Posted in Miscellaneous

Kinesthetic Connection=Kinnect!

Currently, I am on an outreach dance team at BYU called “Kinnect”. The name Kinnect comes from our team’s goal to help children make a “kinesthetic connection” between their bodies and mind. Kinesthetic refers to the sense that detects bodily position, weight, or movement of the muscles, tendons, and joints. We want the children we teach to learn this bodily connection through dance so they can become aware of themselves. Whether it be school subjects or life lessons, we also want them to make connections to the world through dance. Application is the most important part of learning. After attending our classes, we hope they can make both kinesthetic as well as world connections.

During winter semester we choreographed dances for a show we take to elementary schools all around Utah. After performing our show, we teach dance classes to the children. This semester we have already been to 5 schools, or what we call residencies, around Utah. During spring semester we travel to a school every day for three weeks. For our fourth week we will be traveling to Southern Utah and Las Vegas to perform and teach at schools there. This makes for exhausting, but very rewarding days!

The theme of our show this year is about heroes. We start with superficial heroes, wearing spandex suits, capes, and masks. The show grows towards historical heroes, one being Thomas Edison and the other Helen Keller. Eventually the show reminds the children that they are all heroes. We want the children to leave inspired, knowing they can make a difference today. The Spirit is apparent as we perform for and involve these young students during the show. 

But this is only the beginning. The best part happens after the performance: the teaching! Watching students think critically and create is so rewarding! The “Kinnectors” try to involve the use of core curriculum for the grade being taught. We look around the school and their classrooms to see what they are learning about and try to apply it to the classes. The students understand and remember concepts better when it is “in their bodies” as well as their brains. The visual and “hands-on” learners especially benefit from using their bodies to understand concepts. Having them use and move their bodies is just one of many ways you can apply what the students are learning.

Though we are there to teach, the students have taught me so many things and have been answers to many of my prayers. My heart melted when I heard one of my students say to me, “I can be a dancer today?!” Yes, yes you can. We all can. It is for everyone. Dance is an endless gift.
To get involved or learn more about Kinnect, visit:http://www.byukinnect.org/

 

Kinnect Company 2013
Kinnect Company 2013
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Posted in Miscellaneous

Accessing the Core in Special Education

I’ve been a proud member of the “hard-core” club since 5th grade.  Or, in other words, I was able to eat an entire apple, including the core (but, not the seeds-don’t worry!) at science camp.  5th grade had come and gone, but after eating an apple core, I learned some important things about cores.  Obviously, the core is the most central part of an apple.  It also is jam-packed with fiber.  But, as anyone who’s tried to eat something jam-packed with fiber knows, fiber is really good for your body, but is sometimes hard to eat.  So, it makes sense in the field of education, that the core curriculum is the most central or important part of anything that is taught.  However, it can be a bit difficult for students to swallow, or understand, at times.

As a future teacher, I want to make sure my students have access to the information that  has been deemed to be the most important, the most essential. Committees of people who have dedicated their lives to studying curriculum, spent years jam-packing the core curriculum with those most essential bits of information.  But, as a special education major with a severe disability emphasis, I realize that some of this information (like algebra) might be difficult for my students to chew.  I want to give my students access but it sometimes feels like I’m being asked to climb Mt. Everest without being given oxygen: it’s difficult, but not impossible.

One of my teachers had a really good analogy that helped me think about how students with severe disabilities can still access the core.  Imagine the core is orange juice.  We want all of our students to be able to get the benefits of drinking orange juice, right?  But some of our students can’t drink straight orange juice.  One solution is to dilute it.  But if we dilute orange juice, it simply tastes gross and no one wants to drink it. Another solution is that instead of diluting the juice, let’s consider what part of the orange juice is the most essential: Vitamin C.  How about we give them Vitamin C tablets instead?  

Or in other words, instead of diluting the core curriculum, why not give them access to the most important elements of the core?  For example, let’s consider algebra.  What are the core elements of algebra?  According to the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, they are understanding patterns, representing and analyzing mathematical situations and structures, using mathematical models to represent and understand quantitative relationships, and understanding change.  For some students, part of that might look like 3x+6=18.  But for other students, it might look like this: Joey is setting the table and brings out three plates, but five people are coming to dinner.  Let’s teach him problem solving skills, so he can figure out what to do next.  

Giving ALL students access to the core, or general, curriculum is a pretty new concept.  According to Dr. Browder, on December 9, 2003, students with disabilities were expected to make annual yearly progress, or AYP, on standards like math, science, and reading for the first time (2006). So these last 10 years is the first time teachers have focused on giving them access to the common core standards.  As teachers and future teachers, we’re still trying to figure the best way of giving our students those Vitamin C tablets or introducing them to undiluted orange juice.  Although the best way is unclear at the moment, I know that my students with disabilities have the right to that information and I want them to be able to access it.

