Sunday, June 14, 2015

Watch What You Say! You May be Teaching Thinking Skills


There are many ways to think: Well, let’s see, there is critical, creative, lateral, strategic, divergent, and…... There are thousands of papers and books written on the subject, and assessments, of every ilk, measuring how we think. Yet, parents, teachers and caregivers are most-often left without a clear direction on how best to bolster thinking in our young people. This post is based on excerpts from two publications I authored a number of years ago: The Nurturing Classroom and a chapter entitled Cognition and Cooperation: partners in Excellence which can be found in If Minds Matter a Forward to the Future

It is my hope that this post will help parents and teachers separate the wheat from the chaff and make the task of teaching thinking an everyday adventure.

For sure, we need a reference point, usually referred to as frame of reference, to assimilate new information. If we don’t have a reference point on which to connect the new information, It just sits there or disappears from the thinking field altogether.

For new information to become relevant we must be able to either link it to past experience or construct new meaning. Each time we are exposed to a new way to think about something, we add another strategy or path to our thinking abilities. If there is nothing in our past experience OR if we are unable to construct new meaning, we will not be able to make sense of the information.

As parents, teachers, and caregivers we can create an environment that promotes the development of more and more thinking paths. If we tell young people the why’s and elaborate on some of the how’s rather than just telling them what to do, we help them develop new paths of thinking.

FOR EXAMPLE: in the classroom
If we tell students one of the class standards is that only one person can speak at a time, they will understand the rule and not much more. This is particularly true for the child who comes from a family where two or more people often talk simultaneously. While we make no value judgment on what happens at home, we can offer other choices for students to consider. The teacher can explain: When two students speak at the same time, it is impossible to hear everything each student says. When only one person speaks at a time, everyone can hear the speaker and will know what each person is thinking. Seems obvious? Not to all students.

FOR EXAMPLE: in the home

Parenting Style #1
Assume that it is winter and Rob, an eight year old child, does not close the door completely upon entering the house. Rob may be told: Rob, close the door. To a young child this is just another command to obey or get into some kind of trouble. Parent #1’s preferred form of communication is direct commands.

Parenting Style #2
If the parent explains: Rob, close the door cold air is coming in, then Rob begins to make the mental connection- if the door is open cold air is getting in the house

Parenting Style #3
If the parent elaborates even further: Close the door, cold air is coming in. When this happens the house will get cold causing the heater to come on frequently. If this happens too often, the heating bill will be so high we will not have any money to take our vacation trip to Disneyland.
Rob is learning about cause and effect, which is a critical element in problem solving. Some might say this is common sense. Consider the fact that Rob may not have the opportunity to learn common sense if his life is filled with direct commands.

In each of these instances the stimulus is identical. The parent’s response is the critical factor in determining the child’s cognitive growth pattern. In other words, if a child is living in a command-only household, where the reasons behind a given action are never explained, he may be living in the context of Benjamin Bloom's Taxonomy Level 1—Just the facts.

Obviously, it is not appropriate for parents to always give detailed responses. However, if elaboration persists over time a child’s memory bank will be filled with options. Frames of reference will abound. When presented with new information they will have a much better chance to make sense of what comes their way.

You are welcome to make comments and join the conversation.


Saturday, June 6, 2015

Jo Marshall: Saving the Environment One Word at a Time

Note from Jacquie: 

Jo Marshall

A Powerful Tool for Teaching Environmental Awareness

Jo Marshall’s books offer parents and teachers a powerful tool for teaching environmental awareness, climate change, extinction, and so much more. Whether sitting by the fire listening to your child read or discussing Twig stories in class, you will find Jo Marshall’s series well worth your time.

You can be confident that each story, while a fantasy, is based in current scientific knowledge. The following endorsements by Dr. Edwards, manager of education at the British Colombia Wildlife Park, is one of many.

“The environmental messages contained in this highly entertaining series of stories are certainly important and are told  in a way that will engage children everywhere.  The educational value of these books cannot be underestimated especially at a time when we desperately need to create a culture that is committed to protecting our natural wonders.” 

The story line is brought to life by artist D.W. Murray 

D.W. Murray is an award-winning Disney and Universal Pictures artist whose screen credits include Mulan, Tarzan, Lilo & Stitch, Brother Bear, and Curious George.  An award recipient of the prestigious New York Society of Illustrators Gallery, his talent is also recognized by the 2004 Gold Aurora Award.

Following is an overview of three Leaf adventures. Your comments and the addition of lesson resources are welcome. Join the conversation!

Leaf & the Rushing Waters

Learn more about Rushing Waters at Amazon

 Leaf  & the Rushing Waters  is about a young, boyish Twig named Leaf whose old tree home is inundated by a glacial outburst flood.  His family is trapped high in the Old Seeder’s knothole.  Leaf and his Twig friend Rustle set off to find a goliath beaver named Slapper, who can build a mighty dam to block the raging torrent.  What I love about Twig Stories is the opportunity to blend science fact into fantasy.  The idea that Slapper and his colony could build such an enormous and effective dam comes from an actual beaver dam in Alberta, Canada.  It is twice the length of Hoover Dam and can be seen from space! Largest Beaver Dam

Resources to Support Lesson Planning: 

Wikipedia: Beaver in the Sierra Nevada   

Nature Mapping: California Beavers 

Worth a Dam: Who are Beavers Helping Now?   

Wikipedia: Glacial Lake Outburst Flood

Amazon: Welcome to the World of Beavers      Amazon: The Beaver Its Life and Impact

Amazon: Flood Investigation of Glacial Outburst

Leaf & the Sky of Fire

Learn more about Sky of Fire at Amazon

In a dying forest infested with swarms of bark
beetles, frightened stick creatures called Twigs
hide in a cave. A young Twig named Leaf
attempts a foolhardy rescue, but instead leads
them all into greater danger. In their darkest 
hour a spirit bear stalks their steps and a terrifying firestorm explodes! Yet, there is one passage south, 
if only the Twigs discover it in time!

Resources to Support Lesson Planning:

Wikipedia: Bark Beetle     USDA Forest Service    

 Bark Beetle: Killing/Saving Forest  

Smokey the Bear    

National Geographic: Volcanic Thunderclouds     

Amazon: Fire in the Forest

Amazon: Fire in Sierra Nevada photographic...since 1849  

Amazon: Bark Beetles in North American Conifers

Leaf & the Long Ice

Learn more about Long Ice at Amazon

An impish, stick creature called Leaf lives in a 
giant, old tree beneath an ancient volcano and
its melting glacier. One day, Leaf’s young
brothers run away to play in the vanishing 
snow, but soon the Twig twins are lost in a maze
of endless ice tunnels. With the help of a 
grumpy hermit and feisty pika, Leaf searches 
the blue tubes. But it is the rare beasts of the Long 
Ice who will decide their fate! 

Resources to Support Lesson Planning:

WeatherWizkids: Volcanos     

National Geographic: Volcanos

Washington Trails Association: Ice Caves   

Wikipedia: Lava Tube

While Jo Marshall holds no special credentials in climate change research, biology, or botany, her manuscripts were validated and thoroughly reviewed by the conservation nonprofits’ founders and officers.  

She earned a BA in German Language and Literature from the University of Maryland, Europe in West Berlin.  Jo hopes you will recommend her Twig Stories novels to your students and children: Please visit her website: Jo Marshall Website and her  author Page