Tuesday, February 21, 2012

John Funk - Logic and Reasoning

This post is authored by John Funk, the Educational Programs Manager for Excelligence Learning Corporation and a clinical instructor at the University of Utah.

How and Why Do We Teach Logic and Reasoning to Young Children?

            When my oldest son was about 15, we were having a ‘discussion’ about something he wanted to do for which I had refused permission.  As things were becoming just a little bit too emotional, I remember saying to him, “I’ve never been the parent of a 15-year-old before.  I’m trying to do what I think is right, but there are no directions for how to do this.   I’m sorry you have to be the test case.”   My son stopped and stared at me -- and then said, “I never thought about that.  Now I understand why you screw up sometimes.” 

While that was not the answer I wanted to hear, my comment and his response brought some logic and reasoning into the discussion, and the emotions disappeared.  That is usually what logic and reasoning can do for a situation.  When you are having an emotional disagreement with someone, not much gets accomplished while emotions are in the way.  When everyone has calmed down, logic and reasoning usually reappear, and a thoughtful discussion can occur.  I feel very strongly that if we don’t help children to develop these critical skills, they will not be able to function successfully and truly get along with other people.

            The basis of logic and reasoning is the ability to search for clues, determine what makes sense, and make decisions based on concrete information.  Forcing children to know the correct answer and be prepared to regurgitate it on a test does not develop the thinking that creates logic and reasoning.  However, allowing children to explore with materials to make decisions about the timing and organization of a project, and, most important, to make mistakes will create the resilience that children need to be logical thinkers. 

The Excelligence Product Development Team knows I like open-ended products that promote divergent thinking.  Divergent thinking is when we take one idea and go many different directions with it.  From one concept or product, we can get many different outcomes or possibilities.  Think about our Biocolor or Liquid Watercolor. With one of these products, a child can create a myriad of projects.  The possibilities are endless.  Some of my favorite teaching products are blocks, dough, crayons and paints.  I like them because they provide endless opportunities to promote learning, and they promote divergent thinking.

I also like products that promote convergent thinking.  Convergent thinking is using many different ideas or data points to lead to one necessary conclusion.  Think of all the products we have to help children learn the alphabet.  Identifying the letters is the ultimate goal, but there are many different pathways that can lead to that knowledge.  As we provide more products for supporting curriculum standards, it is important that our products allow the child and teacher to explore different avenues to help the child learn each standard skill.

My son, who is now 35, said to me the other day when we were discussing his 10 year-old daughter, “It is really hard being a parent.  Sometimes you just don’t know what to do.”   That comment brought us full-circle and reaffirmed to me that justice is alive and well in our lives, and I suggested that he discuss it with his daughter.  Hopefully, logic and reasoning will find its way into every generation of parenting.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Don Peek - Are You Protecting your Students

Special Needs Topics with Don Peek

This post is authored by Don Peek, a former educator and past president of the training division of Renaissance Learning. He now runs The School Funding Center, a company that provides grant information and grant-writing services to schools. To learn more, or to subscribe to the School Funding Center Grant Database, go to schoolfundingcenter.

Are You Protecting Your Students?

It seems that bullying is standard practice for some of our students these days.  The spectrum runs from just being obnoxiously rude to physical assault.  Unfortunately, special education students are far too often the targets of this abuse.  Do you have procedures or a program in place to protect your students?

It is fine to provide students with the very best academic program possible, but if schools fail to teach their students to get along with one another, stand up for the weak, and promote fairness and equality, have we really done our jobs as educators?   

Not as many parents are doing a good job in this area.  Not as many students attend church and follow religious principals which might prevent this type of abuse.  It is one more job that has fallen on the shoulders of teachers, administrators, and counselors.  That may not be fair, but it is the reality of the situation.   

Unfortunately for disabled students, bullies actively seek out those who are different in any way and especially those who are least able to defend themselves.  A first step in any school is to make it known to the entire population that bullying will not be tolerated.  However, if you only use negative consequences to fight bullies, you may not be as effective as you think.  In fact, it could work against you.  Some bullies will get a rush from the attention and the risk of being caught and punished. 

