Thursday, June 12, 2008

Final Reflections...

... Self Reflection ...

I saw this course as a chance to get more of an inner look at inner city education. I had not known it was required in the MAT program if I were not thinking about teaching in the city, so I actually would not have taken it. I came in thinking that it was highly unlikely that I would look to teach in an urban district. I had toyed with the idea for a spell some weeks earlier in conversation with Dr. S and thought about the strong need for math and science teachers – not only in general, not only in urban areas, but for the children. But I think I came to the conclusion in my mind, for the time being anyway, that I would seek a job in a middle-of-the-line suburban location. It was fear and maybe a bit of the desire to stay in one’s comfort zone that took me that way.

Once I knew I was taking the class, I hoped to learn about what the inner workings of inner city education were like; I wanted to see if preconceptions and assumptions were true, to what degree, and I wanted to see why the state of education is what it is in the inner city. I feel like I had a reasonable dabble into these areas, but I do feel like seeing some of the less successful schools during the visitations would have made it more complete.

I also learned about policy and regulation (which I never had a strong interest in, but I do feel is information that we as future educators should be attuned to), and I now know more about what gives an Abbott District its designation and the court case behind it all. Hearing a little bit about the University’s history as a normal school and the NJDOE standards for teaching was interesting and eye opening.

I learned about the problems of the high teacher turnover rate in urban districts and how this makes providing a consistent and quality education there even more challenging. I learned that just because a child is in an urban area and struggles with a slew of problems and issues that may be hard to stomach does not mean we can let them get away without learning. We need to challenge inner city students with the same rigor as anyone else, because they ARE capable and they can learn.

I learned that our classroom will be the place where we have the most control as teachers, and that even when dealing with a difficult administration in an urban district or otherwise, we need to capitalize on what we do have and make use of it. We can make what we teach authentically ours and connect it to life to engage our students. I learned that perspectives and cultural traditions amongst different individuals in urban areas can be quite different than what we might be used to, but to just be aware, show that we care and want to know, and be respectful. I learned to choose battles appropriately because some you will never win and are just pointless and counterproductive to argue. This also ties into keeping the bigger picture in mind and NOT focusing on the little nitty gritty but to see the children’s optimal learning experience as the prize.

I think one of the most important things I am taking away with me is a fresher, more informed view of urban education. Goodbye assumptions.

Challenges & Triumphs
It was very challenging for me to hear the realities about the state of the educational system and the socio-economic crises in some of these urban locations. It sent pangs through my body to hear that in some urban areas 90% of the kids are on a free lunch program because the state of poverty is so rampant, that some children are homeless and need to make their way to shelters for the night after school, and the degree of the dilapidated conditions in some of these schools and how they are almost helpless to change it in the immediate future.

Learning of the bureaucracy and special interest controls and implications was upsetting. To live in America and not know it’s about the money would put one in a place of primal ignorance, but even with the knowledge of the money mongering, it was still so striking to see to what degree money controls the system. And the problems that plague schools as a result of lack of funds was a very frustrating point for me, especially when seeing how much money other wealthy districts do have. A lot of this I was somewhat aware of prior to taking the course, but I did not really know and I did not think about it on a deeper level.

I felt a surge of accomplishment and inspiration, as well as several varied emotions after the school visitations. How I opened myself up and soaked it all in, even with the interplay of some previous assumptions and fears, was a triumph for me. I went to every single school on that itinerary and I am SO thankful that I did! It was an enriching experience and I would not have wanted to miss any of it.

Despite working in a center for technology, I still struggle personally with dealings with it. I become easily frustrated and my sometimes maniacal perfectionism comes into play when it comes to artwork or writing: creating something, particularly if it has personal value to me. So it may seem paltry, but I felt accomplished in getting through the use of new technology based programs (seen in the blogs and websites) without having any serious meltdowns. I also spent far less time on the cultural collage than I would have in the past. This was an accomplishment. And I saw that the course necessitated it.

A valuable take home point for me involves time management and being able to see the priorital hierarchy of your tasks. Even though you know you might love to dive into something full force, it is that step back and “timeless reflection while in limbo” that you need to practice. What is the main objective for me here as a teacher? What kind of time do I have to get this accomplished and what is truly important? How will I feel tomorrow and what will NOT drive me into an early grave?

