Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Is That Really a Palindrome?

This is an article I wrote that was originally published in Teaching Children Mathematics way back in November 1995.

by OTTO, A Fifth Grade Mathematics Teacher

Just the other day in my fifth grade mathematics class I was astonished beyond belief. (Children can do that to teachers, even when the teacher has been teaching for twenty years.) The lesson was simple with an objective to teach a new math word, “palindrome.” The class went something like this -

“Has anyone heard of the word palindrome?”
No one answers and many quizzical looks.
“I'll give you an example of one using numbers, and let's see if you can guess what is unusual about the numbers.”
1221, 43534, 9001009 are chalked on the green board. Now the hands start to raise.
“These numbers are the same when read forwards or backwards. Can anyone give me an example of a number palindrome? Good, 4334 . . . and 87678, that's it. Now, can anyone think of some words that represent palindromes? Yes . . . MOM - good. POP, BOB - now you're getting it! Any others? LEVEL - excellent, RACE CAR - great.”
Cooper has his hand raised and is looking at me, not overly excited, just looking at me. When recognized, he casually says, “GO HANG A SALAMI, I'M A LASAGNA HOG.”
“What did you say, Cooper?”
Now I have to assess quickly whether he is trying to play the clown or if he has something to say. So, I ask him to repeat it one more time.
I proceed to write it on the board - the third time is a charm, and I finally begin to see the light! How did this kid do that? Obviously, he remembered it from a previous experience, but still, to remember it just like that. I write it down several times on paper before I can commit it to memory.
Before bringing closure to the lesson, Cooper raises his hand and says that he has one more. My response is “Fine, impress me.”
“A MAN, A PLAN, A CANAL, PANAMA!” ... I was impressed.

For more information on palindromes check out these sites

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Marshmallow Test

I first learned about the marshmallow test when I read Daniel Goleman's popular book Emotional Quotient.

If you want to read more about the test, click on the May 18, 2009 New Yorker article "Don't! The Secret of Self-Control" by John Lehrer.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Gleeful Misfits

James Howe has become a favorite author — 13 and now The Misfts. Here is a revealing interview with the author about his own life, family, the book, and his stories writing about middle school kids.

The middle school years are difficult years to say the least. So many changes that take place in a human being's life — the most — during those ages from 10 to 15. For those middle schoolers who struggle to fit in, life can be even more challenging. Getting some insights into the lives of those "misfits" is an assignment for all educators and middle school parents. "The Weird, the Strange, and the Quirky (Kid)" by Robert Fles in the Fall issue of Independent School Magazine is a thoughtful, related article.

Cut to Glee, Fox TV's newest show about high school misfits is a fun and entertaining show. Do yourself a favor and at least stream in the pilot. The performance of "Don't Stop Believin" is Emmy-quality. Listen.

What is most enlightening about the book and the show is the insights presented into the family lives of the "misfits."

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Playing With Imagination

I love watching the imagination of our youngest children—students and visitors. When you look closely, you can see the imagination in their eyes and actions.

During our faculty and staff work-week before the opening of school, I was chatting with teachers in one of our preschool classrooms. Two faculty children were having a conversation—one, an eighth grade student, the other a two-year old girl—and within a minute’s time the two-year old's attention shifted to a nearby dollhouse.

As is the case with many dollhouses, the back of the house was missing to give children easy access to the dolls and furniture within. I could see the adults in the room watching the eighth grader encourage the two-year old to interact with the materials inside. She grasped a doll and guided it to walk within the house, in the upstairs bedroom to be exact. You could see her become mesmerized by the bedroom and its furniture. All of a sudden, she guided her head into the room as much as it would fit. Next, she pulled back and then lifted her leg as if to enter the bedroom. Her eighth grade friend tried to help her understand that it is a room just for the little dolls. She looked a little disappointed, but soon accepted what he was saying and transitioned from her imagination to reality, going on to another activity.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Social Media Revolution

If you have not seen Did You Know, make sure you click on it first before viewing Social Media Revolution below. Author Daniel Pink in his book A Whole New Mind (see my 3/30/08 post) presents the different ages of our society's evolution from the Agricultural Age, to the Industrial Age, to the Information Age. Social Media Revolution will certainly give you more information than you may want to take in. This is an extraordinary clip.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Who's in Charge?