Don’t misunderstand me.  I believe we should monitor those who tend to bully others, catch them in the act as often as possible, and punish them for their cowardly acts.  Were they adults, many of them would end up in jail on assault charges.

I just believe that you also need a positive program to teach students tolerance and the joy of giving.  When regular students bond with special education students, it produces positive results for both groups.  Special education students get included in many activities they might otherwise miss, and regular education students learn how to take responsibility for others.  They get attention in positive rather than negative ways.

Unfortunately, we have to be aware that there is bullying even within the ranks of special education.  Students who are physically stronger than others may try to take advantage of their weaker classmates.  Good social skills simply need to be taught to all of our students. 

Several companies have packaged programs for dealing with bullying.  If you find one that fits your school, it may save you a lot of time and energy, but don’t feel that you have to go out and purchase a program.  You can develop your own.

I believe that every school should have a strong academic program for every student, regardless of the student’s abilities.  I also believe that it has become imperative that schools teach proper social skills.  A good place to start is to teach regular education students to treat those who may have disabilities with respect.  Not only will that help to protect our special education students, it will make all of our students better people.

Grant Info:

Grant Name:  U-Act Grants

Funded By:  Red Robin Foundation

Description:  U-ACT, which stands for Unbridled Acts, or random acts of kindness, is a character-building initiative specifically for grades K-8, which aims to inspire and encourage students to be kind to others. The goal of the Red Robin Foundation U-ACT Program is to create a sense of neighborliness inside and outside of school settings and eliminate bullying through Unbridled Acts. Through monthly monetary grants, the Red Robin Foundation U-ACT Program honors schools that exemplify kindness to others and show support in their community through Unbridled Acts. If your class or school is between the grades of K-8 and you want to implement a program to encourage kindness among your students, and receive a grant for doing so, then you can submit a request! Simply come up with an idea of how you would encourage and implement kindness in your class or at your school and send it to the Red Robin Foundation.

Program Areas:  At-Risk/Character, Community Involvement/Volunteerism, Disabilities, General Education, Math, Reading, Science/Environment, Social Studies, Special Education

Recipients:  Public School, Private School

Proposal Deadline:  3/1/12

Average Amount:  $150.00 - $2,500.00

Availability:  All States

Monday, February 13, 2012

Julie Fraser - The Water Cooler

I'm Julie Fraser the senior buyer for Achievement Products and I watched the Super Bowl last weekend, along with the millions of others who tuned in. Though I had no particular allegiance to either of the teams playing, the game was certain to be a big topic of conversation over the next few days and I didn’t want to feel left out. Even at an age where I should know better, I want to fit in around the water cooler!

The desire to fit in is part of us at any age, but of course it is felt most strongly by teenagers. Over the past couple of years I have participated at conferences and expos focused on children with special needs, and I continually heard from the therapists and special education teachers of teens with special needs that, while those teens benefit from the same type of help and support directed to younger children, it is vital to offer this help and support in a way that recognizes the maturing interests and expanding horizons of the teens placed in their care.  And at Achievement Products, we took that message to heart.

We reviewed our catalog’s content with a number of therapists who helped us identify products ideally suited to support teens in the following areas:

Core Strength - products that stimulate a teen’s natural motivation to move, while strengthening limb coordination, balance, judgment, and visual perception skills.

Life Skills & Socialization - products that assist with management of everyday life skills.

Academics - adaptive products to support classroom performance.

Art & Creativity - items that encourage creative experiences for self-expression and collaborative

Self-Regulation - options to engage in self-regulating behavior in a socially accepted manner.

Teen Cave - options for teens to individualize their sensory environment, to provide a space uniquely theirs to relax in and un-wind.

