As an educator and a parent, I know for many of us, the most difficult student(s) to teach can easily be our own.
So, for many of you parents, teaching your own students at home, I feel for you. Thankfully, we can learn a few lessons from a kid’s show which featured a blue dog, “Blue,” and the dog’s owner “Steve.” Steve Burns is a modest guy, only a few years younger than myself, and with teaching skills he has helped many more than he realizes.
One of my first points of advice for new teachers,... “Watch Blue’s Clues.”
My advice for parents… “Watch Blue’s Clues.”
What are you there to learn? #1: Wait time. Steve was the master. As he spoke through the camera, intentionally breaking the fourth wall, there were those long pauses. Long pauses.
The dead air involved with wait time is endless! Initially. Then, it gets easier. We see its effectiveness and understand the timing. Allowing our children the comfort of time to actually think before replying. Empowering. Do you have a child who responds before thinking? Yep, you contributed to that immediate response. Time to practice wait time. Next time you ask a question, try to start over in your mind and search for multiple answers in your mind - or count to 10, if you get to 10 before a response. (BTW: If you get to ten, you count too fast!)
#2 play dumb. Then, turn the question around. Sounds simple? Initially, it is excruciatingly difficult!! …And, then it gets easier and becomes fun.
A couple problems we have to overcome:
As parents we like to be smarter than our kids. It can be tough to let this go. Good news: you are smarter. Bad news: Google has you beat. But, teaching our children to learn, think, and know how to find relevant educational experiences, is more important than content knowledge. So it just doesn’t matter how smart you are. Playing a bit dumb, takes us out of the primary learner position and transfers it to… our kids. Amazing.
So before the next time you ask a question verbally, try this once. Keep the question in your head. Then, restart your brain, and contemplate the question and its multiple answers - both right and wrong. Consider the amount of time which passed. Your brain operates much faster without speech, so double the time. Now you have an idea of the time your kids need to process - really process an idea or question. Even in an ongoing dialogue. Yep, it’s really a lot of time.
Blue’s Clues aired on Nickelodeon, with variants on Nick Jr. Also viewable on YouTube.
So, let’s start off this conversation about something we all think we know - after all, we spent a lot of time there: school.
Imagine: A young, new, clueless teacher walking into a classroom. Clueless, not on the content or the material to be covered... but, on the engagement of the students. Presenting the material, the students are asking no questions… The teacher wonders, "Am I going too slow? A lot of empty eyes out there, and no one is asking questions. Are they getting bored?"
The teacher increases pace, and runs through more and more exciting content, hoping to engage the students. But, rather than getting excited, the group seems less engaged, and eyes seem to wander. And,.. no questions,.. just stares. Students leave, and the teacher is still marveling how efficiently he covered so much content in such little time, and then wonders what he has left to cover the next day.
The period ends... the session draws to a close... and the students leave completely shutdown.
But, this shutdown is not caused by boredom,.. rather, the other extreme - by a month's content being dropped in their lap in a day.
They just passed through a bad twilight zone episode,.. Sadly, about thirty years ago, that was me. Not the student - the teacher. Some of us have experienced this in school. Some at work. Some in conversations with family at gatherings. My students experienced this when I started teaching on an emergency license, heavy in content knowledge, but with very little actual education experience.
We all teach. Sharing an education moment with others is not limited to “teachers.” And, one of the challenges each of us has to deal with is reading the engagement of the learner. Boredom and frustration are at opposite ends of the spectrum, but they look the same! Too easy leads to boredom, and too difficult leads to frustration. Both cause the same effect - shutdown. For a foreman, reading the learner is needed when training the new hire. For the parent, teaching the kids how to take out the trash, or helping with math homework. Among friends, it is sharing cool things we saw on the web, or read in a blog :-).
Easy is shutdown
I remember as a kid, easy seemed like a good thing. It was why we got the sub distracted at school, right? Made it an easy day. Although, pulling that off did seem to take a lot of work. And, it was really boring afterwards. (Maybe we weren’t that smart!)
I had the ultimate experience with experiencing “easy” in the 80’s on what would seem like a great job. Just out of high school, I was ready to bank a huge paycheck - far above minimum wage (surprisingly, more than many high schoolers make today on their first job). And, it came with twelve hour days and a bonus. The money sounded great. But, when I showed up with the other new hires, the equipment for the line hadn’t arrived. So, we were all given an option, quit or start a slow dance with a broom across the floors of this huge, new open building which was missing equipment. And so it began. We swept,.. And we swept. About 4 hours later, our quartet had successfully completed the task. What now? Sweep again (or be fired!). Yep, we swept away,.. and again,.. and again for 12 hours and then headed home. Funny how much quicker it is to sweep a clean floor. What a crazy day. By the time we were done, the floor had been covered in multiple criss-cross patterns - you would think it was a golf course.
