Monthly Archives: December 2014


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What’s It Like To Be A Student?

Teacher spends two days as a student and is shocked at what she learns

 October 24

Do teachers really know what students go through? To find out, one teacher followed two students for two days  and was amazed at what she found. Her report is in  following post, which appeared on the blog of Grant Wiggins, the co-author of “Understanding by Design” and the author of “Educative Assessment” and numerous articles on education. A high school teacher for 14 years, he is now the president of Authentic Education,  in Hopewell, New Jersey, which provides professional development and other services to schools aimed at improving student learning.  You can read more about him and his work at the AE site.

Wiggins initially posted the piece without revealing the author. But the post became popular on his blog and he decided to write a followup piece revealing that the author was his daughter, Alexis Wiggins, a 15-year teaching veteran now working in  a private American International School overseas. Wiggins noted in his follow-up that his daughter’s experiences mirrored his own and aligned well with the the responses on surveys that his  organization gives to students.


By Alexis Wiggins

I have made a terrible mistake.

I waited 14 years to do something that I should have done my first year of teaching: shadow a student for a day. It was so eye-opening that I wish I could go back to every class of students I ever had right now and change a minimum of ten things – the layout, the lesson plan, the checks for understanding. Most of it!

This is the first year I am working in a school but not teaching my own classes; I am the High School Learning Coach, a new position for the school this year. My job is to work with teachers and administrators to improve student learning outcomes.

As part of getting my feet wet, my principal suggested I “be” a student for two days: I was to shadow and complete all the work of a 10th grade student on one day and to do the same for a 12th grade student on another day. My task was to do everything the student was supposed to do: if there was lecture or notes on the board, I copied them as fast I could into my notebook. If there was a Chemistry lab, I did it with my host student. If there was a test, I took it (I passed the Spanish one, but I am certain I failed the business one).

My class schedules for the day
(Note: we have a block schedule; not all classes meet each day):

The schedule that day for the 10th grade student:

7:45 – 9:15: Geometry

9:30 – 10:55: Spanish II

10:55 – 11:40: Lunch

11:45 – 1:10: World History

1:25 – 2:45: Integrated Science

The schedule that day for the 12th grade student:

7:45 – 9:15: Math

9:30 – 10:55: Chemistry

10:55 – 11:40: Lunch

11:45 – 1:10: English

1:25 – 2:45: Business


Key Takeaway #1

Students sit all day, and sitting is exhausting.

I could not believe how tired I was after the first day. I literally sat down the entire day, except for walking to and from classes. We forget as teachers, because we are on our feet a lot – in front of the board, pacing as we speak, circling around the room to check on student work, sitting, standing, kneeling down to chat with a student as she works through a difficult problem…we move a lot.

But students move almost never. And never is exhausting. In every class for four long blocks, the expectation was for us to come in, take our seats, and sit down for the duration of the time. By the end of the day, I could not stop yawning and I was desperate to move or stretch. I couldn’t believe how alert my host student was, because it took a lot of conscious effort for me not to get up and start doing jumping jacks in the middle of Science just to keep my mind and body from slipping into oblivion after so many hours of sitting passively.

I was drained, and not in a good, long, productive-day kind of way. No, it was that icky, lethargic tired feeling. I had planned to go back to my office and jot down some initial notes on the day, but I was so drained I couldn’t do anything that involved mental effort (so instead I watched TV) and I was in bed by 8:30.

If I could go back and change my classes now, I would immediately change the following three things:

  • mandatory stretch halfway through the class
  • put a Nerf basketball hoop on the back of my door and encourage kids to play in the first and final minutes of class
  • build in a hands-on, move-around activity into every single class day. Yes, we would sacrifice some content to do this – that’s fine. I was so tired by the end of the day, I wasn’t absorbing most of the content, so I am not sure my previous method of making kids sit through hour-long, sit-down discussions of the texts was all that effective.

Key Takeaway #2

High school students are sitting passively and listening during approximately 90 percent of their classes.

Obviously I was only shadowing for two days, but in follow-up interviews with both of my host students, they assured me that the classes I experienced were fairly typical.

In eight periods of high school classes, my host students rarely spoke. Sometimes it was because the teacher was lecturing; sometimes it was because another student was presenting; sometimes it was because another student was called to the board to solve a difficult equation; and sometimes it was because the period was spent taking a test. So, I don’t mean to imply critically that only the teachers droned on while students just sat and took notes. But still, hand in hand with takeaway #1 is this idea that most of the students’ day was spent passively absorbing information.

It was not just the sitting that was draining but that so much of the day was spent absorbing information but not often grappling with it.

I asked my tenth-grade host, Cindy, if she felt like she made important contributions to class or if, when she was absent, the class missed out on the benefit of her knowledge or contributions, and she laughed and said no.

I was struck by this takeaway in particular because it made me realize how little autonomy students have, how little of their learning they are directing or choosing. I felt especially bad about opportunities I had missed in the past in this regard.

If I could go back and change my classes now, I would immediately:

  • Offer brief, blitzkrieg-like mini-lessons with engaging, assessment-for-learning-type activities following directly on their heels (e.g. a ten-minute lecture on Whitman’s life and poetry, followed by small-group work in which teams scour new poems of his for the very themes and notions expressed in the lecture, and then share out or perform some of them to the whole group while everyone takes notes on the findings.)
  • set an egg timer every time I get up to talk and all eyes are on me. When the timer goes off, I am done. End of story. I can go on and on. I love to hear myself talk. I often cannot shut up. This is not really conducive to my students’ learning, however much I might enjoy it.
  • Ask every class to start with students’ Essential Questions or just general questions born of confusion from the previous night’s reading or the previous class’s discussion. I would ask them to come in to class and write them all on the board, and then, as a group, ask them to choose which one we start with and which ones need to be addressed. This is my biggest regret right now – not starting every class this way. I am imagining all the misunderstandings, the engagement, the enthusiasm, the collaborative skills, and the autonomy we missed out on because I didn’t begin every class with fifteen or twenty minutes of this.

