Friday, 25 December 2015

Three ways teachers can wind down effectively after a long term

The Christmas break is finally here, so how can teachers make sure they leave work in the classroom? Neurologist Judy Willis shares her advice.

The countdown has begun for many teachers who eagerly anticipate a well deserved and much needed Christmas break.

It may surprise you to hear that there is a neuroscience behind effectively switching to rejuvenation mode. Just as your brain’s memory strengthens with practice, so do your brain’s behaviour control networks. Essentially, what this mean is that teachers get used to patterns of behaviour – such as thinking about their pupils before themselves – during term time which can be hard to break over the holidays. However, it’s important to switch off. So to help you I’ve put together a few tips on how to do this.

Make a list and check it twice

Write down all the things you’ve promised yourself to get done during the break. This could include organising things you’ve put off – cleaning your desk and arranging the photos on your phone into albums on your computer. It might also include getting together with people you’ve had to put off during the term or sending thank you cards to students and families. Other top festive tasks include pre-making any holiday food or buying gifts for family and friends.

To care for your brain and body during the school break any demands that are put upon us need to be managed. Your behavior control centres are located high up in your brain’s prefrontal cortex. These neural networks send messages to the brain directing the desired physical actions or emotional responses. The system works well until stress builds up and blocks the behavior control messages flowing from cortex to brain. This means that knowing what you have to do stops you from stressing out.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

What can science tell us about the Star of Bethlehem?

During winter it can sometimes feel that the whole day passes in the blink of an eye and that evening darkness comes far too quickly. While more daylight would be a lovely thing, the early darkness has one big advantage: the stars. On a clear evening you can look up and see far into space. I’ve spent many winter evenings with my children, on our way home from activities, looking for Orion (and other constellations), following its path through the seasons.

Stars and space are two of the most popular science topics, whatever the age of the child. There’s something awe-inspiring and beautiful about looking into the night sky at the stars.

But it isn’t just children and young people who are fascinated by stars – astronomy is one of the few sciences where amateurs can make a significant contribution to our understanding of the subject.

… and there came from the East

At this time of year, the Christmas story can serve as a reminder that, throughout history, people have looked at the night sky, and wondered about what they have seen. The Babylonians had star catalogues as early as 1300 BC which contained information about constellations and patterns in the stars. It’s likely that the observation and naming of these constellations went back before that date.

The stars and constellations were important to those observing them. According to biblical tradition, after Jesus was born, magi (or wise men) from the east came to find Jesus saying that they had seen his star when it rose and followed it. The magi were people who studied the stars and saw significance in them.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

How anxiety scrambles your brain and makes it hard to learn

Levels of stress and anxiety are on the rise among students. Juliet Rix has tips to control the panic and thrive academically.

Olivia admits she’s always been a worrier – but when she started university, her anxiety steadily began to build. One day she was simply too frightened to leave the house. For two weeks she was stuck indoors, before she was diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder and began to get the help she needed.

With support from her GP and university wellbeing service, and courses of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), she was able to stick with her university course and to start enjoying life again.

But Olivia is far from alone in her anxiety: the number of students declaring a mental health problem has doubled in the last five years, to at least 115,000.

“And that is a very small proportion of the students who are having mental health difficulties,” says Ruth Caleb, chair of Universities UK’s mental wellbeing working group.

A study of UK undergraduates has found that even among students symptom-free before starting university, some 20% are troubled by a clinically significant level of anxiety by the middle of second year.

What does anxiety do to students? It causes the body to prepare itself for fight or flight.

“If you are in a situation of imminent actual threat, then the increased alertness and body response can be lifesaving,” explains Chris Williams, professor of psychosocial psychiatry at the University of Glasgow, and medical advisor to Anxiety UK.

“But if it occurs when trying to revise, or present a talk, or at such a high level that it paralyses or causes errors, it can interfere with what we want to do.”

Monday, 14 December 2015

How to discipline your children without rewards or punishment

Many parents are moving towards “gentle parenting”, where they choose not to use rewards (sticker charts, lollies, chocolates, TV time as “bribes”) and punishments (taking away “privileges”, time-out, smacking) to encourage good behaviour, but encourage good behaviour for the sake of doing the right thing.

Gentle parents argue that to offer rewards and punishments overrides a child’s natural inclination towards appropriate behaviour by teaching them to behave in certain ways purely to receive a reward, or to avoid punishment.

What is discipline?

For most people it would seem impossible to discipline without rewards and punishments. However, it depends on your understanding of “discipline”. Discipline always has a silent “self” in front of it because it’s about controlling yourself.

So, in the case of parenting, it’s about helping children learn to manage themselves, their feelings, their behaviour and their impulses. We want our children to develop a sound moral compass, to sort behaviours, impulses and feelings into “appropriate” and “inappropriate” and be able to justify judgements about their choices.