And we have had a wonderful response, particularly to items such as the weighted Denim OTvest™ (AP5763, AP5764, AP5765); Chewnoodles™ (AP75318, AP11002, AP11003, AP11004); High Back Beanbag Sofa (AP92372, AP923730); Foam Fountain™ (AP1155); and Short Reach Slant Board (AP429).

We invite you to take a look at our entire teen collection, and we want to hear from you at this ‘Water Cooler’ that is our blog site!  Please share what resources, services or products have helped the teens in your care to succeed as they grow, mature, and expand their horizons.  

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Don Peek - How Many Disabled Students Do We Have?

Special Needs Topics with Don Peek

This post is authored by Don Peek, a former educator and past president of the training division of Renaissance Learning. He now runs The School Funding Center, a company that provides grant information and grant-writing services to schools. To learn more, or to subscribe to the School Funding Center Grant Database, go to schoolfundingcenter.

How Many Disabled Students Do We Have?

In my last post I discussed the different disability levels that might be assigned to students.  These levels were:  none, mild, moderate, and severe.  Those levels make it more difficult for the classroom teacher to address the specific disability of each student.  Why?  It would be difficult enough if a teacher had only one disabled student, or even a group of students with the same disability.  That’s not the case.  Most teachers have to contend with several disabled students at the same time.   Most often those students have different disabilities, and even when two of their students have the same disability, those disabilities are often diagnosed to be at different levels.

This makes many special education classrooms much like the old one-room schools.  Teachers doing their jobs properly might be teaching different subjects at different levels with different materials.  Most regular education English, math, or science teachers would tell you that such a task is impossible--- and even if it were possible, not to expect any great results. 

That is why special education classes are often small and a teacher’s aide is found in the classroom alongside the teacher.  Small class size and extra personnel units make special education very expensive.  A huge amount of money is often spent for very small academic, emotional, or physical gains.  Specialized materials and equipment are also expensive and run up the cost of special education services.

How could the cost be so high when there are such a small percentage of disabled students in the United States?  I think you might be surprised.  At last count, the U.S. had 6,483,000 disabled students between the ages of 3 and 21 years of age.  That was more than 13.2% of the total enrollment.  Of those, 95% were served by public schools.

Listed are the thirteen types of disabilities and the approximate number of disabled students in each category:
Specific learning disabilities – 2,476,000

Speech or language impairments – 1,426,000

Intellectual disabilities – 478,000

Emotional disabilities – 420,000

Hearing impairments – 78,000

Orthopedic impairments – 70,000

Other health impairments – 659,000

Visual impairments – 29,000

Multiple disabilities – 130,000

Deaf-blindness – 2,000

Autism – 336,000

Traumatic brain injury – 26,000

Developmental delay – 354,000

In the old days, many of these students would never have gone to public school.  Some of them would have even been locked away in their own homes.  Fortunately, we live in a country that doesn’t allow that.  We know that special education is expensive, but we also believe it is the right of every child to get a free education.  That education can help many of these disabled students become productive citizens, but we need our best teachers, our best materials, and our best equipment on the job helping these students to make all the progress they can.

Grant Info:
Grant Name:  Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation Educational Grants
Funded By:  Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation
Description:  Giving on a national basis, with emphasis on areas of company operations; giving also to national organizations to support programs designed to advance the independence, productivity, and community of young people with disabilities. Special emphasis is directed toward programs designed to have a national scope and impact, with preference to those that are inclusive of youth with and without disabilities. No grants to individuals, or for endowments, capital campaigns, equipment or devices for individual users, fund raising events, controversial social or political issues, or local activities without national impact; no loans. No support for religious organizations not of direct benefit to the entire community, intermediary organizations, fraternal, labor, political, or lobbying organizations, discriminatory organizations, or individual schools or school districts.

Program Areas:  Community Involvement/Volunteerism, Disabilities, General Education, Math, Reading, Science/Environment, Social Studies, Special Education
Recipients:  Public School, Private School, Higher Education, Other

Proposal Deadline:  6/1/12

Total Annual Amount Given:  $657,000.00
Telephone:  703-276-8240

Availability:  All States