Schools are failing our boys

Schools are failing our boyswrites Jennifer Fink, mother of four boys and creator of, in the Washington Post

Her 8-year-old son struggles to sit still in the classroom, she writes. His teacher complains he’s uncooperative.
Sam woodstoveWhen the cold spell hit, his school kept students inside all week.

At home, he bundled up and spent hours “moving snow with the toy snowplow, creating ‘snowmobile trails’ in our yard with his sled and shoveling both our walk and our neighbors,” writes Fink.

He got up early to play Minecraft before school starts. “He also cleaned the dirty glass on the woodstove, started the fire and brought wood into the house.”

We’re reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter, one of the books in the Little House series, aloud right now. Back then, boys (and girls) primarily learned by doing. Kids between the ages of 5 and 18 weren’t corralled into schools and kept apart from real life; out of necessity, boys worked on the farms and girls helped in the house. Entire families worked together to survive, and along the way, boys and girls learned how to function in the real world.

That’s the kind of learning my son craves.

Kids haven’t changed much over the past 150 years; our society has. So while my son still needs movement, still craves real-world learning, physical labor and ways to contribute to his family and his world, he’s expected to spend most of his time in a desk, in a classroom, with 20-some other kids his age.

In the 1800s, her son would have been a “model boy,” she writes. “Today, more often than not, he’s considered a troublemaker due to his failure (or inability?) to conform to the expectations of the modern educational system.”

He’s not the only one. Boys are doing worse than girls on every academic measure, she writes. They’re much more likely to get in trouble, drop out, skip college and end up “lost” in their 20s.

Let those children move

It’s no wonder that middle schoolers fidget, slouch and daydream, writes Angela Hanscom, an occupational therapist specializing in children, on Answer Sheet. They sit too much and move too little.

She tried spending a day in a local middle school. Students were supposed to sit still and pay attention for 90 minutes at a time, with only a brief break to switch classrooms, she writes. She couldn’t do it. After 45 minutes, “I’m no longer registering anything the teacher is saying,” she writes.

“About 50 percent of the children are fidgeting and most of the remaining children are either slouched in the most unnatural positions imaginable or slumped over their desks.”

She’d planned to observe for the whole day, but it’s too exhausting.  “I decide to leave right after lunch.”

There are “too many regulations, not enough time,” says a teacher. Another blames cramming for high-stakes tests.

They go on to explain that recess has been lost due to lack of space and time as well as fear that children will get injured. “Too many children were getting hurt,” says a teacher. “Parents were calling and complaining about scrapped knees and elbows – the rest was history.”

Snack time, once a brief break, is now used for a quick vocabulary lesson. P.E. is held every sixth day.

Children march silently to the cafeteria for lunch. They’re required to remain quiet and seated throughout the lunch period.

P.E. less than once a week, no recess, no snack break, no free time at lunch . . . I can’t believe this is typical. Is it?

Many schools have switched to block scheduling, which means longer class periods and fewer breaks in between. Common Core standards may encourage more to lengthen class periods.

Inactivity can lead to improper diagnoses of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, writes Hanscon in Why so many kids can’t sit still in school today. There are right — and surprisingly wrong — ways to get kids to sit still in class, she argues.

Hanscom is the founder of TimberNook, an outdoor play program in New England.

Fun with fads: embodied learning

“Embodied learning” lets students combine computer simulations with movement, reports Ed Week, visiting Elizabeth Forward Middle School in Pennsylvania. The school invested $35,000 in a SMALLab.

. . . a student learning about chemistry would be able to grab and combine molecules in a virtual flask projected on a floor mat through the use of motion-capture cameras that sense movement and body position.

“By combining concepts like kinetic learning and collaborative learning, students are able to absorb information more effectively,” claims David Birchfield, one of SMALLab’s creators.

While many of the lessons deal with learning in the stem subjects—science, technology, engineering, and math—Mr. Birchfield cited a scenario that involves students’ bodies symbolically filling in for a character in a novel. If they want to access information about their characters’ thought processes, for example, students tap their own heads, or for content about characters’ emotions, they touch their own hearts.

Teachers and students like the lab, says Principal Michael Routh. However, it’s too soon to say whether students are learning more.

Let’s take this one step further, snarks Katherine Beals on Out in Left Field: Replace virtual reality with Reality.

Instead of waving wands in front of projected images to explore gravity and blend colors, students could pick up and drop objects in 3D space and manipulate actual 3D light-emitting devices and prisms! Instead of grabbing and combining molecules in a virtual flask projected on a floor mat, students could use actual chemicals and actual flasks! And instead of accessing information about their characters’ thought processes by tapping their own heads, or about characters’ emotions by touching their own hearts, they could pick up an actual 3D book and read it!

It’s just a thought experiment, writes Beals.

I tried out an embodied learning lab at a high-tech school in Chicago. A partner and I used wands to move a line of light on a mat to . . . Hmmm. Make a shape? At the time, I knew the goal, but not what students were supposed to be learning.

Schools find wiggle room in PE mandate

Fourth graders act out vocabulary words such as bewildered, marvel and reminded at a Rochester school, reports the Democrat and Chronicle. To teach number placement, Michael Ram has students change order in a line.

“There’s always an opportunity to get them moving,” said  Ram, who even taps into the transition time between lessons for physical activity.

The district laid off most of its PE teachers to save money, then told classroom teachers to meet the state requirement of 120 minutes of physical activity weekly for K-6 students. Some try to integrate movement with academic lessons, while others schedule breaks for Wii athletics or Dance Dance Revolution.

Rather than passing out lesson materials, Wendy O’Rourke organizes materials at stations throughout the room and has her students walk around to collect them. During a reading lesson this week, O’Rourke equips each of her students with a Velcro mitt and has them sit in groups tossing a ball to each other every time she says the word toss. She hopes this will not only help her students pay attention so that they listen for the word, but keep them moving.

It’ll never replace jumping jacks, but might make lessons more engaging, writes The Quick and the Ed.

Keeping second-graders on the ball

Rachel Anglin, a second-grade teacher at Greenbrook Elementary in Southaven, Mississippi is on the ball. Anglin and her 24 students are sitting on exercise balls donated by a local fitness center, reports the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

The balls “help the mind,” Anglin says. “If your body is working, your mind is working.”

The rules state, “Two feet on the ground,” “Balls stay on the floor,” and “No jumping, rolling or bouncing high.”

A little bouncing is fine.  “It helps them get the wiggles out,” Anglin says.