KnowledgeCornerstone » Ramblings from an educator and life-long learner

Middle Schoolers are Weird Creatures

Wouldn’t you agree?  I mean I know it is not JUST middle schoolers, but they seem to be the most noticeable.  Animal, vegetable or mineral.  That is what they are all trying to figure out right now.  Where they fit into the food chain…and well…just life in general.

Take these markers.  Someone had to get up out of their seat, come up to the front and stick these all together.  Why?  What would possess someone to do that?  I guess there are some things I will never know.

I have been running a race and came in last place

All year long, I have been running a race.  I have tripped over every hurdle along the way, skinned up my knees and finished last place.  But I am okay with that.  At least I finished!  I am not a quitter!  I have all summer to get strong and healthy, study a new strategy and get prepared for another race.

This year has been worse than my first year teaching.  Worse, because I was a first year teacher again, but this time I knew everything I was messing up.  That saying, “ignorance is bliss,” is really true!  My husband tells me I have been more stressed this year than ever before.  He is probably right.  It has been a different kind of stress though.

Each area of science, though is all connected somehow, is very different from the other.  Biology, chemistry and physics might as well be classified as different subject areas as far as I’m concerned!  When I was handed an entire middle school science department to build (there was nothing left worth noting from the last 2 science teachers), and help supplement the high school’s online science curriculum…well let’s just say it was a big job!

I spent my weekends planning what was to come that week.  Each night during the week I had to find or create what I was using the next day.  Oh wait, the students turned in work all week that needed to be graded!  I tried my best to squeeze that in on the weekends around planning for the next week.  When my time ran out and the hours of the day were gone, I typically failed putting it in the online gradebook so parents could see.  Forget being a wife, mom, or even taken time for myself this past school year.

It is has been a wild ride, but I cannot wait to do it again…this time even better!

The Education Revolution

There is a rumble…it is happening. Teachers have been complaining about it, but now, the parents are beginning to see what the teachers have been talking about.

Standardized tests are good. There has to be some measure of comparison against students, especially getting into college. However, what we have done with standardization in the K-12 education system has gone too far.

Though this article is lengthy, I find it insightful into how people are reacting to education today.

The Coming Revolution in Public Education

Much to do about homework

board(I love the “Learned” about making pickles. That is a random middle schooler for you!)

There is a constant debate about homework from districts, schools, teachers, parents, students, etc…  It is a never ending battle. To assign homework, or not to assign homework. If assigned, how much? Is it relevant?

I have mixed emotions about homework.

I remember growing up having hours of homework. I still have some of my work and to this day I think my high school Biology and A&P teacher were CRAZY for the amount of homework we had in those classes. Did it help me that next day? Probably not. Do I remember what the homework was. Nope. What it did do, was provide me with the necessary study skills that I needed to succeed in college. I am working on my PhD and continue to have hours of homework! I think it is more important now than ever before since my course work is all online. I don’t show up to class to get my information, I am responsible for everything I learn.

Will I still give my students homework? Yes.

Do I hate that my daughter has hours of homework? Yes.

I think as educators we must remember that our class is just one of 6 or so that a student has. Assigning an hours worth of homework for each subject is out of the question. Moderation is the key.

Here are 2 articles that discuss Homework:
Homework Best Practices
Homework or Not: Research Question

The Middle School Brain

Middle schoolers are interesting human beings.  I sit in [frustrated] parent conferences that describe a child who “loses homework, is completely unorganized and has no idea what he/she is learning in class.”  Although it is not an excuse, they are at that age.  They have so much chemically going on in their bodies, it is a wonder they can actually function at all.

I am experiencing this first hand with my own daughter who is about to be in 6th grade.

I found an article that I thought so well described the middle school years, I just had to share.

