George Lucas Educational Foundation

One Hot Chocolate

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Now Playing» Band: Robert Bradley’s Blackwater Surprise Record: Time to Discover I’m no coffee house snob. Lattes, mochas, and macchiatos sound like a disease line up to me. “Sorry sir, but you are infected with the drippy macchiato.” Coffee is my caffeine of choice. BUT… every now and again I find myself in the awkward position, usually on a Saturday night when the place is buzzing with hipster city folk, standing in front of the barista ready to order. I found myself in that very position on Saturday night at the Green Line Café in West Philadelphia, PA. I was there to support The Silence Kit. “The Kit,” as I like to call them, is a post-punk band that sound like The Killers and The Cure all swirled up together, put into one those silver cups, and steamed. I strolled up, joined the line, which was more like a circular meeting (“No, you go”), and devised a plan while I waited. Sneaky. (Rubbing hands together) When I finally was face-to-face with the master coffee-drink-maker I said, “Surprise me. Make me whatever you like.” She apparently gets this a lot and took it in stride. She worked her magic–– shaking, mixing, and even used the silver cup. Man, I thought. I’m getting something good. Then she filled the top of the cup with whipped cream. Huh? “One hot chocolate,” she crooned. She chose to hit me with the simple, yet complex, drink of champions; the drink of cold, snowy nights; the drink of The Polar Express. All of those fancy drinks and she picks simplicity. Isn’t that what education needs? Simplicity. Don’t get me wrong. When I say simplicity, I don’t mean reverting to the “old days” of pencil, paper, and splintered, wooden desks. I mean…. The Rules of Simple are Simple (written simply by Gaetan Pappalardo) Rule #1-What’s the Big Idea? Honing in on the “big ideas” should be first and foremost. Instead of cramming the curriculum with petty content, spend more time in the deep end. Community, Environment, Communication, Artistic Expression, etc… In his book, Holding on the Good Ideas in a Time of Bad Ones: Six Literacy Principals Worth Fighting For, Thomas Newkirk praises Eagle Rock School in Estes Park, CO, for its mission and philosophy that fits on one side of a piece of paper. “Simple,” yet so powerful. “Teachers and students had wide latitude in how these goals were met, and everyone would return to them again and again.” (Newkirk) Now that’s spending some time in the deep end of the pool. Rule #2- Simple is as Simple Does Make it simple for the kid. Everybody can use a little “simple.” We can all agree that “the kid” has changed. Making school, or a least a bit of it, simple for today’s little bean might be adding a video game reference to your lesson; allowing kids to compose stories with different computer programs; letting them read alternative literature on the Internet; Graphic novels. Yes, pop culture needs to be valued to connect with “The Kid.” Rule #3- Simplicity needs time, believe it or not. Simple is not easy. I spend time with teachers discussing how to effectively teach kids to write. The jaws drop when I tell them I teach one whole class lesson a week. Maybe. Barry Lane, in his book But How Do You Teach Writing?, simply states: “Real writing needs real time.” How do you become a writer? You do it. How do you become a Scientist? You do science. How do you become a golfer? You golf. Time is needed for instruction, but more time is needed for the “doing.” The “doing” is what grabs you and shakes up your bones and makes you think: I want to do it again. You learn by simply “doing.” Guess what? That hot chocolate was the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had. Simplicity, refined, refined, and refined to perfection.

This post was created by a member of Edutopia's community. If you have your own #eduawesome tips, strategies, and ideas for improving education, share them with us.

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Barb Ponticello's picture

Hi Gaetan I found out about your group from my principal who was forwarded an e-mail you wrote to Mrs. Munyon. Thanks for inviting me and others who are in the trenches teaching at Catholic school!

Bridget Gavaghan's picture

Hi everyone,
My name is Bridget and I am a student at Shippensburg University. I am an elementary education major with a minor in coaching. I am from Bucks County which is right outside of Philadelphia. I have been reading your blogs and became interested in the groups. I just wanted to introduce myself!

Gaetan Pappalardo's picture
Gaetan Pappalardo
Teacher, Author, Guitar––Word.

Hi to all of the new members!!! Welcome!! Glad you made it. Jump in when you feel the urge and please post a discussion if you have a question, thought, or just want to vent. "We"are here to talk.


Warren Stuart's picture

Although I am OLD, I am new to this. Am working on a PhD in Learning and Technology and decided to concentrate on early education. You guys either set the foundation for success (or don't). I just find it sad that about 40% of kids in third grade can't read at grade level. So-- it must be hard for you guys (generic usage)trying to teach writing (or anything else) when a child has problems using reading as an input mechanism. My research suggests that these kids need to be addressed in kindergarten if remediation is to be successful. I know that this sounds like kind of a downer; but, coffee is where it needs to be discusssed.