Teachers and direction
I will take the whole “I Learned…” excerpt from the Expectations section above, with me into the schools, and with it so much more.

A teacher prepared for an urban classroom needs to see the children as people, see them for the individuals that they are. Every student needs to start with a clean slate, no matter what background, race, colour, gender, sexual orientation, faith or traditions that they practice. There needs to be some type of bonding with the students to set the tone for the classroom. I will definitely make eye contact with my students, I will want to get to know them as human beings and notice how they feel. This is a compassion that helps the children grow and with it, understanding. We cannot truly understand right away where a child is coming from based on the disparity in our life experiences, but it is that time taken to listen and to accept them that matters. Being a culturally responsive individual is vital in an urban environment where the potential to encounter a multicultural population is so much greater.

Some of the skills vital to urban educators include the ability to pull out different teaching styles to teach to the various learning styles. Whether a child is an auditory, visual, or kinesthetic learner, if all are included in some way, the learning potential in the class has increased. The pedagogical techniques that are utilized should be mixed up and varied to increase student engagement and understanding of concepts introduced. It is not just what you teach (the subject area) but how you teach it. I think you also need to have patience in the role of a teacher, no matter where you go. The fact also is that the students will look up to you as a role model whether you desire it or not, so an urban teacher needs to be prepared to be seen and to behave as a positive role model for the students.

Whether I will end up in an urban, suburban or rural environment, I honestly do not know. Regardless of where I am teaching, one practice I would really like to implement is reflective teaching. To be able to self-correct and introspectively explore new ideas and improvements is something that both teachers and students can benefit from.

This course has provided me with a window in to see successful urban teaching and progressing urban schools. My previous thoughts on where I want to teach did not change only because of that, but also because I see the need and the possibilities. Now I do feel a drawing, a pull toward the urban districts, where there are amazing kids, maybe misunderstood and often with untapped potential. Without trying to sound too idealistic, I do think with attention, support, rigorous challenges, and belief in them as human beings, that amazing things can happen.

Feedback to the mouth that helped feed you

Newark visits and Time

The trips to Newark are irreplaceable. I feel that is an essential component to the course. You can’t really teach about inner city education without giving an inside look at it in real time. I feel like I grew a great deal from even these brief visits. But while on brevity, I do have a beef with the course length. I realize this is the way it was set up as a shorter 4 week pre-session and we knew that coming into it, however I really feel like we were really short changed. It was just not enough time. There was so much “good stuff” and “heavy stuff” to digest that I think the time crunch of the class detracted from the students’ ability to reap the most benefits from it. The transforming power of a class like this begs a little more time. I think it could work as a 6-weeker.

Allowing us class time to work on the group website was a good move, especially when considering the short time for the course. Utilizing the ADP Center (and mentioning it in the syllabus as was done) is an important action, especially considering the use of technology in the course. I feel like the classrooms could have been booked and used more, or that laptops could have been reserved, particularly if not many students in the class had their own laptops. Fortunately, most of the class seemed to own them. I felt conflicted with the blogging activity, as a few students in class had also mentioned they felt. I knew it should be professional, but the urge to joke around and make it personal was hard to overcome, particularly when you feel like you’re creating something that is an “internet voice” that you want your personality to be tied into. Finding the balance was hard. I’m not even sure if I found it! At times I felt my writing was too long-winded, formal and flowery; and at other time I felt maybe I shouldn’t make a joke or personal comment, no matter if it seemed harmless.

Designating the blogging as a continuous activity throughout the course provided a nice progression and timeline – as long as we didn’t leave too many entries towards the end! I also feel the website activity was a good culmination for the course, especially after the school visitations. The school visitations were appropriate after initial introduction to the course, some readings, and discussion of assumptions, but if it were possible to schedule them a little earlier in the progression of the course (even just a few days earlier – late May) that would fit in better. Earlier would also be better for school visits around this time of the year as many field trips are scheduled and students/ faculty may not be around or they are gearing up to prepare for final exams.

