Saturday, January 22, 2011

Middle Schoolers Use Critical Thinking Skills

I do believe watching problem solving in action is one of the most exciting parts of being an educator.

Design Squad is a science and engineering curriculum created by PBS for middle schoolers. Some of the concepts are pretty complicated and I'm not sure that the kids grasp everything just yet, but I think challenging them to think through it and see what they can do is fun to watch.

(for the other educators out there who might be interested, go to the link. Design Squad has just redesigned their website. It has great complimentary online activities for the kids)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

What is your inspiration?

"Miss Janet, what is your inspiration?"

One of the teens had taken the Flip video camera to interview people on our field trip. "What is your inspiration?" was his question of the day.

"You guys," I replied. I saw a slightly odd look on the videographer's face like, "What is this lady talking about??"I tried to explain, though I don't know that I was able to express my sentiment in a way that completely described the depth of my statement. I probably can't do it much justice here either, but I'll try.

Youth combined with education is my inspiration. I see how much the two together can accomplish. I see kids who are...

  • Quick. Watching the teens handle technology that they've never touched before and take to it so quickly. 
  • Knowledgeable. Seeing the kids in our After-School Academy garden and listening to them explain the difference between grub worms and earthworms, tell about the tea mixture they created to make the garden grow, and explaining how diatribes can get rid of ants. 
  • Passionate. Listening to young adults who teach the kids get as excited as the kids about what they are teaching. 
  • Growing. Seeing the maturity of a college student in a text telling me, "Everything has a reason," and, "Something better will come along," 
  • Demonstrative. Hearing a teacher at the elementary school encourage the kids to get to the After-School Academy because, "They're learning so much about science there! They are my students who speak up in science class."
  • Eager. Hearing about teens who, before going to see Maya Angelou on Friday, rush home from school and immediately go to the computers to begin looking up information on her.
  • Appreciative. Appreciation is often covert. I feel love and appreciation when a middle school boy acts like he doesn't want to participate yet has a sparkle in his eyes as he does participate and learns something new. 
  • Excited.When a few kids begin pushing the other kids to learn and rise to expectations we've set, the many other frustrations go away (at least for that moment). I am thrilled when I am told about different youth who are having extraneous conversations about Nobel Peace Prize winners, life skills they've learned, technology, and game nights.
Youth and their minds inspire me. People in poverty seeking to overcome inspire me. Knowing a kid has potential and pushing, pushing, pushing until that kid begins to see his/her own potential motivates me beyond anything I could explain.

*They* are my inspiration.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

In the Presence of Maya Angelou

This past Friday we gave the teens a choice to continue our traditional Friday night Game Night or to go see Maya Angelou at the Northwest Hwy Barnes and Noble. The group was split in half. The girls wanted to see her; the boys did not.

Making an executive decision about what would be most beneficial to everyone in the group, I decided everyone would go see Dr. Maya Angelou speak. After all, it was an opportunity of a lifetime...and it was FREE! Knowing she would arrive around 7:00, we had decided to leave at 6:00. However, when we called at 4:00 to find out more details, the store employee informed us that there were only 150 seats available and people had already started arriving. The Americorps members overseeing Teen U and Mid Teen U scrambled to make phone calls and push the teens to hurry home from school so we could leave. Around 5:00 we had finally gotten the last permission slip needed.

The store wasn't overly crowded when we got there and we were able to find seats about halfway back. We sat and waited...for about two hours. At 7:00, they raised the black curtain they had set up as if they were revealing a piece of artwork. It seemed odd but I guess, in a way, Dr. Angelou is that precious and rare so why not??

At her first words, the audience began to silence. However, in the 30 seconds to a minute it took the audience to settle down, Dr. Angelou had finished speaking. She was ready to sign books...and we didn't have the wristbands needed to have that opportunity. The teens were disappointed. They couldn't understand, despite her age and breathlessness, why she couldn't/wouldn't say more.

In hopes of them taking home something from the experience, we drove down the street to Half Price Books. I purchased 5 Maya Angelou books and we did a drawing to see who would get to take home one of her books. I watched the bravado of the boys, but I also saw the interest some of them showed in knowing more about her.

After purchasing the books, we quickly drove back over to Barnes and Noble just in case she might speak her words of wisdom. Luckily, right after we got back, she did say a few more words which, I can only hope, were enough to inspire the teens and help them understand her greatness.

Here is a video from the evening. Unfortunately, because of youtube's strict rules these days, the video doesn't have any music with it (until I figure out how to use OpenSource music). However, music or not, I always find the words of people in our Education Department completely inspiring and encouraging.