A New Start: Learning an International Approach to Education

PYP-EngWhen my husband and I made the decision to move abroad, we knew it was the opportunity of a lifetime. It was a chance to learn a new language and culture, meet new people, travel, and see the world from a different perspective.

For me, it also meant beginning a new stage in my teaching career, as an international educator. I was so curious: how would international schools in Switzerland differ from public schools in the United States? What would the International Baccalaureate (IB) be like? How would becoming an international school teacher change me and my teaching?

It has been two months now since I returned to teaching, and I’ve begun to answer these questions. Over the past four weeks, I’ve also been taking a class about implementing the IB’s program for primary school students (called the Primary Years Program, or PYP). This post is a way to synthesize what I’ve learned so far.

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Stepping Back, Stepping In: Ideas for Effective Helping

No matter how large their class is, or how many hours they have in a school day, most of the primary teachers I’ve met feel like they have too little time, too many kids, and/or too many different needs in their classroom. As a result, teachers can feel like they’re perpetually in motion, moving from one child to another, without any time to stop and think. We end up feeling exhausted and like there’s not enough time to help every child.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Continue reading

No Worries: Another Look at “Cold-Calling” in the Classroom

In a new article in Parade, “How to Build a Better Teacher,” education journalist Elizabeth Green describes the five teaching strategies that may have the greatest impact on student learning. One of these strategies touches on an old debate that deserves to be revisited: “cold-calling,” or calling on students whether or not they have their hands raised: “The goal is to ­extract the maximum possible mileage from each question. By ­introducing the possibility that anyone can be asked to speak at any time, teachers ­decrease the chances their students will tune out.”

The benefits of cold-calling are well-supported by research, and it’s hard to argue with its many benefits. But who doesn’t dread being called on out of the blue? Continue reading

Thoughts About ADHD (Part 2)

I’ve always had a lot of compassion for my students with ADHD (or ADHD-like behaviors) because my husband had ADHD as a kid. Never diagnosed (it was the early 80’s), Kevin struggled in school. Despite being a very smart, charming, and energetic little boy, his report cards were filled with comments like, “Kevin fails to live up to his potential” and “Kevin contributes wonderful ideas in class, but doesn’t complete his work.”

If you ask me, his teachers failed to see that he needed help, and instead, blamed him for his inability to focus and follow through on tasks. It wasn’t until fifth grade that a teacher finally recognized Kevin’s strengths, helped to develop his love of science, and made accommodations like allowing him to take tests standing up. That teacher changed Kevin’s entire outlook on himself as a learner. Continue reading

Thoughts About ADHD (Part 1)

I’ve always thought of ADHD as a context-specific disorder. What are considered talents in one setting — such as high energy, creativity, and the ability to make brilliant cognitive leaps — are considered deficits in other settings, particularly traditional school settings, where students are required to sit silently for long periods of time, engaged in teacher-led tasks.

If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend watching Sir Kenneth Robinson’s address to the RSA, in which he contends that diagnosis of ADHD is on the rise because schools are failing to meet the needs of 21st century learners.

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8 Indispensable iPad and iPod Apps for Elementary Education

Solar Walk: one of my 8 indispensable apps for education

Solar Walk: one of my 8 indispensable apps for education

If you’re like me, you might feel a little overwhelmed by the hundreds of apps you could be using your classroom. You might even feel guilty that you’re not up on the latest and greatest from the iTunes store. I sure felt this way, and then I realized that I already had over 150 apps on my school’s iPods and iPads… many of which I had rarely — if ever — used, and some of which just plain didn’t work.

So, in a bout of New Year’s cleaning, I culled through my collection and deleted everything that wasn’t worthy of my students’ time — or yours.

And here — drumroll, please — are all the apps that made the cut.

Not content to stop there, I whittled the list down further to just eight apps that would benefit almost all students in grades 2-4. Not passing fads, if these apps were physical books, I’d have to tape their spines to keep them from falling apart. I hope you find them as useful as I have. Continue reading

Embracing Teachable Moments

Who wouldn't want to take a closer look at this guy?

Who wouldn’t want to take a closer look at this guy?

A few weeks ago, as my class was walking in from recess, we saw a large brownish-black bug crawling across a desk in the hallway. Of course, everyone wanted to look at it. It was so cool! But, as a hundred children began to cram through the recess door, I reluctantly urged my class along.

Once my students were back in the room, I made a quick decision. I dashed out into the hall with a bug box, hoping the little guy was still there. He was — looking dazed — so I scooped him up, and brought him back to my room.

I had planned to do a read aloud about the rainforest that afternoon, but I knew my plans could wait. The bug couldn’t, and neither could my students. So I put the bug on the document camera where everyone could see, and we began a science talk. Continue reading