Posted in Miscellaneous

A Fish Out of Water

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What would you call a fish that loved being out of water? My first thought would be to say “a dead fish,” but that would ruin the point of this analogy. You see, I’m a guy in a major full of girls…and I LOVE it! The major, that is…not the…nevermind. Many people might consider a guy in a girl-dominated major a fish out of water (or maybe a shark on the hunt in a pond full of minnows…I guess it depends on how you look at it), but I feel right at home learning about how to teach elementary school kids. The truth is, though men are grossly outnumbered in the elementary school setting, they are still just as capable as women. They bring unique enthusiasm into the classroom, and they’re able to influence children in ways that women can’t. Positive male role models are a dying breed, and they are desperately needed in schools. But before I “amaze” the world with my revolutionary ideas about how to save the universe through education, I want to take the opportunity to first share a little bit about who I am and why I decided to pursue a degree in education, particularly at the elementary school level.

Unlike many education majors I know, my desire to become a teacher did not begin in my youth. In fact, it wasn’t until after I served a two year full-time mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that I even considered the idea. There were certainly many experiences throughout my life that influenced this decision, but it was my mission that made the greatest impact. There are so many things I loved about my mission, but the experiences I cherish most are the opportunities I had to teach people about the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and to witness the miraculous changes that this glorious message inspired them to make in their lives.

One of the most memorable of these experiences was with a man named Paul. When I first met Paul he was an atheist. But after a few months of teaching him about the wonders of Heavenly Father’s plan of happiness, he developed a deep faith in God and a desire to pattern his life after the Savior’s. It was very special to see how much his life improved after he began living gospel principles in his life.

I also gleaned from my teaching experiences the fact that truly effective teaching is motivated by genuine love. My ability to reach into people’s hearts and minds was magnified when my efforts were driven by love and by a deep desire to serve them. In my last area on my mission, I taught the Tetro family. They are a sweet family of five, and I grew to love them so much. I wanted them to enjoy the same blessings and happiness with which the gospel of Jesus Christ filled my life. This love is what drove me to challenge them to accept baptism, which they did. A year later, I had the privilege of being with them in the Portland Temple as they were sealed together as a family for time and all eternity. I realized that my love for this wonderful family is in large part why they responded so positively to my instruction, and it inspired changes in their lives that will forever bless them.

When I returned home from my mission, I knew without a doubt that I wanted to continue having meaningful experiences with people through teaching. I have always loved children, so naturally I was drawn to the elementary school age group. As I’ve studied in this program at BYU, I have come to understand that this tender stage of life is the most crucial because it is a period during which children are most impressionable. Children need positive role models in their lives, and they need to be taught early in life that they have great potential. They need to be given the tools necessary to succeed not just in school but more importantly in life. This is what makes a complete education. I may not be a missionary teaching the gospel anymore, but I still have a deeply-rooted love for people, children in particular, that I can use to help them reach their potential.

So am I really a fish out of water? If I am, then I guess I’ll be the first one to learn how to thrive. I’ve never been one to blend in with the crowd anyways. Every pond needs variety, so I’m out to prove that sharks and minnows can learn to appreciate their differences and build upon each other’s strengths. After all, Dory and Bruce learned how to get along pretty well.

Posted in Miscellaneous

Opportunities to Grow

When I signed up for the Art for Elementary Teachers course last semester, I had mixed feelings. Before taking this class, I believed my artistic skill didn’t extend far past stick figures and coloring in the lines. Nevertheless, I was excited for the opportunity to gain some artistic ability and learn how to incorporate art into the classroom.

This class helped me realize that my ability to create something beautiful hadn’t shriveled up and died. As wonderful as the end result was, getting there was extremely difficult. This class was one stressful roller coaster ride. Projects took a lot of time, creativity, sleepless nights, and emotional breakdowns. I struggled and about a week into class, I was wondering how it would even be possible to make it through with my sanity intact. Due to the confidence our professor had in her students and the reasonable expectations she set, however, I started to believe these tasks were doable. What appeared from a distance to be a big, tall, scary Goliath, turned out to be not so big, tall, or scary.

My point in sharing this is to ask this question: Isn’t this the kind of environment all teachers should create in their classrooms? As a student, it might be hard in these moments to see challenging assignments as an opportunity to grow, but if we stop and think about it, we realize the classroom should be a place where students are given obstacles to overcome with set expectations and instructions to guide them through. Students need to be challenged and stretched because that’s the only way they will become stronger.

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As difficult as my art class was in the moment, I gained confidence in my creativity, improved time management and effectiveness, and worked hard under pressure. Some teachers, in an attempt to make students feel more confident about their abilities, do the exact opposite and won’t present tough challenges. They don’t want children to become discouraged or disappointed in themselves if they struggle. Although this action has good intentions, the end result is only harming the students. Students who aren’t stretched to meet demands from teachers haven’t built confidence in their ability to work hard and do things they didn’t think they could. All it really does is give students the short end of the stick when it comes to life.

You can’t protect students from struggles or failure in life, so you shouldn’t do that in the classroom. We believe our Heavenly Father sent us to Earth to prove to him that we can work hard and make correct choices. This life is full of trials and no one is exempt.The end results, however, are worth every struggle we go through. Do we not think of Heavenly Father as loving even after He sent us here to endure challenges? Then how can we, as teachers, best show our love to our students? We need to help them reach their potential by offering challenges. Don’t put limits on students’ success by protecting them from struggle. Instead, let them struggle! Encourage them and tell them they can do anything they decide to do. Praise them for their hard work. Help them see that they can accomplish “impossible” things.