Remembering Times of Yore

During the time my siblings and I were growing up, like all of our friends, we went to school, had homework, and then played outdoors, sometimes reading a good book or watching television (Only four stations). And when our parents were young, they shared the same experience. Some of us enjoyed the process, while others, like me, thought P.E. our favorite subject. Recess and lunch recess we liked equally. Yet, during that time, America was number one in the world. Looking back, I remember knowing education was important, that our parents always reminded us to get our homework done. At school, we knew who we were and who the adults were. When I complained the work was too much, my parents’ response was predictable. Well then, you better get started. So, for the most part, we did. I seemed to have a natural affinity towards mathematics, and getting better grades there, I pursued it more, which seems to have had positive results. Running numbers through your head, able to figure sales without a calculator. One of my favorite memories was when buying a vehicle. One dealer had an awesome deal, but we had to use their bank. Well, when you ran the numbers, saving a few thousand off the list price actually resulted in higher monthly costs. How could that be, a friend wondered. Well, it’s math. If someone tells you they saved several thousand, one might wonder what bank they used: theirs or the dealer’s. But many people who don’t understand numbers, and this is increasing in more present times. In the class, we were the young ones learning from those who’ve grown up and experienced a lot in life. We could learn from them, although often we didn’t listen, but what I did listen to usually became useful information. Quality class management, consequences for bad behavior (even suspension and expulsion), and strict guidelines of work are not the enemies of progress. Many good teachers are rigorous, have strict guidelines, but also utilize creative lessons. As young people, we needed strong adult examples in our lives. How else would we understand being an adult? And if we wanted “fun time,” well that was during recess and after school. Yes, teachers can make lessons more creative and interesting, but a focus on doing your best and preparing for the future is very important. There is a reason we were number one in the world. Success and hard work was the goal. Raising the bar raised future opportunities. Creative lessons opened our minds to possibilities. But doing all that work, sometimes 50 math problems a day, turned our minds into useful tools we could utilize in a variety of jobs and careers. Are there kids that can lead their own learning? Yes. Are they the majority? No. Having visited several schools over the years, learning about different methodologies, more and more have I come to realize the quality of education I received was pretty good. Of course, it was up to me to make the most of it, which thankfully later, I did. The foundation allowed for further learning at higher levels. Young people need guidance, and a rigorous program to prepare our youth is good. Yes, some kids cannot learn in such environments, but that’s not the norm. Thankfully, in the United States, parents have choices and can choose the environments for their children. We did well while growing up.

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Education Quality

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                There is a difference between learning and understanding, something the readers have read more about on my posts.  From the university, through some jobs and hobbies, then decades of teaching, I’ve had the privilege and responsibility to educate others, prepare them for the next grades and beyond, encouraging them to learn to think for themselves so they can make good decisions.  My hopes are that they find their own path, what is for them, and take on their responsibilities, but also enjoy discovery and the joy of work. 

                Over the past few months, I’ve had the opportunity to visit other educational places, talk to teachers, talk to friends who teach at schools (i.e. public, private, charter, tutoring, etc.), and talk to those who home school.  With time, my concerns grew.  I saw good things.  I saw creativity.  But more and more, I saw a lack of basics and necessary skill sets.  Let me share.

                As a teacher, over the years, I understood how quickly children can learn if we teach to their understanding.  For instance, I have taught verbs, adjectives, nouns, and such in one period, and the students retained the understanding.  When the next week came along, most remembered and could use them properly.  If a kid wants to learn how to kick a ball far, explain to their understanding. 

                But I also saw a serious need for quality writing skills (i.e. sentences, punctuation, paragraphing, and more) and each year set out to raise the bar and get their skills where they need to be.  Then, I also saw the need to encourage self-thinking so they could write essays with quality supporting evidence.  Why do you think this?  Where did you receive the information? 

                I also noticed a serious lack of basics facts in mathematics.  In the third grade, when my teacher broke out the flash cards, I realized that there was a faster way to learn the multiplications table.  So, at home, 20-60 minutes a day, several days a week, I practiced.  After that year, never had to practice again.  There is a very direct connection of basic facts to solving math problems.  Why does she/he have trouble with math?  Oh, he/she has always struggled.  Maybe she/he needs a tutor.  Does he/she know their basic facts to mastery?  Trying to solve math problems without the ability to run numbers through your head is very difficult.  In our classes, the kids/teens who mastered their basics found their math grades quickly improving. 

