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Summer Vacation, ahhhhh

When I am discussing with others my thoughts about how our conventional education system should change, I am sometimes asked, in exasperation, if there Is anything about our existing approach to education that I do agree with. This past week, I have re-encountered one thing that I really do love about schools and their traditions -- and that is the rhythms of the academic year. Work, work, work, break; work, work, work (thinking about break), break. Right now I am in a break between the spring semester and the summer and am fully enjoying it. I just love summer time (not because of the heat, mind you!) and even though I am working and teaching throughout the summer, there's just something about the end of the school year that is so appealing to me.

Prior to my teaching career (but after having been a student for 20 years), I worked in the world of business. While I did have some vacation time, it wasn't like all employees took the same time off. The business was almost always...

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Posted on May 27, 2010 - 09:17 AM by Kristan Morrison

Seeing Through the Public Paradigm

Now that my little girl is nearly five years old, we've been experiencing some opposition to our choices from some friends and family. While many of them are supportive of our choice to homeschool--in fact, in some cases, they are very supportive, though we are still the first in our family to "officially" do it--some remain quite skeptical, even critical.

I've been reading the very excellent (though very disturbing) book The Story of Stuff, and in it, author Annie Leonard raises a very important concept that I've never been able to put into words myself: the American paradigm. Leonard maintains that because we see practices so often in our society, we're so familiar with it, and we do not see alternatives, we tend to view these practices as "truth." In reality, these practices vary widely across the globe.

A wonderful example she presents is her experience with a culture in another country, where she was shunned for not showing up uninvited for dinner. This was astounding to me,...

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Posted on May 19, 2010 - 01:43 PM by Sara Schmidt

UK Teachers Take a Stand

My first response to news that thousands (yes thousands!) of elementary school teachers in the UK will boycott giving their students standardized tests and instead take them on outings or write creative stories is, "It is about time!"

I've long thought that teachers have the most collective power to bring about change if they acted simultaneously to challenge norm referenced tests that rank young kids and mechanize the art of teaching and learning.

The full article can be found UK teachers boycott tests.

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Posted on May 14, 2010 - 12:03 PM by Scott Nine

Improv…with Drama

As we all know, one of the casualties of a standards-based curriculum, where THE TEST is the driving force, is the loss of teaching the arts. Performing arts are particularly hard hit. At El Verano School, we are doing what we can to lessen the hit that drama classes have taken.

For the past ten years or so, I have been putting on a stage show with the assistance and collaboration of my colleague, Craig Madison. We have not always had the same grade level, in fact, this year he teaches third grade to my fourth grade. But we still get our kids together and put on a show.

The fact that we put on a play is nice, perhaps even astonishing considering how many students are involved, but I am writing about it because of a very special aspect of our production. The play is always totally improvised. There is no script, no preconceived plot, no particular direction. The entire production is fleshed out with the kids during the course of about one month before it is finally presented...

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Posted on May 11, 2010 - 05:41 PM by Tim Curley

You Say You Want a Revolution…

I am a teacher in New York City working in a very poor community with mostly youth of color. Every day I see the effects of centuries of racism and class oppression show up on my students' faces. On some days I have hope that we will be able to create a just future and I want their schools to be better. Some days are harder and I think the only way out is for their schools to be destroyed. What does IDEA have to offer me?

Anonymous Teacher - The Bronx, NY

Thank you for the question. First of all, I do not have an answer for you. Your question very much hits home for me, and the best I can do in this situation is to tell you how I have figured out to live with those conflicting thoughts and what role I see IDEA playing in my own life.

Eight years ago I decided to become a public school teacher in New York City, not because I wanted to be a teacher, and not because I wanted to work in a school. As a young person myself I was somewhat of an activist. Because of my own experiences in...

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Posted on May 10, 2010 - 06:10 AM by Jonah Canner

Inquiring Minds Want to Know

"I have NEVER met a student who didn't want to learn--not one!" voiced a brilliant woman today at our Detroit IDEA launch party.

This woman's emphatic declaration reminded me of a situation in my classroom this semester.

I have my students write reflection journals for the first ten minutes of class. On the first day, I discuss with my students the possibility of their opinions not being their own.

