Education Opinion

Feeling Better, Thanks.

By Hanne Denney — October 29, 2006 2 min read
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I have to say I am feeling better now. Thanks for your messages of support. It seems I am not the only teacher who sometimes feels lonely, even if the midst of a teeming high school.

Here’s how I am getting over my case of Third-Year Syndrome. I presented a workshop at a conference for educators in my county: “Manipulatives in Secondary Social Studies and English”. My background is in early childhood education, and I applied what I know about teaching with manipulatives to very young children to what I know about teaching older children. It occurred to me that if I am teaching to multiple intelligences, and differentiating for learning styles and abilities, then using manipulatives is a good way to go. I’ve used seashells and cotton balls, little green army men, paintbrushes and post-it notes. I’ve had students moving around to tap out sonnet rhythms, and I’ve served rice with spices to demonstrate the importance of trade. I’ve used lots of “tricks” to reach my students. I believe in the theory of learning styles. I decided to share my experiences.

When I gave this workshop a week ago, the teachers who attended seemed to get excited by the ideas I was presenting. Some contributed their own ideas, which got me excited about other things I could do. I promised to write down the ideas, and send it out to the participants. I haven’t finished it yet, but I will this week. I couldn’t find much research on the topic, although it makes a lot of common sense to me. If a child needs to touch something, or create a visual image, or move something (including their own body) to learn, then I need to provide the opportunity to do so. Even in high school.

It is intuitive to me that adding manipulatives makes learning more fun and interactive. Students may not talk to each other in class discussion, but they’ll pass spices around to smell and taste. Students will remember more about the lesson reinforced with manipulatives. I know that’s true, even if it’s not “proven” yet. The little children I taught years ago still remember about horseshoe crabs because we dug holes in the beach and buried pebbles, just like the crabs dig to bury their eggs. My senior English 12 students remembered trench warfare of World War I (taught in my 10th grade World Civilization class two years ago) because they had lined up little soldiers standing in trenches drawn on a chart. I just tested my theory of secondary manipulative use. I asked these same kids to describe trench warfare in writing, and had very little response. But when I gave them the little army men to set up again, 8 out of 10 students were able to describe the horrors of trench warfare. Only one said, “I still have no idea” after the exercise. This is a rather small sample, I know, but I think it works.

So. I’m back into the excitement of teaching because I presented my ideas to my colleagues, and received some positive feedback. Maybe that’s what I need to do when I am feeling bogged down by “same-old, same-old”. Try something new, and talk about it, and ask others about it, and write about it. I have to get excited about it.

I’m looking forward to school this week. Hope you are, too.

And if you want a copy of my notes on using manipulatives in secondary English and Social Studies, send me an email at hdenney@aacps.org. You have to promise to add your own ideas and send it back to me. Keep me excited.

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