When the term discipline is used, it is often in a sense that implies punishment. This meaning is implied because discipline is associated with a behaviourist view of how humans learn. Behaviourism is associated with conditioning, a process whereby learning is an association between behaviour and good or bad outcome, just like in Pavlov’s dog experiment.

However, behaviourism is used less and less because human behaviour is seen as more complex than a simple rewards/punishments model suggests. Behaviourism is also problematic because it implies people behave in desirable ways only to secure rewards or minimise punishments.

We don’t want our children to behave in a way that’s desirable just because they might get something or get into trouble if caught. We want our children to do the right thing because they know it’s right, and because they want to do right.

Motivating children intrinsically not extrinsically

Behaviourism teaches children to look for external motivations to behave in a desirable way. It has been said that rewards and punishments override a child’s natural inclination to do the right thing because they rely on extrinsic (external things that are used to motivate us) rather than intrinsic (a motivator that is internal and usually a feeling of well-being that comes over us when we choose to do something) motivators.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

This 78-page book on physics is selling more copies than 'Fifty Shades of Grey'

Since it was published last September, Carlo Rovelli's book, "Seven Brief Lessons on Physics," has sold more copies in Rovelli's native country, Italy, than E.L. James' smash hit "Fifty Shades of Grey," The Spectator reported.

And the English translation has quickly risen to become Penguin's fastest-selling science debut in the publishing company's history.

So what's Rovelli's secret?

After all, it's not like physics is a topic that people flock toward. In fact, physics has been the least popular STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) major for US undergraduates since the late '60s.

For starters, Rovelli is an expert on the topic.

He's a theoretical physicist by profession with a focus in quantum gravity a field that attempts to join the greatest two theories in history: Isaac Newton's theory of gravity and Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity.

Rovelli is also an avid writer of popular science, so he has a habit of transforming complex ideas into clear, simple concepts.

Cucumber trees and courgette decorations: 4 ways to a green Christmas

It's not easy being eco-friendly at Christmas, but a tight budget is no excuse when you can make your own tree and decorations.

It’s not easy being green, sang Kermit, so to get everyone in the eco groove at this festive time, some creative inspiration may be needed. 

From courgette penguin decorations to microbead-free toiletry gifts, here are a few ways to help you keep it green this Christmas.

1. Deck the halls with boughs of holly

In fact, decorate anything you like with fresh greenery if you have access to it (no “borrowing” from the neighbours). This is miles better than garlands of synthetic tinsel that will eventually end up in landfill, potentially via an intrigued pet’s stomach

In the colder months, fruit and veg provide endless opportunities for sparkling up student digs. See if your local market has any citrus fruit past its best and going free. If so, orange and lemon decorations are easy to make and look amazing. Failing that, try fashioning some courgette and carrot penguin decorations – all you need is some carving skills.

Some think that covering their whole house with Christmas lights and setting them to flash in time to Gangnam style is the thing to do at Christmas. Think again. Instead, keep electricity requirements to a minimum and have a go at making a festive wreath that won’t cost the earth

According to sustainable fashion advocate and Nottingham Trent undergraduate Sophie Dumontroty, a student budget is no excuse for letting your green credentials drop:

“Most think being cash-strapped at Christmas limits their scope to act sustainably. Far from it! For example, this year I’m making my own sustainable stocking by upcycling unwanted clothing from my overflowing wardrobe.”

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Let’s Play! Savoring Life with Kids

By Rebecca Lemar

Here are five ideas to get down and engage in one of the best parts of life: to play! And kids are grand masters of play. It does not have to rambunctious, but some of the best moments are. The trick is to let go of time and spend a few moments with your kids really seeing them, touching them, goofing around with them. It will be the best part of your day!

Line tracing – Bodies are covered with lines and angles: Straight, curved, parallel & convergent. Look at your palms alone. Take a moment with your small child and say, I have something to show you. And touch and trace the lines on their palms slowly. Show them yours, let them trace yours. Do it eyes open, eyes closed. This is a lovely calming down activity.

Head to Toe – Right before bed, I tap my fingers gently on my daughter’s head then rub her head a little and say, I love you alllll the way up here to alllll the way down…and I run my fingers down her body, igniting sensation in her neck and shoulders and arms, down the sides of her stomach, down her thighs, calves, ankles to her itty bitty toes where I squeeze the toes…all the way down here. And once usually isn’t enough. She asks for more again and again.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

A childhood development expert on how 'twisted' early education has become

'The most important competencies in young children can’t be tested—we all know this. Naming letters and numbers is superficial and almost irrelevant in relation to the capacities we want to help children develop'

Nancy Carlsson-Paige is an early childhood development expert who has been at the forefront of the debate on how best to educate — and not educate — the youngest students. She is a professor emerita of education at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusett., where she taught teachers for more than 30 years and was a founder of the university’s Center for Peaceable Schools. She is also a founding member of a nonprofit called Defending the Early Years, which commissions research about early childhood education and advocates for sane policies for young children.