                Regarding understanding, the basics are still very important.  Trying to write a story or essay, but having difficulty with writing becomes a block.  A strong foundation is required.   It’s like trying to repair an engine but not knowing how to handle the tools or understand instructions.  We need the first, then we can succeed with the second.   And with time, understanding grows and grows. 

                My hopes are, whatever educational setting the kids/teens are in, that a strong foundation is developed, then all the rest become open doors. 

Humor and Stories and Learning

                One of my favorite stories to encourage problem solving (I learned this from another teacher, who learned it from another source.) involves a farmer attempting to cross a river.  He had a chicken, a fox on a leash, and a package of vegetables.  Due to the weight restrictions of the canoe, he could only take one item across at a time.  The problem was, if he took the bag, the fox would eat the chicken.  How did he get all the items across safely?

                **If you wish to attempt solving this, don’t look before until your attempt.

                Of course, many readers have heard this before, perhaps in class.  We take the fox across, so the chicken is alone with the vegetables.  Then, we take the chicken, but bring the fox back to the beginning.  Then, we take the package.  Last, we bring the fox over and continue with the journey. 

                We used stories like this to challenge the kids and teens to think.  Very rarely have we had any student figure this out at the beginning of the year.  By the end of the year, having taught them cause and effects and to think for themselves, more of the students can problem solve.

Children and Intelligence

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                I remember, while growing up, having few conversations with adults other than day to day communication.  Later, in life, I heard of some kids who grew up listening to their relatives (and relatives’ friends) discussing current events, national issues, and more, and they grew up with a greater understanding of cause and effects and the world around them.

                This had some impact upon me, and some of my contemporaries, in how we educated our students.   We know children are children, and we wanted them to enjoy their childhoods.  Some teachers created some lessons that would encourage their imaginations while learning.  Making 3-D cities with all the regulations, creating islands with stories to accompany, creating board games with rules so other students could play, and more….  All the time, while having fun, they were learning about city forming, current events, historical reasoning, societies, geography, steps and instructions, and more. 

                Along the way, we came to understand children are smarter than many give them credit for, that you don’t always need to talk to them as fragile.  In fact, children are very resilient, something we can agree as we ourselves had many trying circumstances while growing up.  I remember one kindergarten student (I taught higher grades, but this girl was the sister of one of my students.) who surprised me with how mature she seemed at such a young age, thinking about what she wants to do when she grows up, but also what her career choice entailed.  Yeah, she’s playing with dolls, drawing pictures, likes candies and games, but she’s also considering more.

                As educators, we understood this, more so as the years progressed.  I’ve always taught the class cause and effect, to think for themselves, but also we challenge them when they do so.  Why exactly do you think or believe that?  What in your past and/or understanding causes you to come to that conclusion?  You can actually talk to young people in this way.  They understand.  And in our classes, it seems, they came to enjoy because they began to realize understanding was fun.  They had views that were worth listening to, but they also liked that we were both listening and challenging them.  We didn’t’ want children to agree with points of views without thinking.  We wanted them to understand.  If they agreed with views, that was okay as long as they understood.  And if they disagreed, that was okay as long as they understood why.  Growing up takes time, and learning to consider and really look is important.  But of course, we also want the kids to be kids and enjoy their lives.  Responsibly.

                To those considering becoming a teacher, we offer to always be mindful that kids are kids, that their innocence should be protected, but raising the level of talks.  We can often talk to kids just like we would talk to adults, teaching them about current events and world events.  Of course, we’re more careful with the youth, but encouraging them to think and consider goes a long way to helping them with their problem solving skills and academic grades.  Like the old saying, give a man a fish and he eats for a day.  Teach a man to fish, and he eats for a lifetime.  Well, encourage kids and teens to consider and understand, solving problems, and they become able to solve their own challenges as they grow up.  Life skills for life.  When two kids are having difficulties, be there, and have them talk with each other for solutions, you the arbiter.  If they figure it out, they learn more and more to solve their own problems.  Class management becomes a joy.

                One more thing.  Growing up, as we all know, is a process.  And teaching, which gives teachers the opportunity to watch these processes develop is enjoyable.  Seeing them, when they’ve grown up and made good decisions is very rewarding.

