Working Through the Middle School Years

I have been a middle school teacher now for 16 years. It is a population group that I enjoy being with, and teaching. For the past few years I have been mentoring new teachers in our district. I try to share my knowledge and expertise with new teachers in the hopes that they would not make some of the same mistakes that I have made in the past.

One aspect that I feel that I have to continue to educate new teachers on is how to work with middle school gifted children. There are a few things that I stress to new teachers that I feel they need to know.

New teachers need to understand that there are parts of gifted children’s personalities that are not like theirs. Gifted children, like all children, have various personalities. Some are unorganized, some are perfectionists, and some fall somewhere on in the middle. For teachers when you see a student who is unorganized and messy, and your classroom is meticulously organized please don’t stress over it. Let them be who they are. Give students expectations and stick to them, but also let them be who they are. 

Focus on the positives when it comes to gifted children. Some gifted children may come across as crass, especially when they point out a mistake made by you. Don’t let that get to you. It may be just who they are. Instead, focus on the positives. Look for the good in each and every student you have. That will keep you from being a “negative nelly”. 

Allow gifted students to struggle a little bit. Don’t rush in to save the day. Allow them to work through their frustration. By doing that you making them rely on themselves more and you less. If you are continuously helping them too much too fast they won’t have the opportunity to feel the stress and frustration that goes along with building a good work ethic.

Finally, design lessons that have stretch included. This gives my gifted students a chance to grow. If you always plan your lessons with the middle students in mind those gifted students will become discipline problems. They get bored, and you will have to rush to find something for them to do. That ends up being more busy work, and they will still be come a discipline problem.

Navigate the middle years carefully. They will be rocky filled with ups and downs, but they are definitely worth it.

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Book Review: Complex Systems in Our World

20160330_171221-1.jpgThis is part 4 of 4 in book reviews. These books are written by E.L. Strauss published by Thinxygen.com.

 Part 1: Global Explorer.

Part 2: Chaos Theory Uncovered

Part 3: Our Universe Revealed

Complex Systems

I have always been interested in patters, and in relationships. Complex Systems in Our World helps to explain the science of relationships. Complex systems theory is “a transdisciplinary field of study concerned with the organization and functioning of different phenomena. The field examines the principles common to all complex systems, with the aim of discovering patterns and principles that can be applied to all types of systems, at all levels, in all fields of research.”

Structure

Like the other three books in their series, Complex Systems in Our World is structured similar. It starts by looking at interconnections, and emergence, moves to types of complexity, and finishes with superorganisms and thermodynamics. I enjoy the Questions we Ask and What we Uncover sections that help to guide the reader through the book. The outline of each chapter isn’t a traditional outline. Instead it is a series of questions that the author poses to get the reader thinking about the material they will interact with.

The book has great pictures to help the concepts of systems and their complexities. The activities that the author has connected to the material is challenging and makes the reader use their critical thinking skills.

Recommendation

I think Complex Systems in Our World is a great book to help students to understand how relationships work in the real world, and how communities, cities, and the environment are connected through these systems. This is a great resource for students. This book is best suited for high school students who want to get a more in-depth education of complex systems. The vocabulary is challenging. Complex Systems in Our World also requires you to use critical thinking in some of the activities that are presented to the reader.

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Our Universe Revealed

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This is part 3 of 4 in book reviews. These books are written by E.L. Strauss published by Thinxygen.com.

 Part 1: Global Explorer.

Part 2: Chaos Theory Uncovered

Our Universe Revealed 

I am a big fan of Cosmos. I love listening to Dr. Neil Degrasse Tyson explaining the mysteries of the galaxy. If you like that show and many others like it, then you will love this book.

Our Universe Revealed is a great book that covers a multitude of topics including Antimatter, Dark Energy, Quasars, Supernovae, and Einstein’s Theories, and more. This book covers the study of Cosmology: “the scientific study of the large-scale properties of the universe; the field endeavours to use the scientific method to understand the universe’s origin, evolution, and ultimate fate.”

Structure

I love how this book is organized and structured. When you open Our Universe Revealed , you see there are a list of Questions we Ask, and a list of topics in the What we Uncover section. This gets the readers engaged in what will be coming up in the sections ahead. I also enjoy that before each chapter starts the author lays out a small time line of questions that the reader should keep in mind as they read. I believe this is a great way for students to get their critical thinking skills started.

Our Universe Revealed starts by looking at stargazing, moving to the beginning of the cosmos, how the universe is structured, and finally Relativity. I like how Our Universe Revealed has great pictures, illustrations, charts and graphs that help bring clarity to the reader on the subject at hand. Students will find these to be useful. The author also uses some illustrations made by artisits which are colorful, and detailed.

Recommendation

For someone who is interested in learning more about space, the galaxy, and parts of the universe then Our Universe Revealed is for you. It is very good at giving details, explaining different equations (such as Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and Hubble’s Law to name a few), and explaining how the universe works.