Carlsson-Paige is author of “Taking Back Childhood.” The mother of two artist sons, Matt and Kyle Damon, she is also the recipient of numerous awards, including the Legacy Award from the Robert F. Kennedy Children’s Action Corps for work over several decades on behalf of children and families. She was just given the Deborah Meier award by the nonprofit National Center for Fair and Open Testing.

In her speech accepting the award (named after the renowned educator Deborah Meier), Carlsson-Paige describes what has happened in the world of early childhood education in the current era of high-stakes testing, saying, “Never in my wildest dreams could I have foreseen the situation we find ourselves in today.” Here’s the speech, which I am publishing with permission:

"Thank you FairTest for this Deborah Meier Hero in Education Award. FairTest does such great advocacy and education around fair and just testing practices. This award carries the name of one of my heroes in education, Deborah Meier—she’s a force for justice and democracy in education. I hope that every time this award is given, it will allow us to once again pay tribute to Deb. Also, I feel privileged to be accepting this honor alongside Lani Guinier.

When I was invited to be here tonight, I thought about the many people who work for justice and equity in education who could also be standing here. So I am thinking of all of them now and I accept this award on their behalf — all the educators dedicated to children and what’s fair and best for them.

It’s wonderful to see all of you here — so many family and friends, comrades in this struggle to reclaim excellent public education for all – not just some – of our children.

The schools where they never say ‘sit still’

An education initiative in South Carolina relies on exercise and movement to make students better learners.

David Spurlock is 63, a former baseball and football coach with a bum shoulder and bad back and right now he’s busy planning a jailbreak. He has spent a lifetime walking the hallways, classrooms and athletic fields all across Charleston, South Carolina, his home town. Those classic images of school-aged children sitting still in desks organised into neat rows? Spurlock calls it “educational incarceration”.

“We put kids in a two by two cell and dare them to move: ‘Keep your feet on the floor and hands up where I can see them,’” says Spurlock, the coordinator of health, wellness and physical education for the Charleston County school district. “That sounds like being incarcerated to me.”

The educational model is broken, Spurlock says, and the key to fixing it is applying some of the most basic principles of sport and exercise. Students in some Charleston area schools sit on desks that double as exercise equipment, they enrol in “advanced PE”, receive regular yoga instruction and visit specially equipped learning labs each week where the line between education and physical education disappears entirely.

“If you went to anybody who’s in education, you say PE versus instruction, they say instruction every time,” he says. “But what we’re trying to show is that more movement equals better grades, better behaviour, better bodies.”

One recent morning at Charles Pinckney elementary, 28 children, all aged nine and 10, rolled through the door in a single file, bouncing and giggling as they plopped on to the tiled floor.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

How Finland Keeps Kids Focused Through Free Play

An American teacher in Helsinki questioned the national practice of giving 15 minute breaks each hour—until he saw the difference it made in his classroom.

Like a zombie, Sami—one of my fifth graders—lumbered over to me and hissed, “I think I’m going to explode! I’m not used to this schedule.” And I believed him. An angry red rash was starting to form on his forehead.

Yikes, I thought. What a way to begin my first year of teaching in Finland. It was only the third day of school and I was already pushing a student to the breaking point. When I took him aside, I quickly discovered why he was so upset.

Throughout this first week of school, I had gotten creative with my fifth grade timetable. Normally, students and teachers in Finland take a 15-minute break after every 45 minutes of instruction. During a typical break, students head outside to play and socialize with friends while teachers disappear to the lounge to chat over coffee.

I didn’t see the point of these frequent pit stops. As a teacher in the United States, I’d spent several consecutive hours with my students in the classroom. And I was trying to replicate this model in Finland. The Finnish way seemed soft and I was convinced that kids learned better with longer stretches of instructional time. So I decided to hold my students back from their regularly scheduled break and teach two 45-minute lessons in a row, followed by a double break of 30 minutes. Now I knew why the red dots had appeared on Sami’s forehead.

Come to think of it, I wasn’t sure if the American approach had ever worked very well. My students in the States had always seemed to drag their feet after about 45 minutes in the classroom. But they’d never thought of revolting like this shrimpy Finnish fifth grader, who was digging in his heels on the third day of school. At that moment, I decided to embrace the Finnish model of taking breaks.

Once I incorporated these short recesses into our timetable, I no longer saw feet-dragging, zombie-like kids in my classroom. Throughout the school year, my Finnish students would—without fail—enter the classroom with a bounce in their steps after a 15-minute break. And most importantly, they were more focused during lessons.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Amazing Ads That Promote Science

Science World has mastered the art of creative billboards that promote science by teaming up with Rethink Canada for their “We Can Explain” and “Now You Know” Campaigns. Science World is located at the TELUS World of Science in Vancouver, British Columbia, and the signs not only promote their cause, but also communicate a scientific fact in a fun and original fashion.

