Tuesday, March 24, 2009

All Cakes Deserve the Best Ingredients

I've been trying to come up with an analogy to express why I dislike pull-out as a means of addressing special needs, specifically pull-out enrichment for gifted and talented students. I dislike labels to begin with, and I believe good teaching is good teaching and all students benefit from a strong, well-integrated student-centered approach to learning and a school culture that values and encourages excellence. Please note: I understand that there are some
special needs that are extreme and that may require pull-out programs and other resources. My point is that excellent classrooms can meet the true needs of many different learners. Not enough of these classrooms exist.

Let's think of each child as a cake that we are baking. In reality, there is no comparison to the growth and development of a human being to a cake. I know that. Let's move on.

There are many different kinds of cakes. That is the way it is supposed to be, right? All cakes are good. A chocolate cake is not supposed to be a banana cake, nor any other kind of cake. Each cake strives to be the most delicious cake it can be.

Many ingredients go into creating the cake. Since this is about education, let's talk about the important ingredient of education. Have you ever tasted a cake made from a boxed mix? I liken this to a "boxed" curriculum--worksheets and textbooks. These days there are some pretty fancy cake mixes out there, made with better than average ingredients and producing a darn good cake. These mixes, like a private education, cost a pretty penny. But no boxed cake mix can compare to a homemade cake, baked with quality ingredients. Think project-based, differentiated classroom. The best ingredients are good for all cakes. Fresh, organic eggs and high-quality butter are not going to turn a chocolate cake into a carrot cake, but they will enhance both cakes and help them be the best they can be.

Some bakers believe that their cake should be "pulled out" of the regular oven and baked in a convection oven. The convection oven is accelerated, and true, the cake may bake faster. However, their ultimate destiny is no different than that of the slower-baking cake. Each becomes the cake they were meant to become.

Some bakers insist on worrying over their cakes. They think if they constantly open the oven to check on the cake's progress, they will improve its outcome. Not so. They actually interfere with the all important process of cake development. All a baker can do is make sure that his cake is given the best possible ingredients and then love and appreciate it.

image: Graduation Cake Guy from CarbonNYC's flickrstream end note: had I searched flickr for cakes first, I might never have written this. Wow. I mean WOW. There are some crazy-talented cake artists out there. If you want to see some amazing looking cakes go search flickr!

Best-Ever Banana Bread

We may be talking soon about baking cakes here on ETW. (oh no, what does it mean when you give your blog a nickname?)
I promised this recipe to a twitter friend who asked me to post it to a blog. Since this is my "main" blog, I thought I might as well share it here. Not ed nor tech, it may still be the best thing I've ever shared here. That is cause this banana bread is GOOD. And easy. And really, really good. Everyone loves it. I just made some the other night. And I did try to take a picture to post, but the picture just didn't do it justice. So no picture.

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

1/2 cup canola or veg oil
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/3 cup buttermilk
2 or 3 very ripe bananas, mashed
1 cup chocolate chips

Mix all ingredients except chocolate chips until you have a nice, smooth batter. Add chips. Pour into 2 greased bread pans and bake at 350 deg. for about 45 minutes. The chocolate chips will sink to the bottom.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Skyping with 2nd Grade

Around the World with 80 Schools-- if you haven't already heard of it, this is a very simple (in theory) way for schools around the world to use skype to connect with other students. I say "in theory" because we had our first skype session today, and it was a bit messier than I had hoped. But, as I always remind myself, learning IS messy!
As part of the sharing/learning/connecting, participants are asked to blog about the experience afterwards. I'm going to keep my post short and sweet as I am tired tonight. Unfortunately, I didn't take any pictures during the call.

I threw out my request for a skype call on twitter, as I thought it might be the easiest way to find someone. Silvia Tolisano, the project's organizer later messaged me that she found it simpler to connect via email, so I will keep that in mind for next time. Luckily, I had a quick response from Paula White, a teacher at Crozet School in Crozet, VA. We made arrangements to have our 2nd grade classes meet this morning around 11 am. ET. It was easy to start with a school in the same time zone.

The hard part on my end was that our students are engaged (?) in standardized testing this week. Being a dual-curriculum school, most of the general-studies part of the day has been filled with testing which didn't leave me much time to prepare the kids. I like to really prepare for things (which, yes, does involve me talking quite a bit as one of my students pointed out today). I asked the classroom teacher to have them write questions in advance.

Technical glitch:
Technical problems are par for the course. Despite the best preparation, they do happen. Unfortunately, we were unable to see the students in Virginia. It threw me off not being able to see the kids to whom we were talking, although we could hear them just fine.

What went well:
The kids were extremely excited about the call. They asked questions about field trips, pets, wild animals, the weather (the VA kids asked my kids how HOT it gets in Florida during the WINTER. My students were a bit confused by that one!), and questions about locale such as "Are you close to Washington DC?" and "How many of you have been there?" Almost all of the students from VA had been to DC.
The best part was that Paula called us back after her students left to go to art. She called from a different computer, and this time the video worked. Since our call had been short, many of my students had not had a chance to go before the camera and ask a question. Paula was very patient and answered many questions. She even took the computer into the hallway to show us her school's pets.

What I would like to do differently next time:
I would not try to do this again without having a chance to talk to and prepare the students beforehand. We will brainstorm our questions as a whole class instead of having each student write their own questions. We will also decide in advance who is going to sit in the "hot seat" and who will ask which questions. Of course, we will discuss behavior expectations as well.

Thank you so much to Paula and her students. I am really looking forward to our next skype session.