Monday, January 25, 2016

Just Say No to Homework in K

Tonight, during my most recent bout with insomnia, I came across a FB article pertaining to homework in kindergarten. A teacher shared a blog from a parent who said, in essence, that she didn't have time for homework (busy work, aka worksheets). Her kindergartener is exhausted, she has other children and (gasp) things like dinner and laundry to do, and forcing said kiddo to do some boring worksheets is not her idea of a fun time. I wholeheartedly agree.

I attended the I Teach K! national conference in Las Vegas a few years ago. The biggest take away was that homework in kindergarten did not help kids. The kids who did it didn't need it and the ones who did didn't do it.

It's been 3 years since I heard that epiphany and quite frankly I am awestruck by the number of kindergarten teachers who either haven't heard what research says, don't care that research says it's not helpful, or are are required by districts to provide homework in the form of take home sheets (busy work).

Kindergarteners (and young minds in general) learn best from hands on immersion into units of interest. They also learn best from living and doing. In a sense, they do tons of homework each day: it's called dramatic play, exploration, creativity, and environmental study. It's done in the backyards, parks, grocery stores, and libraries in our communities. It's done when parents read 3 books at night time, play Barbies to help develop oral language,and interpersonal skills, and play games that incorporate turn taking, manners, and problem solving. Things no worksheet provides.

When I meet with my new parents at the beginning of the year I stress the lack of "home" work and explain to them all the learning opportunities provided through life on a daily basis. These are only limited by their imagination. Putting away dishing is sorting. Adding 4 cans of green beans to the grocery cart is counting and one-to-one correspondence. Making a picture or card for grandma or auntie is authentic writing. Reading words on signs is word identification. Hiking, walking to the park, exploring the dirt in the backyard are all segways to science. Making a plan and creating a cardboard vehicle or spaceship is engineering in real life. These are much more enjoyable, and meaningful, than any cut and paste worksheet.

What I do emphasize to my parents, via a handout, that I don't think they honestly realize, is the importance of reading to their child at home. Think about it. I can totally see why someone thinks, It's just a book I am reading out loud. How much can it possibly help? But it does help...immensely. Reading together not only provides a time for bonding and mindfulness with your child (you do realize how fast they grow, right? Notice those small hands, the wide eyed interest, the laugh and the smile, the intense look of anticipation. I'm already teary eyed that my 5 year old is almost 6), but it enlarges vocabulary (What does ginormous mean Mommy?), facilitates interest and conversation (Are dinosaurs still alive?), allows children to hear how language is used to convey meaning, implies feelings through tone, and allows them to see what all those alphabet letters are used for. Amazing things happen from simply reading a book.

So please, next time you are thinking of sending home that packet of worksheets to do during winter break, spring break, or summer vacation, save trees and don't do it. We need to learn through our 5 senses and authentic learning experiences. :)

Now go forth and be advocates for hands on learning, learning via living, learning in real life context and leave the kind in kindergarten.

PS-I do believe in helping parents be teachers by letting them know the areas of need to focus on for their child. I.e. penmanship/letter formation a struggle? = a recommended fun app on a tablet or kindle. Sight word memorization lacking? = suggestions on how to help use various methods to learn them. Shape identification lacking? Go on a shape hunt. Differentiation in instruction is needed; 1 size (worksheet) does not fit all.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

#HappyClassroom: Technology, 1988 and My Continuing Math Nightmares

So...right prior to winter break I received some fantastic news.

My grant request to attend the NCCE (Tech) conference was approved. It allowed me to guarantee myself a spot at the Northwest's biggest Technology event. I am so thrilled! Honestly, I had forgotten I applied (the story of my life, "The Absent Minded Teacher.") So when I read the email (luckily I checked the "social" tab in my Gmail!) I was over the moon. I am that teacher. You know, the one who isn't ok with the doing the same old thing, because it is the same old thing. The one that doesn't believe living in a rural town should mean inequality when it comes to children and education. The one that is willing to embrace change when it is backed with sound research. We are teaching kids for the future; for jobs that are yet to exist. Yet so many are reluctant to incorporate any technology at all. And yet, tech is the cobblestone on which the path to the future is laid!

 Don't get me wrong. I still love the smell of musty books. I still love to create things out of pattern blocks. I still love to smell and taste at the science center (I mean touch, touch is what I meant). But I do not love story problems. I still have nightmares of being called to the board in 10th grade math. (Nothing helps an introvert learn like forcing them to answer a previously unseen problem in front of the class, in FRONT of the cute guy, at any given time.) It's actually called public humiliation, not teaching. And it haunts me to this day, in 2016.

I was meant to write. I love to read, but math, higher level math, was never my strong suit and that is OK. We are all unique. We are all individuals with different needs and strengths. Had the internet existed in 1988 (also known as the Stone Age) I could have avoided the 20 years of nightmares to follow that regularly included me failing math, 20 assignments behind, a book in front of me that might as well be in Latin because it makes no sense, wondering how I will catch up.

With the internet I could have Googled how to calculate when 2 trains meet in the night. I could have watched a video on YouTube of how to solve train problems. I could have Twittered or Facebooked for help from friends who love math like I love writing. Asking them why it was even relevant to know when two trains pass each other.

Technology levels the playing field for learners. It allows all of us to learn in our own way, in our own time, with as many rewinds as necessary (is that still a word?). Nurturing us in ways we feel comfortable, without shaming, without negatively impacting our self-esteem. It allows us to expand our knowledge in creative and authentic ways. And it also allows us to become masters of our knowledge and turn our knowledge into life changing projects and careers. Such learning is truly the sign of progressive education and guaranteed not to cause nightmares.