Check out some of their clever ads below.

How teachers are taught to discipline a classroom might not be the best way

The national review of teacher education, released last week, emphasised that teaching graduates need to enter the classroom with practical skills for handling a classroom, and not just knowledge of the subject they’re teaching. One of the most important aspects of educating future teachers is teaching them how to manage a classroom.

Research clearly shows that students learn best in engaging environments that are orderly. However, all children are different; they respond to discipline in different ways. So how do we teach our teachers to manage all types of behaviour?

What sort of unproductive behaviour generally occurs in the classroom?

Recently, my colleagues and I used the Behaviour at School Study teacher survey to investigate the views of teachers about student behaviour in South Australian schools. The unproductive student behaviours they identified were grouped into the following types:

  • Low-level disruptive behaviours
  • Disengaged behaviours
  • Aggressive and anti-social behaviours.

The results showed that low-level disruptive and disengaged student behaviours occur frequently, and teachers find them difficult to manage. Aggressive and anti-social behaviours occur infrequently.

How are teachers taught to deal with student behaviour?

For many years, teachers have relied on intervention strategies to curb unproductive behaviour, such as rewards – which are used to promote compliant behaviour – and sanctions, which are used to deter students from disrupting the learning environment.

Not so long ago, schools across Australia readily used corporal punishment as a way of responding to inappropriate behaviour. Following the banning of corporal punishment from most schools, schools introduced stepped systems.

Stepped systems are a standard set of “consequences” that increase in severity and are used for all types of unproductive behaviour. These stepped approaches usually begin with a warning, in-class timeout, out-of-class timeout, being sent to school leader, then suspension and exclusion. They involve isolating students from their peers and removing them from their learning.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

How outdoor play inspires independent learning for early years

Forget lesson plans, Annie Woods lets nature and spontaneity be her pupils' inspiration during lessons in the forest.

I'm ready and prepared with all my teaching resources recycled from last year's mini-beast topic. But does being ready automatically mean that I must have all my plans in place before we start the lesson, right down to the last detail?

How about this as an alternative? Dressed, excited and about to venture out to the local woods. When we get there we'll see what happens and what interests the children.

Freddie has found a ladybird. As the youngster realises he has my attention, he looks up saying: "He wants to come home with me." And then pretending to be the ladybird says: "I can't fly as I have no wings. I can only be his pet."

He turns back to me, asking: "Why can ladybirds swap legs when they walk? He can climb up my zip. He's never gonna fly off me. He can climb up the tree."

The thing that struck me is the level and time the children take to talk, narrating their current activity or interest in great and fascinated detail.

The outdoors seems to afford them greater time and space, along with an attentive adult or peer, to range far and wide. Descriptive language was very evident that day, with insects being a particular focus of attention.

It turned out to be much more engaging than introducing a topic on mini-beasts and sticking to 'the plan'.

As a result of Freddie's interest I took a pair of secateurs to the woodland on our next visit just in case he pursued his learning and interest in where the ladybirds make their homes. He did, and we discussed the materials available; a selection was made of thin hazel twigs which were too long for Freddie's purposes. I modelled how to use the secateurs safely and he concentrated for an hour cutting the twigs into lengths; through estimating and careful cutting they were all, pretty much, equal length.

Friday, 6 November 2015

In 19 states, it’s okay to hit kids with a wooden board

Terry sat in his middle school principal’s office knowing that in a few short minutes, he would be feeling the pain and humiliation of being paddled.

No parent, administrator or teacher should find this scenario acceptable. Yet, every school day, an estimated 838 students like Terry receive corporal punishment in American schools. Nineteen states still allow corporal punishment, despite research that clearly indicates such public humiliation is ineffective for changing student behavior and can, in fact, have long-term negative effects.

For a decade I have studied approaches that are effective for promoting appropriate student behavior. And as a teacher for a dozen years, I experienced personal reward as well as pride in my students, as they learned and used appropriate behaviors. I have not come across a single valid study that showed any positive effect of corporal punishment.

A form of child abuse

Corporal punishment is a method of responding to student misbehavior wherein an adult uses a wooden board to strike a child on the buttocks in order to inflict pain.

The harm done by corporal punishment is well-recognized by many school administrations across the US. Professional organizations across disciplines including the American Psychological Association, National Education Association, American Bar Association and National Association of School Nurses have called for ending corporal punishment.

In fact, the American Bar Association condemns the practice in the following words:

Institutional corporal punishment of children should be considered a form of child abuse that is contrary to current knowledge of human behavior and sound educational practices.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Kids whose time is less structured are better able to meet their own goals

Children who spend more time in less structured activitiesfrom playing outside to reading books to visiting the zooare better able to set their own goals and take actions to meet those goals without prodding from adults, according to a new study by the University of Colorado Boulder.

