Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Holding their Attention

Holding Attention through Challenges

"Education either functions as an instrument that is used to facilitate the integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity to it, or it becomes 'the practice of freedom,' the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world".

Before all else, the teacher must engage the students by instilling in them the confidence to be in front of their classmates challenging the current system. I believe if I had done this the last two times I had multiple classes of 6th graders together I would not have seen so much resistance. With the kids up in front of the class, I can push them to imagine a 'better' food system and the ways in which it would change the way their community looks and eats. Of course, in order to do this we have to develop an idea of what the current food system looks like (would be especially powerful if I had information about the food providers in their community). Juxtaposing the ideal with the reality and having the students leading the imagining and reconstruction reinforces the ideal educational format of students creatively and critically dealing with their food reality. As a matter of fact, using Google earth I might be able to show the kids the makeup of their community and challenge them to redesign their community so that it looks more "ideal" or exactly the same. I would love to hear a student defend the style and design of their community. A possible game could be to make teams and give them the role of either redesigning or defending the current makeup of their community. I feel a great class session coming on...

Attention everyone!!!
When teachers are faced with an audience not totally attentive to the lesson, they are faced with a difficult question: how to pull the students back to the lesson. This process is very difficult because redirecting the attention of a group of students can be difficult considering the potential resistance they might show. In order to circumvent their resistance, the teacher must invite a few students, preferably one of which would be the 'ring leader' of the resistance, to the front of the class to participate in the next activity. With these students at the front of the class, the classmates will feel much less interested in resisting and the ring leader will have an opportunity to help lead a different, less resistant, activity. If this activity is facilitated well, you will see a drastic difference in the investment of the class and the engagement of those students previously resisting.

With Students Like These Who Needs Enemies
The last thing a teacher wants to do is write their students off as completely antagonistic. Instead, constantly strategizing as though the students were assets, looking for ways in which you can work their talents into the activities, the teachers will find a much more interested and responsive group.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

From Lessons from the Field

I have been to close to 10 schools in the last month and a half. I have seen many different kinds of teachers and many different kinds of students. What I noticed most of all is the classroom management and how rare it is to see a critical classroom. A critical classroom is a place for role playing, democratic dialogue, interaction, fun, physical movement, and creativity. Today was the pinnacle of that deficiency; I saw teachers with classes as small as three who had no control over the students. They had no control over the students because there was no passion; there was no connection between the work being done and the community they came from.
Oppression is a vague idea in this country due to the seeming wealth and comfort. This school demonstrates so thoroughly the dynamic and complicated world of oppressed youth. These kids were kicked out of other schools for their behavior and have found themselves in a well-financed and equipped facility, yet have no drive to use the facility to their greatest benefit: their empowerment to change the system that brought them there. I think some would say these kids don't realize the trouble they are in, but I'm sure that isn't true. They know the kind of relationship they want to have with the society which expelled them from it's ranks, but cannot conceive of the disconnection between the dissatisfaction they experience everyday in that facility and their dreams of being home.
After this early experience it is obvious to me what is necessary to train citizens to accept and embrace their oppression: an education devoid of empowerment. Empowerment is the ability to motivate yourself to pursue an ideal (a target) and recognize the difference between the ideal and the present circumstances. Such an ability requires that citizens are able to assess their assets and determine actions to take to achieve those ideals.
This philosophy can be worked into an educational curriculum and fitted with all fields of study. The schools I have seen do not use such a system to teach subject matter. Unfortunately, they are hamstrung either by incompetent teachers or a lesson plan designed to teach to a standardized test. And because the test is the foundation for the curriculum, the teacher has to be incredibly courageous and creative to design an interesting and interactive lesson plan that will also teach what is required for the test.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Activity for Monday @ Crossan


Communication, Focus, Creativity, Surfacing Cultural Difference


10-15 minutes

Physical Contact


Physical Challenges


Number of Participants


Space requirements

Open Floor Space

Materials Needed

Name Tags to write out the Foods to Identify with


Post a list of choice words to be used to describe the different foods (for instance: Grain, Dairy, Poultry, Processed, High Fructose Corn syrup, Soul Food, Tacos, Fried Rice, Cheesesteak, Beets, etc.)

You Are What You Eat


How many students in here think like food? Do you think like carrots or tomatoes or Cheetos? If you did, what would you say?


  1. Hand everyone a name tag with a food product.
  2. Instruct them to put it on their foreheads before looking to see what it is.
  3. Tell them the goal of the game is to figure out what food you are without anyone telling you directly the food. So, you can’t ask what food am I? You have to ask questions like: is this food sweet? Or Would I have it for breakfast?
  4. Write up on the board the first three questions all students must ask first. Once they have asked these three questions, they can ask any others after. (For instance, Can you eat this food for breakfast? Is this food nutritious? What is this food made of? Etc.)
  5. Group Mingles for 10 minutes talking to one another in attempt to communicate (through hints) to the other what kind of food they are, without using the word itself.
  6. After 5 minutes take the list of hints back and have them ask their own questions.
  7. After 10 minutes have everyone return to their seats and find out who knew their food and how they came to the conclusion.
  8. Explain to the children that we are going to play a game with rewards. Students who answer three questions right get a prize.
  9. Ask nutritious questions (yes or no answers) relevant to the foods in the group and instruct the kids who think yes to put their hands up and the students who think no to put their hands down.
  10. Finish the stand up/sit down exercise with the question: “Who is ready to go home and eat a healthy breakfast tomorrow?”