The Annenburg Institute's "Promise of Urban Schools" made some important points and provide valuable key areas to keep in mind when looking at Inner City Education and reform. It was a dryer read but I think should be held onto to introduce the AEIOU concepts.
Although Bulman’s article on “Teachers in the ‘Hood” was long, I feel like it was an engaging read that connects something many students understand well – the movies and the media – to all the prevalent misconceptions about urban education. This one I would include. And in that vein, I think it would also be great to include something that explores how a teacher should teach differently (in terms of technique) – or should not teach differently in an urban district as compared to suburban and rural districts.

I also felt like due to the condensed time factor of the course that it was very difficult to keep up with all the readings, while blogging and working on other assignments as well. I do appreciate that the volume of readings was lowered or halted when we had another big thing going on, such as the cultural collage. At times I did not know there was a reading to be done for the next class; it did not seem clear when it was to be read by. I checked blackboard and would see nothing for a few days then would miss when a reading was posted (this was later on).

Dynamic teaching really helped with this course; I thought it was great (and I am not sucking up). A variety of teaching styles and methods were used. The round robin website evaluation activity was so engaging and interesting, so I definitely really appreciated that technique. It got us moving around the room, actively reading and evaluating other students’ work, thinking critically about how theirs/ours might be improved and what worked, and it was not stressful! (The only thing for me would be the time pressure to switch stations, haha). I liked the employment of Base groups in our website groups. These were students in the class that we knew we were in a group with from early on in the course and this way helped us to be able to connect to others and go to them for help/questions as well.

We had variety in class discussions and thought sharing on articles read, small group discussion, group work and individuals writing assumptions up on the board, some professor direct instruction (and I do think some is necessary), and group presentations of the cultural collage. Something I found really refreshing about this course is that I did not feel quite the same pressure to “perform!” as I have in past courses. This does not at all mean that we did not have a lot of work and learning to do, but that it was approached in a different way. Presentations were not “ohhh no, a PRESENTATION!” but more relaxed run throughs of what we were doing and what it meant to us. The alternate assessments used also provided for a more comfortable and better learning environment than “exams”.

The only thing I can think of to suggest at the moment is maybe more of a discussion on how to implement the techniques in different subject areas across the curriculum in the inner city. I realize that through our own critical thinking we can determine this ourselves, and that maybe it is something more for a methods course, but that would be the next step for me. Thank you for a productive, inspirational and eye opening course!

Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire

Ok, so I haven't had the chance to read it yet. But I am dying to! This book was a Christmas present from my cousin Paul and every time I think of the title I want to say "teach like your pants are on fire" but then think... no, wait, that's not right...

So I wanted to put it out there and post this as a resource even though I cannot yet personally give an "educated" perspective or review. However, I did find that the author Rafe Esquith was also recently on npr (well, last year recent). Check out the article and the INTERVIEW - this is good stuff!

Turns out he teaches 5th grade in one of the roughest neighborhoods in urban L.A. and he's teaching the kids algebra and Shakespeare. This really puts life to the point that we need to believe as teachers that our students are ALL capable and CAN learn at higher levels! We need to expose them to that same rigor and challenge.

To whet your appetite, here is a small excerpt from the prologue:
Prologue: Fire in the Classroom
"It is a strange feeling to write this book. I am painfully aware that I am not superhuman. I do the same job as thousands of other dedicated teachers who try to make a difference. Like all real teachers, I fail constantly. I don't get enough sleep. I lie awake in the early-morning hours, agonizing over a kid I was unable to reach. Being a teacher can be painful.

For almost a quarter of a century, I have spent the majority of my time in a tiny, leaky classroom in central Los Angeles.... I doubt that any book can truly capture the Hobart Shake-speareans. However, it is certainly possible to share some of the things I've learned over the years that have helped me grow as a teacher, parent, and person. For almost twelve hours a day, six days a week, forty-eight weeks a year, my fifth-graders and I are crowded into our woefully insufficient space, immersed in a world of Shakespeare, algebra, and rock 'n' roll. For the rest of the year, the kids and I are on the road. While my wife believes me to be eccentric, good friends of mine have not been so gentle, going as far as to label me quixotic at best and certifiable at worst."

The book was written for new teachers that may not be prepared, veteran teachers that are set in their ways, and parents that are concerned about the education of their kids. I personally can't wait to read it, and if you have, let me know what you thought!

Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire: The Methods and Madness Inside Room 56 by Rafe Esquith. Penguin Books, London England. 2007.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Curriculum Director: Expendable or Invaluable?

A curriculum supervisor (or director) develops, implements, and coordinates new programs within the schools of a district for grades K-12. In some cases they also supervise teacher development and oversee grants for the district. The qualifications for a curriculum supervisor are not light: a Master's Degree and either a Supervisor, Principal, or Superintendent certificate, with previous experience as an administrator preferred. So it is not surprising that the position doesn't come cheap.

This piece published in The Record on June 6th speaks to the dilemma of whether or not it is worth it to employ such a position within a district. Some pros and cons are examined, with examples of what is currently being done in some towns in Bergen County.

To see the full article, click here: Curriculum director: a vital position or unnecessary expense? (or just click on the picture)

If the right person is brought in with the expertise, this can make a huge difference for a district. This way they can anticipate programs that are needed and the supervisor can help to pick out the most beneficial programs for them. They can also oversee a group of teachers that determine the best programs.

This is a Suburban area. What are the implications for a curriculum director in an Urban district?

While googling around for a bit, I located an article in the Chiefline newsletter for the CCSSO (Council of Chief State School Officers) touting the accomplishments of Dr. Laverne Terry in the public schools of the Christiana School District in Newark, DE. Although not NJ, this is an urban district where this woman is credited in having managed, through administrative and curriculum work, "to triple overall student enrollment in Advanced Placement courses and increase enrollment of minority students by over 300%," (Chiefline, weekly update 1/31/08).

This is clearly an example where having someone working at and overseeing curriculum made a large positive impact on enrollment in academically rigorous programs. I think the potential is great, but the effect depends on the individual in the position as well as the follow through of other administrators and teachers.

The alternative to paying a separate position of curriculum director may be to allow teachers and lower-level specialists to take on the task, working as a team. This definitely saves money in the district's pocketbook, and subjects can be overseen individually, but it seems there is something to be said for the attention and focus that a curriculum director can potentially give to a district's programs being best fit.

Works cited:
"Curriculum director: a vital position or unnecessary expense?" by Maya Kremen, Staff writer. The Record, page L-2, June 6th 2008.

"U.S. Virgin Islands Nominates Dr. Laverne Terry as Chief" by Paul Ferrari. Chiefline e-mail newsletter weekly update, 1/31/08.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Sights & Sounds of the Art of choice

My eyes danced across fabulous paint strokes & creations, my ears enveloped themselves in the wonderful tones of vocal & instrumental performance at this visual & performing arts high school

What talent. Our fluctuating cohort of educator hopefuls spent its third and final day of public schools visitations at a magnet school geared towards the visual and performance arts. Four music students played pieces on the acoustic guitar for us as a welcome, to warm us up for student-led tours and classroom visits.

I was not only impressed by the talent of these students, but by the personalities and general ambition that it was so easy to see. Even more interesting, as the students involved in leading tours introduced themselves, their majors, and what they aspire to study, I noticed the disparity between their current major at the high school and their desired major at the college they were seeking to attend. I hadn't expected it. Given a special talent and focus in a secondary school, wouldn't you want to further and develop that into a future career?

Now wait a second, is this the crux of hypocrisy or what? I did not attend a magnet high school, but during my time at a suburban public high school, my passion for art was quite obvious and according to the visual art classes I packed into my schedule, it was almost as if I were "majoring" in Art to the extent that I could. Did I further that in my college studies? A wildlife conservation major would indicate no, however I did declare the art minor a year into my studies.

I asked the student panel later in the program if they felt there was a balance between the arts focus of their major and the other academic areas and if those areas suffered as a result of the arts emphasis? They said they felt the school was strong in all subject areas and that they always made time for other homework and papers. One of the administrators/coordinators of the public school programs had also mentioned earlier that research shows that this study and envelopment in the arts really helps kids to learn their academics and actually turns them on to education.

This all brings me to a question, though. Should we have magnet high schools that select children based on talent, performance, and demeanor? Does this "choice" create a biased and elitist system that leaves other children in the dark?

I was very much impressed by this magnet school. I felt almost like I was in a college classroom as I witnessed a final presentation and critique of a student's artwork in a "mini gallery" in the school. But I also felt like it did not show an accurate representation of Newark's general student population, due to the selectivity factor.