"Nobody tells me what to think or do."

"Yeah right--I don't follow anyone. They follow me."

"What? How's that even possible?"

"This is dumb."

Such is the start of this conversation with my students. I ask them to tell me what the first word that comes to mind when they think of the word "terrorist." They all scream, "ARAB!"

I then ask them to tell me who the best singer is right now. Out of 7 to 10 students, they all name 1 to 2 artists. I ask them to look at their shoes--out of 7 to 10 students, 1 to 2 brands are worn (Nike or Chuck Taylors).

Some students start...

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Posted on May 08, 2010 - 07:59 PM by Ammerah Saidi

Beginner’s Mind

One of my jobs as a parent is to keep my four-year-old's beginner's mind intact. Without me (or any other adults) in her life, I believe that this would happen naturally. But since my views and the views of the other adults around her are all clouded with our own experiences and opinions, we have to learn to tread lightly every day.

She finds strange ways to eat her food--with unconventional utensils, toys, you name it. She postulates theories about the moon's craters, snail family dynamics, and how to help people less fortunate than we are. As humans, there is so much we know and so little we know; even if I had a degree in any of these areas, who would I be to retort back at every one of her delightfully creative and often workable ideas, "No, that's not how it works. This is how it works."

In doing this, in biting back all of the answers and allowing for exploration, not only am I helping to foster a lifelong learner who is inquisitive enough to take on her world, I am also...

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Posted on May 04, 2010 - 01:32 AM by Sara Schmidt

‘Cause It’s Like Democracy….

Students began choosing the delivery method for new information at the beginning of the month. I discussed this in "Maybe Kids Should Have a Say in How They Receive Information?"

The experiment is going so well that we have increased the control the kids have in the daily lesson planning. Every day there is bell work, but that is the only set event of the class period. I have the day's activities arranged in three or four different orders. The students vote for the arrangement they believe fits their needs. Each option includes the same work, but the order is different.

So how is it going?

From my perspective, pretty good. I am not seeing as many springtime behavioral issues as I have in the past. The kids report being happy. They feel that they are more invested when they set the agenda. There are a few kids that get miffed, when their selection isn't in the majority, but over all things are going well.

Responses from real kids:

"Even though we have to do the same stuff, it...

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Posted on Apr 29, 2010 - 07:02 PM by Alison Bagg Brink

Pulling That Injustice Trigger

Now, I'm not one for protests, especially not protests that end after a one hour march around some political building with people going back to their homes feeling they've done their best. However, I was moved to read about the protests of thousands of students in New Jersey this week (read all about it in the NYTimes here).

What moved me about this student-led protest is that at such a young age, these students recognize how to magnify their power through unity against a single injustice: school cuts that compromise their education. From one Facebook invitation to protest these cuts that pulled their injustice triggers, 18,000 students were moved to the streets with signs and their voices.

Now, this injustice trigger--a trigger that instantly moves us to action--is something innate. Remember when we were children and we knew when things were unfair and glory be to God we had the pride and self-worth to be able to say right then and there staring into the face of our...

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Posted on Apr 29, 2010 - 05:45 PM by Ammerah Saidi

The Power Of One

As I lock my bicycle up in downtown Phoenix, outside of a happenin' little cafe called Conspire, a child, belted into his stroller, is continually crying, nearly screaming, as he sits unattended to by anyone around. There are a lot of people here. I am glancing from person to person, hoping to bring attention to this crying kid, but nobody is receptive. I should have figured that a stony glance around would not amount to someone else coming to the aid of this child, considering that his scream can be heard from 50 yards in any direction and nobody seems to care.

I've come to the Conspire to play their open-mic with my good friend Matt. Matt is much more confrontational than I am, and though I usually tuck my head away when the pot begins to boil, I'm very pleased to hear Matt chime in with his very low, loud, and bellowing voice, "Oh, I guess it's just a hip thing in Phoenix to leave little babies all alone, crying in the streets."

Matt's deliberately loud statement gets quite a...

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Posted on Apr 27, 2010 - 08:43 AM by Shawn Strader

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Sharing positive stories of change, providing perspective on key issues, and giving you wraps of the news and analysis to inspire learning, dialogue, and action.

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