How old is too old?

I’ve had a copy of Byrd Baylor‘s If You are a Hunter of Fossils in my teacher tote bag for months, waiting for me to write CAFE lessons for it. It was originally a text included in kindergarten Kinderroots kits, but when we switched from Success for All, the books were introduced to general teacher circulation.

I put off posting lessons because I worried the book would be outdated, thus opening a huge can of worms in determining whose role it is to decide whether books are outdated. (It’s our librarian’s role, I’d argue. But we have a half-time librarian who is spending every second he’s in our school making up for the FOUR YEARS when we didn’t have a librarian at all. I don’t think weeding books are at the top of his list. He and our library assistant have added ELEVEN HUNDRED books to our school library this year.)

Despite my initial apprehension, I finally read the book and gave a few lesson suggestions. Hunter of Fossils has held up well to all the recent dinosaur discoveries and changes. But other books don’t hold up as well. And as a school with a teensy tiny library budget, at what point do we retire old books?

 

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/#!/MsHoughton/status/153660132386017283″]

 

There are a bunch of other old books that are in the bookroom. I’m not too concerned about these texts, as they’re intended for teacher check-out, and I assume teachers know how to lead a rad anti-bias, these-were-the-times lesson.

 

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/#!/donalynbooks/status/153657606077022208″]

 

Again, what is the line for “accurate,” though? For example, our school’s Ben Franklin biography is Jean Fritz’s 1975 book What’s the Big Idea, Ben Franklin? A large bulk of the information is pretty accurate, to my mind, but there are some pieces that have been disproven. We included the updated information in our class discussion. There’s an updated version of this book with illustrations by David Small, but I haven’t read it and don’t know if there are any changes.

But what about the books on the shelf available for general consumption? I’m not by any means looking to somehow censor outdated information, but I wonder how we can set students up for success in accessing accurate information.

 

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/#!/cppotter/status/153660546456104961″]

 

As mentioned above, we are fortunate to have a 22-computer lab (Although it is tiny. And many of our classes have 25 students. And we use it to take state standardized tests in.), which many classes use to research information.

But access to information isn’t a cure-all. The nightmare scenario for my kids comes from my own cultural shock in China. I read at least a half dozen books on the country and the culture, but the most lasting impression I had was from Big Bird in China. I LOVED this movie when I was little. ADORED this movie. And as an adult, I knew that some things would be VERY different on my visit, but even the more recent texts I read didn’t prepare me for the changes I saw.

I thought people would be wearing neutral-colored Mao suits. I thought cities would be more run down. In retrospect, I guess there’s always more research I could have done, but I wonder what would have helped me sift out the most recent, relevant information, especially considering I went into the program knowing NOTHING about China. Except pandas and Mao.

Anyway. So I guess I’m still left with my initial question. At what point are old nonfiction books worse than no books at all? I’ll pester some librarians this week, and please leave any thoughts or ideas in the comments!

Penultimate Day :(

Penultimate means the next to the last. It’s almost the end of our time here, and I’m not ready to think about that yet. I’m also not quite ready to go through all my photos for my posts, although I’ve been trying to stay on top of everything. I’ll give you a few sneak peeks.

At Repulse Bay, Hong Kong. Buddhists believe that if you walk across this bridge and back, you add three days to your life.
At Repulse Bay, Hong Kong. Buddhists believe that if you walk across this bridge and back, you add three days to your life.
Students performing with the diabolo (Chinese yo-yo). They taught me how to use one too!
Students performing with the diabolo (Chinese yo-yo) in Taiwan. They taught me how to use one too!
Caryn and I took the "hard" option for our hike up the Great Wall.
Caryn and I picked the "hard" option for our hike up the Great Wall.
Sulphur!!! Just like we studied in our Rocks & Minerals unit! I wish I could have brought some back for you! It smelled sooooooo strongly. Do you remember what sulfur smells like?
Sulphur!!! Just like we studied in our Rocks & Minerals unit! I wish I could have brought some back for you! It smelled sooooooo strongly. Do you remember what sulfur smells like?
Holding my dinner!
Holding my dinner! Yes, it was eventually cooked.

I miss everyone, and I’m ready to head back to Seattle. You know who I miss? KITTIES!!!

Olive!
Olive!

 

I’m off to eat part of my dinner, I think, and then maybe venture out to the giant bookstore. See you soon!

Part of my dinner tonight (it's ham & cheese wrapped in a pastry)
Part of my dinner tonight (it's ham & cheese wrapped in a pastry). It cost 36 NT, or Taiwanese dollars, which is about 1 US dollar.