Why Understanding is Key

                The concept of understanding, perhaps a great communication in classes, but also in work environments, is so important in that it communicates on a level of interest and self-motivation.  Good bosses utilize understanding, which speak volumes, but also enables their workers to see deeper into reasons, but is self-energized.  When workers understand, they are more apt to motivate coworkers, provided of course, doing a good job is at the heart of each worker. 

                I know, having conversations with other adults, often those who’ve had a plethora of life experiences, but also those who’ve gained some wisdom along the way, is a joy and filled with thoughtful consideration, causing deeper reflection.  I think that’s why children and teens, perhaps more so in older days, sat near relatives discussing current events, cause and effects, history, and more.  They listened because these were the ones who’ve lived through difficulties, who shouldered responsibility, and found answers that affected them in the positive, though difficulties may still have created trials.  But through the trials, they learned, and in this way, passed on to the next generation some of their wisdom.  And if the new generation took the education to heart, they still had to go through their own trials, for nothing educates more than real life.

                Fortunate are some of my friends and me, having had practical experiences.  Fortunate are teachers who have had practical experiences upon which to share their knowledge.  Fortunate are the youth who can hear practical experiences, take upon themselves chores and opportunities, but also are motivated to seek understanding.  In this way, they become a generation who see causes and effects, can think for themselves, but also see the wisdom in listening to those who’ve been there.

                It seems, often today, that our youth are losing the importance of this concept.  Say to someone, and I have, understanding is the key to learning, that practical experiences are very important, and they will nod in agreement.  But often, it doesn’t take hold.  Of course understanding is important, they seem to be thinking.  I always understand, many seem to be thinking.  But in application, reflecting upon their own actions, what they want to do when they grow up, and in their interactions with friends seem to often indicate otherwise. 

                Perhaps why this concept, so key to learning and making better decisions isn’t utilized fully is a need for more experience, or the subject isn’t supported in their day to day lives.  Excitement, distractions, videos, internet, YouTube.  Less reflection.  Less time away from the noise so each person can find within them what they keep looking for outside.  I know I was this way in my youth.  But with time, working, trying this and that, questions kept popping up.  Then, through hands-on work, finally college, I sought to learn through understanding, for I saw this as more energizing than memorization. 

                Encourage our youth to understand, which I believe requires conversations, time away from electronics, responsibilities, and consequences with talks, and they will grow up with something that is inside them (which we’re all born with), which guides should they heed the understanding.  But they will also learn faster, sometimes by leaps and bounds, than their contemporaries.  And they might also wonder why their friends don’t “get it.”  But they will. 

Continuing Understanding

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                Recently, I had a talk with a young man of about 20, at a Walmart store.  He and a few others were discussion education and I happened to be walking by.  Upon hearing some of the discussion, I stopped to listen.   Some of them were concerned with how and what their children were learning and the preparation for adulthood.  Since that has always been my goal:  to prepare students for their adult lives, I thought better to listen. 

                After some time, everyone left, the young man remaining.  He was entering college, but I was impressed with the level of discussion.  He had views on subject matters, understanding cause and effect, and had thoughtful analysis of how our young people are learning.  Although we may have had some different views, I enjoyed the conversation, trading thoughts, and wished him well on his future endeavors.

                What I gathered during this conversation was here was a young man who seriously contemplated his future, but also the future of this generation.  He enjoyed his own education, partaking in many discussions with his family, and as he grew older, was looking at cause and effect, reasons for learning difficulties, and more.  This had been instilled by his family, though he may have always been one to look at things as if from a distance.

                So, this I shared.  I explained the concept of understanding, which he instantly recognized.  Understanding is like a light bulb.  It’s not something you can learn.  You just have it, whether you recognize it.  Understanding is knowing without knowing how you know.  You just see it.  Like when one is trying to figure out why a car won’t start.  You read, you look, and you tinker with the car.  Then, frustrated, you calm down and have lunch with a friend.  Then, during conversations about planets or hobbies, suddenly, the answer about the car comes like a flash.  You go back to the car, fix the problem, and the car works. 