Day 2. Yep, no equipment for the line. Here we go again. Yep, there is nothing easier to do than sweep a clean floor. And, yep, it was borderline insanity! 12 hours! At the door of the facility at the end of the day: the sun was setting, and we were discussing who was going to stay with this job, or find something else. The money was good, so everyone decided to stay on.
Day 3. By this time an interesting thing happened. No, the equipment still had not arrived. But, instead of sweeping, guys are talking about quitting. Guys start finding places to hide to take naps. We were shutting down while pushing our brooms. With the same wood handle feel pushing across the same smooth concrete floor. It was too much to handle! Our actions were now defining insanity. But, if we were caught not working we would likely get canned. But, nobody cared. Nobody cared. It would be better than losing our minds.
On day 4, Finally! When we were put on the line, everyone was ecstatic, and we had learned a valuable lesson. We may have been the weirdos in the building, but we were excited to be working! Easy is akin to experiencing hell on earth. Something to be avoided.
But, frustration is an equally awful experience. I think we each have many of these experiences in our past. The ones we like to forget.
And, while we work out of frustration by perseverance, practice, and getting help, we ironically want to shut down. Which leads to more frustration…
A solution in the classroom.
So… after the first few days as a new teacher, I tried something novel. I asked.
As teachers, parents, friends, boss, mentor, we can ask. And, then, listen. It was essential to know the perceived difficulty level of my students. My students and I began discussing the two ends of the spectrum: Material coming way too hard - leading to frustration, and material which is way too easy - leading to boredom. In a classroom setting, both can be very bad, but appear the same. Did you catch that? They appear about the same. And at each extreme, students shut down. Colleagues shut down. Workers shut down. Friends disengage.
And, so I asked my students where they were... I polled them daily. What an eye-opener. It was an odd thing for a physics teacher to do, but it worked and it solved other problems, too. That loud student complaining ‘no one is getting anything you are saying.’ Yep, he is primarily a solo act. And the students who needed help, we connected, and they got it. One of the best things I did early on in teaching. (Anonymous polling is increasingly digital age easy.)
So,... if you have entered a work situation, or class setting as the stellar individual, everything coming super easy, and a year later are left wondering, “how has everyone passed me up?” Yep, your boredom undercut your motivation and they all did pass you up. The right level of difficulty keeps us at our best. (More about that next time.)
And, if you are having trouble motivating a youth or coworker… you may just want to ask about how tough they perceive an activity is, realizing verbally it may take a few asks to get an accurate picture - or pushes of the broom.
7 Takeaways From One School’s Experiences With Distance Learning | Edutopia
As an educator, one of my favorite online forums is Edutopia (edutopia.org). While I enjoy multiple professional online journals, this one tends to really put out the good stuff for the aspiring teaching professional and parent "in the know of all things education."
As a science educator, I span the views and social reactions to help gauge our country's job of educating the masses. Each day is a mixed bag of individuals thinking their way through the day to stay healthy through this disease, and then those who interact with health science as an inscription on a magic genie bottle. The former considers being upwind versus downwind to other people. They understand "6 feet" is not a magical number, but a relative term. It may actually mean less distance between well masked and disinfected people, and a football field from the unmasked family, with the feverish kid,.. who just entered the restaurant!
(BTW, genie bottle or not, I will strongly encourage 6 feet is a good minimum for all.)
So,.. looking to the fall. What has been the best of our reactions to COVID? We need to consider these best practices of the past few months. Personally, I hope those are the policies and procedures we will likely see in the states in the immediate future. And, I hope they are traded for better policy as we continue to learn more.
Looking to Mary Davenports synopsis, #1 and #2 on her list, are not the "6 foot separation" or "wear masks" we have become accustomed to in our new normal. What are they??
Teamwork between schools and agencies (with solidarity) and communication. Awesome! In my opinion, teamwork and communication are in the top two list of our best science teachers’ top three list.* Now, do we need the separation and masks, of course, but without working together and disseminating the ever-morphing battle plan effectively, they may not matter much to really overcome this disease.
One change I would suggest? Move #7 to #3. How about to the #1 spot? People. People have to be #1. And, not ourselves first, but others. It’s a higher motivation tier. Also, it’s important to keep the people in front of the disease, in front of the machine we're building to battle this thing. Not the other way around, or we risk losing focus and drive. People have to come first. It is the why.