I truly do feel that the ability to dive into art and expression in high school helped me fulfill that within myself and supported my performance in other academic areas. And while studies show the effects of the arts exposure may benefit students in learning other subject areas (Sousa, pg 217), wouldn't this put other students not in magnet schools at a disadvantage? If I received this benefit at a non-magnet school (granted it was a suburban school in a better financial position than many urban schools), I think students should be able get this out of other non-selective public schools as well, even on a lower budget. Giving the students an opportunity to focus and choose a specialty school can be a great thing, but the fact is also that we are choosing them and leaving others out.

Works cited:
Sousa, David A. How the Brain Learns. Corwin Press, Thousand Oaks, CA, 2006.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Teacher judgments and Jackets

I saw some great teaching this week. I saw a great deal of good in urban education despite the media's pervasive negative connotations. I also do have to say that on Day Two in a couple classrooms I witnessed teachers that seemed slightly impatient or easily exasperated with students and had to wonder why. I found myself disenchanted with them at first and thinking that they should be more positive, treating the students differently and approaching the task at hand with more vim. I certainly had to stop myself and realize that there could be a number of factors that influenced their behavior, which might not be the regular occurrence at all. A long tiring day, a tragedy in the family, disrupted sleep, conflict in relationships, problem upon problem with students, physical pain or discomfort - the possibilities are endless...and we all have experienced these in life at some point and time, haven't we? But to try not to reserve quick judgment can be quite difficult as I think we tend to make split second judgments on a daily basis, but I think it is a NECESSITY for a future teacher not to judge others.

If we judge other teachers like that, we will just as easily judge our students. And we cannot take that dive, especially not knowing or understanding their story.

Appearance is a huge factor in our judgment - and come on, the adage "appearances can be deceiving" does have some truth to it. But appearance can also be a transforming factor. Like in jackets.

We were fortunate enough to have student-led tours at many of our school visits. Some of these students were dressed in a chosen colour of more formal attire. A burgundy jacket and skirt or classy slacks and a navy blue blazer. Should we judge the students differently seeing them dressed like this? It's not the judgment but the outcome of an experience that was so neat in this given opportunity.

The students were given the chance to feel valuable, to prepare, take on responsibility, to be leaders, and were performing a service. We, the visitors, had the opportunity to be taught by students in this way and to get more of an inside look as a result.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Vehicle to Changing Lives

It was nearly the end of the day at our Third School on Day Two. I did not realize the clock's hand snickering at me past the 1/2 hr mark, tinkering on as i peered into a music classroom at the end of a long hidden hallway. It was nearly empty aside from a couple students, a University faculty member, and what appeared to be the regular teacher of the classroom, a seemingly pleasant middle-aged African American man.

I hesitantly leaned in the doorway to take a peek, since there was no class going on and I wasn't sure whether or not to enter. "Well, come INTO the classroom not out of it!" he boomed and teased with a smile. I felt a sudden ripple of welcome and quiet urgency.

This was Mr. K, a music teacher at "R" Elementary School, and a man with a vision with a dash of wisdom that he said it took him 7 years to begin to understand. He is writing a book to impart some valuable points from experience because he doesn't want new teachers to blunder through the forest for that long before seeing some key concepts... We spoke about teaching and what it really means...

"Figure out your subject matter and what it really means to you," he said. "What kind of fingerprint will it leave on them?"

Am I passionate about my subject matter? Definitely. It is ingrained into my life each and every day and I now more than ever truly feel that the children are our hope and they are the vehicle for change just as the subject matter is our vehicle to changing lives. I felt empowered after these minutes. I felt that I would 'speak for Earth Science' in the classroom, be that voice/that passageway, because Earth Science could not speak for itself. I would be my wacky self and wear my passion on my sleeve, because this is who I am and the students need that.

But the breaking point was when I asked Mr. K to talk about the value of content matter versus other aspects important to truly teaching to the students.

He said, "Your content matter is just the vehicle to changing lives"
It's about changing lives.

This visit left this lasting impression on me and inspired me in several ways. So now that I've spoken about the thought provoking conversation at the end of my time at the school, I'll mention how my psyche took a flight through a Cloud 9 of excitement upon first ENTERING the school.