The study, published online in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, also found that children who participate in more structured activitiesincluding soccer practice, piano lessons and homeworkhad poorer “self-directed executive function,” a measure of the ability to set and reach goals independently. 

“Executive function is extremely important for children,” said CU-Boulder psychology and neuroscience Professor Yuko Munakata, senior author of the new study. “It helps them in all kinds of ways throughout their daily lives, from flexibly switching between different activities rather than getting stuck on one thing, to stopping themselves from yelling when angry, to delaying gratification. Executive function during childhood also predicts important outcomes, like academic performance, health, wealth and criminality, years and even decades later.”

The study is one of the first to try to scientifically grapple with the question of how an increase in scheduled, formal activities may affect the way children’s brains develop.

Munakata said a debate about parenting philosophy—with extremely rigid “tiger moms” on one side and more elastic “free-range” parents on the other—has played out in the media and on parenting blogs in recent years. But there is little scientific evidence to support claims on either side of the discussion.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Seen but not heard: the introverts in our classrooms

The extrovert ideal is perpetuated throughout education, how can teachers harness the positive features of the introvert personality at school?

Author Susan Cain has made a loud splash with her new book Quiet – The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. Introverts the world over have breathed a collective sigh of relief at Cain's reassurance that it is okay to choose a night at home with a good book over a dinner party invite, and that letting your phone go to voicemail doesn't necessarily make you a friendless misanthrope.

Quiet celebrates the positive features of the introvert personality, while examining the way in which our society is geared up to celebrate and encourage extrovert personality traits. As a result of this, introverts are placed in opposition to the extrovert ideal and risk being undervalued and overlooked. Cain argues that our celebration of the extrovert type begins in the classroom, where, from the start, young pupils are grouped facing each other in pods, and are praised by teachers for giving quick (rather than thoughtful or original) answers.

This extrovert ideal is perpetuated throughout education. As far as I know, almost every teacher in my local authority has attended an intensive three day course on co operative learning.

The course is led by a charismatic Canadian, who, within minutes, has participants designing group logos, creating group lessons (to be team taught, naturally) and generally rejoicing in the power of togetherness. Every teacher I know has left the training session with renewed enthusiasm and a determination to put their new tool kit of co operative learning ideas into immediate effect.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Choir singing improves health, happiness – and is the perfect icebreaker

A decade ago, any mention of a choir would probably have brought Sunday morning hymns to mind. But there’s been a revolution in attitudes towards joining the local choir. Adding well-known, mainstream music to the repertoire, the small screen appeal of television choirmaster Gareth Malone, and the increased visibility of choirs such as Rock Choir and Popchoir, have attracted a new crowd to the idea of the communal singalong. It is estimated that an incredible 2.8m Britons are now members of a choir.

Which is good news – for singing in a choir is beneficial in a number of different ways. We’ve just published some research that reveals that group singing not only helps forge social bonds, it also does so particularly quickly, acting as an excellent icebreaker. We’ve also shown that community singing is effective for bonding large groups, making it an ideal behaviour to improve our broader social networks. This is particularly valuable in today’s often alienating world, where many of our social interactions are conducted remotely via Facebook and Twitter.

But why are so many people flocking to choirs? There’s almost certainly an X Factor effect at play, with people, inspired by TV talent shows, becoming increasingly willing to stand up and perform. It also has long been believed that music-making can create a strong sense of well-being, but since it’s very hard to find a suitable “control” activity, this area is particularly hard to research scientifically.

Although this remains a problem, a number of recent developments have helped us to understand how group singing can improve physical and mental health, as well as promote social bonding.

Body and mind

The physiological benefits of singing, and music more generally, have long been explored. Music making exercises the brain as well as the body, but singing is particularly beneficial for improving breathing, posture and muscle tension. Listening to and participating in music has been shown to be effective in pain relief, too, probably due to the release of neurochemicals such as β-endorphin (a natural painkiller responsible for the “high” experienced after intense exercise).

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

How to ... turn your classroom into a haunted house

Deck out your classroom for a spooktacular Halloween with pumpkin lanterns, scary sudoku and ghostly faces.

It’s Halloween again, the only time in the teaching calendar when it’s perfectly acceptable to come into school dressed as Dracula and plaster your classroom with spiders, ghosts and pumpkins. Creating your very own haunted classroom is an exciting, if ambitious, way to celebrate. For those willing to go the extra Halloween mile, here’s our crafty guide:

Draw your students in

A haunted pathway leading up to your classroom – refuse bags are really useful for this – will capture imaginations. You can hang spiders (see below for tips on making these), streamers and tape above it. Make a sign to direct students to your spooky setting or, for a novel twist, create a treasure hunt for students. Check out this example for inspiration.

