For Pete’s Sake, Give Them a Cookie

This is a repost of  a blog entry from June 2013.

Do you know the children’s book, if you give a mouse a cookie? A boy gives a cookie to a mouse. Then the mouse needs a glass of milk. Then a litany of requests: a straw (to drink the milk), a mirror (to avoid a milk mustache), nail scissors (to trim his hair), and a broom (to sweep up). After that he wants to nap, which requires a story read to him, time to draw a picture, and to hang the drawing on the refrigerator. Looking at the refrigerator of course makes him thirsty, so the mouse asks for a glass of milk. And what goes better with milk, than a cookie?

If you give a child the love of learning….

Except children already have a love of learning. As they grow and go to school, we manage to take that away from many of our students. I had a recent conversation with a teacher when to start having students investigating their own questions and doing their own inquiry. I got the answer I so often get. “We can’t do that until we get the basic skills down first—then in more advanced classes students get to do that kind of learning.”

No. No. No. No! This is backwards. The American Psychological Association has recommended teachers reconsider constructivist methods, contending that students are active learners who should be given opportunities to construct their own frames of thought. Students need to be put in learning situations where they are doing the work of learning, not the work of listening to and memorizing the teacher’s understanding of a topic. They need to be free to infer and discover their own answers to important questions. To enjoy learning.

To dig deeper into what this might look like see my recorded presentation, Thematic, Inquiry-Based Biology.

There is a notion among many educators that we can’t do progressive or constructivist education until we have “taught” them the basic skills. Do you see the contradiction here? This is especially the practice with students who are disengaged or disenfranchised from school and worse, from a life of learning. It is especially true that as these students get older we need to use these methods. Why does the learning in school look less and less like how children learn—asking questions, making mistakes, seeking guidance, exploring, and play?

Ask most teachers how they learned something complex, say for example how to teach, and they won’t cite a great lecture where they were told how to teach. They will cite doing it and figuring it out, hopefully with the help of a good mentor. Why do they then assume their students can’t do this until they are “taught” the basic skills? I’m not saying there aren’t times for teacher-centered, direct instruction. But, it should be the exception, not the norm. Students would learn the basic skills much better if they weren’t memorizing another’s understanding of those skills and basic content, but instead were applying those skills and concepts as they were investigating something that had meaning, with the help of a good mentor. That’s where the teaching comes in. Don’t lecture about a topic, then have them look at it, and then tell them again what they saw. Instead have them consider what they already know, explore it to construct some meaning, and then lecture, or better yet dialogue with them, to allow them to confirm what they saw and deal with the cognitive dissonance with what they thought would happen.

The problem isn’t that we have gone away from or quit teaching the basics. The problem is that is predominantly all we are doing—especially for students on the wrong end of the achievement gap. I think we don’t so much have an achievement gap, but instead a learning gulf that we have created. It mirrors our countries economics. The rich get richer. The poor get poorer. Those engaged with school, get the fun learning. Those behind get the boring learning. If this was you, would you want to keep learning? Why take students that haven’t succeeded in learning the basics through teacher-centered models and slow them down even more and continue to do more of the same that didn’t work the first time? How will that catch them up?

Instead of decreasing the amount of inquiry, exploration, and play, our students are doing, we need to increase it to keep them loving learning. For Pete’s sake, give them a cookie. Who knows what will happen next? Well, maybe that is what scares most teachers.

Posted in Written Blog

Teaching Empathy

It becomes more and more apparent to me that we need to increase the ability for one another to understand one another with compassion. I believe we can grow compassionate children by teaching empathy through nurturing acts of trust and gratitude.

Posted in Video Blog

Feeling Angry and Helpless

I am angry. There simply is no doubt that human activity is causing a rapid increase in global atmospheric and oceanic temperatures. Changes in temperature that we are seeing now, and predicting to occur in the next 100 years or so, have been seen before in Earth’s history. However, those changes occurred over thousands of years, not decades. We’ve known this for at least of all of my 50 years on this planet.