* (For years, I thought the best thing about teaching physics was the awesome content. Now, don't get me wrong, the physics content is awesome, but it loses its value without individuals working together to solve problems, and finding effective (and cool) ways to get the word out. These last two make the science fun and rewarding with new opportunities to really explore physics. Then, when you realize the significance of the many individuals you are working with, and put them at the top of your equation, teaching takes on a new dimension.)
After this crazy Spring, all schools are now preparing for the fall, with everyone working to figure out what plan could survive the uncertainty. And similarly, every online educational journal is taking a stab at what the fall will look like, and offering its own two bits.
It may be helpful to think, as we are already into summer, "without the disease how would we have acted differently over the last few months in a previous year?" Through this period of pandemic, we have seen individuals who have taken new modes of operation and demonstrated the best of the human spirit. The amazing people "on the front lines." If we each have not said a prayer recently for these individuals, then we should. What are they doing today that is different, or better, from what they were doing back in March? I would suggest: improved focus on 1, 2, and 3.
And, we should also consider those "in the trenches behind the dotted white line." These are the ones behind the counters of businesses, whose owners are hoping to stay open enough to survive this disease. Considering recent events, are the owners now thinking, "how will I survive if my business is the epicenter of a couple dozen new cases?" Last weekend, across the state border, I entered an eating establishment, gauging the workers were well protected, also wearing my mask, and keeping the social distance having read the signs on the door. On the door was a sign which clearly stated to customers "No entry without masks," and another detailed designated areas for the customers. Yet, over my short stay, I watched a majority of individuals arrive without masks, and sit where they wanted. Hmm. (1) I don’t think they were putting the worker’s health in consideration, (2) they definitely missed the solidarity effort, and (3) their 2nd grade teacher would have been disappointed at their lack of ability to read a message posted on the front door.
As Americans, we can be pretty fickle. As the public deals with cabin fever, it will be important to support our schools and educators. And hope we all keep thinking as we get through this page in history.
To the friends we serve in our community,
The COVID-19 spread is unlike anything we have experienced in our lifetimes. At the ETHOS Innovation Center, we know this is a very difficult time for each of you. This event in history has caused many disruptions, affects not only students, but also families and friends everywhere. We have been watching the events of the last month, and considered the current and potential future impact.
We hope each of you, your friends and families are able to stay healthy and positive as we pass through this difficult time. Our staff is working remotely, and we appreciate your patience and apologize for any delays in our response time during this period.
We are also taking necessary steps to best support our loyal patrons. To that end, we have decided to close our doors until at least April 13th. We look forward to when we reopen and again work to meet the STEM needs of the youth in our region. Due to the closure and uncertain time due to this disease, we are also making changes in program cancellation policy.
Any programs cancelled after March 15th, due to the COVID-19 pandemic will be fully refunded, regardless of cancellation date. Please contact Shari at Shari[@]ethosinc.org for cancellation or refund questions.
ETHOS is still looking forward to an exciting summer with a full line up of summer camps. For those with cabin fever and inquisitive youth, there are many opportunities for students of all ages to experience great learning experiences in hands-on STEAM. You can check out our summer camps at: CLICK HERE
A similar cancellation policy will be in place for the summer camps as stated above. If we need to cancel camps this summer because of the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, you will receive a full refund. Contact us for more information regarding financial need.
The ETHOS Innovation Center, as a nonprofit, will be weathering this difficult time. We are as determined as ever and move through this for the sake of our children, and our passion for their STEAM futures. We will continue to monitor the situation and work to communicate the most recent information regarding the ETHOS Innovation Center.
Our wishes are for the health and wellness of each of you. Please, do not hesitate with any questions. Thank you all for your ongoing support as we work together to make the world better for our students.
John B. Taylor
CEO, ETHOS Innovation Center
We at ETHOS Innovation Center feel deep compassion for those impacted by COVID-19. And we are encouraged by the many scientists and health field professionals who are working to help us overcome this current challenge.
As an organization devoted to the youth of our community, we continue to be focused on the health and safety of students of all ages. As such, we will monitor and support the efforts of our local health and educational organizations.
As part of proactive measures, we will be canceling certain activities. Our Science Academies, school field trips, and Open Museum dates will be suspended through the end of March. Also, the Spring Break camp series will be cancelled and our efforts focused on the Summer Camp series. For specific program details after the beginning of April, please visit our website calendar.