###

Typhoon in Taipei

We’ve been in Taiwan for the past few days, but today we got a chance to spend some quality time in the city. I’ll post in more detail later, but I wanted to let you know we’re safe and sound, despite the fact that a typhoon is en route.

The mayor of Taipei came out on a loudspeaker and broadcast a warning for everyone to avoid using cars as much as possible over the next few days. Crazy.

I’ll be leaving for home at 12:00 PM on Saturday, Taiwan time. I’ll arrive 13 hours “later,” at 12:40 PM on Saturday, Seattle time. Oh, International Date Line, how you mess with my time-space continuum…

###

Postcards from Tomorrow Square

James Fallows is brilliant. I first heard about this book on Fresh Air, and it has been a thoroughly investigated, thoughtful account of life and business in China. And of course, it was a great read because Fallows is an irreverent, fun writer.

All of Fallows’ essays are online, but I enjoyed reading them all in one place.

I was saddened to discover many of my bookmarks fell out of the pages I marked for quotes. The ones that remained wound up not being the quotes I was looking for. Here’s an important, one, though, which I pull for my friend who said, “You’ll have to tell me what you think of China, because I hate China.”

Almost everything the outside world thinks is wrong with China is indeed a genuine problem. Perhaps not the most extreme allegations, of large-scale forced organ-harvesting and similar barbarities. But brutal extremes of wealth and poverty? Arbitrary and prolonged detentions for those who rock the boat? Dangerous working conditions? Factories that take shortcuts on health and safety standards? Me-first materialism and an absence of ethical values? All these are here. I’ve met people affected by every problem on the list, and more.

But China’s reality includes more than its defects. More people are far better off than they were 20 years ago, and they are generally optimistic about what life will hold 20 years from now. This summer’s Pew Global Attitudes Project finding that 86 percent of the Chinese public was satisfied with the country’s overall direction, the highest of all the countries surveyed, was not some enforced or robotic consensus. It rings true with most of what I’ve seen in cities and across most of the country’s provinces and autonomous regions, something I wouldn’t have guessed from afar.

One of Fallows essays, “China’s Silver Lining,” which is about pollution in China, is directly related to an article about climate change in this week’s Economist. I love when the books I read actually help me understand complicated current events!

——————————-

I’m not quite ready to reflect on the school year yet, in case you’re wondering why I’m not writing about my kids. That post is coming, and I wish my students in summer school all the best! (Today’s their first day)

###

The Learning Gap

Now that my book is grossly overdue at the Seattle Public Library, I’ve finally finished The Learning Gap: Why our schools are failing and what we can learn from Japanese and Chinese education. (My overdue fees are going to hurt all the more because the whole book is available for free online…)

There were a lot of interesting ideas and observations in this book, which was written in 1992. I have a few major concerns with some of Stevenson and Stigler’s arguments, but I think their main takeaway is definitely worth taking a look at.

My scanner is MIA, but for example, I thought you needed to see this graph on what parents in Beijing value versus parents in Chicago:

Defining the Ideal Teacher
Defining the Ideal Teacher

Look at those huge differences in clarity and sensitivity, as well as enthusiasm. What do you think causes them? How would you answer this survey?

I am now on the lookout for a “Math Set.” Stevenson and Stigler mention this manipulatives kit, and many other researchers quote it, but I can’t seem to find a set that contains “a box of colorful, well-designed materials for teaching mathematical concepts: tiles, clock, ruler, checkerboard, colored triangles, beads, and many other attractive objects.” (186)

I also wanted to share this passage:

If we were asked briefly to characterize classes in Japan and China, we would say that they consist of coherent lessons that are presented in a thoughtful, relaxed, and nonauthoritarian manner. Teachers frequently involve students as sources of information. Lessons are oriented toward problem-solving rather than rote mastery of facts and procedures, and make use of many different types of representational materials. The role assumed by the teacher is that of the knowledgable guide, rather than that of prime dispenser of information and arbiter of what is correct. There is frequent verbal interaction in the classroom as the teacher attempts to stimulate students to produce, explain, and evaluate solutions to problems. These characteristics contradict stereotypes held by most Westerners about Asian teaching practices. Lessons are not rote; they are not filled with drill. Teachers do not spend large amounts of time lecturing to children; and the children are not passive automatons but active participants in the learning process. (176-177)

Definitely something to think about.