Plugged into my iPod and carrying my lunch and reading book, The Price of Privilege, I entered Prospect Park, which is huge — like Central Park — prepared to have lunch, listen to music, people watch, and read. I entered where there is one long park bench (it goes on forever), and a group of caregivers was chatting while their child charges ran, milled about, and tested their distances away from the people who were giving care to them. This part of the park is beautiful, like walking into a well-managed forest. I picked an especially good bench position to set up “camp,” with the park entrance about 50 yards to my right and a children’s playground about 50 yards to my left.

On the eight-foot wide asphalt path in front of me, all sizes of little ones were walking, riding scooters, being carried, and riding in strollers. This day was a beautiful day to be in the park. I watched one child after another focusing on fidgety squirrels, birds looking for food, dogs tugging at leashes, and the underside of the trees that covered our area in shadows, protecting us all from the shining sun above.

As I was finishing my lunch with a bag of M&Ms, a little girl walked on the other side of the path in front of me. She was off the path, wandering around the trees. She was no more than 20 months. I can size the age of little ones because the two-year olds walk past my office each day at school going to and from the rooftop play area. I looked to see to whom she belonged and saw no one. She kept looking over her shoulder, so I assumed she belonged to one of the caregivers at the entrance to the park, about 50 yards away, where the group was sitting and chatting.

I kept thinking that someone would fetch her and help her with boundaries, but nothing happened. In fact, the child roamed even further away, towards the playground. Measuring the distance in my mind, I imagined myself sitting at the 50-yard line at a football game. At this point, I stopped what I was doing and watched the child wander down a small hill to get closer to the children playing, noticing that she is now a good 100 yards from where she belonged . . . and out of the caregiver’s sight.

Now I am ready to intervene either by yelling at the group of caregivers, “Who’s in charge of that little girl?” or to just keep watching her. The child walked closer to the play area and turned around and started to walk further away. I had a Montessori moment that said, “don’t underestimate the child’s ability to know how to navigate, but make sure she is safe,” so I just kept watching.

To my amazement, I could see her calculating where she was, where her “home” was and eventually taking steps in that direction. Finally, a caregiver sauntered past me toward the child and corralled her back toward the bench that was home base. Without admonishing the child, the caregiver walked past me — the one who was in charge . . . for a brief moment anyway.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Mind Your Mission

School missions come in all shapes and sizes. Crafting a mission statement is a challenge for any non-profit and requires a board of trustees/directors to devote much time and thought in the process. It is a good idea to review that mission every now and then. Schools should go through that process before each reaccreditation.

At a recent New York State Association of Independent Schools (NYSAIS) trustee workshop, Independent School Management (ISM) consultant Terry Moore advised that a school's mission statement should be no more than 30 words. He cited The Julliard School's mission as an example ". . . provide the highest caliber of artistic education for gifted musicians, dancers, and actors from around the world, so that they may achieve their fullest potential as artists, leaders, and global citizens."

In any case, if your school is thinking about its mission statement, it would be helpful to pick up a copy of the Fall 2009 issue of Independent School magazine. The theme of this issue is mission, mantras, and meaning. Peter Gow's article "Missions, Mantras, and Meaning" is excellent.

Sunday, October 4, 2009


I am hearing more and more about the book, Nurtureshock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. After reading today's "NYTimes Book Review" review of the book, I get the sense that they are trying to nurture shock so that parents will buy their book. Bronson had two New York magazine articles that were equally provocative: "Learn to Lie" (February 2008) and "How Not to Talk to Your Kids" (February 2007), an article based on Carol Dweck's work regarding praise for effort v. praise for intelligence.

When you click on the book title above you will be able to see and hear the authors talk about their work.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

What a Difference 2 Months Make

The other day at a faculty and staff lunch, I had the joyous opportunity to hold a baby—two to be exact.

The first one was a two-month old boy. His complacent disposition made for enjoyable snuggling. I was especially sensitive to holding his neck in order to support his head which was rolling around, kind of out of control. He was working really hard to take control of that head and his eyes were moving around trying to fix on one object. He could do it for a short time, and his beautiful blue eyes were perfect for catching the attention of passersby.

It just so happened that shortly after tranfering my little friend back to his mother, another faculty parent happened by with her four-month old son. Knowing how much I love to hold babies she passed her son freely into my arms. This little guy stood upright, totally in control of his head. He was solid, constantly exploring his hands, people going by, colors in a nearby quilt, and anything else that caught his developing attention span. He really showed his age when he delighted in talking to his mirror image when I held him up to a reflecting classroom door window. He was busy the whole time and could not take in his environment fast enough.

What was most remarkable between the two babies was the strength and density of the older, more physically developed child. Holding both babies in such a short period of time really emphasized the dramatic difference two months make in a baby's development.