In 1988 the World Meteorological Society and the United Nations Environmental Program created the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to evaluate the state of climate science as a basis for informed policy making regarding climate science. This was not the beginning of research on anthropogenic climate change, this was after years of publications warning us of the potential for humans to greatly impact the climate. Countless scientific papers have been published and withstood the scrutiny of peers. The IPCC has presented the consensus of scientific opinion that Earth’s climate is being affected by human activities. All major U.S. scientific agencies have also agreed, concluding that evidence for human modification of climate is compelling. There has even been a scientific study to study the consensus of the scientific studies. Nearly 1000 peer reviewed articles published between 1993 and 2003 about climate change were reviewed to determine if there were any dissenting opinions among researchers. Seventy-five percent of the articles were about the causes, impact, and possible mitigation methods of climate change. Twenty-five percent were studies about paleoclimate and took no position on anthropogenic climate change. None of the articles disagreed with the consensus viewpoint. Certainly scientific consensus could be wrong, but that is highly unlikely at this point, and the peer-reviewed scientific process of developing consensus would support that conclusion. What is more likely, based on the history of other controversial and difficult scientific theories, is that more and more details will emerge that might modify our understanding about climate interactions and climate dynamics, the general thrust of the consensus will not change. The scientific community is quite conservative when it comes to accepting a theory. The controversy is simply a manufactured one by industry and then propagated by politicians and media speaking for that industry which has something to lose from an acceptance of anthropogenic climate change. Climate scientists have been repeatedly telling us for nearly all of my lifetime and our society has failed, no refused, to listen.

We are now seeing the immediate effects of climate change. Previously, it was dismissed as a future problem with abstract effects on human livelihood. Now it is becoming painfully obvious, from shifts in weather patterns resulting in feast or famine rain cycles—either torrential rainfall or drought, catastrophic wildfires, increased hurricane events and strengths, changes in animal migration, plant distribution, melting glaciers impacting communities located in coastal and those relying on seasonal glacial melting and reforming for drinking water, well the list goes on unfortunately. Finally, a majority of Americans “believe” in climate science (as if science is ever something to “believe” in), and more and more Republican politicians are coming around to accepting the scientific consensus. The mere fact that acceptance of the scientific consensus is split by party affiliation is evidence enough that this doubt was never about accepting the science, instead but a function of “politics” and accepting an alternative narrative to benefit corporate interest initially and then utilized as a wedge issue to divide and conquer the American voters. And it worked.

It cannot be that the majority of the Republican elected officials do not, or cannot understand the climate science. They aren’t stupid. The only explanation I can see is that they instead have hung on to the doubt to satisfy those funding their campaigns and to keep the support of those voters successfully divided and conquered so as to remain in power. This campaign to utilize manufactured doubt in climate science (and now all of science) is being done for one purpose only—short term profit and maintaining of political power. And this is what makes me so angry. A minority of powerful citizens have manipulated the media and political system for their short term benefit at the expense of EVERYONE ELSE ON THE PLANET. This is much worse than stupidity. This is either an act of narcissism, ignorance, or just plain evilness. As we now see the immediate and direct impact of climate change on the lives of specific communities, we are taking action to not mitigate the problem, or even reduce our impact, but instead reenacting outdated policy that will make the problem even worse. Let’s call it what it is—sedition.

And this is what makes me so angry. I’m fearful we have already reached a tipping point with climate change and nothing we could do (even if we could magically enact the use of only renewable resources tomorrow) can stop catastrophic changes that will greatly impact the lives of everyone on the planet and the minority of individuals that prevented us from taking meaningful, timely action will not be held to account. These few individuals stood in the way and we will all pay the price—except many of those that did stand in the way, because of financial advantage will be the last to pay the price and those with the least voice in our political system will be the first to pay the price (if they haven’t already).

Right now, I’m just angry and want my pound of flesh. And I feel helpless. Granted, I have done as much as I could have to adjusted my lifestyle so as to have no ecological footprint on the planet, but even if I had been able to live completely off the grid, it would not matter except for my own state of mind. The power of my one vote, my one voice, and my individual action steps have had no effect. I do not like living in this place of anger and helplessness. But, that’s where I am right now.

Posted in Written Blog

Paradigm Shifts, Systems Thinking and Learning

Created this short video today that looks at constructivist learning theory through the lens of of systems thinking.


Video | Posted on by

Complicity: The New American Way

Remaining silent or refuse to take action about school and mass shootings is an act of complicity. It’s Friday February 16th. Fourteen students and three adults were killed at school two days ago. My wife and I heard the news on the way home from work that afternoon. Our response wasn’t shock or horror as the events of the day were detailed. It was sadness and resignation. And then the rest of the night and the next day I simply avoided the news.

The next day in my 8:00 a.m. class, no-one mentioned Parkland, Florida. In fact, I never heard mention of the shooting the entire day. Remember, I work in the education department teaching prospective teachers, and we weren’t talking about it. I’m sure my students and colleagues were thinking about it. I certainly was when I began class at 8:00 Thursday morning. As I opened my mouth to begin class my desire and willingness to bring up the subject dissipated. I paused, revised my thinking and began the day’s lesson. The topic for the day, ironically, was safety in an elementary science classroom. I don’t know this for sure, but I would think that danger from gunshot might be statistically the highest cause for serious injury or death in an elementary science classroom.