Processing Suggestions

  1. This activity can show us how well we know our foods, who figured out what food they were?
  2. This exercise helps to illustrate the associations we make with food. How difficult was it to talk about the food without using the food itself? How did you describe them? Was it easier with the hints I provided? Or was it easier to ask your own questions?
  3. There is a popular logic when describing food like using the food pyramid, what kind of language did you use? Do you talk about food the same way grown ups do? Why? Was there any food you were familiar enough with to describe? Was there any food you didn’t know and for that reason couldn’t describe?


Was it easy to think like food? What foods are healthy? Which one of us was the most unhealthy food?


Ask students what they would like to do the next time I come to class. Take notes.

With this activity I am hoping to incorporate fun, critical thinking, and physical movement in order to best teach the students skills for making good health decisions. Admittedly, they know better than I do the food environment they live in and how supportive it is of healthy lifestyles. Therefore, it is my responsibility to empower them to know what kind of decisions are the best for their health and how to implement an action to get healthy results (see letter writing campaign to Michelle Obama).

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Lessons Learned from Munoz Marin

Yesterday was my first day working classrooms alone. I did well but definately have room for improvement. I saw my critical theory in action and was impressed by how well the students reacted without being asked to present to their classmates and/or present their own impressions of the current system. What follows are suggestions and personal accounts of my first day that will hopefully help me in the future to better challenge the students I am working with and reinforce a positive dialogue about food, nutrition, and culture.

1. Is the goal of the work clear?

Analysis: I would have to say that while I presented my goal to be educating the students to what a healthy breakfast is, my overarching goal was to motivate them to think critically about the food system in which they eat and change it to their liking. With this in mind, I should have urged them to tell me the problems with the way they get food and solve it. Simultaneously, I could have been suggesting healthy foods to eat in that new and better food system.

Commitment: To talk with them more about acting to change the cafeteria food supply (if they object to it).

2. Is there enough work for the group?
Analysis: Because of my conversational format there was no lack of work to be done. Such a format is grounded in critical thinking and their experience with nutrition and food, so most of the work was them thinking for themselves about what kind of food is the best for them and their families/communities. (Therefore, questions such as: would you let your baby siblings or cousins eat junk food? Such a question might seem like an easy answer, but as soon as their hypocrisy is pointed out, for eating that food themselves, the work really begins.)
[I consider work to be that which challenges our intelligences, whether physically, analytically, musically, interpersonally, or intrapersonally. But it is the challenging that needs to be explicit. More, the challenge should be grounded in the rejection of the traditional logic and the need for a new logic.]

Commitment: Challenge them to recognize the traditional logic of the food system and to imagine a better one.

3. Do people understand how the work connects to the community?
Analysis: The importance of relating nutrition to the lives of the audience is vital to providing a motivation to change diets and being critical of the food system in which they live. Every lesson I began by asking the classroom of students how many people ate something in the morning. If I had to estimate, about half of the students said they had eaten something and about half said they had not. But, while many students had eaten something, the majority of breakfast foods eaten were not healthy. Amidst the confusion of asking probing questions about why you would eat doughnuts and soda for anything besides dessert, I also found many students didn't eat anything because they didn't have time in the morning. With these questionable behaviors, the answers do not lie with me ("the expert"), they lie with the students exhibiting deficient diets. So, I relate my nutrition suggestions to their lives and their families. Putting their stories in the middle of my presentation gives the presentation richer context and more opportunities to seize on untold hypocrisies. Accompanying their stories are questions pushing them closer to cognitive dissonance and hopefully community/family empowerment. For instance, If I ask one student who already admitted to not having eaten breakfast, what he would advise for a younger sibling or cousin: 'Do you think your younger sister ought to eat breakfast, or is it not important for her health?' If they resist and deny their younger sister breakfast, I'll open it up to the class for discussion where most likely I will hear someone inject some nutritional sense. And on the other hand, If they admit to wanting their younger sibling to eat, I'll ask why breakfast is important for their siblings but not for them. Hopefully, this cognitive dissonance will urge them to rethink their attitude toward nutrition, breakfast, their bodies, and their families.

Commitment: Use activities that put their lives and communities at the center of the nutrition debate.

4. Are you challenging people's minds and bodies?
Analysis: I must admit that my presentations were lacking in physical movement. Of course, I could blame it on the classroom structure, but really it was that I was interested in introducing myself in a pseudo-structured and disciplined manner. That said, on following presentations I must include physical stimulation. I say this with a lot of evidence suggesting that students when offered an opportunity to get involved and move around are much more willing to sit still and participate thoughtfully (this theory might depend on the age group).

Commitment: I will work to incorporate activities that are more physical in nature after my introductory presentations.

5. How are students given responsibility?
Analysis: This is an area of education and classroom management that goes underplayed on a regular basis. Yesterday I did not give much responsibility to students. I suppose my failure came in not authorizing them to present to the class in groups. Once a student must present to the rest of the class, and is thereby given responsibility, they tend to understand better why respect for the speaker and participation is so important.

Commitment: Implement activities that urge students to present to their classmates.