After reading Our Universe Revealed, I came to realize that I had learned a lot. In the back of the book there is a list of topics that students, adults, and teachers who want to learn more about the cosmos could check into. This book is only 127 pages in length, and can be read in just a few short sittings. It also has the opportunity to be a jumping off point for science students to take a topic and go in-depth further than what is in the book.

Our Universe Revealed is a great book to use in addition to the science curriculum that is used in school and in homeschools. This book is best suited for high school students who want to get a more in-depth education of space. The vocabulary is challenging. This book also requires you to use some critical thinking in some of the activities that are presented to the reader.

Overall, Our Universe Revealed is a great book. I hope that you check it out, along with the others in this set.

 

How can we Change Gifted Education?

The other day I read the article from NPR, How The U.S. Is Neglecting Its Smartest Kids like many of you did. The article is about the findings of author Chester Finn who wrote the book Failing Our Brightest Kids: The Global Challenge of Educating High-Ability Studentswhich comes out next month. I agree with what Chester Finn found during his research. I am sure his research is sound, and through. I will probably go out and spend the money and buy his book.

What I missed in his article are some of the intangibles that comes with Education; such as teacher and student relationships, teacher and parent relationships, how parents view the school system, and how much the political tide has turned on teachers and educators to make education such a negative profession.

There are a few things that other countries may do better than the US when it comes to  teacher preparedness, adequate Gifted Education training, and helping pre-serivce teachers be successful in the classroom, and stay in teaching in those tough beginning years. I am also sure that in many counties teachers and educators aren’t seen as villians, and instead seen as pillars of their community.

We can focus on a lot of negatives when it comes to Education such as testing, not enough finding, the failing schools, school voucher program, and teacher turnover, but in all of this there are some positives. We should be looking at Education not as the negative Nelly, but as a wheel that needs to move in a faster, and new direction.

Here are some aspects of Gifted Education that need to change in my opinion. We need to see Gifted Education as a necessity rather than an option. We need to give gifted students the appropriate education they need and deserve. Gifted students need the chance to be challenged, be motivated, and exposed to real world activities. Gifted students need to have an outlet to explore their passions, and time during the school day to do that. We need show the world that Gifted Education isn’t an elitist idea, but rather an educational tool to keep those high ability students from becoming high probability issues in the classroom because of boredom. Finally, we need our higher educational institutions to begin to place more emphasis on Gifted Education.  Colleges and universities need to begin to teach pre-service teachers about how to teach gifted students. They need to know characteristics of gifted children, teaching strategies that work with gifted children, and most importantly they need to see that using gifted educational strategies will work with and benefit all students in the educational spectrum.

Gifted Education isn’t going to change until we have full funding of gifted educational programs. We need to have the support of national, state, and local educational associations to promote gifted education as a necessity, not a choice. Just as in the 1970’s Special Education supporters got IDEA passed, we in Gifted Education need to have our own federal law passed.

If you don’t know what IDEA is here is a short synopsis:

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a law ensuring services to children with disabilities throughout the nation. IDEA governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education and related services to more than 6.5 million eligible infants, toddlers, children and youth with disabilities.

Infants and toddlers with disabilities (birth-2) and their families receive early intervention services under IDEA Part C. Children and youth (ages 3-21) receive special education and related services under IDEA Part B.

The equivalent of IDEA is the Talent Act of 2015: Which states in part:

To Aid Gifted and High-Ability Learners by Empowering the Nation’s Teachers (TALENT) Act has four key emphases:

  • Support Educator Development to Ensure Academic Growth for High-Ability Students
  • Confront and Address Excellence Gaps
  • Provide Public Transparency of Student Achievement Data
  • Continue Research and Dissemination on Best Practices in Gifted Education

We need to support this Act, and lobby for it to be passed, and help put into place those key components that gifted children need, and deserve.

We talk about how are students are falling behind in math, science, and innovation, but we don’t push our high ability students to go into those areas with valuable resources. Our education system is falling behind because there is no real vision of where we are going. I think the Common Core standards is a good start. We need to continue to move our educational view past the idea that gifted students can succeed with less because they are smart, to gifted students are valuable and they need are help and resources to be successful.


Here are a few facts from the Ohio Association for Gifted Children.

State of Gifted Education 2015

Effect of Deregulation on Gifted Education in Ohio

Disparate Treatment of Economically Disadvantaged Gifted Students in Ohio

Being an Impactful Teacher Means Building Relationships

As the end of the school year is approaching, I am saying good-bye to some great 8th grade students. This group of students I have seen then grow up since they were in the 3rd grade, and now they are about to embark in a journey through high school. I will truly miss them.

I was thinking over the weekend, that every year around this time of the year is tough for me, because I built a relationship with my students. I tried very hard to get to know each of my students even though I only see them one day a week, I build in time to talk and build relationships with them in my class.

Being an impactful teacher is all about building relationships. Students respond better to teachers they know want to know them. I think the work that I put in building these relationships helps in the long run.