I love my 8th graders.  They are fun, inquisitive little creatures.  They can participate in a lesson on a serious topic and maintain an appropriate class discussion in which they are respectful of their peers.  I can tell a funny anecdote and they laugh appropriately.  They can even tell funny anecdotes themselves.  They might sass from time to time, but have the maturity to listen and to consider when I redirect them.  Plus, they’re delightfully weird.
7th graders are a little harder to love. (I can say this because I taught 7th grade last year, and was once an unlovable 7th grader myself.) 7th graders sometimes feel the need to make inappropriate comments during serious discussions, and continue to bring them up despite your efforts as a teacher to shame them.  Most 7th graders are not funny yet, and also think that the only funny people are 7th graders.  Their brand of weird is disturbing.  They are like tiny, pubescent tornadoes– completely unpredictable, loud, and destructive. 
So why such a huge disparity between 7th and 8th?  What kind of difference could a year really make?  How could the distinction be significant enough to make me willing to put the Atlantic Ocean between myself and my own offspring for an entire year?
I’m here to answer these questions.
1) At 13, 7th graders are not physiologically able to recognize that other people are not simply moons caught in their orbit.
In one of my teaching classes, I learned some neat things about the brain.  Here, meet your amygdala and your frontal lobe.
Your amygdala is responsible for emotions, instincts, and impulses.  Your frontal lobe is your big “thinker,” kind of like the adult part of your brain that takes care of logic and decisions.  Where your amygdala tells you “You should feel pissed– this is injustice!” your frontal lobe tells you, “Well, take into consideration the reasons why the librarian told you not to practice your scream-yodeling inside.”  In the class I took, I learned that young teenagers tend to use their amygdalas more than their front lobes when processing emotional information (surprise!).  I also learned that the frontal lobe undergoes a huge growth spurt at age 12, followed by a significant period of “pruning.”
By “pruning,” experts mean, “7th grade.”
7th graders are literally figuring out how to use the smart part of their brains.  This is a very exciting time (since it obviously leads to being awesome 8th graders!), but, much like learning to drive a car, there are bound to be tons of close calls, scratches, and fender-benders in that first year.
And teaching Driver’s Ed is something I would just rather avoid.
2) The T-Bone phenomenon
In the second episode of the TV show Arrested Development, Michael watches in exasperation as a fire consumes his family’s storage unit.  In a moment of candor, he turns to T-Bone, his dad’s cellmate, and asks him point-blank:
Michael: T-Bone, did you set fire to the storage unit?
T-Bone: (without skipping a beat) Oh, most definitely.
My 8th graders are like T-Bone.  More often than not, when you confront them about “crimes,” they either admit to them readily or immediately give you the reason behind why they did it.  They know that denying it is pointless, and will make things worse*.  They use their frontal cortexes.
Amygdal-icious 7th graders, alternatively, will go to their graves believing they’ve done something wrong.  (By “graves” I mean “turning 14.”)
I could show a 7th grader a video from 12 different angles of him pushing a teacher down the stairs, ask why he did it, and the 7th grader would say the following:
“That ain’t me!”
“I didn’t push her!”
“She was falling and I tried to catch her!”
“I can’t control my arms!”
“I was sleepwalking!”
“YOU pushed her!”
An 8th grader would say,
“I just don’t like that lady.”
Do you see the difference? One is highly emotional, impervious to the most deserved criticism, oblivious.  The other: accepting, reasoning, justifying.
Since I have approximately zero children right now, I am only able to imagine how this would play out in a mother/child role. My 7th grade daughter telling me that the outrageous cell phone bill I received is my fault for not giving her enough minutes.  My 7th grade son, surrounded by a cloud of humming fruit flies, refusing to acknowledge my plea for him to wear deodorant or bathe. I’m not sure I could handle that kind of interaction since I barely managed to handle it last year in 45-minute increments.
3) Holland is a lovely place.
It’s not like I’m sending them to prison or anything.
*The only exception for 8th graders is the IWTP, which, from what I’ve told, applies to students K-12.