities are in kits, and are rolled out according to a logical sequence.  The teacher talk in these plans is highly explicit, everything is planned for, which explains why the teacher I am covering for has enjoyed well above grade level end-of-year assessments in her classroom. I've been translating her plans into Outlook, so that my daily schedule will synch to my PDA computer.  I've and added some lesson planning features that I learned from reading Lucy Caulkins and John Van de Walle, because I teach best when I have great plans.  I've been at this mostly all day.  It's tough, very tough.  Details, details, details.  But it's doable.

YouTube - TurboTax: The Rap (Extended Version)

YouTube - TurboTax: The Rap (Extended Version)
Remy is from Arlington, VA, my hometown. Very funny, very irreverent. Very much my style.

Friday, September 3, 2010

YouTube - "Capital Homesteading for Every Citizen" (Part 6 of 8)

YouTube - "Capital Homesteading for Every Citizen" (Part 6 of 8)
This is probably the best case for reexamining the role of the Federal Reserve I have seen.

About Daily 5

About Daily 5 As a guest teacher starting the year in a Kindergarten class, which is somewhat new to me, I noticed posters for Daily 5 centers under the whiteboard, so I asked about it. The Daily 5 is new at the school where I will be working this Fall, but in a past Professional Development seminar, I've seen videos of the two sisters. Perhaps I should have been paying closer attention.

As I prepare to ramp up for my emergency assignment, my first tasks are to finish reading the lesson plans, read the Math Program of Studies (POS), read Lucy Caulkins book on Conferencing for Writer's Workshop, and then I'll need to work on trying to get a quick overview on the Daily 5 program. Interestingly, the Reading Specialist never mentioned the Daily 5 to me when I asked her today at our Open House if she had anything she wanted me to read.  Hmm, I wonder what that means.  When I get a chance, I'll look at some of the videos on this website.

Ooh, I see the materials are not free.  Yikes, they're rather expensive.  Maybe the school where I am working has access to these resources through Blackboard.  That would be nice.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Lucy Caulkins, Launching The Writer's Workshop

I've been reading Launching The Writer's Workshop, by Lucy Caulkins.  Tough sledding.  I spent several hours just reading the initial rubric, and developing a spreadsheet based on the rubric so that I can easily track any factor for each student on any day.  Maybe it will help, but not an efficient approach.  I need to change.  Today, I'm making better progress, because I know that  I'll be at a staff meeting tomorrow at 9am, where I'll be introduced as a guest teacher in a Kindergarten class.  I haven't even read the sub plans yet, and I have a pile of materials that I need to plow through today!  No wonder I feel fear in the pit of my stomach.

Here's a portion of my notes:

According to Lucy Caulkins, I'll need to model stories that are personal with details from my own life.  She often repeats, "I'm telling you this because authors do this and you can do the same thing!"

In her insistence on representational drawings, here's something Caulkins stresses that teachers need to watch for, because our illustrations should tell stories.  Tulips and rainbows indicate that the child is not representing meaningful details from his own life.

Here is a story I came up with today as a model that might be appropriate in a mini-lesson

I was reading, but Mabel wanted to play.

by Daniel Kurland
September 2, 2010

Monday, August 30, 2010

YouTube - justthirdway's Channel

YouTube - justthirdway's Channel
Here's a protest video that focuses on role of the Federal Reserve and offers solutions.  Check out the Abraham Lincoln's in this video.


Who knew that economics could be taught through rap?  Click on the link for a surprisingly entertaining rap about economics.

An idea that I hope might go viral

After adding music to a read-aloud I recorded, I was pondering about how I might post the mp3 I created.  I got an inspiration.  I’m sure the band is always getting people to “give them ideas” – gag  me with a spoon – but I was thinking about a new way they might grow their business – adding music to read-alouds, like what I had done … except, without violating any copyright laws, because the band and I might make a 50-50 agreement on copyrights before going forward with the project.

Just as I included a music track to my read-aloud of a children’s book, I was wondering if they might add a music track to a poem that I had written, hoping the song might go viral and make us all rich!