Key takeaway #3

You feel a little bit like a nuisance all day long.

I lost count of how many times we were told be quiet and pay attention. It’s normal to do so – teachers have a set amount of time and we need to use it wisely. But in shadowing, throughout the day, you start to feel sorry for the students who are told over and over again to pay attention because you understand part of what they are reacting to is sitting and listening all day. It’s really hard to do, and not something we ask adults to do day in and out. Think back to a multi-day conference or long PD day you had and remember that feeling by the end of the day – that need to just disconnect, break free, go for a run, chat with a friend, or surf the web and catch up on emails. That is how students often feel in our classes, not because we are boring per se but because they have been sitting and listening most of the day already. They have had enough.

In addition, there was a good deal of sarcasm and snark directed at students and I recognized, uncomfortably, how much I myself have engaged in this kind of communication. I would become near apoplectic last year whenever a very challenging class of mine would take a test, and without fail, several students in a row would ask the same question about the test. Each time I would stop the class and address it so everyone could hear it. Nevertheless, a few minutes later a student who had clearly been working his way through the test and not attentive to my announcement would ask the same question again. A few students would laugh along as I made a big show of rolling my eyes and drily stating, “OK, once again, let me explain…”

Of course it feels ridiculous to have to explain the same thing five times, but suddenly, when I was the one taking the tests, I was stressed. I was anxious. I had questions. And if the person teaching answered those questions by rolling their eyes at me, I would never want to ask another question again. I feel a great deal more empathy for students after shadowing, and I realize that sarcasm, impatience, and annoyance are a way of creating a barrier between me and them. They do not help learning.

If I could go back and change my classes now, I would immediately:

  • Dig deep into my personal experience as a parent where I found wells of patience and love I never knew I have, and call upon them more often when dealing with students who have questions. Questions are an invitation to know a student better and create a bond with that student. We can open the door wider or shut if forever, and we may not even realize we have shut it.
  • I would make my personal goal of “no sarcasm” public and ask the students to hold me accountable for it. I could drop money into a jar for each slip and use it to treat the kids to pizza at the end of the year. In this way, I have both helped create a closer bond with them and shared a very real and personal example of goal-setting for them to use a model in their own thinking about goals.
  • I would structure every test or formal activity like the IB exams do – a five-minute reading period in which students can ask all their questions but no one can write until the reading period is finished. This is a simple solution I probably should have tried years ago that would head off a lot (thought, admittedly, not all) of the frustration I felt with constant, repetitive questions.

I have a lot more respect and empathy for students after just one day of being one again. Teachers work hard, but I now think that conscientious students work harder. I worry about the messages we send them as they go to our classes and home to do our assigned work, and my hope is that more teachers who are able will try this shadowing and share their findings with each other and their administrations. This could lead to better “backwards design” from the student experience so that we have more engaged, alert, and balanced students sitting (or standing) in our classes.

Here’s the follow-up piece by Grant Wiggins.

GALLERY: Teachers before they were famous 

Can YOU sit still in school all day?

A therapist goes to middle school and tries to sit still and focus. She can’t. Neither can the kids.

 December 3

This is a follow-up to two popular posts about the problems kids face when they are forced to sit still in school for hours on end without a break. The first, written by pediatric occupational therapist Angela Hanscom, was titled “Why so many kids can’t sit still in school today” and discussed how being inactive affects students’ ability to stay focused and learn, and in some cases leads to improper diagnoses of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD. The next piece was titled
The right — and surprisingly wrong — ways to get kids to sit still in class.”

Hanscom has now written a third related piece, this one specifically about middle-schoolers. Hanscom told me that she was curious about the effects of restricted movement on students in middle school, so she went to a local middle school to observe what was going on inside classrooms and talk to teachers and parents. The following post explains Hanscom’s experience and findings at the middle school she visited.  Hanscom is the founder of TimberNook, a nature-based development program designed to foster creativity and independent play outdoors in New England.

By  Angela Hanscom

Except for brief periods of getting up and switching classrooms, I’ve been sitting for the past 90 excruciating minutes. I look down at my leg and notice it is bouncing. Great, I think to myself, now I’m fidgeting! I’m doing anything I can to pay attention – even contorting my body into awkward positions to keep from daydreaming. It is useless, I checked out about forty-five minutes ago. I’m no longer registering anything the teacher is saying. I look around the room to see how the children a few decades younger than me are doing.

I’m immersed in a local middle-school classroom environment. I quickly realize I’m not the only one having a hard time paying attention. 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. A child suddenly gets up to sharpen their pencil. A few minutes later, another child raises their hand and asks to go to the bathroom. In fact, at least three children have asked to go to the bathroom in the past twenty minutes. I’m mentally exhausted and the day has just begun. I was planning on observing the whole day. I just can’t do it. I decide to leave right after lunch.

There is no way I could tolerate six hours of sitting even just one day, never mind every day – day after day. How on Earth do these children tolerate sitting this long? Well, the short answer is they don’t. Their bodies aren’t designed for extended periods of sitting. In fact, none of our bodies are made to stay sedentary for lengths of time. This lack of movement and unrelenting sitting routine, are wreaking havoc on their bodies and minds. Bodies start to succumb to these unnatural positions and sedentary lifestyle through atrophy of the muscles, tightness of ligaments (where there shouldn’t be tightness), and underdeveloped sensory systems – setting them up for weak bodies, poor posturing, and inefficient sensory processing of the world around them.

If most of the classroom is fidgeting and struggling to even hold their bodies upright, in desperation to stay engaged – this is a really good indicator that they need to move more. In fact, it doesn’t matter how great of a teacher you are. If children have to learn by staying in their seats most of the day, their brains will naturally tune out after a while – wasting the time of everyone.

Are these teachers clueless to the benefits of movement? No. Most teachers know that movement is important. And many would report that they are downright and overwhelmingly frustrated by their inability to let children move more throughout the day. “We are expected to cram more and more information down their throats,” gripes one middle school teacher. “It is insane! We can no longer teach according to what we feel is developmentally appropriate.” Another teacher explains, “due to the high-stakes testing, even project-based learning opportunities are no longer feasible. Too many regulations, not enough time.”