Finally, here’s what the authors recommend we should do to define our solution to improving instruction in US public schools:

CHANGING THE SCHOOLS
1. Free Teachers (give them more time to prepare lessons and for professional development)
2. Improve Teacher Training
3. Make Systematic Use of Learning Principles (research-based instruction)
4. Teach to the Group (hold high standards?)
5. Consider Increasing Class Size (with the opportunity for “more time each day to plan lessons, deal with individual children, and consult with colleagues” (212))
6. Revise Textbooks
7.  Free Children (more frequent, shorter breaks)
8. Eliminate Tracking
9. Respect the Age of Innocence (keep learning fun)

WHAT FAMILIES CAN DO
Make Realistic Assessments (of their students) and Raise Standards
(American kids were always the worst at math, but their families always thought they were better at math than anyone else)

CHANGING SOCIAL BELIEFS
Value Education
Believe in Effort

If you’re interested in more, here’s a thoughtful article from the NCTM.

###

HOT!

My students deserve mad props for dealing with the crazy hot weather (hot for Seattle, at least). As I’m writing this at 6:41 AM, it’s already 63 degrees outside. Some folks are predicting temps in the mid-90s, and there’s a heat advisory in effect until 6 tonight.

Despite this, and despite a looming summer vacation, my students have been extremely focused and tolerant. We had no lights on in the room all day yesterday (to prevent generating more heat), which I worried might be distracting, yet we had great lessons in reading and math, plus we made big progress in our Storypath. The only crisis we ran into was our ELMO kept overheating…

The up side is that I’ve had a chance to test out my moisture-wicking China travel clothes:

What a lovely dress!
What a lovely dress!

I love this dress from Title Nine!

I know you’re tired of seeing my mug in these posts, but I’m still trying to figure out the whole business of posting student work, so you’re stuck with me for now.

In other China news, it’s the 20th anniversary of the protests / massacre in Tiananmen Square, and CNN has this report (thank to Ed for the link). James Fallows also has an interesting article about Internet access in China. A few people have asked me how I feel about visiting China because they have concerns about their human rights record and their policy on the media. My response has been that I’m not yet well enough informed, and I’m interested to see what it’s like when I’m actually there.

Off to school!

###

Learning and Unlearning China’s History

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I’ve been filling in my basic knowledge of Chinese history using some questionable methods.

I was serious when I said in an earlier post that I had absolutely NO background on Chinese history. I never covered anything regarding China in my World Studies class in 10th grade, which was my only class that covered anything outside of the US (It should also be noted that I never formally studied any history later than WWII, which is another discussion for another day). So, I’m rather ashamed to admit, while irreverent, this video gave me a pretty good starting overview of what I needed to research further, such as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.

I’ve been searching for as many voices as possible in my quest to understand more about China. The challenging part is that I don’t know the stereotypical Western version of China’s history, so when I find the alternate, non-mainstream books, they assume I already know the basic stories. Which I don’t. So I’m extremely lost.

For example, I found an interesting book on women’s perspectives of the Cultural Revolution that claimed to basically blow the lid off the victim/victimizer perspective that most Westerners hold… but I didn’t know anything about the Cultural Revolution, so I didn’t know what perspective the authors thought I held.

I got a better idea of what the mainstream history was from Wikipedia, which I’m sure has all sorts of people rolling around in agony — using Wikipedia as my primary source of Chinese history!? Horrors! But where else can I find a brief, broad overview of China outside of a high school history book?

Recently, my friend and fellow teacher Garrett blogged about issues regarding Asian American men and masculinity. Again, I didn’t know what I was “supposed” to have as a stereotypical view of Asian masculinity. I am starting with zero views or opinions on most of China’s history and culture. The only stereotype I was aware existed was that of the Asian as a model minority / strong student. I did not know a single person of Chinese American descent until I moved to Seattle, and at that point in my life, I obviously did not expect them to represent an entire population.

This feels markedly different from the unlearning I’ve had to go through in my perspectives on people of other ethnicities or socioeconomic groups who I already had preconceived notions about.

I’m in no way complaining — if anything, I’m embarrassed of my lack of knowledge and only wish I could learn faster. I hope sharing this process offers some insight into how I’ve started to try to better understand a nation and a people from basically a blank slate. Please push back if I’ve inadvertently done or said something offensive or insensitive. My ignorance is never an excuse for unsavory behavior or comments.

