Not surprisingly, the first few concerns were fairly mundane--though not so trivial, Leeman points out, if you're 10. Things like: "My mom picks out my clothes'' and "My girlfriend likes my boyfriend.''
What was surprising, she says, was the panel's unpredictably grown-up perspective.
"When you give children a role to play, they really get into it,'' Leeman explains. "On the clothes question, for instance, they sort of sided with the parents. Like, 'Your mom probably knows what's best for you' or 'Your mom knows what's a good buy.' ''
But then came the question that stopped everyone in their tracks: "How can I make my dad stop hitting my mom?''
Leeman confides, "I was scared because I thought I was going to have to answer it, and I didn't have an answer. But they did.''
After some reflection, a panelist stood up to respond. "How can you stop your dad from hitting your mom?'' she began. "I don't think you can. But you can love her and be good and don't cause her any trouble, so maybe she can handle the trouble she's got.''
Leeman, now an instructional skills specialist for her district, still marvels at her children's maturity and wisdom. "They didn't react with shock or horror,'' she says. "There were no gasps. And it's my feeling that it was probably helpful to that child, having peers accept that things like this just happen.''
Don't Leave Home Without It
IT MAY NOT LOOK LIKE A VISA Card or a MasterCard, and it won't get you into any fancy hotels in France. But for teacher Barbara Chaffin of Longview, Texas, the ICMMB Card is worth its weight in gold.
A few years ago, Chaffin was looking for a positive way to control the behavior of her 3rd graders--or, better yet, to get them to control themselves. Her answer: the "I Can Manage My Behavior'' Card, a 3-by-4-inch laminated card embossed with silver and gold ink.
At the start of the school year, Chaffin issued the card to each student after the class settled on acceptable rules of behavior. The students helped make up the rules, Chaffin points out, so they would know all too well when they had broken them.
From time to time during the school year, the students were allowed to use this ICMMB Card in class to "purchase'' privileges, like a few extra minutes of recess, a cookie, or a video. The card helped students understand "there were going to be big rewards for their good behavior,'' says Chaffin, who now teaches 6th grade. "That 'big' reward might have been just a video and popcorn, but it meant a lot to them.''
Like most credit cards, the ICMMB Card carried strict limits. If a student broke the class rules three times, the card could be taken away for a week. And if a student didn't have the card with him or her when Chaffin asked to see it, there would be no goodies.
"They never knew when I was going to have a card check,'' Chaffin says. "Not only did it teach them responsibility for their card, but they had to be responsible for their behavior, as well.''
THE FEDERAL TAX DEADLINE IS looming. Grown-ups soon will be hunched over endless forms, chewing their nails and wiping their brows.
But for math teacher Hope Friend's class of 6th graders at Intermediate School 44 in New York City, tax time is no sweat.
Last March, Friend recalls, she was looking for something to keep her students occupied. "By that time,'' she says, "we had pretty much covered the standard curriculum. I wanted something new and fresh, something handson, to keep them interested.''
So Friend directed their hands, and their minds, to the basic federal tax form. She came up with a list of fictional taxpayers, all with different incomes, deductions, and number of dependents. The students' mission: to accurately compute John Doe's taxes and to determine whether he will receive a refund check or owe Uncle Sam the cash equivalent of a down payment on a B-1 bomber.
"They loved it,'' Friend insists. "Often, I found them going on their own time to banks and post offices to get even more complicated forms.''
All told, she says, it was an eyeopening lesson. "They learned about following forms, reading charts and tables. For example, the tax form stresses alignment of the decimals. One decimal in the wrong place can throw the whole thing off. As you'd expect, we got the occasional mistake, which drives home the significance of careless mistakes in math.''
Finally, the students learned one very sobering lesson. "It was interesting for them to see that people don't take home what they make,'' Friend says. "That was a shock to their little systems.''
Up, Up, And Away
A ROCKET SLOWLY RISES FROM its launch pad and quickly gains speed, punching a hole in the sky. In minutes, the missile soars into space and soon settles into orbit about the Earth.
When Los Angeles math teacher Mike Dacker considers all this soaring and orbiting, he sees geometry in motion, shapes determined by function. A rocket is a streamlined cylinder with a bulletshaped nose; an orbit might be a circle. And he sees a teaching tool. Dacker uses spacecraft to help his students at Wilson High School learn math.
"It's fundamentally a motivation for study,'' explains Dacker, whose school is within easy driving distance of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "I took the students out to JPL, and I said, 'Here's where you could use your mathematics.' We showed them the spacecraft--we saw the Galileo interplanetary probe, which they were testing at the time--and we showed them the CAD [computer-aided design] machinery necessary to build them.''
Of course, field trips to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory aren't essential. "Other teachers could do this,'' Dacker says. "The math, students can do anywhere.''
In fact, most of the students' spatial explorations take place aboard the "starship Wilson,'' in Dacker's geometry and algebra II classes. Using drawings, photos, and a few models, Dacker explains to his students the relationship between a rocket's form and function. Students are then asked to use their geometry skills to design their own rockets and to compute orbits. "We discuss hyperbolas, parabolas, and ovals, all kinds of orbits,'' he says. "For example, 'What kind of orbit is necessary to leave the region of the Earth to travel out to Jupiter?' ''
The studies continue in drafting class, where students used computeraided design programs to translate their geometric computations into sleekly aerodynamic shapes.
Dacker's project has also come to involve the English department. Wilson English teachers, working with Dacker, require their students to explain their high-flying projects in down-to-earth terms.
"When we went to JPL, we talked to a scientist who said he communicates more with politicians than he does with other scientists,'' says Dacker. "His main job was to convince the public that projects like Galileo should be a 'go.' So here, too, documentation is critical. English skills are so important. It wasn't me but the scientists at JPL telling them this.''