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.” Even their brief break from instruction during snack time is no longer a reality. These few minutes of freedom are now replaced with a “working snack” in order to pack in a quick vocabulary lesson. Physical education is held only every sixth day, so technically this isn’t even a weekly affair.

The children line up for lunchtime. “Come watch this,” a teacher yells over to me. The children line up in pairs and are told to be quiet. Once everyone is quiet, two teachers (one in front of the line and one in back) escort the children down to the cafeteria. The thought of prison inmates quickly comes to mind, as I watch the children walk silently, side by side down the corridors of the school hallway. I’m told they are to remain quiet and seated throughout the lunch period. “I feel so bad for them,” exclaims the teacher. “They are so ready for down time during lunch, but are still required to sit and be silent!”

Many parents are also becoming increasingly unsatisfied with the lack of recess and movement their children are getting in middle school. One mother states, “Middle school kids in particular are just coming out of the elementary school environment, consisting of multiple breaks throughout the day. These kids are still young, and depending on the district, could be just 10-years-old going into middle school. They are experiencing a great change already in the transition alone. A break during the day is what they need to re-group.”

This same parent contacted the district’s school board members who ultimately make many of the decisions regarding school policies. She also met with the principal and deans and created an online petition consisting of a strong parent community advocating for more movement in school. The results? A brief five to ten-minute walk outdoors after lunch, which the teachers explain is really half a lap around the building and back indoors they go. “It may not be recess–but it’s a good start,” this mother states. “However, I still believe it’s necessary to make it school policy that all kids get a longer break.”

I ask the teachers what kids do when they get home from school. “About 60 percent of them are over-scheduled. The other 40 percent have no one home, so they do what they want – which often relates to playing video games,” a teacher complains. “I’d say we have only a handful of children that go home and find time to play.” Both teachers try to keep homework meaningful and under an hour, knowing kids need time to release after a long day of school.

Even middle-school children need opportunities to play. This past summer, a teacher at one of our TimberNook camps brought along his 12-year-old daughter, Sarah as a “co-counselor.” Sarah was excited about being a counselor alongside a college student for their small group of five children. In the past, she had simply been a camper. However, as soon as the group set out into the deep woods, dispersed, and started to play,  she quickly switched roles. She instantly forgot about her new status and jumped wholeheartedly into the pretend world, alongside the younger children. What took place next, was quite remarkable.

Sarah climbed high onto a fallen log that ascended to the very top of their newly designed teepee, donned with fresh ferns to camouflage their rustic “living quarters.” She wore a brightly colored feathered mask on top of her forehead. “Listen,” she said to the group of children gathered around her. “We need to get ready for the opposing team’s attack.” She took the time to look each of the children in the eye. “You,” she said to one of the bigger kids in the group. “You are now appointed as top commander.” “Julie,” she said to a girl that is known to be one of the fastest runners in the group. “You are going to be our top spy.” She proceeded to roles for each of the children to play.

Her age, strength, and intelligence made her their natural chosen leader and the children respected her decisions. She played just as hard as the other children. She forgot about her new role as co-counselor for the rest of the week, except to occasionally lead a group song or chant during morning meeting. The fun of being a camper and free play trumped all responsibility. She was still a child. She was not ready to give up her right to free play. Who could blame her?

Why do we assume that children don’t need time to move or play once they reach sixth grade, or even fifth grade? They are only children! In fact, I would argue that we all could benefit from opportunities to play, even up through adulthood. Everyone needs downtime. Time to move our bodies. Time to get creative and escape the rigors of reality.

What can we do for our middle-school children? I asked Jessica Lahey, a middle school teacher, contributing writer at The Atlantic, and author of the upcoming book, “The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed,” to give her opinion on the matter.

“Teachers are often afraid that if they let children move, it will be hard to get them to settle back down again. This shouldn’t stop us from providing them with the necessary movement children need in order to learn. Middle-school children can always benefit from recess! Also, when I taught for Crossroads Academy, we had some great nature trails behind our school through the woods. I would often take my whole English class for walks. I’d give them a topic to ponder and then we’d walk for ten minutes to think about the question. We’d huddle and discuss the topic. Then, I’d throw out another question and we’d start to walk again.”

Jessica explains that this is also true for schools in urban regions. Children can walk to museums or local parks to explore and learn. They can bring along their writing journals and assess the world and culture around them. Learning doesn’t have to be done in a chair. Jessica goes on to tell me that one time, she had her middle-school children practice public speaking by taking turns standing on a small bridge over a rumbling brook. They had to learn to project their voice over the babbling brook in order to be heard by the rest of class. “It was a good practical lesson and there is something about nature that grounds the child, taking away the anxiety that typically comes with public-speaking,” Jessica reports.

All people in decision-making positions for school policies should be required to sit through at least one school day and experience first-hand what is required of children today. Then they will have a better idea of what is appropriate and what isn’t. Then they will start to think about what their decisions mean for real children in real schools. Maybe then, they will begin to value children’s need to move, need to play, and the need to be respected as the human beings that they are.

Middle school-age children need to move – just like everyone else!

You may also be interested in these posts:

Why so many kids can’t sit still in school today 

The right — and surprisingly wrong — ways to get kids to sit still in class

Teacher spends two days as a student and is shocked at what she learns

A very scary headline about kindergartners

Another very scary headline about kindergartners

NEWLY RELEASED Classroom Sample Assessment Tasks!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:MEDIA CONTACT: Chad Colby (202) 419-1570, ccolby@achieve.orgNEWS STATEMENT:

Achieve Releases Classroom Sample Assessment Tasks for the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)

Sample Tasks Demonstrate Ways Middle and High School Teachers Can Combine Content from NGSS and the Common Core State Standards 

Washington, D.C. –  November 18, 2014 – Achieve today announced the release of Classroom Sample Assessment Tasks for middle and high school grades. These sample tasks, written by secondary science and math teachers, provide examples of how content and practices from both the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in Mathematics can be assessed together in classrooms.

