Monday, March 31, 2008

Pirates, Publishing, and and Literacy

What do pirates supply stores and tutoring programs have in common? Everything

I happened upon TED talks early this year. TED in its original form stood for Technology, Entertainment, and Design and held a yearly conference to bring people from these fields together. Since its inception in 1984 it has developed into a conference where there are 50 presenters from a variety of fields with "ideas worth spreading". The TED Prize is given to three 'exceptional individuals' who get$100,000 to further their "One Wish To Change The World".

You are probably wondering what this has to do with education, and further, what this has to do with pirate supply stores. Well, this morning I was watching some TED talks on my video i-pod as my train took me to work. I downloaded one by David Eggers because the word 'tutoring' had popped up in its description. I soon realized that David Eggers is the founder of McSweeney's (a fun website and publishing company, and I swear this is going somewhere).

Imagine a room filled with pirate supplies. Eye patches in every color, maps, parrot food, and all the necessities for sailing the seven seas are right in the mist of a tutoring center for local school children. Yes, that is just what Eggers did at 826 Valencia. Him, the McSweeney's staff, and soon a band of volunteers were helping children with their homework and then with their own writing. the center started to be used for field trips and even published some of the children's work. More of these centers started to pop up. A superhero supply store in Brooklyn, a spy store in Chicago, and many more. 826 National is the over arching non-profit and I am amazed at what they have become. Beyond tutoring the children they publish the children's work, have scholarships, and foster the growth and potential of so many children who might have been over looked. Part of the philosophy is one on one attention for each child and with that kind of tutoring no wonder the idea has taken off.

Let's get back to that TED Wish Eggers had to make...

"I wish that you - you personally and every creative individual and organization you know - will find a way to directly engage with a public school in your area and that you'll then tell the story of how you got involved, so that within one year we have 1,000 examples of innovative public-private partnerships."

So far there are 28 and if you read this want to know how to get involved (and for more information) visit Once Upon A School. This project is truly an inspiration and it is just this kind of innovative thinking that inspires me as I am about to take a giant leap into the real world. Also, who could say no to a pirate supply store.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

MIS ter SHEH ska also known as John Scieszka

If I wasn't already convinced that John Sciezka was one of the funniest men alive this old article in Horn Book Magazine, "Reader's Request, or, YOU ASKED FOR IT" convinced me. Sciezka goes through many children's book authors names with correct pronunciations, and even better, helpful phrases. There are basic expressions, shopping phrases, making friends, and a whole slew of phrases to tell Sciezka that you really have to go. The article is ended with this fabulous quote (I'm guessing still by the funny man himself)...

"When Jon Scieszka was in kindergarten, he used to sign all of his papers Jon S. If people don’t read this article and tell their friends how to pronounce Scieszka, he’s thinking of doing that again."

Worth a read to laugh and to help with a few pronunciations. Note, I do recommend reading his new book Smash Crash and his buddy Mo Willems' new pigeon book comes out on Tuesday. You should be excited.

Word on the Street

I didn't think it was possible to combine my love of Sesame Street and Law & Order SVU, I have been proven wrong. The Sesame Street podcast has a great segment called 'word on the street' where a word from rhyme, mystery, frustrated, ballet and a slew of other words are presented through an array of sketches and celebrity bits. The folks from SVU help with a few words as does Kelly Ripa, Al Roker, Ellen Degeneres, and others. I don't know how to link to podcasts but if you search on the itunes store for sesame street go to their podcast and have your pick. Best of all, podcasts are free and more recommendations to come both for adults and children.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Bright Colors and Education on the Web

I do a little investigating on the web for fun websites and resources for kids. While on one of my favorite publishing company's website, Magination Press, I stumbled upon a great website for kids, KidsPsych: understanding ourselves, understanding each other. Now, Magination Press is a publishing company that releases picture books for children dealing with different psychological and emotional issues. Topics range from adoption, death and loss, introducing a child to therapy, different special needs, and a plethora of other unique topics. Note, if you are interested in children's books this is a great publishing company to explore. My basic concern was, now is this going to translate to a website for young children.