Come up with a theme

Pirates, creatures of the night, or goblins and ghosts – there’s lots to choose from. If your theme is a haunted hospital, for example, create a section of the classroom with gruesome body parts, such as eyeballs (grapes) and brains (noodles). Or if you’re showcasing creepy creatures, put false spiders in jars filled with hand sanitiser – they’ll look eerily suspended. For more inspiration, check out these drawing exercises that explore the symmetry of black widow spiders and vampire bats.

Create an atmosphere

The sounds of your haunted setting (of which there are lots to choose from online) will have students on the edge of their seats. Involve them in creating a creepy atmosphere by getting them to record their own piece of spooky music ahead of the lesson. Or get everyone involved in a singalong with these spooky song lyrics from Musical Contexts, which can be sung with familiar tunes such as The Addams Family .

Create effective lighting by making a leaf from green card and cutting orange card into strips to make pumpkins. Put flameless tea lights at their centre for a safe but spooky mood setter.

Classroom Management: The Intervention Two-Step

All of us have had major classroom disruptions that try our patience and push our limits. These incidents can threaten our sense of control and generate fear of looking weak to other students. We fear that other students might do the same thing if we don't take a strong stance. Couple these feelings with the possibility of taking the disruption personally, and we have a recipe for disaster. It's important that we divide our response into two parts:
  • Immediate stabilization
  • Intervention to resolve these issues

Crisis Management

If you go to the emergency room, the goal is not to make you better (unless the required treatment is minor). They simply want you to stop getting worse. They do not cure -- they stabilize. Once stable, you are directed to outpatient care or regular hospitalization. The same is true for firefighters, police, soldiers and all first responders. Before taking an affirmative intervening action, they stabilize the situation, environment, perimeter or people in need. The principle of all emergency situations is stop things from getting worse before trying to make them better.

The same is true in the classroom. Often teachers try to solve an unstable situation, only to escalate to the point where any intervention might not work. To be stable, both the teacher and student need to be relatively anger free, calm and willing to listen to the other's point of view.

Calming down requires time for both the student and teacher to depersonalize the incident. Often, students will rethink what they did when given time to reflect. For example, many of us write e-mails and later, upon reflection, wish we'd never hit the send button. Having a waiting period can save us a lot of pain. Thus, this two-step process might sound time consuming. In reality, time is not a major factor. When we think about how much time it takes over the course of the year as situations worsen, we save a great deal of time with the two-step, which gives us far better results than quick, unstable interventions.

Common wisdom tells us to intervene as fast as possible, that waiting is a bad thing. I agree that waiting is not usually a good idea, but I disagree that an immediate intervention always works best. Most students and some teachers make things worse when the temperature is hot and emotions are high. It is far better to stabilize things before jumping immediately into an intervention. Lower the temperature first.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

What’s the optimum amount of homework to set a teenager?

Coaxing teenagers to sit down and do their homework is never an easy task. But is it actually worth their while to slave away for hours on end every evening? Not according to a new study of Spanish secondary school students which has concluded that the optimum amount of homework for children is around one hour a day.

Researchers at the University of Oviedo studied the maths and science homework and test results of 7,451 adolescents with an average age of around 13. They found a relationship between the amount of homework completed and children’s attainment. But the authors acknowledge they can’t say definitively that one hour of homework a night in total actually causes better test results.

Previous research in this area is both inconsistent and inconclusive. Some has shown the positive effects of homework and some its negative effects. In 2012, The Guardian reported on Department of Education research showing that two to three hours per day produced greater effects on achieving the highest results. In 2014, research at Stanford University found that too much homework can have a negative impact on children.

Homework can help to establish a routine and to develop independent learning skills that will be useful for professional life. Conversely, it could be argued that working at home in the evenings is the beginning of an unhealthy work-life balance and that there are academic drawbacks in studying instead of sleeping.

Not all children need to study the same

It’s unclear whether the children in the Spanish study achieve more as a result of doing the “optimum” amount of homework. Children of different abilities may take different amounts of time to complete their homework. If we subscribe to the idea that there is an “optimum” time, then we are effectively saying that children who work more quickly should complete more homework than children who work more slowly, which is arguably a disincentive for the fastest – and probably the most able – children.

Nerves of endearment: how a gentle touch affects emotions

A soft and tender caress between two people can trigger a flood of emotions, and now we may have some idea why.

Research published in Neuron today suggests that certain sensory nerve cells, known as C tactile (CT) afferents, are involved in stimulating the emotions caused by gentle physical contact.

Francis McGlone, from Liverpool John Moores University in the UK, and colleagues argue that these cells, which are found in the skin of most mammals including humans, are critical for mediating social behaviours and even in giving beings a sense of “self”.

The senses of touch

There is a general tendency to lump all our somatic senses into a single classification: the “sense of touch”. This is inaccurate, since what we call touch actually comprises several distinct sensory systems.

Mammals sense pain and temperature changes via a primordial system of nerve cells that run within the spinal cord and brain. This system can signal the temperature in the environment or the presence of harmful stimuli, and typically trigger behaviours in the search of a suitable and safe environment.

