Sunday, January 17, 2010


A few years ago when I was teaching in a middle school resource room, I noticed how many lacrosse sticks were leaning in the corner (I was a sucker for letting students store stuff that didn’t fit in their lockers in my room). Why were so many LD/ADHD boys (the majority of my students) playing lacrosse?

At first, I thought it was the coach; he was a true charismatic. However, the draw of lacrosse remained even when the coaching staff changed. Why? I attended a couple of their practices and a quite a few games to see if I could figure out the appeal. What was it about lacrosse that attracted these boys?

After more primary research (interviews with my students) I came to a conclusion. There wasn’t anything special about lacrosse. Instead, it was the timing. See, most of the middle school kids were soccer players. Many of them were obsessed with soccer, playing on two or three teams at a time. Soccer culture starts early here in NC, with some kids joining Soccer Tots at 18months old! By the time they are six or seven years old, these kids have developed some serious skills. At this age, the developmentally delayed child may still be learning to run without falling along with mastering left and right. The soccer teams quickly leave such kids behind.

Lacrosse, on the other hand, isn’t available around here until children are eleven or twelve years old. By that time, the kids with developmental delays have mastered the skills they were still struggling with at age five (that’s why we call them delays, btw). Lacrosse puts everyone on an even playing field.

The challenge is, how do we continue to provide opportunities to level the field at multiple places in school? There are so many times that we need to provide a new entry point for students. Development is one reason; increased maturity and changes in affinities are others.

I am starting to believe that a project based program of study can do this better than any other model of curriculum. As I delve into the world of PBL (Educon 2.2 here I come!) I expect I’ll write more about that. I would welcome any suggestions or comments about where to look for further learning.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Summarizing--which century?

How's this for a 21st century skill: summarizing! Yep, that's the 21st century skill my students focused on last week. Rather involuntarily on their part, but sometimes the oldest (I can't say tallest) person in the room gets to set the agenda!

Clay Shirky says there's no such thing as information overload but instead we're suffering from "
filter failure." How then do I help my students build their filters? Once they are grown and transition to a life/career as an adult who is supposed to be on top of potentially limitless input, how will they manage?

Enter the 18th (15th) century skill of taking a large amount of information, reading and comprehending it, and putting it into a few succinct sentences. I love my students. They totally got that this is really a reading strategy, not a writing exercise. Even more importantly, they were able to intelligently discuss the conversation prompt "summarizing can be a political act" after minimal explanation on my part. I'm still grateful to the college professor who taught me that whole class discussion is usually not a discussion at all. There are so many kids who don't know what they think until they hear what they say that setting them up to have table conversations is essential.

If we accept that distilling information (we focused on non-fiction) is important, there is still a question. How is it a 21st century skill? Well, twitter comes to mind. I have learned so much from the twitterverse. Why? Because the folks I follow have mastered the art of saying much with just a few words. When they can't capture all they have to say, they know how to write just enough to convince me that I need to click the link included. Akin to the art of writing the pithy slogan or the captivating headline that's been around for a few centuries.

Next week, I'll post some Wordles of their summaries. We've been looking at biographical sketches and blogs kept by clients of food banks. Pretty powerful stuff.