Here are some ideas that you can do to help build impactful relationships with your students:

  • Have a Class Meeting: By having a class meeting at least once or twice a month you are letting your students share some concerns, problems, or some good things that are going on in their life or in the classroom.
  • Tell stories about yourself: I often tell stories about myself. I let them know of the things I did when I was their age so they know I am human. I want to them to know me, and where I come from so they have an idea of what kind of teacher I tend to be.
  • Have a safe environment to learn: For students and teachers to work together the classroom has to be a safe place. My students know that I shut down any negative talk towards a student, or situation. I want my students to feel that my classroom is safe place they can express themselves without the worry of criticisms of their ideas, or beliefs.
  • Have one-on-one conversations: What I like to do is have one-on-one conversations with my students. Sometimes I sit with a student or a small group of students and just talk. I ask questions about their projects, what they know about the project before they started, and what they did to gain that prior knowledge. Generally that last part leads to them talking about their home life, or some vacation they went on.
  • Eat lunch together: Sometimes I invite my students to eat lunch in my classroom to just chat. We generally talk about music, books, sports, movies, computer games, phone apps, and future plans. I like these times. During football or baseball seasons some of my students are avid fans so we talk about our favorite sport teams. We generally have a really good time.
  • Attend school events: I try to go to some of my students’ school functions when I can. My students know I have a large family and its hard to get to everything my own kids are in all the time. But if I can’t make it I invite them to tell me about it. I try hard to show an interest in their hard work.
  • Share social media: I know teachers and students talking over social media can be looked badly upon. I keep a class Facebook for my students to participate on. I also have a twitter they can contact me or share things with me. I place limits on things like their parents must know we are being friends on social media, and I do not accept any private messages from students. Some school districts don’t let teachers and students talk over social media, so I would suggest you make sure you know what your district rules are.

Overall, most teachers are probably doing everything that I suggested above. Teachers know that education is all about relationships. I hope that you are building relationships with your students. I know for me it is easy to do. My students have  a desire to talk to people they think are on their same level based on their intelligence. Gifted students like to talk to adults. So we talk….a lot.

What are you doing to build relationships with your students?

How Bad Do you Want it?

I came across this speech the other day. It moved me. The author of the speech is Eric Thomas the Hip Hop Preacher.

I was amazed how he told the truth to the students he was speaking to. I think as teachers we also need to motivate and inspire our students by telling the truth. To be successful you have to work hard. There will be sacrifices. There will be success but it isn’t easy.

Let me know what you think.

An Island in the Middle of a School

As many of you know, I have been a pullout enrichment teacher for the past 7 years. I really love what I do, and get a lot of satisfaction from my career choice. Working with gifted children is an awesome and sometimes difficult task, but add on to the fact that I only see my students for 5 hours one day a week, and some classes have students from different middle schools.

I am finding the longer I teach a pullout program the more I realize I am an isolated classroom in the school. I do my own thing, and in my own way covering the state standards that are required of me in the units that I write for my students. There is little overlap of what I do in my classroom and what my students do in their regular classrooms.  At times its a lonely island. So, reciently I decided to come up with some ways to encorperate what I do into their regular classrooms, or at least come up with some overlap.

Our principal has decided it was important for each team of teachers to come up with an interdiciplinary unit that would encorperate as many teachers as possible, including the gifted intervention specialist, art, music, and gym teachers. I am working with two 8th grade teams. I one team is creating a unit on the Civil War, while the other is creating a unit on reconstruction. As I was talking to the teams I am working with, I began to there are ways that I can add those enriching educational aspects they can’t based on time restrains. I also began to see that I can do some overlap of what they are teaching.

So what keeps me an island in the middle of my school? To begin with I am not on a teacher based team that meets everyday. I only meet with teachers on the unit we are building every few weeks. I don’t have time throughout the day to email or meet with teachers to have a meaningful conversation see what they are doing in their classrooms. I also don’t have a common planning time with any of the teachers in the building since I have my students for such a large block of time.

The thing is, I know that I am not the only person in the school that feels the same way. I don’t know if I have the answers to everyone’s issues, but I can try to figure out mine. Different pullout teachers have different issues to deal with.

What can I do to build a bridge to the mainland of my school? One thing I have decided I will do is to make time on our “unit days” to see what is going on in their classrooms leading up the unit. That way I can get a chance to see what they are doing in the near future. I have also asked for uptodate copies of pacing charts. This way I can see the overview of the large topics they are covering along with the standards from the Common Core they are hitting. I am also getting in contact with my building coach to fill in where some of the places I need some help understanding some of the topics that need to be caught. I also made my curiculum avalible to all of the team leaders to share with their members so they can see what I am covering.

Looking forward, if I had my way I would use some of the technology that we have at school.

1. I would have a calendar for each team for them to put their snyopsis on for the week. Everyone in the school would have access to join it.

2. I would create a google group that everyone in the school joins and discuss what they are doing in their classrooms.

3. Have a form that each team fills out a google doc filling out the important information from each person on their team and have the team leader share the doc with everyone in the school.

I really feel that if everyone could share what they are teaching with eachother there can be more open and creative dialog between teachers. There can also be more sharing of resources and ideas.