Archive for June, 2009

Schools in Public Places

I just got back from taking our three grade eight students to Washington DC.  Visiting all the museums and memorials,  made me think that this is where schools should be, in the buildings themselves.  How much more “real”  can you get than by seeing the actual Declaration of Independence in the rotunda of the archives.  Staring up at  the imposing  Lincoln and reading his words etched in marble.  Walking along the ebony granite of the Viet Nam memorial and seeing solemn veterans and loved ones paying their respects.  Books, movies, virtual visits cannot substitute for being there.

Don’t you think it would be awesome if school programs  were built into these public institutions and students could go for six week  sessions and be immersed in the topic of their choice. I realize that  museums have education services but these programs are usually for an hour or so.  It would be wonderful to offer a student a six week session in fossils or civil war history or aviation etc.  to take the place of regular school.

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Punishment is the Solution

This second last day of school looks like this, a few people working but most of them talking.  So, I suggested that they can choose to work or do anything as long as we all can work quietly.  Not five seconds later their was a cacophony of loud voices.  I called a meeting.  GROANNNNNNNNNNNNNNN!

I wrote on the board, It’s too noisy.  Immediately a hand was raised, ” I make a motion….”  I did a very undemocratic thing and cut that student off.  I said we learned  the last time that we made too many motions and came up with too many rules that we had a difficult time following, hence all the resets.

So, we discussed.  Immediately the students brought up punishments as a solution.  Once again, I intervened and said, ‘No,  no punishments!”   One student quipped,  we won’t do the right thing unless there is a serious enough consequence.  I said I disagree.    I think we can practice speaking in a quiet tone until it becomes a habit.  So, we decided to give that a try.  We defined “quiet” as a Dr. Whitehouse voice, who speaks in a very quiet tone all the time.   I need to work on this too.  My booming so-called teacher voice is distracting as well.

After two and half hours I had to remind students to use a quiet tone about six times.  Is that OK?  The thing is students don’t care about the noise level unless they want to work on something.  It’s not that they are being mean or yelling to bug me, they just don’t notice when they get so loud that they can be  heard  down the hall.  Am I   biased in my thinking because their loudness is not about educational things but about games or gossip?  If they were loud and enthusiastic about some science or social studies topic would I be as a stickler for quiet?

I have so much to learn about being a good unschool teacher.  I have may years of schooling to get out of my system.

Another day in regular school

At 1:30 I observed my students.  One student was diligently finishing her assessment.  Two others were working on theirs slowly, while looking around the room at nothing in particluar, five were looking at the Washington DC books that were loaned and given to us by Kathy Englehart, a colleague’s mom and the Mary Poppins of librarians, and they were also making their list of must-see destinations for our Washingto DC trip.  One student was fast asleep on her desk.  One student was playing with R0cky,  the class guinea pig, feeding it peanuts.  (Are guinea pigs even allowed to eat peanuts?)  And two others were just chatting even though they have work that they could be doing to “boost”   their grades on their report card.

I said to my students – this is like unschool- and I pointed out what everyone was doing.  They just shrugged their shoulders and went back to what they were doing.

I wonder if I allowed freedom and choice for the year what would they choose?  How long will they have to be “bored”  until something sparks their interest?  I had one student today beg me for little jobs because he did not know what to do with himself.  Nothing interested him (except video games).  I found that sad.

I am already thinking that I should plan sensory overload next year.  Schedule a week of field trips at he beginning of the year to museums, businesses, nature centers,…and perhaps  they will latch onto something.  Or is that me controlling again?

I am fearful because I am not quite sure how to balance  my responsibility for their education and my desire to free them from my teacher-centered disguised as student-centered ways.