“It is an exciting time in science education,” said Ben Twietmeyer, a chemistry teacher from Illinois. “We are moving from primarily only teaching science content to developing students’ knowledge and science skills. Focusing on evidence based explanations and application, these tasks pull together the big ideas of the NGSS and Common Core Math Standards.”

Each task focuses on a specific context or storyline and includes multiple components that work together to partially or fully assess a bundle of chosen standards (i.e., a group of related standards from the NGSS and CCSS). The purpose of these sample tasks is to provide some examples of how to meaningfully integrate the NGSS and CCSS in authentic ways in the context of classroom assessment. Although the tasks were originally developed to integrate CCSS-Mathematics and the NGSS, CCSS-ELA/Literacy alignments were also added in response to requests from states and educators to support work across disciplines.

“Working with a science teacher broadened my understanding of writing and teaching integrated tasks,” said Jennifer Abler, a high school math teacher from Michigan. “We spent a great deal of time discussing what integrated really means. It’s not teaching math and science parallel to one another but using the skills of each content area to strengthen the understanding of the content of both subjects.”

Educators are encouraged to modify these tasks for their needs and to provide Achieve’s Science Team with feedback for task improvement. The tasks released today are drafts and will be revised to incorporate user feedback. Achieve anticipates releasing revised drafts of the tasks as well as the first round of Classroom Sample Assessment Tasks for elementary grades in the coming months.

To aid educators in their own task development, the front matter of the Classroom Sample Assessment Tasks provides information about the tasks’ development process so additional tasks can be created to assess a bundle of both math and science standards.

“We are very pleased to make these sample tasks available to educators and look forward to seeing continued integration of the NGSS and CCSS,” said Stephen Pruitt, Senior Vice President at Achieve. “There is tremendous opportunity for teachers and curriculum designers to bundle standards from different content areas to bring about deeper cross-disciplinary student understanding. We hope these tasks will be a starting point for ongoing conversations among educators in different disciplines.”

The Classroom Sample Assessment Tasks can be accessed here.

Achieve convened the educators who developed the tasks as part of its ongoing work to provide resources to states in support of NGSS adoption and implementation.


About Achieve 

Achieve is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit education reform organization dedicated to working with states to raise academic standards and graduation requirements, improve assessments, and strengthen accountability. For more information about the work of Achieve,

About The Next Generation Science Standards 

Through a collaborative, state-led process managed by Achieve, new K-12 science standards have been developed that are rich in content and practice, arranged in a coherent manner across disciplines and grades to provide all students an internationally benchmarked science education. The NGSS are based on the Framework for K-12 Science Education developed by the National Research Council. For more information, please visit


Separate Girls From Boys in School?


Jaheim Jones, left, and Roovenson Guillaume did math problems at Dillard Elementary School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., which has single-sex classes. CreditAngel Valentin for The New York Times 

POMPANO BEACH, Fla. — In one third-grade classroom, the walls are bordered by cheetah and zebra prints, bright pink caddies hold pencils and glue sticks, and a poster at the front lists rules, including “Act pretty at all times!”

Next door, cutouts of racecars and pictures of football players line the walls, and a banner behind the teacher’s desk reads “Coaches Corner.”

The students in the first class: girls. Next door: boys.

Single-sex education, common in the United States until the 19th century, when it fell into deep disfavor except in private or parochial schools, is on the rise again in public schools as educators seek ways to improve academic performance, especially among the poor. Here at Charles Drew Elementary School outside Fort Lauderdale, about a quarter of the classes are segregated by sex on the theory that differences between boys and girls can affect how they learn and behave.

Teachers “recognize the importance of understanding that Angeline learns differently from Angelo,” said Angeline H. Flowers, principal of Charles Drew, one of several public schools in Broward County that offer some single-sex classes.


Heaven Harris, center, worked with classmates. CreditAngel Valentin for The New York Times 

The theory is generally held in low regard by social scientists. But Ms. Flowers notes that after the school, where nearly all students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, started offering the classes two years ago, its state rating went from a D to a C. Similar improvements have been repeated in a number of other places, causing single-sex classes to spread to other public school districts, including in Chicago, New York and Philadelphia.

The federal Education Department says there are about 750 public schools around the country with at least one single-sex class and 850 entirely single-sex public schools. Although government figures are not available for earlier years, the National Association for Single Sex Public Education estimatedthat in the 2004-05 school year, 122 public schools offered at least one single-sex class and 34 public schools served just one sex.

Critics say that there is little evidence of substantial differences in brain development between boys and girls and that dividing children by gender can reinforce entrenched stereotypes.

Rebecca Bigler, a psychologist at the University of Texas, said that segregating by sex — or any social category — increases prejudice based on stereotypes.

“You say there’s a problem with sexism,” Ms. Bigler said, “and instead of addressing the sexism, you just remove one sex.”

That worries the American Civil Liberties Union, which this year filedcomplaints with the Education Department against four Florida school districts, accusing them of violations of federal civil rights law and of using “overly broad stereotypes” to justify separating girls and boys into different classrooms. The A.C.L.U. also filed a complaint in Austin, Tex., against two new single-sex middle schools, and has pending complaints in Idaho and Wisconsin and a nearly two-decade-old complaint in New York. Lawsuits in Louisiana and West Virginia have resulted in single-sex classes there reverting to coeducation.

Advocates of single-sex classes often cite the struggles of boys, who persistently lag behind girls in national tests of reading comprehension and are much more likely to face disciplinary problems and drop out of school. Educators also argue that girls underperform in science when compared with boys and benefit from being with other girls. And school officials say that children can be easily distracted by the opposite sex in the classroom.

This week, in response to the A.C.L.U. complaints and the growth in single-gender classrooms, the Obama administration is issuing guidance for school districts.

Schools may set up such classes if they can provide evidence that the structure will improve academics or discipline in a way that coeducational measures cannot. Students must have a coeducational alternative, and families must volunteer to place their children in all-boys or all-girls classes.

