I am reposting this blog because in it I describe a bulletin board I saw at Seth Boyden that is to me an example of the excellence that happens in our district. Another blogger, voting for the other slate, has described this as "a rather typical bulletin board." I couldn't disagree more. This is an extraordinary board by an extraordinary teacher and to say otherwise is to give short shrift to her hard work, dedication and intelligence. Anyway....here's a description of the bulletin board. You can decide for yourself.
Last month, I was in my kids’ elementary school when I
noticed a bulletin board that belonged to a multi-age class of first and second
graders. The board had been decorated in honor of African-American month, one
of those annual occasions that might have inspired the usual hauling out of the
four or five big names and their contributions. Not for this teacher. Her
class’s board was inspired by Lewis Latimer, an African-American scientist who,
had my third grader not brought a report on him home a few days before, would
have been completely unknown to me.
Someone in the class had drawn a nice portrait of Mr.
Latimer; someone else, or maybe the class as a whole, had penned an informative
biography about Mr. Latimer’s boyhood in Brooklyn, and his coming to work with
Thomas Edison, a development that had led to his great contribution: Mr.
Latimer is the inventor of the filament, the little thing inside the light bulb
that increases its life manifold times. All of that information from a bunch of
7 and 8-year-olds was impressive enough. But that was hardly the end of my
lesson. There was a description of an electric circuit and a huge rendering of
a modern-day electric power plant, with a convincing explanation of how it
works. I stood there wondering how old I had been when I had first discovered
that the coal being dug up in the hills around my hometown was being used miles
away to produce electricity. It wasn’t in second grade. It might not even have
been in secondary school.
At the very end of the double bulletin board, tacked on
because room was scarce, were the class’s ideas for conserving electricity:
solar panels, turning off lights when you leave the room, that sort of the
Obviously this is what excellence looks like. A teacher took
a ho-hum celebration and turned it into a wow. But that’s hardly the only thing
going on here. The real genius of that bulletin board was how it engaged kids
on so many levels and taught them so much. There was a history lesson in Mr.
Latimer, a science lesson in his invention, not to mention the science of
electricity production and conservation; there was a writing lesson in the text
that appeared and an art lesson in the portrait and the power plant. And the
whole lesson was connected to the world - the information was real, tangible
and useful. Talk about packing it in.
Of course in an elementary day in which hours are devoted to
reading, writing and math, it’s all about packing it in. The reality is that
there is not enough time devoted to science and social studies because the state
doesn’t really test those subjects. As long as test scores remain the means by
which we judge the quality of our schools, science and social studies are going
to have to fight for time. I believe they should be given it.
But as a district we must also adopt the methods of this bulletin
board: teaching smarter, not longer, teaching several lessons at once, and
teaching across the disciplines. How does this happen? Well, some of it ought
to be in the social studies curriculum being rewritten this summer by the
administration: there can and should be suggestions for how teachers might tie
their particular curriculum to language arts texts that are recommend for their
grade. There ought to be suggestions for tie-ins to the larger world, to the
community around the school. In some classrooms, for example, the unit on
community becomes an opportunity for family members to share a traditional
family dish at a class feast. When the time comes to redo the science
curriculum, which ought to happen sooner rather than later, the same care ought
to be taken.
We also have to educate teachers about how to look for and
find the connections themselves. We don’t want every teacher to teach the same;
but we do want to inspire teachers to find and build connections in their own
classrooms. And it can’t just happen at the elementary schools. As middle
schools prepare to launch the International Baccalaureate program, teachers
there will be increasingly focused on interdisciplinary learning. The Common
Core also requires more teaching across subjects. This sort of approach can’t
but help improve the quality of our curriculum and its delivery.
The great thing about science and social studies is that
there are all about content, and it’s the sort of stuff that intrigues kids and
captures their imaginations. If we can take all that rich content and absorb it
into a language arts program that is developing consistent, rich writers and a
math program that is changing to focus on understanding concepts and their
application, then we will magically have a curriculum that is engaging and
deep, exciting and full.
And what could be better than that?
For more ideas on bringing excellence to the schools, please
check out the website for me and my running mates at http://payne-parrishandswanson.org
and http://amyhiger.org. And thanks for
voting on April 17.