"R" Elementary School, part of the Public School school system in "Port City". This was an AWESOME project that the entire school (k-8) was involved in a fabulous interdisciplinary effort funded by a Rainforest action group. Each grade had projects displayed all over the halls and walls of the school about the life and value of the rainforest. ROCK ON I LOVE IT!!

This is the Amazon Rainforest, created by the students throughout the entire school. In interdisciplinary masterpiece, I feel it gave students a chance to transform their school visually for a time period, which probably really empowered them. And this is only the beginning. This display brings forth a gilded door to dozens of pockets of potential. Future lessons and activities can be built off of, connected to, and developed from this educationally decorative endeavour.

Focus on the Human(ities)

City = Resource

Many may think of the city as an unstable and crazy place to be, and the schools not as safe, financially supported or well reputed as suburban counterparts. One thing is for sure, there is a CORNUCOPIA (yes, i used my favourite SAT word) of resources at your disposal in an urban setting. From libraries to museums to neighboring schools and businesses, this is an advantage that can be noted, there are partnerships that can be forged, supplies to be shared. The staff at "N" High stressed this availability of resources in the city, which ties into the image of this magnet school as a culturally driven facility as well.

"N" High = Cultural chameleon

The school has its own culture that is constantly changing and reworking itself over years of time. And so they say this is what the school is known for. But I noticed that not only does it seem to provide a challenging environment with interesting course options available, such as an entire Law circuit pathway and of course Humanities pathway; including courses such as Sociology, Women's studies, Anthropology, Shakespeare, Drama and more, but the students are driven and want to succeed.

was painted on the slab just below the hallway ceiling

It was explained to us that someone always returns. A former student that had been led to growth and success comes back to give back to the community that formed him/her. One of the teachers/administrators that spoke to us had attended the high school and was now working there and giving so much back to the community that had given to him... and emphasizing the need to...

FORGE A BOND with the students

Regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, they are HUMAN BEINGS. "Forget the subject matter", he said, "notice how kids feel, make eye contact". Heavens do I find this in my heart. And show the kid you care about them as a person, care that they succeed; don't replace them with the subject matter.

I met a future lawyer, doctor, and teacher at a student round table at the tail end of the visit. These future and even current contributors to society absolutely 'wow-ed' me. I feel like this interaction was the most beneficial part of the visit because really getting to hear the students' perspectives was so valuable, since these are the personalities we are going to be teaching one day.

What's your character?

Yesterday I felt spoiled rotten. We played monopoly upon a decorative table set for a feast and colourful enough for a parade, we were serenaded by the talented student musicians playing Pachabel's "Cannon in D", and some of our little cohort were even awarded baskets o' goodies!

Then our eyes were opened anew. I truly felt that mine were, at least - the start of an adventure!

June 2nd, 2008 approximately 30 University students showed up at "P" Elementary School, the first stop on our schedule of packed days to visit and explore the educational system in some of "Port City's" public schools, gratis a la Urban Educator's Institute. Not only were we joined by administrators and faculty of "P" School, but in addition professionals from the other 6 schools on our neatly typed list. This was the beginning of what would be our morphing cohort of teachers, administrators, and future educators out to get the real deal and find out What is RIGHT With Urban Education?

I was not quite sure what to expect that day. I suppose some of my assumptions were still idling, (ie: the threat of violence, encountering disruptive rebel students lacking ambition and the like) but I desperately wanted these assumptions to be shot down. Even as I drove down the City streets after hopping off the highway a little too early, my shoulders tensed and my tongue was dry because I was in unfamiliar territory and didn't quite know what would happen next. What did I find?

This school was driven by an inspired principal with a vision and a culture of learning. Professional development is valued here and teachers don't just sit where they are, satisfied and comfortable. They are urged to push the envelope to grow and enrich the programs available and up the ethic and character of students at the school. As we sat and listened, teachers from the school told us about the very recent trip they had taken to Tokyo, Japan, to observe the educational system, pedagogy and behavior. Their drive to develop themselves for the better of the school and ultimately the students, took them to the other side of the globe to compare/contrast and bring home best practices and ideas for implementation.