But the guidance says that “evidence of general biological differences is not sufficient to allow teachers to select different teaching methods or strategies for boys and girls.”

“I am very concerned that schools could base educational offerings on stereotypes,” Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights, said in an email. “No school should be teaching students to live down to diminished expectations for who they can be.”

Asking schools to demonstrate academic improvement could prove difficult.

Over all, research finds that single-sex education does not show significant academic benefits — or drawbacks. Janet Hyde, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin in Madison who analyzed 184 studies covering 1.6 million children around the globe, said the studies showing increased academic performance often involved other factors that could not be disentangled from the effects of the single-gender component.

Supporters say girls have more in common with other girls — and boys with other boys — than with the opposite sex of the same age. “Yet we segregate on the basis of age, not based on any evidence,” said Leonard Sax, a pediatrician and author of several books on gender differences, including “Why Gender Matters.”

According to the A.C.L.U.’s complaint in Broward County, the district relied on materials from Mr. Sax as well as from the Gurian Institute, a Colorado-based business founded by Michael Gurian, the author of several books, including “Boys and Girls Learn Differently.”

The training materials, the complaint says, noted that “gently competitive lessons may be more impactful for boys” and that “lessons that incorporate emotions and emotional vocabulary” may have more impact for girls. Teachers were also advised to be “more tolerant of boys’ need to fidget or girls’ need to talk during class.”

Many of the schools that offer single-sex classes have struggled with student academic performance and are in high-poverty neighborhoods dominated by racial minorities.

“Parents really are starving for better options,” said Galen Sherwin, a senior staff attorney with the A.C.L.U. Women’s Rights Project. “And oftentimes school districts sell these options as the solution with inflated, unsupported supposed evidence.”

On a recent morning at Dillard Elementary in Fort Lauderdale, where 98 percent of the students are black and nearly all come from low-income families, MeLisa Dingle-Mason, a third-grade math teacher, echoed some of her training.

“I am able to push them to their level and include sports and different things,” she said of the boys she teaches for part of the day before swapping with a reading and social studies teacher to work with girls. She added that she liked to turn math sessions into games because boys “like competition.”

The boys in her class appeared busy and eager to work. Jaheim Jones, 8, said he preferred a girl-free zone at school because girls are “bossy.”

Down the hall in a third-grade reading and social studies class, Ruth Louissaint, who was overseeing all girls at the time, showed a crate she kept in a storage room of fuzzy pastel blue sweaters for girls, saying they were more likely to feel cold than boys. For spelling and vocabulary lessons incorporating physical activity, Ms. Louissaint brought out hula hoops and small rubber balls for the girls. The boys would get yo-yos, bats and badminton rackets.

She said she taught the same curriculum to both but changed background details. So when playing music in class, for example, she tends to put on Michael Jackson for the boys, switching to more soothing music by groups like Enigma for the girls.

Angela Brown, the principal at Dillard, said boys in single-sex classes had better attendance than those in coeducational classes as well as better scores on state reading and math tests. But the biggest improvement was a decline in disciplinary infractions and bullying.

“Boys are trying to impress girls, and girls are trying to impress boys,” Ms. Brown said. “And we have removed that variable out of the way.”

Throughout Broward County, an external evaluation by Metis Associates, a research firm, found that after two years of offering single-gender classes in five schools, nearly half of the students experienced a decline in disciplinary referrals, detentions and suspensions compared with a year earlier.

A preliminary analysis of state test scores showed that about three-quarters of the students enrolled in single-sex classes improved their percentile rankings on reading scores, while close to 70 percent of elementary students in single-sex classes raised their scores in math.

Broward County officials said that although the district added two new single-sex options at a middle school this year, administrators were not planning to expand rapidly.

“We are not just doing this randomly, ” said Leona Miracola, director of innovative programs for Broward County Public Schools, adding that the district takes compliance with federal law “very seriously.”

Shenilla Johnson, 9, a third grader at Charles Drew, considers an all-girls class a boon. Boys, she said, “annoy you.”

Without them, she said, “we get to learn new things.”


I love to listen to a teacher’s passion for teaching others.  Passion burns hot until others extinguish the flames.  Currently, I’m hearing ,”If we only had this or didn’t have to do that, we could reach the students.”  I love to hear students excited about what they are learning in schools.  From them, I currently hear, “This common core stuff is too much and no one knows what they are doing.”

I’m here to encourage you.  BE BOLD!  CREATE!   TEACH WHAT WORKS!  DEVELOP YOUR OWN LEARNING COMMUNITIES!  Follow the standards as we need common standards.  Educations needs to have the basis for what should be taught to most children at specific readiness point, but let’s move forth with what we know.  Children are sponges until they aren’t.  Teachers are excited until they are not.  We need to catch both while the fire is hot!  There is no time to waste.

Common Core carries a very poor connotation for something I believe we all really want to see happen.  Common curriculum across the United States in order that everyone have an equal opportunity for learning.  How did it get so blown out of whack in the eyes of teachers, parents and students?  If your child was moving from California to Florida as a third grade student, wouldn’t you want your child to be “on the same page” when they move to the new school?  I think yes!  Now what is good for the mass doesn’t mean that is all that should be available.  We still need to build in a support system for those with learning disabilities or a gap in their learning. We also need to provide fun, engaging opportunities for those that are ahead of the game.  I believe in flexible grouping based on a students previous knowledge and the learning goal, not necessarily based on age.

The other aspect of Common Core is to create connection between the learning and real-life problem solving.   Simply relate what you are teaching to how it will be seen in life.  Another aspect of Common Core is to teach to all the modalities by using hands-on approach to reach auditory, visual and kinesthetic modes.  Remember that no one has stated what or how teaching needs to be done at this point except the your own districts.