Discriminative touch, a neural process operating in pathways well separated from these primordial systems, allows us and other mammals to localise tactile stimuli on our skin.

These sensors are incredibly sensitive: they can recognise tiny details of external materials, identify the shapes of objects and allow blind people to read Braille.

Friday, 23 October 2015

How to teach … Mars

Is there life on the red planet? Could you colonise it? Inspire students across the curriculum with our lesson resources.

Mars has been the subject of human fascination for a long time, and we’re closer now than ever to sending humans to explore its surface. With the revelations that there could be flowing water (and possibly life) on it – and the release of Matt Damon’s new film, The Martian – now is a great time to engage your students in the red planet.

Here are some out-of-this-world lesson ideas to help you.


Challenge children to find out where Mars sits in our solar system with this wall chart and poster planet guide. Once they’ve located it, set your young astronauts a mission to find out more: how far is Mars from the sun? How many moons does it have? Students can record their ideas in this Mars-themed log book with from Twinkl.

With the basics covered, you can compare Mars with Earth using this poster from Nasa. What similarities and differences can they find? There are variety of classroom activities to keep young minds interested, including making a model of the solar system using coloured beads and an explanation of how to calculate the distance between the two planets.

Step into the unknown with Mars Adventure, an online group problem-solving exercise that gives students 10 minutes to select 10 items they would pack for a journey to the red planet. Points are awarded for the suitability of each item, with a final score revealed when the rocket is ready for blast off.

But what is life like when you get to Mars? This resource on building a space habitat has been designed to get students thinking about their needs and how these could be met so far away from home. In groups, ask your class to consider what kind of structure they would opt to live in – a geodesic dome or an inflatable habitat? Get them to list the features it would need to have and produce a labelled diagram before building a model.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

A Hidden Estonian “Forest Library” for Listening to Nature

Around 50% of Estonia is covered in forest. This past August, in one of the most remote corners of untouched nature, interior architecture students from the Eesti Kunstiakadeemia (Estonian Academy of Arts) in Tallinn constructed three megaphone-shaped structures as a hidden forest library, where sounds of the surrounding woods are amplified into the spaces for reading, solitude, and even meditative music performances.

The project called “Ruup,” shared by Designboom, was revealed last month in the Pähni Nature Centre. As BLDGBLOG pointed out, the design by student Birgit Õigus is reminiscent of the acoustic mirrors of World War I, used by the United Kingdom to amplify the noise of incoming German zeppelin raids (one of these concrete mirrors had a restoration completed earlier this year). No audio is yet available online, but as architectural installations, the wooden cones appear as unobtrusive constructions among the trees, offering shelter while opening an oculus view to the surrounding forest.

Friday, 16 October 2015

How to teach... behaviour management

Always smile and be consistent - here are our top lesson ideas and resources on classroom management.

The ability to manage the behaviour of your class effectively is one of the top skills that every teacher needs. Even the most meticulously planned lessons can go to pot if students misbehave.

Many practitioners, including newly-qualified teachers, are always on the lookout useful class management techniques especially before the new school year begins, so we've collected a range of useful resources to help you get the best out of your pupils.

In Positive ways to manage behaviour, Paul Dix provides a range of techniques for getting your class under control, including: establishing explicit rules and routines, providing students with clear choices around their behaviour, and letting them start each day with a clean sheet.

Further advice on some of the most common behaviour problems can be found in Classroom management strategies. Suitable for students of all ages, the resource covers dealing with pupils who are defiant, use abusive language, refuse to work or make silly noises in class. It highlights "needs-focused interventions", such as breaking up tasks into small and manageable chunks, taking time over your classroom seating plan and encouraging parental involvement. Strategies to avoid include giving ultimatums or ignoring disruptive pupils.

Coping Strategies for Teachers contains tips on preventing, reducing and managing unacceptable behaviour by focusing on time management. Ideas include: having a challenge on the board for pupils to complete as they arrive in class; giving responsibility to students for activities such as taking the register; and keeping a behaviour file to record any incidents.

To encourage positive behaviour in early years and primary Twinkl has created a range of wall display resources. These include a set of posters about good listening and a Noisometer that you can use to set and monitor noise levels in the classroom.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Do teachers in Finland have more autonomy?

Imagine this: you spend a day in a typical American public school going from one classroom to another, observing what teachers do. Then you do the same in Finland. What would you expect to see?

Many things would probably look similar. But, without a doubt, you would notice one big difference: teachers in Finland would be much less concerned about whether all students have reached the grade level, met the homework standard or feel prepared for the forthcoming standardized tests.

In my previous job as director general at the Finnish Ministry of Education in Helsinki, I had an opportunity to host scores of education delegations from the United States. They often did what I asked you to imagine above.