August 30, 2010

Dreams were made of nights like these:
Stale tobacco blowing in the breeze;
Beer spills left from the night before;
Giggling faces flowing out the door,

Cigarettes, whiskey, and wild crazy women
Through the purple haze ever dancing and singing,
Singing “sex, and drugs, and rock and roll",
They kept on dancing so they’d never grow old.

They were dancing shadows against the wall:
Dark shadows in a flashing hall
Where crimson and horizon blue
Pressed against a starker view.

They were pulsing beats that shook the floor
And rattled the windows evermore;
The ceiling ached from their refrain
Shrieking echoes of a primal brain.

They were disembodied troglodytes,
Walking fish, stromatolites,
Carbonated fire and ice
Permutated from the roll of the dice.

Whole cities burned in flames like these.
Cold ashes long scattered in the breeze.

© Daniel Kurland, August 30, 2010

Note:  there are numerous literary and other allusions in this poem.  Here are a few: “blowing in the breeze” – a reference to the epigram of T. S. Eliot's Waste Land, written in Latin about the Cumaean Sybil, who was writing all the knowledge of the world on leaves, preparing to bind it up in a book, when the door opened and all the knowledge of the world blew out the door; “purple haze” – duh, Jimmy Hendrix; "sex and drugs and rock and roll" refers to the unfortunate battle cry of my generation, the Baby Boomers; "dancing shadows" refers to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave; "evermore" refers to the Raven, by Edgar Allen Poe; "whole cities have burned in flames like these" refers to the fall of the Trojan Empire -- my son and I recently watched Brad Pitt's portrayal of Achilles, and it was amazing when my son snuggled up to me with his old Greek mythology book, totally unexpectedly.  My vision is to add layers of music and commentary to expand the context of what children are reading, which might add value to their experience if they were using some kind of audio-enhanced e-reader … obviously this poem wouldn’t be appropriate for children, but it might appeal to an adult listening audience and go viral!

Teds Take

Teds Take
As a sports fan, I love the the way Ted Leonsis is building our Washington Capitals.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


I recently finished using Audacity to record a read-aloud of Charlie Parker played be bop to share during an interview for a long-term sub position as a Kindergarten teacher .  Over my read-aloud, I overlaid a track from Jazz at Massey Hall, featuring Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Max Roach, and Charlie Mingus.  I was inspired to model fluency for my prospective Kindergarten students based on something I read today.

Last week, out of the blue, I was called by someone at a Title I School who had worked with me last year and liked the way I teach.  Her school requires a licensed teacher.  Thankfully, I have the credentials, a PK-6 License.  So here I go.  Today, I read Yardsticks, by Chip Wood.  Mr. Wood confirmed what has been frustrating me about my experiences trying to teach in Title I Schools:
"[S]chedules in today's American schools don't always pay attention to the pace of childhood or children's changing developmental needs from age to age...Children have almost no time in their school day to reflect on their learning, to make calm, organized transitions between classes or subjects, or to delve deeply into learning that they love.  Sadly, school resembles more and more a miniature adult world of packed schedules, multitasking, and exhaustion.  Not only are we modeling this world for children by our own adult behavior, we are moving these practices into the world of school with the belief that they are necessary for children's academic success." (Wood, pp.18-19)
As I continue to read Yardsticks, I feel better about my natural inclination to want to slow things down for children, and avoid over-whelming them.  With Yardstick Charts, I'll have a better idea what to expect from children in terms of developmental factors.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Math Update

I recently completed reading Elementary School Mathematics and am thoroughly convinced that it needs to be required reading for anyone who teaches mathematics in elementary school.  Although my copy is out of date, and Van De Walle heavily emphasized the integration of technology in instruction, Elementary School Mathematics provides a broad foundation and an array of tools and activity types that should be standard operating procedure for both curriculum designers and classroom teachers.