Multiple Intelligences
What surprised me? The students take a Multiple Intelligence Test at the school! (if not familiar, check out Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences by Howard Gardner or an overview of the theory) I thought this was... SO COOL! This way the teachers can be informed of what type of dominant learner the child may be, be it Musical, Spatial, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Linguistic or any of the other styles. This could be vital knowledge for structuring styles of teaching to utilize in the classroom and knowing how to approach a child, particularly if they may be struggling with learning.

Monopoly and Houses?
The video that "P" School had created to give us an overview of the school's best practices in parent involvement programs, after school study groups and development opportunities was so creatively made, incorporating the monopoly theme elements of our morning's activities into the visuals. I was introduced to the novel idea of having "houses" within the school (think Harry Potter but maybe not quite as competetive - though they certainly ARE proud of their houses!). Each house has a name, mascot, theme and quote: for example one team was the Phoenix, of which the colours scarlet and gold have special significance, they are focused in the area of Literacy and thrive on their "we rise". The goal is for each of the 3 houses to strive to achieve the highest number of points through variety of avenues that incorporate merit and initiative. When I first learned of the implementation of this "game", I thought it might be extraneous and silly but I actually found it intriguing. The whole house system concept seems - in addition to a cleaver bit of fun - like some friendly competition in the guise of a "game" to build responsibility, confidence, and overall character in the students - the 'whole' child.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Cultural Design-nation

The activity of creating the cultural collage in its physical semblance created a flurry of mind activity in itself.

Eve's Cultural Collage, May 29th, 2008

In the process of it, I dug through my old artwork from high school, college, and even childhood days.
"Self-Reflection" ~ Eve [sometime during 1998-99]

I leafed through boxes of playbills, movie stubs, work and organization flyers, stacks of magazines, and looked at pictures of my family that brought me back to the roots of my Polish heritage. It helped me to remember - or at least brought to the forefront of my mind what had been stored away on the backburner - part of what makes me who I am.

I believe that I am designed, we are designed, and we also design ourselves and our surroundings through cultural exposure. Our surroundings also have a strong power over how we view but aspects and traditions of cultures have been designed and passed down through generations. They hold great gravity in shaping who we become, how we view society, and what we believe, though culture is not the sole factor nor is it the absolute and end all. Bitterness and rejection of one’s cultural roots can also happen, but we are a part of the nation that we live in and we cannot block out ALL the influences – unless we leave. And even if we leave, some traces of the previous cultural exposure will always move with us.

In addition to the control that we and our surroundings have in shaping us, there is a helplessness in how we can be “designated” and categorized by others and by those in higher power. Our cultural choices create for us a cultural designation as well.

As mentioned in my assumptions, I was born and raised in a white Polish-American Catholic household in the midst of the grand suburbia of North Jersey’s metropolitan area. The setting and the heritage had a large hand in shaping me and my personal culture.

Culture & views shape one another
And as culture is often manifested in several artforms and performance media, the background of an individual or group will affect and influence how they express themselves, which eventually translates into these mentioned outlets. If I am a married black heterosexual Baptist male I will certainly express myself differently than a single white gay agnostic female. Race, class, gender, sexuality, language and religion all help to define an individual and will affect how they behave and see the world.

The resultant paintings, writings, music, dance, and other artforms will flow out based from the experiences of the individual and communities. This all becomes a part of culture. And in this culture’s presence, how we view each of these same factors is influenced. Once we’ve been exposed to the artforms and surroundings of a particular culture, having grown up in our niche in the world, we have a subjective view of race, class, gender, sexuality, language and religion. However all of these particulars are portrayed in the media and art of the culture may be how we will tend to view them. Even if we are not caught under any assumptions, stereotypes, or images presented, it will at least be a factor in working to shape how we view all these facets.

The culture that I have been exposed to is primarily of the North Jersey suburban living and surroundings, with more limited exposures to big cities that I have visited, rural areas like the Amish countryside, time at university, and other countries that I have seen. I visited Poland several times and so had these briefer exposures, in addition to the heritage that my parents and other family bring to the table.