After spending a day or sometimes two in Finnish schools, they were puzzled. Among other things they said was the following: the atmosphere in schools is informal and relaxed. Teachers have time in school to do other things than teach. And people trust each other. A common takeaway was that Finnish teachers seem to have much more professional autonomy than teachers in the United States to help students to learn and feel well.

So what’s the evidence for teachers in Finland having more autonomy?

What we know about the teaching profession

We have more anecdotal evidence than solid research to answer this important question. And we have surprisingly little internationally comparable evidence about what teachers do in their schools.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Nobel goes for developing drugs from nature

A trio of winners found treatments for common human infections using chemicals made by bacteria and a plant.

On October 5, the 2015 Nobel Prize in medicine or physiology was awarded to three scientists who developed drugs that have saved the lives of millions of people around the world. The winners will share prize money worth $958,000. Two worked on a drug to combat infections due to tiny insect-borne worms. The third discovered a drug to treat malaria.

Each medicine was based on chemicals made by Mother Nature.

“This is one of those Nobel Prizes for drugs that have truly impacted hundreds of millions of people, no exaggeration,” says Anthony Fauci. He directs the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Md.

One half of the award goes to William Campbell of Drew University in Madison, N.J., and Satoshi Ōmura of Kitasato University in Tokyo, Japan. They worked on a drug called ivermectin (EYE-ver-MEK-tun). It treats infections caused by roundworms, a type of parasite.

The other half of the Nobel goes to Youyou Tu of the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences in Beijing. She discovered artemisinin (AR-the-MISS-eh-nin), which is used against the parasite causing malaria. It’s spread by mosquitoes.

Together, ivermectin and artemisinin “have been more benefit to humankind than any other” drug, says Christopher Plowe. He’s an expert on parasites who works at the University of Maryland. He’s also president of the American Society for Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. 

From a golf course

Ōmura discovered a bacterium called Streptomyces avermitilis (STREP-tow-My-sees AV-er-MY-till-is) near a golf course in Japan. This germ naturally makes avermectin. “Microorganisms are very important in nature, and … I learn from microorganisms,” Ōmura said in a telephone call with a representative of the Nobel committee.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

The Joyful, Illiterate Kindergartners of Finland

Forget the Common Core, Finland’s youngsters are in charge of determining what happens in the classroom.

“The changes to kindergarten make me sick,” a veteran teacher in Arkansas recently admitted to me. “Think about what you did in first grade—that’s what my 5-year-old babies are expected to do.”

The difference between first grade and kindergarten may not seem like much, but what I remember about my first-grade experience in the mid-90s doesn’t match the kindergarten she described in her email: three and a half hours of daily literacy instruction, an hour and a half of daily math instruction, 20 minutes of daily “physical activity time” (officially banned from being called “recess”) and two 56-question standardized tests in literacy and math—on the fourth week of school.

That American friend—who teaches 20 students without an aide—has fought to integrate 30 minutes of “station time” into the literacy block, which includes “blocks, science, magnetic letters, play dough with letter stamps to practice words, books, and storytelling.” But the most controversial area of her classroom isn’t the blocks nor the stamps: Rather, it’s the “house station with dolls and toy food”—items her district tried to remove last year. The implication was clear: There’s no time for play in kindergarten anymore.

A working paper, “Is Kindergarten the New First Grade?,” confirms what many experts have suspected for years: The American kindergarten experience has become much more academic—and at the expense of play. The late psychologist, Bruno Bettelheim, even raised the concern in an article for The Atlantic in 1987.

Researchers at the University of Virginia, led by the education-policy researcher Daphna Bassok, analyzed survey responses from American kindergarten teachers between 1998 and 2010. “Almost every dimension that we examined,” noted Bassok, “had major shifts over this period towards a heightened focus on academics, and particularly a heightened focus on literacy, and within literacy, a focus on more advanced skills than what had been taught before.”

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Do disruptive classes really get better if they include more girls?

Classrooms are highly complex environments. Maintaining a positive classroom environment, especially in classrooms that include potentially disruptive children with emotional or social problems, is very difficult, and the processes that teachers can use to achieve this are poorly understood.

But a new study has concluded that in mixed gender classrooms, the presence of more girls can apparently minimise the potentially negative effects of a difficult to manage pupil on classroom culture and attainment.

Conducted by Michael Gottfried and Aletha Harven at the University of California, this study touches on two significant and sometimes emotive topics in education: differences between boys and girls and the inclusion in schools of children with social, emotional and behaviour difficulties.

Keeping the classroom happy

Despite evidence that most behaviour in schools is good, debates around the inclusion of pupils with social and emotional needs still too often centre on the affects their inclusion has on peers and staff.

In their paper, Gottfried and Harven speculate that pupils who show aggression, immaturity, hyperactivity or more internalised behaviours such as anxiety or withdrawal absorb the teacher’s attention, leaving less time for teachers to focus on other pupils’ social, emotional and academic development.