Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Community of Learners


 A Community of Learners

Through out the book Ayers gives examples of the achievements of children through inquiry. When I read about the project on the bridge building project for Bingo the turtle it reminded me of a similar project that my students worked on a few years ago. Our school is located on a very busy street. Cars would drive by the school without slowing down on a regular basis even at the busy times when our students were arriving in the morning and leaving in the afternoon. One of my students came to me and asked me if we could conduct an experiment. He wanted to see if  cars would slow down if  orange cones were place on each side of the crosswalk. As a class we discussed the reason why this would or would not be effective. The students formed their own hypothesis. We got permission from our Principal and from the Mayor's office to conduct the experiment. The Phys. Ed. dept. loaned us the cones. We place two orange cones on either side of the of the crosswalk on both sides of the street. We also had a speed gun loaned to us by one of the high school baseball coaches. Students took turns recording the data. We conducted the experiment for one month. The outcome of this project was amazing. The result of the experiment was that cars did slow down significantly when the cones were  placed at the crosswalks. My students did not want to stop there. Now they wanted to make the cones a permanent fixture. I spoke with my Principal and he called the local newspaper. A reporter came to the school and interviewed the class. They were so psyched!! Their picture was in the paper along with the results of their experiment. Most importantly the reporter stressed that the class wanted the cones to be permanently placed in front of the school. They got more than they asked for. The cones were placed in front of the school along with.....a crossing guard!! The kids couldn't believe it. They were so proud of what they had accomplished. The crossing guard as well as the cones have been permanent fixtures in front of the school ever since.
 My Final point that I would like to make on this story is that the boy who initiated this whole inquiry project was barely passing my class. He was the leader on this project and he did an outstanding job. Andora Svitak, the inspirational TED speaker states that kids are up for challenges. She also states that "If expectations are low, trust me we will sink to them." This was an important reminder for me never to lower my expectations of all my students.

                                                                    Albert Einstein

One of the other points that Ayers discusses is about standardized testing. On page 85 Ayers states that he grew up in a home where the same language was spoken as on the test, but that is  not true for everyone in the room taking the test along with Ayers. The other day my kids were learning about abiotic (non-living) and biotic (living) factors. I had put up a list of items on the board and they were taking turns checking off if the item was biotic or abiotic. One of the items was thermometer.  I have a student from Belarus who speaks Russian. It was his turn, finally he said to me "What is thermometer?" I showed him a thermometer and he immediately got the answer right and was able to give me the reasons why. Another science teacher happened to be walking through my room and he asked me how are these kids ever going to take the science NECAP test in May? This boy is very advanced in science. He is really at a high school level. Are the tests really going to measure what he knows? I think not. So many of my students are very bright and have a great deal of content knowledge. I can see it so clearly. They get concepts very quickly. It is the language barrier that we need to overcome and we will I have no doubt about that. However, what is going to happen when NECAP time arrives? 

                                        “Strength lies in differences, not in similarities”                                                                                        Stephen R. Covey

 One of the goals of our team this year is to try to involve the families of our students as much as possible. Last spring we met with the families to welcome them to their new school. We also had our own open house which was in a more intimate setting. Here we were, five different languages being interpreted but we were all there for one common goal. I think that there is potential there to incorporate the parents more . I think they want to be included. Strong parent involvement will improve the education of the children.  Our team was even talking about helping the parents to learn English. I loved the part in the book , pages 100-112 concerning community action. Ayers states the importance of  the relationship between school and community. My school actually does the neighborhood walk every summer to meet all new incoming families. It is a very positive and eye opening  experience. Most parents appreciate the visit and it always gives me a different perspective on my students.                                                                


  1. First of all, Mary, WOW to the parking cones experiment and follow-through and subsequent permanency of the cones and crossing guard. What you describe is just like the turtle/bridge project that Ayers presents, and that picture in the newspaper of your own students will probably resonate with them forever. That is the part of the book I loved: the first part. I was feeling less that inspired in the second half, and it's true what you point out: how are this year's students who come from all of those different backgrounds going to measure up on paper to the kids who have English as their first languages? It's not even comparing apples to apples, and it's precisely what we all dislike about standardized tests. The community involvement thing is also great, particularly for your subset of students, but with my caseload of 127 students, I find it to be almost impossible and too much to do. I started to lose my enthusiasm for Ayers when he described that utopian-like atmosphere of the Chicago school, however, reading your blog and about the neighborhood walk, who knows? Maybe this could be possible after all. Thanks for inspiring me!

  2. There is a lot to be said about allow the student to be able to visually see exactly what someone is talking about when they have difficulty with the language. You need to be able to guage whether or not it is a learning issue or a language issue.