Exhausted, and suffering from a migraine (stress induced?), I retreated to the quiet of my home after my last scheduled meeting at 2:30 to complete the rest of my work from there. And then I did what I do to process such emotions–I picked up my guitar and started writing. What I learned from the process of writing, which is why I do it, is that I am complicit. We are all complicit. When we don’t speak up, we are complicit. When we vote for politicians who ignore the 80% of their constituents who desire some sort of regulation reducing access to guns designed for one purpose–to kill people, we are complicit. When we don’t vote, we are complicit. When we offer and accept thoughts and prayers as our only recourse, we are complicit. When we accept that there is nothing we can do and turn off the news, we are complicit. When we let politicians say “now is not the time for action, it is a time for mourning.” and then do not force them to have the discussion and take action when the time is right, we are complicit. I am complicit.

Trying to engage in a conversation about gun violence the day after a school shooting is not offensive and insensitive to the families of the victims. I believe not doing so is indifference to the families of victims, which I think is worse. If your words of comfort and grief never lead to changes to reduce the need for words of comfort and grief, then they are meaningless sentiments. They are lies. So, in the interest of furthering dialogue within the halls of our governing chambers, both national and local, I propose this strategy for the political leaders concerned about gun violence. Accept the NRA and its pocketed politicians’ 48 hour gag order. And then organize yourselves so that every day except for the two days after a school or mass shooting, one of you takes to the floor of your chamber, parks yourself in front of a camera, is on the radio, or in print media to talk about what actions we could take to curb gun violence. We need to talk about this every fucking day until something is done. No, until all we can do is done, and we end this epidemic of gun violence.

This means nothing, and probably accomplishes nothing, but this is what I could do yesterday to process and try and understand.

The New American Way

Seventeen souls were lost today
Taken by another’s rage and pain
Here we stand with nothing to say
Seems like the new American way

Today I couldn’t shed any more tears
I can’t understand what’s going on here
As the sun sets on another blood-stained day
Seems like the new American way

And if I raise my voice up tonight
Will you tell me that the time still isn’t right?
And all we can do is bow our heads and pray
Seems like the new American way

Here we stand again playing the fool
Pretending there’s nothing more we can do
Except hide our kids behind locked doors and barricades
Seems like the new American way

We’re stuck in this story with no end
Another day, another seventeen shot dead
Over and over again we throw up our hands and say
Seems like the new American way.

Posted in Written Blog

¿Agua Limpia?

I’d like to share a blog post from one of my daughter’s friends, Carmina Singleton, an impressive young woman.

photographing diversity

Two years ago when I came here with my family, we were told not to drink the water as it has bacteria which can affect the digestive system. In Minnesota, where I live, we are surrounded by pure water and 10,000+ fresh water lakes for that matter, but coming to Mexico has been a struggle in needing to budget for water. I never thought that I would have to worry about purchasing drinking and cooking water. I think that because I grew up with the privilege of having clean water, I never realized the financial struggle that people in developing countries are in. As I experience the different lifestyles and changes, I can’t help but feel empathy for those who live in more difficult and developing countries. Like Ghana for instance, they are rarely given the chance to drink pure water, thus drinking water contaminated with chemicals and littered with…

View original post 374 more words

Posted in Uncategorized

Elders Under a Tree

I breeze past the tall statue of Paul and Babe first on my morning bike commute. Then past three elders sitting in the grass and side-by-side against a large oak tree. They face the lake that lies between them and the rising sun. The dew glistens off the grass. Morning in the north woods of Bemidji, Minnesota. The warmth of the sun juxtaposes with the cool morning air and slight breeze. It will soon be hot and windy. One of the men gives me a friendly wave and hello smile as I pedal by, as if there is a recognition or bond between us strangers. His smile warms me more than the morning sun.

They each wear a coat too heavy for a summer day. Each also has a small backpack near them. A bag of Fritos is passed between them. These are their possessions. I climb the little hill and then pass the statue of Shaynowishkung an Ojibwe man known locally as Chief Bemidji and recognized for his efforts to help the area’s first white settlers to survive. “Shaynowishkung…means ‘he who rattles,’ according to Ojibwe culture, a rattle is used to shake away negativity.”

Inscribed on one plaques next to Shaynowishkung is:
“So far as I am concerned, if they are hungry let them eat grass or their own dung.”
-infamous insult by Andrew Myrick, spokesman for the traders, August 15, 1862.

I pedal by and on to the rest of my day. Three elders under a tree.


*Text of plaques taken from Text of the four Chief Bemidji Statue Plaques (May 4, 2015). Bemidji Pioneer

Posted in Written Blog