                That’s understanding.  It is also a very important aspect of learning.  As an educator, I have endeavored to “show” this to the students, to point to understanding as the key to a great education.  First, I say to them, look to understand what I’m sharing, then, all the other information will come together and the learning will be much more meaningful.  You will understand, and the understanding will be yours forever, and the reading will either support or counter what you understand.  But either way, you will be the one with the lights flashing on, tiny lights of “I get it” going off in your minds.  This will have the effect of helping other areas of life.  You will understand why you’re supported, but also why you are not supported, learning in both occasions.

                This is worth repeating.  One parent came to me, her daughter starting in my class.  The parent wanted to share the daughter struggled with mathematics.  I took one look at the daughter, asked her a couple of questions, then explained to the parent she will do well in this class.  How did I know?  One, I knew a positive, can do, perspective might counter some disbelief.  But I also saw something of a mathematics in the student.  Well, higher than what I expected, the young lady aced math that year. 

                But there’s something that needs to be added here.  It was one conversation I had with the class, later one-on-one with her, then supported later.  She was having difficulty with a problem.  I asked if she carefully listened when I was giving the lesson.  She said yes.  I asked if she wrote the notes down.  She said yes.  I asked if she read the instructions in the book.  She said yes.  I then explained she was using her language brain to understand math.  She didn’t understand.

                This is what I explained.  She likes to write.  She likes to read.  She enjoys socializing and talking with others.  These are good qualities.  But for math, I explained, you have to distance yourself from the problems.  Listen, read, and then carefully look at a problem, seeing how the parts work together.  Look at the problem as if you’re seeing it from a distance, seeing the parts, until the mind makes sense of it. 

This, as I call it, is using your understanding, something I as yet cannot explain where the understanding is coming from, just that we’re born with it, but many forget how important “seeing” is.

                She went back, and within a short time, knew how to solve the problem.  So I explained, that is how you’ll complete the rest.  She explained she didn’t like this method, but I explained that was the key to getting good grades in math.  But I also explained it would get easier with time and practice.  What, in effect understanding does, is show students that the “key” to learning resides within them.  And as they grow in understanding, they become more self-confident, able to utilize this in other areas of learning. 

                When I teach, I come from a place of understanding.  I talk to the students’ understanding.  In this way, as I teach, I “see” whether they are “getting it” or whether I need to explain or show from a different perspective.  I can explain this in a variety of different ways, but I’m always explaining the same concept.  And to those who “get it”, learning becomes more of a joy.

                For those reading this, many will identify times in their lives when thinking seemed to get in the way, but when those flashes of understanding came, how much easier learning and problems were solved.  If you are endeavoring to explain concepts to your children, coming from a place of understanding “connects” you with their understanding.  They will also enjoy listening, because understanding is like learning come alive.  It’s personal and real.

What Are You Interested in Learning?

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                In this article, we hope to bring the concept of understanding home.   It’s exciting.  It’s fun.  It’s eye-opening.  And in “understanding”, anything can be learned.  Of course, depending upon what you’re interested in and the time you put forth.

While in college, the second time around, after working in various jobs, I found I could no longer learn using the older methods I had used for years:  read, study, ready, study…, and memorize.  So, I began changing from learning to understanding.  My thinking was that if I could understand what my professors’ points were, that everything else (i.e. all the reading and lectures) would fall into place.  And you know what?  My thinking was back to front.  The experiences I had gained from earlier education, but more so from practical work, caused me to see things in different ways.  Within a few weeks, I realized that by understanding (Some based on experiences.), thinking for myself, I could understand anything, sometimes applying old experiences to the new, or what passed for new.  And by understanding, the pieces of information would connect.  I was right.  It took some time, for I had to change the way I grew up learning, but I was open to finding a better way.  I also realized I had to partake in some “hands on” activities so I was involved in practical things. 

I hope this is heartening to readers, many who may have struggled in school.   Trying to memorize works for many young people.  To them, I encourage continuation in their successes.  People learn in different ways, and what works for one person may not for another.  But I have found, over the years that by speaking to people’s understanding, more and more “get it.”  And when they do, when they understand, the learning is much quicker.  It’s also deeper, and more lasting.  It’s like learning is real.  And it is.

