January 20, 2014

Smartest Kids in the World

I love to read.  I mainly read YA books, but occasionally a book will grab my attention and force me to pick it up.  The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way was one of those books.  I was intrigued to learn what new idea was being shared about education.  Because lets face it, there is always a new "expert" with an idea on how to fix the system.

While I don't consider Amanda Ripley an expert I found her ideas interesting.  The book follows three American teens doing study abroad in Poland, South Korea, and Finland.  I found the insights into three different countries education systems fascinating.  Ripley uses anecdotes from interviews to demonstrate the different countries school cultures, strengths and weaknesses.

Ripley used her observations of the three countries and the students home schools to hypothesize about the education system in the United States.  She theorized that Americans lack standardized curriculum, wide engagement, academic rigor and highly qualified teachers.  The over focus of sports and testing in schools was also discussed.

While her anecdotes and research method's aren't the strongest, her book still made me stop and think. The Common Core is being rolled out to fix the curriculum problem, which should help ensure students are learning the same thing across the country.  This standardization should help with the next two problems, engagement and academic rigor.  It is hard to engage students at all different levels and abilities.  If students have the same foundation to build on the teacher can continue to expand and deepen their knowledge.

Teachers play a huge role in the engagement and rigor as well.  Did you know Finnish teachers get their masters in a subject before they start a teaching program?  Teaching schools in Finland have extremely high standards and take serious effort.  While I don't consider my time at school becoming a teacher a cake walk I think I definitely had an easier time.  I wish that my schooling had been more demanding and informative.

I'm not saying I wish I took more tests.  I believe I took enough of those.  I just wish that the tests I took were used more effectively.  Testing and preparing for tests takes up a huge amount of American school time.  In South Korea students study hard because they know that their final test determines their livelihood.  South Korea education is based not on genetics, money, athletic skill or location, but on merit.

Ripley ends her book with these questions:

  • Ask the students you observe, "What are you doing right now? Why?"
  • Ask parents, "What are the schools weaknesses? How are parents involved?"
  • Ask the principal, "How do you choose your teachers? How can you make teachers better? How do you measure success? How do you make work vigorous enough?" 
  • Ask yourself, "Am I an educational coach or a cheerleader?"

Has anyone else out there read this book? 

What did you think?  

What points stood out to you most?

May 26, 2013

Einstein vs. Flashcards

One of my amazing teacher buddies recommended I read Einstein Never Used Flashcards: How Our Children Really Learn-and Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less. After discovering my local library had a copy of the book I placed myself on the waiting list. Once it arrived I found myself drawn to reading it. (This is difficult because my six month son is a little demanding at the moment. Any moms out there have advice for getting a little one to sleep through the night?) Whenever I got a chance I would read a couple of pages and think about what was written until I got a chance to continue reading.

Right now there is a very strong emphasis on parents and teachers preparing children to compete in a global market. Children are encouraged to memorize, read, and study before they enter preschool. Children is school are losing valuable recess time to teach all the material on the big tests. Play is structured instead of inspired. Students are having to deal with large loads of homework and extreme pressure.


The myth that we need to be preparing our children from the womb to compete is invasive. My son is six months old. I've had early childhood training and even I was buying into the idea that I was failing him by not breaking out flashcards and instructional toys. This book calmed my fears.

Parents do not need to spend a boatload of money hiring tutors, buying the latest toys and videos, scheduling their toddlers for absurd classes, or sending them to advanced private schools. Parents need to spend time with their children playing. They need to give them unstructured time to play alone, with other children, and with adults who will raise their play to a higher level.

The authors explain recent data and studies and how play benefits children in educational, social, and emotional ways. They provide small experiments you can complete with your child. Reading this book is already impacting how I interact with my son. I can't wait to apply more ideas from the book once he gets a bit older.

What do you think? Is play being pushed aside in favor of academics? Do you still have recess?

May 22, 2013

Teachers helping Teachers

After seeing and hearing of the devastation in Moore, Oklahoma I knew I needed to help. Teachers Notebook has banded together to create a packet of over a hundred products. All proceeds are being sent directly to Oklahoma. People who purchase this packet can choose to donate $20, $25, $50, or $100. It will only be offered until May 28th. Please take a look and see what you can afford to give.


March 16, 2013

March Currently

This year is just flying. Baby K keeps me so busy that somehow it is already the 16th. How did that happen?

I couldn't let another day go by without jumping on board for Farley's March Currently. I think I am only number 500 something. Holy cow that girl is popular. Without further ado, my month.

I've been slowly working through the Teaching Blog Trafic School. It helps me learn new tips to develop my blog and encourages me to sert goals. If you are just getting started on blogging I recommend it.

I love being able to spend time outside. My little tomato plants are growing so quickly. I can't wait for summer and salsa.

My house needs a good deep cleaning. Today we tackled the bathroom and kitchen. Next on my list is Baby's room.

While I appreciate the extra daylight, daylight savings has not been kind to my sleep habits.

I just bought a spiffy bike. (Thank you tax returns!) Now I need to buy a helmet and some shorts.

I enjoy good movies. I love how music can change my day for the better, but I hate how hormones make my mood swing.

What are you up to this month? Interested in joining in? Stop by Farley's Party.