As we are heartbroken for our robotics students, who have qualified for the cancelled State and International FIRST competition, we applaud their efforts and hours of work to achieve their accomplishments. You are all awesome! We will continue to support your aspirations in the future.
At ETHOS, we work to help provide children with opportunities to connect science to everyday life through problem-solving, discovery and critical thinking. Our focus is always on the well-being of the public we serve, and will continue to be our first priority.
John B. Taylor
Chief Executive Officer
ELKHART — A local robotics team that is part of the ETHOS Innovation Center and Granger Exploration and Robotics Studio has punched its ticket to compete in an international tournament this spring.
In December, seven local ETHOS teams competed in Indiana’s FIRST LEGO League State Championship in Fort Wayne. One of those teams, 31195 Heroes, placed second out of 48 teams made...
WRITTEN BY: Marshall V. King
PHOTOGRAPHY BY: Marshall V. King
PUBLISHED BY: South Bend Tribune
ELKHART — The new ETHOS Science Center has holograms, robotics labs and augmented reality stations in a science museum.
In May, nearly every school day will mean field trips of local students coming to use the facility to learn more about science and its role in their lives and future employment.
In a few of the corners, students can learn about how science and Elkhart history are intertwined. How a woman named Helen Free was a leading scientist nationally. How Alka-Seltzer helped people with headaches and upset stomachs.
Many of the students coming to the ETHOS Science Center, at 1025 N. Michigan Street, may not already know what Alka-Seltzer is, much less the story of how it was invented in Elkhart.
They may not know that Miles Laboratories and other businesses in town produced aspirin and vitamins and provided jobs to generations of employees.
Miles eventually became part of Bayer Corp. The campus on the northeast side of Elkhart was home to both for decades before Bayer left Elkhart entirely in the last several years.
Now, ETHOS, which was formed in 2001, is ready to open its newly revamped science center in a building that once housed Bayer and was donated to ETHOS by the company.
But $8.2 million was needed to renovate 65,000 square feet and add another 35,000 square feet of warehouse space, according to Patsy Boehler, ETHOS executive director.
The South Bend-Elkhart Regional Development Authority approved a $532,000 grant. The Elkhart City Council unanimously approved matching it. The Community Foundation of Elkhart County offered a $1 million matching grant, plus some other funds. (For full disclosure, I’ve done work for both, but didn’t write this column on their behalf.) So far, $7 million has been raised.
The construction is nearly complete on what will be called the ETHOS Innovation Center powered by Thor Industries. The recreational vehicle manufacturer purchased naming rights for the building.
Inside, Boehler and others, including former Elkhart Community Schools Superintendent Mark Mow, have been cleaning and preparing for this past weekend’s opening.
Donors and dignitaries got a look Thursday. Open houses Friday night and Saturday attracted others to a remarkable place where futures can take root.
Since leaving Bayer in 1995, Boehler has led the charge to continue science education. Without her, the conversation of how Elkhart city and county schools should tackle Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math education, better known by the STEAM acronym, would look very different.
Boehler has been an advocate, a resource, and a leader on ensuring that science education didn’t end even though science companies left Elkhart and Indiana cut funding for schools.
When Gov. Eric Holcomb visited Elkhart in November to tout his legislative agenda, he was set to spend just 15 minutes in the robotics lab at ETHOS, where the press conference took place. He was there around one and a half hours, Boehler said.
Their conversation about the lack of funding for science education surprised him and an increase in the funding formula happened a short time later, she said, noting that she isn’t sure there was a direct connection.
Holcomb is touting how the science center is the kind of thing that Indiana needs to move forward. In an era of shrinking school budgets, a massive, well-designed center that is the result of a public-private partnership is now available to help local students learn skills they’ll need for the modern workforce.
Robotics labs are busy every evening, said Boehler. In addition, students can learn CAD or coding in one room and record YouTube videos across the hall. A hands-on museum includes an inflatable planetarium that can hold up to 30 people, as well as other exhibits.
The building isn’t limited to public school students or the Elkhart school board that may meet there regularly. Homeschoolers and people with disabilities are regularly using the facilities. Perhaps even more exciting is that Lippert Components has its robotics employees in the building and other Elkhart manufacturers are not only making donations, but also exploring possible partnerships.
Boehler hopes students can explore how to meld Elkhart’s entrepreneurial spirit with science to create new companies instead of only talking about Bayer or Whitehall Laboratories.
“Our kids here are just as smart and have just as much potential as anywhere in the world,” she said.
Now they also have a new science center in which to harness both.