LiveLoveTeach's picture

I just joined this group after a post on Facebook from Edutopia sparked my interest. I graduated college in May of '08 and spent most of the 2008-09 school year as a long term substitute for both fourth and second grades. After a very discouraging and unexpected end to my year, I was left questioning whether or not I still even wanted to be a teacher after five long years of college, two minors, and a handful of references that would've hired me in an instant. Despite applying to close to 30 districts this past summer, I am left day-to-day substituting as well as working a part-time job to pay the bills. I have been applying to new districts, out of my current area, even looking out of state but my optimism of a full-time position is running low! Anyway, I just wanted to introduce myself and hopefully gain more wonderful tips from all of the seasoned teachers out there as I continue down my job-searching road.

Kimberly Whybrew's picture

I agree that simple is the best. For me simple means making a connection so that my students can understand. It also means letting them do the work. I can tell them over and over again, but until they do it, neither of us knows if they have it. In this day and age, there is no way for us to teach our students what they will need in the future. I truly believe that the most important thing we have to teach our students is how to learn. They are going to have to teach themselves many new things in their lifetimes in order to succeed. How better to do that than to let them try now.

K Brown's picture

As a 20 year veteran I've seen a lot of curriculum come and go. Gaetan's keep it simple is brilliant in its essence but not easy. Everyday I take a shovel of curriculum and sift, sift, refine until I find that nugget of truth that my students need. Each student. It's messy,it's hard, but it's beautiful. When I can stand in wonder as a child stands at the door with the key and opens it to a new world of understanding. To see that experience turn a child into one who pursues learning for the sake of learning. That is the product I want to achieve everyday, every year. A bevy of children released into the world, eager to learn. What frustrates me these days are the teachers who want a pre-made curriculum that they stand and deliver and expect children to learn. Every day I'm amazed at my colleagues who just don't get that big picture. Which is why I have joined this blog. Thank you for the renewed hope that there are teachers out there pursuing good teaching, and students benefiting from it.

Gaetan Pappalardo's picture
Gaetan Pappalardo
Teacher, Author, Guitar––Word.

Now Playing>>

"I truly believe that the most important thing we have to teach our students is how to learn."

Yes, Yes, Yes...And how do we learn? Different ways, of course. Some of us need to watch; some to do; some to do together. I see teachers teaching too much. I'm coining a new phrase here "Teachicide." (Copyright. Gaetan Pappalardo) Perhaps teachers need to be more of a facilitator and less of a dictator. Let's not commit Teachicide. Thanks for the post, K.


Dylan Robertson's picture

Hi all,

Enjoying reading your posts and couldn't agree more with a lot of things you've said Gaetan. Here are some simple ideas of my own that I've been sticking with, with good results (in a third grade classroom):

- In reading stick with what is important and stay with it. I think a lot of places are going with strategy instruction now a la Mosaic of Thought, and though this is not a problem per se, I think it does often lead to teaching one strategy for a little while, then the next, then the next. When taught in this way the strategies are not internalized by the students as ways of making sense of the text, especially in their independent reading (particularly when assessment is based on demonstrating strategy use at the expense of demonstrating good understanding of the text). The goal in my class for every book the students read is to figure out what is important to the story and notice the clues the author leaves to get us there. Thus far this year the class has mostly focused on the idea the stories have problems and these problems get worked out in different ways, but other topics that have come up are suspense and foreshadowing, the importance of connecting clues within the book, noticing who is telling the story, and character change. The funny thing is, some of the ways the class figures out what is important in a story look a lot like strategies, but coming from them they are authentic (hopefully!)

- If you can find a big idea that runs through multiple units, stick with it. In social studies we've studied three groups of people so far, and for each group the class has defined what they think are the important facets of each culture. They have found some categories are always part of culture while others are more specific to certain cultures. For the last unit, groups of students researched a culture then created the categories they thought were important to that culture based on the information they found. They were able to do so in an independent and flexible way because they've been coming back to this same question all year and they have been in charge of sorting the information and creating the categories.

So, find something important and simple and stick with it! After all, Einstein said, "It's not that I'm so smart, I just stick with the problems longer."

K Brown's picture

Ah yes, Dylan.
A tall glass of refreshingly simple. (yet brilliant in the execution)
Love it

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