Since my goal was to assemble a mathematics instructional toolkit by the end of May, a goal which I unfortunately failed to meet, I put aside my desire to blog about it as I went, and even took some shortcuts in the write to learn process.  Despite these unanticipated setbacks, I managed to spend an appropriate amount of time to reflect on the discussion questions as I went, noting page numbers where I could find the information for future writing.  Now that I've completed a thorough first reading, I will continue to refer to it as I build upon the foundation it has provided me.

Meanwhile, I am taking an online course at Northern Virginia Community College, Pre-Calculus, which relies heavily on a graphing calculator and technology.  Van De Walle places a heavy emphasis on calculators, which is something that we did not do when I was taking Calculus in High School in 1980 and 1981.  Interestingly, the way I learned how to simplify algebraic equations, which was the long way, allows me to trust and cross-check my calculations.  Van De Walle's heavy emphasis on the use of calculators is his most controversial recommendation -- my brother, a high level systems engineer for IBM absolutely deplores the practice -- is deeply misunderstood.  Moreover, Van De Walle's calculator activities are so well though out, assembling my calculator activities will be a first priority.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The J Factor

What does it take to get someone to pay attention? There is a region in your brain called the reticular activating system (RAS), which switches on whenever you pay attention. Unless your attention is switched on, i.e., until the RAS has been activated, no new memories are created.  Brain research indicates that emotions are critical factors in switching on the RAS, the kinds of memories people retain, and ultimately learning.  Furthermore, the intensity of the emotions that activate the RAS determines the extent to which memories are retained and how easily they are recalled.

Two major evolutionary factors play important roles in activating the RAS, the emotions of fear and desire.  Humans recall things that are useful for their survival.  Positive emotions cause the brain to be flooded with endorphins, which cause people to want more of the same.  Negative emotions cause the brain to be flooded with adrenaline and other chemicals which cause fight, flight, or overload responses.  Fear helps us remember things to avoid, helps us prepare and respond to existential threats, and develop fear-response memories that are critical to survival.  Fear itself can become its own reward, however, and when fear consistently becomes the basis for motivation, fight, flight, and overload responses become habituated, and higher level solution-oriented response capacities can become overwhelmed.  Learning environments where fear predominates tend to shut down higher level processing opportunities.  Elevated aggression rates, ADHD, and other processing deficits seem to be on the rise in our schools and I think I know precisely why.

Two schools of thought predominate in education in the United States, Skinner (Behaviorism) and Dewey (Constructivism).  Behaviorists consciously use rewards and punishments to capture and retain student attention through subtle forms of manipulation.  Constructivists view learning as its own reward, and Constructivists design lessons, activities, and create rich learning environments to maximize student engagement so that each child can enthusiastically construct his or her own brain patterns.  While most educators would claim to be Constructivists, Behaviorism has rapidly gained ground in recent years as politicians have wielded pressure to tie school funding to Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) calculations in an era of No Child Left Behind.  Many schools emphasize punishments and rewards given or withheld, and I’ve noticed a corresponding increase in the level of fear, primarily the fear of failure, as a motivating factor in our schools.  The increase in the level of external political pressure has led, ironically, to declining High School graduation rates, and a general decline in higher level reasoning capabilities.  If school improvement plans set their sights on minimum standards of achievement, i.e., lower level thinking, a decline in thinking skills is exactly the result one might expect.  Could an increase in the number and scope of standards, ironically, lead to a proportional decline in student expectations plus measurable declines in performance on tasks requiring higher level thinking on a national level?

When students are motivated by an internalized desire to learn, natural curiosity takes over.  Intense desire and joy powers the most constructive learning environments, which is something that every effective teacher knows.  Intense levels of concentration are required for higher level thinking.  Intense desire and joy trigger the RAS to be activated in ways that flood the brain with endorphins, creating a self-sustaining loop where synapses that fire together wire together, relationships are connected, and memories are anchored to an array of sensory inputs, making them widely available for recall whenever any sensory anchor is triggered.  Is there a Joy Factor that can be positively linked to improved performance on higher level thinking tasks?