So, how do we get the fun and learning back into the classroom but stay on track?  Use your freedom at this time period to find the joy of the teaching/learning process for your students.  As your break approaches, look into ideas that will rekindle your flames and light the students back up!  Consider something like Whole Brain Learning, AIMS, College Prep Math, STEM or STEAM, Pinterest…

Following are some ideas to get your creative juices flowing:

Three basic techniques in whole brain teaching

The class yes, the teach OK and the scoreboard

In an article which I wrote for I introduced a wonderful system of teaching called “Whole Brain Teaching” (WBT) in which I outlined the fundamental techniques it uses. For those of you who have not read the article, WBT is a pedagogical approach which is based on current research into brain activity and how we learn. Not specific but very applicable to EFL , WBT uses techniques which activate both hemispheres of the brain – thus it is a “Whole Brain” approach.Traditionally education has focused on right brain activity – the reasoning, rational part of the brain. WBT techniques seek to make connections between this rational part of the brain and the left side of the brain which is concerned with creative activity . It is being proven more and more that an approach which integrates these two different activities of the brain leads to far more effective teaching. We will today look at three of the most basic techniques involved in WBT: “THE CLASS-YES”, “THE TEACH-OK”, and “THE SCOREBOARD”. These are three amazingly simple techniques you can quickly learn and immediately use to greatly improve your effectiveness as a teacher.What makes them especially useful in ESL classes is it gets the students talking in English , which is often problematic, especially here in Thailand. It is not necessary to implement all of the WBT techniques at once. You can choose to use just a few techniques,. I have however found the more techniques you use the better you and your students’ performance will be. It is important to note that of course when introducing a new technique to class that they understand what is expected of them. In addition you have to practice the procedures with them and get them to the point where they can do what you tell them on command. It doesn’t take too long. . Depending on your level of Thai you may at times need somebody to explain to the class in Thai what it is they are required to do. The directions are basically like rules to a game. WBT is very big on rules and has easy ways to get students to comply with them.TECHNIQUE ONE: THE “CLASS-YES” – “PLUG” YOUR BRAIN INTO THE BRAINS OF YOUR STUDENTS.The prefrontal cortex is nicknamed the “CEO” by scientists who do research into the human brain . It controls decision making, planning and is also responsible for the focusing of attention. The “CLASS-YES’ works like this: The teacher makes a decision to get the class’s attention. To do this the teacher is activating his/her prefrontal cortex by using the decision making function of that part of the brain. The teacher then says “CLASS” and the students respond by saying “YES” in unison. The students must say “YES” in the same tone of voice and in the same way that the teacher says “CLASS” – this is crucial.So if the teacher says “CLASS CLASS’ in a high whiny tone the students respond “YES YES” in a high whiny tone. The students, by mimicking the tone of the teachers voice, have now activated their own prefrontal cortexes by using its focusing mechanism. In a very literal sense the teacher’s brain is now “plugged into” the students’ brain. The “CEO” of teacher’s brain, exercising its decision making capacity, now has the attention of and is ready to instruct the “CEO” of the students’ brains, which are utilizing its focusing mechanism.

It is fundamentally the same type of relationship that would exist, at that moment, between the CEO of Pepsico and the CEO of KFC. (Pepsi owns KFC and I assume KFC takes direction form the parent company). The technique can be understood as a brain switch which readies the students for instruction. In Whole Brain teaching classrooms it is used whenever the teacher needs the class’s attention, which is of course quite often. This technique, like almost all WBT techniques,can be used from kindergarten to university and with adult classes. With children in addition to being a “brain preper” for instruction it an indispensable tool for classroom management. 


Some of us may have come to Thailand just a bit unclear on the differences between the Present Perfect and Past Simple tenses, or between First and Third Conditional. I know I did. I also know that I could now tell you about fundamental English grammar in my sleep and I am sure, at least hope, that everyone reading this who has taught English for a few years can as well.

How did you learn this grammar so thoroughly? . You did it by teaching. This is the main idea behind the next crucial technique of WBT- the “TEACH-OK”. Research has shown, not surprisingly really, that students learn best when actively engaged in the teaching process. When students , using energetic gesturing, reteach to their partner what the teacher has just taught them they are activating five parts of the brain important to learning : the visual cortex (seeing gestures), motor cortex (making gestures), Broca’s area (verbalizing), Wernickes area (hearing) and the limbic system (giving emotional content). I will number the steps of the “”TEACH OK” to hopefully make it easier to understand and use.

STEP ONE – Divide your classes into pairs. You will want to group weaker students with stronger ones. I think two is the ideal number but if you have an odd number of students you will have to have at least one group of three. In this case put the best student in the class with the two who need the most help and ask the best student to take special care of the group. I have found that at first you may need several groups of three students if stronger students are hard to come by. However as time passes and you continue to implement WBT, you will see a more uniform level in your students ability. This is due to the fact you will be getting almost 100 per cent participation and the students lagging behind will begin to catch up with the others. 

STEP TWO – Micro teach with gestures. This means giving one small bit of information that the students will reteach to each other. It requires the teacher to be animated and use gestures as he or she teaches. As an example, if we were teaching the Present Perfect, the teacher would begin the process by introducing a very small bit of information such as “We form the present perfect with have or has.” After the students have learned this small bit of information you build on this idea. The following TEACH-OK segment would be ” We form the present perfect with have or has and verb three.”

We continue building so on and so forth until all the rules of present perfect have been taught or at least all the rules that we wish to cover . If this were a very advanced class the final installment of our look at the present perfect would finally build to up to the studetns teaching each other in pairs something like” The present perfect is formed with have or has plus verb three. It is used for both unfinished actions from a specific time in the past which are continuing into the present and with finished actions that have a relevance to present circumstances. Although it is used exclusively with already, just and yet in British English, these words can be be used correctly with both the Present Perfect and the Simple Past in American English.” I have used an extreme example here of a final “TEACH OK” mini lesson on the Present Perfect to make my point that we build to whatever level the dictates of the course demand, as opposed to giving a lot of information at once. 

STEP THREE – To recap steps one and two-we have divided the class into pairs and presented a small bit of information . Now it is time for the teacher to say TEACH! and his/her hands clap hands and have the students respond in the same tone of voice with the same number of claps with an OK! They then work with their partner taking turns reteaching what was just presented. the students are expected to use gestures as they teach each other. 