Magination Press is owned by APA, American Psychological Association, and this website focuses less on emotional but on, " cognitive thinking skills, deductive reasoning, and also just to have some fun!" The games come equipped with information on the specific skill they work on and once you get past the squeaking introduction the website is a lot of fun. The games are split up for children 1-5 and then 6-9. Some revolve around memory, matching, shapes, patterns, and a plethora of other important skills for young children all spiked with a punch of color and fun.

And yes, I actually played the games.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Blogging till I bust

The New York Times recently featured an article "So You Want to Be a Blogging Star?". Perhaps this is off topic from the traditional education maze, but I'll let you in on a little secret. This blog is an independent project for a class. Yes, I do it for me too and I plan to keep it up when I graduate soon. So the concept of increasing the readership of my blog interests me for my personal education maze. The article lists a few key concepts to consider when blogging.

1. "Don't expect to get rich"- check and point

2." Write about what you want to write about, in your own voice." - The more I write the more I discover my own voice. I soon realized that my inexperience in the field of education policy would not allow me to comment as I might like on the policy in the way I would like. So I try to comment on what I know, or what I am thinking about. Sure, I comment on policy but often my thoughts are filled with questions and simple observations. Also, I like to write about books, and that is something I ALWAYS want to write about.

3. "Fit blogging into the holes in your schedule"- As a college student I am obviously attached to my computer and try to blog at least a few times a week.

4. "Just post it already!"- I read, I reread, and then I often delete. I am slowly learning that it's okay to just hit that publish button and hope the errors are at a minimum. I can always edit later.

5. "Keep a regular rhythm"- I feel like I post regularly enough. As this is for a class, I sure hope I am.

6. "Join the community, such as it is."- I link to lots of blogs and articles.

7. "Plug yourself."- What? Email my favorite bloggers. Way too scary. I try to comment on my favorite blogs and hopefully this does the same trick.

Well, here goes nothing. In two cool months I will not be writing this for my class but for myself and let's hope that I can keep it up. If you read my blog and are not me, my family, or my friends I appreciate comments and discussion. Really, I want to know what you think.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Once Upon A Time: Book of the Week

Okay, so it's not exactly a singular picture book. This week the book of the week is classic fairy tales and many of their modern updates. The phrase 'once upon a time' is timeless and enters into the bedrooms of every child as they are whisked off to sleep by princes and dragons. I have my favorite fairy tales. I have always liked the story of Hansel and Gretel as they conquer over the evil witch. Rumpelstiltskin always entertained me, something about finding the right name that I always identified with. Fairy tales have the power to evoke the soul and unconscious of all people and that is probably why they have endured for so long.

My inquiry into fairy tales started in the fall. I am a fan of Bruno Bettelheim. I started reading Uses of Enchantment while working on a larger piece of work on the therapeutic nature of books. My copy is worn and my Grimm's fairy tales covered with notes. The psychoanalytical nature of something I know to be loved by so many was fascinating. I was shocked and intrigued to learn that The Brothers Grimm accumulated their stories from the German folks people. The stories are from the masses, reworked into masterpieces, and to the masses. I could go on forever and a day about the collective unconscious, archetypes, psychoanalysis, and what that magical kingdom represents, but I'm pretty sure that is not the content that blogs are made of. Here is the gist, fairy tales are personal and often therapeutic. They have conquered the test of time and now are an embedded part of culture. A child's first introduction might be a singing animated princess but there is so much more they will soon discover. So while 'once upon a time' starts the journal that other magic phrase 'the end' is far far far down the road.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Interdisciplinary Learning or The Big Schema

Interdisciplinary learning is something that I think a lot of colleges, especially liberal arts schools, try to teach. This is why people have requirements outside of their specialty fields and why my school demands that you take at least ten credits in three different schools (i.e. math and science, humanities, social sciences, arts). My university in particular is unique in that out degrees read no major, because we do not have any, all of our seminars require a major research project, and if we opt to do a thesis it MUST be interdisciplinary. This form of education creates well rounded people who exit college with out a marketable degree but with the ability to think creatively.