In order to have a broader understanding of China’s history and people, I’ve been surprised to find I actually have to teach myself the one-sided stereotypical view of Chinese history first so I can understand enough about the basic situation. Then I immediately have to unlearn the standard story by ferreting out traditionally silenced viewpoints. If you have an alternative strategy for me, I’d love to hear it. This has proven to be exhausting, but definitely well-worth it… I’ll keep you posted as I progress…

###

Learning and Unlearning China's History

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I’ve been filling in my basic knowledge of Chinese history using some questionable methods.

I was serious when I said in an earlier post that I had absolutely NO background on Chinese history. I never covered anything regarding China in my World Studies class in 10th grade, which was my only class that covered anything outside of the US (It should also be noted that I never formally studied any history later than WWII, which is another discussion for another day). So, I’m rather ashamed to admit, while irreverent, this video gave me a pretty good starting overview of what I needed to research further, such as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.

I’ve been searching for as many voices as possible in my quest to understand more about China. The challenging part is that I don’t know the stereotypical Western version of China’s history, so when I find the alternate, non-mainstream books, they assume I already know the basic stories. Which I don’t. So I’m extremely lost.

For example, I found an interesting book on women’s perspectives of the Cultural Revolution that claimed to basically blow the lid off the victim/victimizer perspective that most Westerners hold… but I didn’t know anything about the Cultural Revolution, so I didn’t know what perspective the authors thought I held.

I got a better idea of what the mainstream history was from Wikipedia, which I’m sure has all sorts of people rolling around in agony — using Wikipedia as my primary source of Chinese history!? Horrors! But where else can I find a brief, broad overview of China outside of a high school history book?

Recently, my friend and fellow teacher Garrett blogged about issues regarding Asian American men and masculinity. Again, I didn’t know what I was “supposed” to have as a stereotypical view of Asian masculinity. I am starting with zero views or opinions on most of China’s history and culture. The only stereotype I was aware existed was that of the Asian as a model minority / strong student. I did not know a single person of Chinese American descent until I moved to Seattle, and at that point in my life, I obviously did not expect them to represent an entire population.

This feels markedly different from the unlearning I’ve had to go through in my perspectives on people of other ethnicities or socioeconomic groups who I already had preconceived notions about.

I’m in no way complaining — if anything, I’m embarrassed of my lack of knowledge and only wish I could learn faster. I hope sharing this process offers some insight into how I’ve started to try to better understand a nation and a people from basically a blank slate. Please push back if I’ve inadvertently done or said something offensive or insensitive. My ignorance is never an excuse for unsavory behavior or comments.

In order to have a broader understanding of China’s history and people, I’ve been surprised to find I actually have to teach myself the one-sided stereotypical view of Chinese history first so I can understand enough about the basic situation. Then I immediately have to unlearn the standard story by ferreting out traditionally silenced viewpoints. If you have an alternative strategy for me, I’d love to hear it. This has proven to be exhausting, but definitely well-worth it… I’ll keep you posted as I progress…

###

China!

I received word this morning that I’ve been chosen as one of three teachers to participate in the Cultural Exploration of Greater China program!!! I couldn’t be more delighted! I will probably be speaking in exclamation points all day!

I am so grateful to the folks with the CE foundation, who took great care in getting to know me, in clarifying with me what my goals are, and in ensuring that we were a good match for each other. I’m glad we are, and I can’t wait to get started on this journey!

I use the word journey because from the start, this has been more than simply a trip or, goodness forbid, a vacation. This will be a powerful opportunity for my students and colleagues to travel across the globe with me. I am so proud to be an ambassador of Wildwood Elementary School, and, by extension, of Seattle University’s MIT program and AmeriCorps.

This will be a whirlwind ride. One of the CE interview questions that stuck with me the most was “How do you know you won’t get burnt out?” It’s a completely valid question, because it’s one people have been asking me since I was 13 years old. I recognize that I’m an extremely busy person. However, my time in AmeriCorps and at Seattle University has helped develop my ability to reflect. I know when I’m overbooked. I know when I’m misusing my energy on something I’m not passionate about. I know when I need to take a break. I’m even working on saying “no,” and I believe I’m much improved.

I owe tremendous thank yous to all the folks at the CE foundation. They are an extremely focused, well-organized group of people, and their dedication to their program is very apparent. I also need to thank Jenna Brown and Barb Burn, who gave insights to the CE members as to who I am as a person and as an educator. And of course, I need to thank my 24 third graders, who have been keeping their fingers crossed for the past month or so. I’m so excited! Let’s travel together!

###