STEP FOUR – The teacher monitors the groups as the students teach each other. 

STEP FIVE – The teacher brings the “TEACH-OK” to a close with a “CLASS-YES”

STEP SIX – The teacher then continues with another bit of information building on the previous bit of information, or if it is time, change activities. 

Two other valuable tools which are often used during the presentation of a micro bit of information are the “HANDS AND EYES” and “MIRRORING.” These are related but separate techniques that will be elaborated on at a later date that augment the effectiveness of the presentation of information. If you just cant wait for the next blog visit for an immediate explanation. 

I have not found a lot of information about EFL and WBT, although it is certainly being used for teaching foreign languages. In my past training I found an emphasis on getting students to use the language creatively. I have certainly done this in the context of WBT. Since I work with phratom students now the steps to creativity are very small but they are creative nonetheless.

For example during the presentation of information I may want the kids to practice using the question word “where.” I may drill the class as a whole by asking students a question like “Where is the dog?” trying to get them to think of places a dog might be. Often times kids will come up with something really silly like “The dog is on the sun.” I love this kind of response. It shows they have used the language creatively. In fact a kid told me when asked once “The dog is on the sun.” I quickly joked back with the question “Is he a hot dog?” and pretty much everybody got the joke.

That really shows that language acquisition was taking place with a group of phratom two students. Think about the implications of that- Phratom two students involved in the creation of and appreaciating a double entendre. Thats the power of Whole Brain Teaching at work. After the good laugh about the” hot dog on the sun” the kids were coming up with wacky places the dog was. During their ” TEACH OK”segment of “Where is the dog?” they seemed to be trying to outdo their partner with the craziest place a dog could be. This is proof of being able to use the language creatively which means real learning is taking place. 


The scoreboard is a central feature of the Whole Brain Teacher’ s classroom. It is an integral part of class management when working with younger students and is critical in keeping older students focused. It basically operates on good ole positive and negative reinforcement. It is simple to understand and use.

STEP ONE – On one side of the whiteboard draw a “Smiley face” next to a “Happy face.”

STEP TWO – Draw a line between the two faces creating a column under each face.

STEP THREE – When students are paying attention, and paricipating with gestures and you are happy with the way things are going put a check in the Smiley face column and have them cheer your approval by saying an enthusiastic “OH YEA” in unison (known as ‘the “MIGHTY OH YEA”). 

STEP FOUR – When student performance/behavior is not up to par put a check under the the Frowny face and have the students moan a a collective “OH NO” while wiping away an imaginary tear.

STEP FIVE – At the end of class add up the checks under the respective faces. More checks in the Happy face column means the class has earned some kind of reward (I usually use less homework as a reward) More checks under the frown face means a negative reinforcement (for me more homework).

IMPORTANT NOTE! Do not have a total of more than three checks in in the Frowny face column in excess of the number in the Smiley face otherwise the “SCOREBOARD” loses effectiveness. Students become resentful and lose interest in the “game.”

The “SCOREBOARD” works on the limbic system which is the part of the brain that controls emotional response. It is a powerful tool to keep order and keep things focused. In follow up blogs I will discuss “THE FIVE CLASSROOM RULES” which for the most part are used for class management issues with kids. The rules obviously relate closely to the “SCOREBOARD”. Remember though the “SCOREBOARD” is also used with older students to keep focus.

If I were teaching up university anywhere in the world I would have no qualms about using the “SCOREBOARD” as a fun way to give the class feedback about how well they were performing . That being said I would feel a little foolish walking into a corporate training class anywhere but sanook loving Thailand and drawing a Smiley face and Happy face on a whiteboard in front of a group of business executives and telling them to give me a “MIGHTY OH NO”.

I have taught all kinds of classes here in Thailand as well as a lot of corporate classes . Although I have not had the opportunity to use WBT in a corporate situation, my guess is all Thai students would play along with “THE SCOREBOARD.” Having been witness to a teacher leading a group of bank managers in a game of “Simon Says” I gotta figure you are on safe ground with “THE SCOREBOARD” in any class in Siam. (Simon says touch your butt hahahahah….true story).

These are the three most important techniques in WBT. Just these three simple things can greatly enhance your students learning as well as making your job a helluva lot easier and more enjoyable. There is a lot more to WBT but this can get you started.

Finally I want to underscore that these techniques are flexible and can be used in harmony with your own style and class goals/level. That is unless sadly you have an “I don;’t really give a damn” attitude. I think it is more easily adapted to animated lively styles of teaching but I personally think there is room for those of a more phlegmatic nature, however gestures must be used.

You look at professional athletes, say in a sport like golf or tennis, you will see that the pros are all pretty much adhering to the same set of fundamentals to swinging a club or racket. In spite of this commonality each player has his own unique swing. In the same way each teacher will have his own style in which he can adapt a given pedagogical approach to be the most effective teacher he or she can be.

It is my stalwart conviction that Whole Brain Teaching (or in our case here in Thailand “Ajarning”…lol..) is by far the most effective approach to accomplish this goal. Give WBT a try, you’ll love it and so will your students. Again to find out more about WBT visit the powerteachers website 

Happy teaching!

Here is where a creative teacher brought the popular game of Mine Craft into his math lessons.

6 Minecraft lesson ideas for your Common Core math class

From graphing paper to algebra puzzles, one teacher shares tons of practical lesson ideas for turning math class into “Mathcraft”

minecraft-mathLast year I taught third-grade math in a whole new way. Combining elements from the wildly popular sandbox game Minecraft, I had students thinking visually and creatively about mathematical models and theories that went way beyond a typical third-grade curriculum, transforming math class into what I like to call Mathcraft.

Why Minecraft? I could say I am using Minecraft for a number of reasons, like how I find Minecraft enhances metacognition by increasing students’ memory storage capacity. The game itself creates a relatable enjoyable experience that can be internalized and shared in a community of learners. The limitations on the working memory are minimized because the gameplay itself is an extension of our visual sketchpad. Working with students they always say, “I can see it,” and when they see it they share it.