A schema is the way the mind groups and maps out ideas. The term is used in many different forms but is often related to memory. I have encountered this term in reading various psychologists works, but I have personally come to associate the term with interdisciplinary learning. I learned early on to make connections between different fields of studies. I connect my love of jazz music to public policy by researching race relations in the history of jazz. I found my love of literacy in researching the spread of books and scientific concepts with the rise of the printing press. Memory was intrinsically linked to oral tradition and memoirs with coping skills. As I narrowed in on one field, psychology, I further saw connections in every field back to my primary. Everything began to get connected in my schema, lines flowing and overflowing between each topic.

Teaching is more than just the alphabet and counting but a schema on its own. Many people have a flat perception of the job of a teacher. Being truly invested in teaching and education is more than just showing up and 'teaching' the students. As a teacher you are first helping to create those schema in children, teaching them not just how to read or history but how to think about thinking. A teacher needs to have knowledge of psychology in order to understand the behaviors of students, even in a regular classroom. A teacher needs to understand public policy in order to understand unions, standardized testing, and their contract. Teachers need to understand math, because lets be honest budgeting is an important feature of a teachers life in and out of the classroom. Teaching is not static and is not solitary it is connected to many fields and the best teachers out there should aptly be named 'Educators' instead of teachers.

I wish I could draw an image of how I think about schema, but chances are it would only make sense to me. Maybe you can take the time now to think about your field of choice with an interdisciplinary eye and create your schema. Finding the connections could help illuminate new ideas.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Pizza Party Problems

Hold the presses! Pizza day has been banned!

Okay, the issue is a little more serious than that. However, the sad children holding pizza boxes and empty plates in the NY Post article 'Cheesed Off' incited humor in me...until I realized that there is another underlying issue. The basic gist, a PTA has a $5 monthly pizza party for students which has been canceled. The money raised goes to teacher grants, the yearbook, and other school events. The reason for pulling the pizza party is mixed, and here lies the problem...

Was it nutrition? The PTA can only have two student involving fundraisers a year? Children feeling left out? It seems the PTA was left in the lurch, no real answers. City Councilman Tony Avella attributes the pizza banning to red tape by the DOE. Could it really be that random? Whether or not it was, my concern lies in the focus of the DOE with banning pizza at the top of their list.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

McCain and Autism

I know this is an older article but I couldn't resist commenting and sharing...

McCain gave his opinion on Autism at a conference in a Phoenix airport. Yes McCain, autism is on the rise. But is it because of a preservative in vaccines? Well there is certainly no "strong evidence" of this as he claims. In fact, it is a hotly debated topic in the field of psychology, parenting, and special education. Now, I doubt that Autism research is a voting issue for most people, but McCain is taking a fairly strong side on what I would consider a hot topic. I'm going to keep my eyes and ears open for any other comments he makes on Autism, but I'll settle for something on education as well.

"A Person's a person no matter how small"

Last night, surrounded by families, I saw Horton Hears A Who on it's opening weekend. Thus, for this week the book of the week is also the movie of the week. I am a big Dr. Seuss fan. I fell in love instantly with the book Hop on Pop at a young age. When Seussical the Musical was on Broadway I fell in love all over again with the messages of Dr. Seuss. Now a senior in college I am analyzing some of his books and messages from a psychoanalytic and bibliotherapeutic perspective. Also, spoilers below.

I went into the movie with a thought, "Will it agree with Dr. Seuss' message of individuality and imagination" or will it be just another pop-culture box office hit. I was pleasantly surprised. The movie emphasized the power and importance of imagination. Imagination in Jojo's 'yop' is what saves Whoville. The Sour Kangaroo talks about how harmful imagination is only to be conquered by Horton. My favorite line from the book, and the movie, is the classic, 'A person's a person no matter how small', giving strength and power to the Whos, but most of all to the children reading the book.

So an A+ and lots of gold stars for this movie which immortalizes the classic book so well.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Baby Names and Budding Personalities

I went through a brief period of time where I wanted to name my first daughter 'Paprika" and my first son 'Thor', but I never moved much further away from my original intent. I now plan to include Shakespearean characters somewhere in all of my children's names. I go to a school where people often have off beat names. I have met people named after forms of writing, beaches, and birds. In my own mind I determined that having a different name gives you a distinct personality, creativity, and most importantly strength. Turns out I was kind of right.

