Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Helping Children Think

My son in law was talking to me the other day after a particularly frustrating teacher conference with my grandson, Zach. He mentioned how nice he thought it was that his wife (my oldest daughter Amber) was exposed to so many problem solving skills through her "gifted" education programs.
When she was in her primary years, we were in another small Arizona town, Casa Grande, whose demographics included about 60% hispanic, rural flavor and the highest dropout rate in the state. In the public elementary schools, they had a pullout program an hour a day that my kids spent with Mrs. Harrison. She was a bright, but humble lady who was there to help them think!
Kerry, my son in law, was mentioning how frustrated he never learned the "7 steps of problem solving" or the "6 trait writing rubric" or many of the other problem solving strategies she taught these elementary age kids.
In addition, due to our proximity to Arizona State University in Tempe, we found out that my wife's aunt, Eleanor Jordan (later Eleanor Flake I think) was administrator of the "Center for Academic Precocity". Here, Amber took writing courses and journalism and blossomed in the environment where she was encouraged to think vs just memorize. This training, in her early primary years, still has it's impact today in her outstanding and creative writing skills AND, so precious, her passing this on to her children! (my brilliant grandchildren, of course!)

My son, Stephen, took math courses at the same ASU summer program, and in the math arena, it was more of just accelerated math, vs enrichment, and I was a little diappointed. However, Mrs. Harrison has made up for the "right brain" part by continuing to teach him how to see how math worked, a way of thinking. She taught him Fibonachi sequences and the use of a Matrix to mathmatically solve practical problems.
In fact, he was telling me the other day that he had been struggling with exactly how to program the last little bit of the game program he is programing for the DS and DS lite. He has just programmed a "tank" game where we used to fold over a piece of paper after marking our attack (so now you fold over the DS/close it) and you know if you have a hit. Now he is programming the game where we folded a triangle of paper, flipped it across the desktop with our finger (and got lots of teachers mad :-) and when it hung over the desk edge, it was a touchdown. Then we would stand up the paper triangle and flick it with our fingers (through the opponents held up fingers/goal) for the extra point.

Anyway, he was struggling in his mind after accounting for the linear distance (that was easy calculus, Dad), the extra parameter of the random rotation of the triangle shaped peace of paper.
He told me he was mulling it in his head while at the consumer electronic show and it hit him. He went back to his hotel room, and "Dad, I just wrote down and calculated a couple of matrix solutions and I solved it!" Easy for him because he, first, was well trained in the fundamentals of Calculus, but more importantly, he had a "WAY OF THINKING" to use that fundamental knowledge.
There is a fine program called MATH: A WAY OF THINKING that is filled with outstanding, simple projects and teaching methods that can make a huge difference in our kids attitudes toward the science and art of Math. Besides the obvious need for a science and math literate group of future leaders, don't you want your kids to think?

I am forever grateful for those in the teaching profession that went the extra mile to care about my children's success. We didn't ask for it or insist on it, but competent and caring administrators had the foresight, not even knowing us, that it would be a good thing. The world will benefit directly from the impact thinking citizens can have. Who knows, perhaps you will play one of my sons games someday, or use his AI simulation that he creates...and you can also thank Mrs. Harrison in Casa Grande, Arizona! It is not as easy to teach this way. I commend those who choose this path for their dedication.
A future topic will be the impact, for the good or bad, that even just one or two teachers can make for a child.
kind regards to all the teaching professionals and parents!
Frank Nelson

Sunday, March 16, 2008

What is the Best Education for All?

What is the Best Education for All?
One of the more well known contemporary education reformers and philosophers was Mortimer Adler who, among MANY other things, supported a project called "Great Books of the Western World" featured as part of the Encyclopedia Britannica offerings. He was one of the proponents of a liberal education for all is wiser than such specialization that is prevalent in todays world.

The title of my blog is inspired by a statement he was known for:"The best education for the best and brightest is the best education for all" (or words to that effect)I am not sure if he was thinking about our multicultural and multiethnic world we now live in, but I am pretty sure he was addressing the inequalities that existed with the "haves" and "have nots". Fast forward to today, and we see a world where not only do we have the traditional battles, but now we have entire populations of people who come together with dramatically different views of the world.

Since I live in Arizona, I will probably find my comments dealing with our rapid influx of Hispanic origin students and and perhaps even the long standing issues of education of the Native American population. These can be complex issues, especially as language differences cannot be ignored in trying to establish imperative communication among all "stakeholders." (This can be a sometimes overused word that really just means kids, teachers, parents and those in the community that will interact with each other). I believe that a good argument can then be made that the charge to the administrators must be to do whatever it takes to facilitate what must be a constant dialogue.

As an elected school board member in Bullhead City, Arizona, (with Arizona having the dubious distinction as having one of the lowest, if not THE lowest spending per pupil), I take my charge seriously to do what I can to facilitate this ongoing conversation!

An intriguing concept recently promoted in Arizona, was a major thrust for "decentralization" that includes the concept of "site councils" whose charge it is to:

"A. The purpose of this section is to ensure that individuals who are affected by the outcome of a decision at the school site share in the decision making process."

ARS, Chapter 1, Article 3.1,Title 15-351.
For those of you who want to see it online,

What a worthy goal! Is it easy? No. Will there naturally be some differences of opinion? of course. This approach seems to have worked in our country for quite a while......

Thank you for your attention to this vital issue that affects us all now and in the future.

kind regards