So I am a Polish-American and do enjoy our ethnic food, but I am also a lover of so many different cultures and cuisines. The city visits opened me up to so many opportunities to taste different foods from other parts of the world and to view art from many different cultures and places. I think because our family took trips to urban centers on the eastern seaboard of the US and enjoyed them in general, I formed more liberal views in being exposed to this more liberal culture. That my parents were open to all of this and supported me in study abroad opportunities to Morocco and Australia, as well as friend and familial visits to 11 other European countries, has helped to build a passion for world travel and culture.

Also as mentioned in my assumptions, my parents were open when it came to race, but alternate sexual lifestyle or visual appearance and personal expression differences were judged and critiqued. Particularly my mother, born and raised in Poland in the Catholic religion, held a more traditional view of these things. My views are far less traditional, probably attributed to my cultural exposure here.

How I learn & see myself
I think this made me an open learner, ready to see and know more, wanting to travel and experience the new, and for the most part respectful of all cultures and peoples. I developed a hunger for more cultures of the world, but was this a result of MY cultural exposure or an intrinsic development inside myself? I don’t know. I honestly think that the suburban life made me more fearful of the city, and it did seem like “we had life better here in the suburbs” or something like that. I feel like I definitely had personal conflicts (to deal with internally) in my cultural exposure over the years, and that it certainly has influenced how I view myself and how I learn.

The American media has made me scrutinize myself and see myself as too fat and not pretty enough. I hate those superficial things, yet I still became a victim. That is how culture in the media can influence how we see ourselves. I think my suburban culture made me feel like “have” and made me feel compunction for the “have-nots”.

I also come from a hard-working family and I felt like I could never be good enough. The work ethic of a culture or a child’s exposure to it can affect how they view work and accomplishment. This also created within me a drive to “be perfect” - whatever that means – with an ambition to see and do more, more, more… I see myself as ever-doing, ever-seeking, ever-learning.

What do I stand to bring to the classroom?
This drive will hopefully plunge onward with me as I enter the classroom and show an endless love of life and learning. I will bring with me my passion for cultures of the world, the love of learning about different peoples and backgrounds, languages, foods, artwork, and so forth. I realize I will need to be careful with this as I do not want to appear to show favoritism to any one group, but a respect and recognition of all. How will this show itself? I would like to incorporate some activities involving the culture and heritage of the children in my classes (of course with Earth Science themes as the primary educative subject matter).

Art and personal expression are invaluable for development and as they have shown up in various forms in cultures across the globe, I feel like this is an integral part of how I view cultures. Others may not see artistic forms as important as they may have been exposed to different life conditions. When one has to work hard outside 12 hours a day to support their family, they may not have that exposure or see value to art in the same way. I would not want to “push” students to anything, but to expose them to what is out there by forging connections between the disciplines. I would love to be able to tie art and expression in with science. As David A. Sousa stresses in How the Brain Learns, “The sciences need the arts,” (Sousa, pg 216).

Culture’s Role in the Classroom
Cultural differences can create division among teachers and students, just as differences in faith or ‘vision’ have created rifts and wars throughout history, however I believe even these differences can serve to unite and bring people together. Students may think there is no way that a teacher with a completely different cultural background and set of understandings could relate to them. A teacher with a radically different set of beliefs than a student may begin to wonder, how on earth can I begin to try to understand this student? This might cause distress and frustration or even animosity in worse cases. But in this disparity there can be an awesome opportunity for both sides to benefit.

Recognizing those differences may help to dissipate anxieties or preconceptions about others that are different. I aspire to let my students know that I may not relate to their culture because there is no way that I could without having experienced what they have experienced, but that I care to know and respect. And in allowing them to express their culture in some way in the schoolwork that they do can give us a chance to learn from each other. Just as I learned about myself and explored my culture through this cultural collage assignment, other students learned from me, and the teacher learned as well.

This is also a reason why I see diversity in public education to be excellent grounds for learning and growth. As we discussed in Dr. Wandalyn’s Enix’s Social Dynamics course, the exposure to diversity brings children together, helping to prevent future conflicts and dissipate negative views of other cultures. We fear what we don’t know, no? Of all the cultural design-nations, the more we see and listen and learn, the more of a foundation we will have to approach cultural differences.

Works Cited:
Sousa, David A. How the Brain Learns. Corwin Press, Thousand Oaks, CA, 2006.