In a recent New York Times article called "A Boy Named Sue, and a Theory of Names" the author embraces his feminine middle name as he explores the implications for odd names are not as society had perceived. It was previously thought that children with different names were less intelligent or more likely to end up in prison. Yet, when controlling for issues such as race or socioeconomic variables it didn't seem to matter.

Here is what they did find. In men with feminine names there was a better sense of self-control, the people had learned that there were some fights that were not important. As for the artsy and creative side that I see. Well, one might think that people who are innovative and 'different' have learned that being different like their name is okay, you don't have to follow the pack. So I no longer feel and qualms about what I want to name my children in the future, I just have to find someone who wants a child named Benvolio Slade.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Book of the Week: "Edwina the Dinosaur Who Didn't Know She was Extinct"

Mo Willems is hands down one of my favorite children's books authors, and in my opinion, going to have a very long career. He is part of what I might call the new crew of children's book writers. Where I often find myself attracted to the older era of writers Mo Willems and a few others are reviving the field. I love all of his books but for now I'm picking a book that I have read a lot recently, Edwina, The Dinosaur Who Didn't Know She Was Extinct.

The story concerns a dinosaur named Edwina who of all things doesn't know she is extinct. She bakes cookies and is one of the most beloved creatures in town. Everyone loves her except for Reginald von Hoobie Doobie who knows that dinosaurs are extinct. He tries to tell everyone about this but they don't really seem to listen. He finally tracks down Edwina who listens to everything he has to say. She decides she doesn't care that she is supposed to be extinct, and finally neither does Reginald.

I think for a seemingly simple story their are many messages in it. First, it doesn't matter if you are extinct or perhaps even outdated. My favorite message is how blind friendship can be to social norms. Reginald decides he no longer cares about how Edwina is 'supposed to be' because she is the only one who listens to him, she is a good friend.

Now, I read somewhere that Mo Willems' illustrations are supposed to be simple enough that a child can draw them, but I do believe there is a layer of sophistication he brings that a child could not. The illustrations are simple, but clean. His use of space and proportion are phenomenal. I find one of his strengths, demonstrated in many of his books, is his use of size and proportion to indicate mood.

Mo Willems is not an unknown author. He is the recipient of two Caldecott Honors and recently won the Theodor Suess Geisel Medal. Did I forget his six Emmy awards for children's television? He probably doesn't need any additional praise, and certainly not from a small blog, but he deserves it. I wait with baited breath for the arrival of his new book on April 1st. It might just be another book of the week.

Pre-K and not Prison

There are a million and one reasons why all children should receive a quality Pre-K education. Another reason, a strong early childhood education might make you less likely to commit crimes. Fight Crime: Invest In Kids is a nonprofit group that fights for quality early childhood education. They argue that studies show that low-income children who get quality early education lead to, among other things, children who are less likely to commit crimes. Besides advocating for early childhood education they support after-school programs, working with children already involved in crime, and working with abused and neglected children.

Spelling 'Erors'

I had some initial reservations about teaching. My spelling is for one thing, atrocious. My private school education taught me to 'spell things like I thought they were spelled' and unfortunately my spelling has never fully recovered. Teaching kids how to spell, well, it made me want to vomit. My mother provided me with the following story from her days as a teacher (now a preschool principal) that made me feel a whole lot better...

I was teaching English in Venezuela, first grade. One week I was grading their spelling tests and every test had spelled one of the words incorrectly. I though to myself, "every child spelled this word incorrectly? There must be something wrong." So I looked back at my lesson plans and low and behold I had spelled the word incorrectly on the board, and they had all copied this incorrect version. So I taught kids to spell this one word incorrectly, haven't you had a teacher who has marked something wrong on a paper? Making this one mistake was certainly not the end of my career.

She was right. One flaw is not going to be the end of my teaching career. I can't imagine a teacher who has never made a mistake. With so many children and parents to balance the field is all about learning by trial and error. Although to be on the safe side, I found some fun spelling games...

