Wednesday, August 29, 2012

STEM: A reflection on intentional teaching

“Unless the schools of the U.S. find the tools to bring students up to the highest level of accomplishment, it places the nation at risk in the international economy of the 21st Century.”
—Bill Gates

As our agency begins to think about STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) focused programming in early childhood, I'm forced to reflect on my beliefs about developmentally appropriate practices as well as intentional teaching.  It's no big secret that as a nation, we are outperformed by 30 countries.  My great struggle with this is that STEM seems to have become a buzz-word.  A phrase that makes people immediately look at their classroom and create lists of more crap stuff they want to add to their environments.  Why?!  In a time when budgets are tight, I get that we want to appeal to funders and stand out in a sea of early childhood programs claiming to be the next big thing.

The big idea with STEM is thinking paths.  As early childhood professionals, we should be striving to help children sharpen their critical thinking skills and become divergent thinkers.  Why must there only be one way to solve a problem?  I know that I want my students to become problems solvers who can explain how they came to a solution rather than throw back terms and memorized responses.  We're supporting children's engagement and enthusiasm for learning so they can carry that enthusiasm into public schools (sigh) where it will likely be tested on an on-going basis.  In short, I want my students to be lifelong learners.

Children aren't going to find passion and love of learning in worksheets, I know that for a fact.  Worksheets do nothing more than suck the soul from children and perhaps bide the teacher a moment of quiet.  Imagine the in-depth learning that takes place when a child manipulates, investigates, and learns the way things around her work.  That kind of learning lasts a lifetime.  Worksheets last until the stupid smiley face (or sadly, frowny face) is stamped on and thrown away.  I'll save my rant on why art as a receipt for child care is the dumbest thing ever for another day.

In conclusion, focus must be directed less on the materials and more on the teaching necessary to develop children's passion for learning, particularly in the areas of STEM.   Before we order another piece of "stuff", I suggest we turn our focus to the teachers with whom parents leave their children and provide them with the tools, resources, support, and professional development they deserve when charged with such a precious task.

Surely I'm not alone in this belief...
How are you working with children or teachers to develop enthusiasm for learning and/or focusing on STEM?

Reading list ----


Related articles: (LOVE LOVE LOVE this article)

Monday, August 27, 2012

Falling Apart

** Originally written July 10, 2012 **

Sometimes good things fall apart so greater things can fall together.
-Marilyn Monroe

Oh, if she only knew how tightly I would be holding on to those words when she said them... wow.  It's been an incredibly stressful summer for me as I prepare to make huge programmatic changes within our site.  I took on the role of Site Director because I fully realized the stress that not only the parents, but also the staff, would feel during this expected transition.  I recognized that they would need a familiar face to help them through this time.  I also recognized that my own personal connection to the site (I began my Chicago teaching career at this same location) would benefit me in working with the staff and families.

My emotional side will ultimately help me as it will show my humanity as well as my humility.  I am occasionally accused of being too emotional but I can't help but think that's not a bad thing.  It shows that I am a person too.  How I show my emotions is something you can picky about; I fully agree that there is a right and a wrong way to share/display your emotions, especially within a professional workplace... where you're the supervisor.  So let's agree on that and continue with this saga.


One person with passion is better than forty people merely interested.
-E. M. Forster

Often, long stretches of time go by before I think to update this portion of my blogging life.  Until today I haven't really wondered much about it, just accepted it.  I know that I sometimes feel like I have nothing to share, nothing special to say and that keeps me from posting because no one likes a rambler.

But you know what?

If I'm rambling about something I'm passionate about, does it really matter?

I had a realization today that maybe I need to stop thinking about WHAT I want to be when I grow and more about WHO I want to be when I grow up.  After a lengthy conversation tonight with a parent about trends in early childhood education and my background of being from Wisconsin (Go, Pack, Go!), he ended by asking where I thought I might "end up."  It caught me a little off-guard.  I truly hope to never feel a sense of ending within my career as it would signify the end of my passion, the snuffing out of my flame.

My goal in life is really to be a warrior, an advocate, a role model for early childhood education, developmentally appropriate practices, and infant & toddler development.  As the Site Director of an infant/toddler center, I've come to realize just how little people know about the development of our youngest learners.  Today, we had a monitor from a funder auditing our files and when she heard an infant crying for more than 1 minute, she insisted that she go into that classroom to "help."  I totally just used air quotes there because her great contribution to the situation was this:  "Well doesn't she have a pacifier?"

I began to explain that today is Monday and it can be tough sometimes.  Her candid response was, "Well, babies shouldn't have Mondays."  Ma'am, unless you've somehow magically reworked the calendar and not shared this news with the world, all humans have Mondays.  Infants are human beings.  And after spending the weekend at home with those she loved and being no-doubt held and cuddled all weekend, one can assume that the first day back to the classroom environment (regardless of the day of the week) might be stressful.  Suddenly, there are other children with their needs being met before the teacher might be able to cuddle me.  My teachers are phenomenal at what they do and I have no doubt that this child was not in danger, not being neglected, likely not even being denied any form of verbal attention -- she simply wanted to be held.  She was overtired.  She had her diaper changed and was ready for sleep.  

I think one of my biggest pet peeves is when the grown people forget that those cute, cuddly, warm little beings in their world, in their vicinity, in their arms is in fact a human being with the full range of emotions and needs as an adult.  They simply don't have the words yet to share those needs and emotions.

But seriously, if you've indeed found a way to eradicate Monday, please send me a quick email... I'm all ears.