Let me share some of the learning.  I remembered hearing about left brain/right brain.  I also heard about the five senses, that the more you included, the more fully you learned.  For instance, if you’re learning about the stomach, look at pictures.  If you have the opportunity, perhaps even buy an artificial representation.  Talk about it with a classmate.  Draw pictures.  Then, as you’re reading, the information comes alive, more so if you can visualize, but that’s for those who like that method.  What’s happening here is you’re “seeing,” reading, talking, drawing, involving more of the brain, and “seeing” in more ways than one.  If I were learning about plants, I would go to a garden shop, even smell the plants, drawing them along the way.  In this way, I’m active.  I’m participating.  I’m taking the learning into the real world.  And by doing this, I’m engaged and the learning has other aspects.  I’m learning in the process, which includes talking with the shop owner, and during all of this, I’m learning about other things that will benefit me in other areas.

But more to the classroom environment, where there is just me, the class, and the professor.  While the professor was talking, I was also reading the assigned chapter.  Somehow, I had learned to “split” my attention, so as I was reading, I was also listening.  If the professor was talking about something, I waited until I understood, then read, until the professor was talking about something “new.”  Whatever the professor said that was new, I would take notes:  in a notebook to one side, the book on the other.  Regarding the text, as I read, I sometimes summarized (put into my own words) each paragraph or so into one or two sentences.  In this way, I was putting my own understanding to the chapter.  Also, in this way, my “at home” study was scanning the pages, looking at what I had written (and often, I drew pictures, so I could “see” what I was learning, in this way engaging both the auditory and visual processes.).  Rarely, did I study at home, except a few minutes to look over the notes, but mostly right before a test.  And during tests, I wasn’t relying on memory, but understanding.  **  As I look back, I don’t believe I ever worked on class assignments more than two hours in any week.

This may be difficult for some who wish to adhere to memory.  And if that works for you, I encourage you to continue.  But I’ve discovered by relying on understanding, even when I forget having read what a question is asking, nine times out of ten I will get the right answer.  But this also goes to test taking strategies which is easily looked up online.

For me, test taking strategies is first understanding the questions.  Then, looking at the multiple choices, crossing out the answers that you know couldn’t be the answer.  Usually, you’re left with two choices, so you go with your best hunch.  Better a 50% chance than 25%, but more so if you carefully select.  *On a driver’s test, I had to take a written exam, something I didn’t know was coming but didn’t want to return on a different day.  I applied the same concepts.  I would say, I was concerned with seven of the questions.  The results showed I only got one wrong, but that was because I chose the second of two I had narrowed it down to.  On essays, I again relied on understanding.  In this way, my answers would demonstrate, and though I might not get all of the answers, I will get most of it. 

To make a long story short, I was nearly a straight A student the second time around.  I did well in the first two years, but that entailed twenty plus hours of study, reading, rereading, memorizing, and more.  The second time opened up hours for part-time work, socializing, working out, and more.  And yet, even while at the gym, I would sometimes think about my classes, and I would be reviewing while on a stationary bike or lifting weights.  Even conversations, sometimes sharing concepts with friends, would be an education.

And learning is a cross-over experience.  What I learn in one class helps me with others.  This I got from hearing, from some teachers, that learning is holistic.  I took that to heart.  So, if I was taking a math class, I sometimes used real world concept with problems.  I made it real to me.  If I was taking a history class, I related other history classes to the learning.  Learning grammar?  Write sentences related to the history lessons.  Make it “fun”, or at least engaging, and your own attention makes the learning lasting.  Find your way to learn. 

I’ve told younger people try to understand what I’m saying.  Once you do, everything comes together.  The lecture, the reading material.  I have them write on a variety of topics so writing becomes part of them.  Then, I suggest, when reading, draw pictures of what you’re reading, summarize a page in one to three sentences, looking for the main idea.  Be engaged.  And when they do, the ones who do, they find the tests easier, but more importantly, the concepts they understand becomes a part of them, and they’re more prepared for future lessons.  They find, they have inside, what they need to understand anything.

If anything, my hopes are to write to your understanding:  to get you to reflect on how you understand.  Sometimes, I’ve wondered, if the very term “learn” is a stumbling block to those who’ve struggled in school.  What I say is whatever you’re reading or hearing is just part of life.  There’s no time limit.  If you don’t get it today, maybe you’ll get it on another day, in your own way.  But, if you seek understanding, the understanding will be a part of you, and you’ll add understanding to understanding.  Then, everything in life becomes an “ah haaa” experience.

But don’t forget to let go and relax.  I have actually found, when I’m not thinking about my classes, my brain was already working without me knowing.