Friday, March 7, 2008

A Stroll in The Maze: Psychoanalysis

The closer I get to graduation the more I contemplate, what have I really learned? Even past thinking about the facts of the field that I have picked up along the way I think about how my education has shaped my views of psychology, education, and eventually the world as corny as that might sound. My liberal arts education was unique in that it forced me to push aside the concept of the major and dip my toes into many fields, and at the same time it forced me to see the connections between each discipline. The question now is, what do I believe in?

I came into college with a strong dislike for psychoanalysis. In AP psychology I learned about Freud and the psychosexual stages of development and disregarded them as old fashioned. When forced to write about Freud in my sophomore year of college my perspective began to change. Sigmund Freud made sense, his theories could be seen in the children I worked with. What struck me even more was how vast and interesting his theories were and how often they contradicted each other. I didn't have to love everything Sigmund Freud said, and I don't, but some of his theories of the unconscious and development are a part of how I look at the world.

I started saying 'Sigmund Freud' because I needed to differentiate in my mind between him and his daughter, Anna Freud. My interest in clinical work with children led me to play therapy which led me to Anna Freud and Melanie Klein two psychoanalytic theorists who dedicated their lives to children. They broke more of those psychoanalytic stereotypes for me and I thirsted for psychoanalytic theory.

I still cannot get enough. For my thesis I read some Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and even briefly attempted to read Lacan (a theorist that's writing is still above me). I enjoy reading Bettelheim, Erikson, Vaillant, and many more. My education has taught me that psychoanalysis is more than being in love with your father and an oral complex. Through showing me the breadth of the field I now feel comfortable saying I believe in psychoanalysis. When I might people who disregard the field as old fashioned, as I once did, I try my best to smile and break the stereo types one theorist at a time.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Book Of The Week

The first time I read And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, I was unaware of the theme of the story. Handed to me by a child my lead teacher asked me if I knew the story and I responded no. Her and the principal stand in the back of the room as I read the book and slowly realize it is about two male penguins who love each other and are given a baby penguin to take care of. Yes, this children's book is about a gay penguin couple who start a family and it is actually based on a true story from a New York zoo. My initial surprise from being unaware of the idea in the story quickly wore off. This book does an excellent job of explaining an alternative life style and alternative families from the use of this penguin family. The fact that it is based on a true story only makes it more realistic, and I do recommend reading the factual information to the children as well.

I come from a liberal background and the message in this book is nothing I wouldn't want children to know about, but I know that it isn't a reality that all parents or educators feel the same way. I learned in my search to find a google book page that And Tango Makes Three was at the top of ALA's 2006 list of most challenged books. It was on the list for "homosexuality, anti-family, and unsuited to age group." Anti-family? Anti-traditional family sure, but the book to me represents understanding family in a whole new way and is nothing but pro-family. Okay yes, the book is about homosexuality, but I see nothing wrong with that being in a children's book. And yes, the ALA website is supporting reading the banned books, just as I am right now.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Get An 'A', Ride a Tank

I try my best to keep up with education articles but I do have to say I'm thankful for other bloggers who often lead me to informational and humorous bits of news. For this next piece I would like to thank Joanne Jacobs, a blogger I quite respect.

When I think of educational incentives I remember when we used to get stickers. Once, for an education game we got some toys. Never ever in my wildest dreams would I have thought to myself, "gee, if I do well in school I wonder if someone would drive me around in an army tank." What? Huh? Does any child think this? Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger seems to think so. He is bringing back an army tank he loaned a museum to give inner city kids a ride in when they do well in school. This is part of a plan he has proposed to 97 school districts where he says he would drive kids around 1 day a month. Now I'll admit, I don't know how big a tank is, but I would hope the eventual goal is that the majority of children would be reaping these rewards, and that one day a month would not cover driving around hundreds of kids.

This seems to me still to be a small issue because I question that the tank ride will motivate children. What about movie discounts? Shopping mall gift cards? Or even just a fun field trip. I don't know how feasible those rewards would be monetarily but I can't imagine that the promise of a tank ride is going to motivate. Then again, I'm no expert maybe what kids what is a tank ride with the governor.