However, the real reason I use Minecraft is that the students chose it. The popularity of the game is so overwhelming and when the lesson became the engagement their attention, confidence, and motivation soared. Here are six great ways to use it in your math classroom.

1. Let students create their world.
If you have an aggressive Minecraft class, you can put them in a single world and either let them all build it by themselves, or allow all the students to build a world together. Personally, I just open up a world in MinecraftEDU (which makes it easier for the teacher since you can do things like freeze the students and transport). I don’t use worlds that have already been created, opting instead to let the kids build their own. I use MinecraftEDU as my server runner and open up the superflat world. We start building and we end up with a crazy math city.

2. Create your own visual, conceptual math world.
I’ve tried to use base ten blocks before because they’ve got a lot of great conceptional knowledge, but they’re just a nightmare to use—to get them to fit in and take out, and with the kids always messing up each other’s blocks. But with Minecraft, the blocks are digital so the kids can’t mess each other up, if you know how to manage them, and the bonus is that the students are incredibly engaged. Then you can throw in the fun part. You can let them PvP (fight) and chase each other in their world. The structures they’ve just made make a lot of fun things to hide behind, like funky-looking trees based on prime factorization or stacks of blocks in patterns that represent long division. It’s kind of a conceptual math world.

3. You can use Minecraft, even without access to computers.
We were only able to play Minecraft in the computer lab twice a week but that was perfect because I just ran math class using Minecraft as the lesson on those days. On other days, we’d be doing similar things. The kids would have graphing paper and would make their models with colored pencils and crayons and we would play math. I was really trying to teach them how to read and write algebra and to look at math as a different language.

4. Minecraft is just one creative tool in the toolbox.
In my third-grade class, we did a lot of tracking and graphing slopes, and I turned it into a maker activity as well. We learned how to read rise over run, and how to build a slope in Minecraft. Then we chopped up a bunch of different cardboard boxes and made racecar ramps at different slopes around the classroom, and ran averages on how far the racecar would travel with each slope—and this was a third-grade classroom.

5. Let the dog drive—at least sometimes.
One way to get started is just to try a whole class lesson and to see how the kids respond to it. And be prepared to let the dog drive at times—meaning when the class is playing the game, let them take control and just play. Give them their time but take yours as well. If you need a jumping-off point to get started, look for Minecraft lessons online, or see mine on the website Educade. The Parthenon lesson I created is one example. It turns algebra into a puzzle and it gives students simple instructions on how to build something cool. (There’s also a video that explains why the formulas actually work).

6. Use Minecraft to help change your classroom culture into something students love.
By far the greatest effect Minecraft has had on my students was a change in the classroom culture and attitudes about education. When we were preparing for our benchmark test I gave them ten Common Core word problems for homework. When I put them on our Edmodo page, they got mad at me. Mathcraft—at least the way I use it in the classroom—is not all in a video game. There is a lot of reading and writing of algebra and word problems. Before, they used to complain and give up when they had to do similar problems out of textbook. But now my kids turned even that part of the curriculum into a game and can not put down the pencil.

Jim Pike formerly taught third grade at Ascension Catholic School in Los Angeles. He currently teaches a Mathcraft course at CodeRev Kids Learning Center in Santa Monica, CA, and is working on bringing Mathcraft professional development to teachers using online Minecraft servers.


Frozen-inspired coding is a very creative idea to hook students into their learning:

‘Let it Code’ with Frozen-inspired coding

Hour of Code initiative aims to help students, especially girls, get coding with real-world examples

code-codingOn Nov. 19, unveiled a computer science tutorial featuring heroines Anna and Elsa from The Walt Disney Company’s film “Frozen.” The tutorial kicks off the second annual Hour of Code campaign, a worldwide effort to broaden participation in computer science – especially by girls – during Computer Science Education Week, Dec. 8-14, 2014.

Thanks to Disney Interactive, students will learn to write code that enables Disney Infinity versions of Disney’s “Frozen” characters Anna and Elsa to draw snowflakes and snowmen and perform magical “ice craft” in’s signature lesson for the Hour of Code 2014. The tutorial aims to teach logic and math and nurtures creative thinking through introductory computer programming.

Role-model technologists and celebrities, including Polyvore CEO Jess Lee, Microsoft engineer Paola Mejia, app developer and model Lyndsey Scott, and model Karlie Kloss, provide short video lectures to guide students through the one-hour activity. Students will be able to share their artwork online or with friends through a unique link.

“As a parent, I know firsthand how excited kids are over Disney’s ‘Frozen,’” said Hadi Partovi, co-founder of “Our entire team is grateful for Disney Interactive’s tireless support of the Hour of Code, which provides students an entry point into the world of creativity that opens up when they build technology for the first time.”

“Disney Interactive shares’s passion to unleash the creative potential within all of us and we’re proud that the Disney characters will help children grow and learn important skills,” said Jimmy Pitaro, president of Disney Interactive. “Computer science and coding literacy are vital to our children’s future and we applaud for making computer science education more widely available.”

Along with this collaboration, Disney is donating $100,000 to support’s efforts to bring computer science education to afterschool programs nationwide. Disney Interactive will host Hour of Code events for local students at their Los Angeles, Palo Alto, Seattle, and Kelowna, British Columbia offices.

The tutorial, “Artist with Anna & Elsa,” is’s newest addition to its online learning platform, Code Studio, designed to teach students the basics of computer science, starting as early as kindergarten. Code Studio is used in more than 50,000 classrooms.

Last year, launched the Hour of Code with a tutorial featuring artwork from Rovio’s Angry Birds, PopCap Games’ Plants vs. Zombies and video lectures by Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates. To date, 22 million students have tried the one-hour, introductory tutorial.

Students and teachers can try “Artist with Anna & Elsa” now at Code Studio:


Here’s another blogger sharing how Whole Brain Learning works for her:


Here are ideas on pinterest of Whole Brain Learning:


Happy planning!  Happy teaching!  Happy learning!