What Happened to Field Trips?

Have you ever wondered, “Whatever happened to field trips? Do kids still go on field trips?”

When I was a teacher a long time ago, we took our third-grade students on several field trips throughout the year. From what I can recall, there were around 5 total, including a big day trip to downtown Chicago, which was the culminating trip for our Chicago unit. (At the time, the history of Chicago was a required part of the curriculum in Illinois.) This field trip was a lot of fun because we took the kids to the Sears Tower (now, sadly, called the Willis Tower) and a bus tour of the city. Although as a teacher I wasn’t a big fan of field trips, simply because they are hectic, I felt they were a value add to the kids’ learning experience.

The fellow grade level teachers and I planned the field trips (where to go and when) together and then ran it past our principal for approval, almost always without any objection. Since our school district was in a fairly affluent area, there typically weren’t any issues with field trip cost or frequency.

Nowadays, field trips are not as often nor as common. There are a few reasons that come to mind:

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How Important Is It to Learn a Second Language?

The past few days have been busy due to the holiday and because as of late, I have been engrossed in watching Korean dramas that stream for free on Netflix. Watching Korean dramas got me to thinking, how important is it to learn a second language? Or maybe more appropriately, I should say how important it is to learn a second language.

Thirty some odd years ago when I was a native Korean speaker entering the school system in the U.S., there was no value-add for knowing Korean or any other foreign/world language. In fact, my school teachers discouraged my parents from continuing our Korean language development and insisted that we solely speak English in order to help my English language skills to develop quicker. Back then, it made all the sense in the world.

We lived in the U.S. and therefore, we should speak English. Nonetheless, my parents were relentless in their belief that although we lived in the U.S., we were still Korean and should learn the Korean language and embrace Korean culture. There was no ESL (English as a Second Language) program at our school so I learned English through the proven teaching method called “sink or swim”. (Forgive my sarcasm. )

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Monetary Donations For Public Schools

One school district where I worked had 12 schools K-12. Between those 12 schools, especially among the 9 elementary schools, there was a sizable socio-economic divide. A few of the schools were Title I (a federal program that entitled lower-income populations to additional funding), while other schools in the district were incredibly affluent. In fact, a few professional athletes’ kids attended those upper echelon schools within the district.

I happened to be the principal at one of the Title I schools, so our parent club, while incredibly supportive, was not able to provide any monetary support. You might be wondering, “Why would a parent club provide monetary support?” Well, in this day and age, with the budget crises at the state and federal levels of government, funding is cut nearly ever year.

As districts tighten their belts and trim any remaining fat in their budgets, district officials have to make very difficult decisions about what to cut. Cuts are never popular, but without funding, there aren’t any alternatives. Fortunately for this district, they had a well-established education foundation. Through the efforts of the ed foundation, the district benefited nearly $750,000/year. Although those funds are not guaranteed each year since it depends on what funds are raised, it is a big contribution to a district’s annual operating budget.

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Should My Child Skip a Grade?

One of my nephews, whom I will refer to as Thor (because he loves the movie character), was born at the end of September. His older sister, whom I will refer to as Rachel Alexandra (because she loves horses), was also born at the end of September. Neither of them made the September 1 cut off for Kindergarten in their public school district. Both tested for Kindergarten readiness in the month of May after they turned four, and both were accepted to start a year ahead of schedule. My sister and brother-in-law decided to start Rachel Alexandra early and to start Thor on schedule.
Fast forward two years. Rachel Alexandra is not only able to keep up with her grade level peers (who are all a year older) but also has been and continues to participate in the accelerated academics program. Thor is well above his grade level peers both academically and in physical stature and participates in the accelerated academics program.

He is a little bored academically at school. My sister and brother-in-law can’t help but wonder if they made the right decision by not starting Thor early given how well he has been doing in school. And now they are considering the possibility of Thor skipping a grade also known in education circles as grade acceleration.

Some of you may find yourselves in a similar predicament and are wondering what factors to consider when making this decision. Here are four key elements to consider:

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Should I Hold My Child Back a Grade (aka Retention, Flunking, Repeating a Grade)

Vector concept of investment in education with coins books and scales

One of the toughest questions that parents ask me is, “Should I hold my child back in the same grade?” As such, I’ve given this topic a lot of thought, and the various professional experiences I’ve had with students and parents/guardians helped shape my views on holding kids back a grade.

One of the books in the reading program that I used as a teacher is called The Flunking of Joshua T. Bates. At first, I wasn’t sure this was a good book to read since it was about…well…the flunking of Joshua T. Bates. Joshua is a student who finds out that he has to repeat third grade. Despite the less than happy theme of this book, it turns out to be a genuine story about the struggles of repeating a grade and the success this student finds with the help of his caring teacher.

Reminiscing about this book and the school year rapidly coming to a close got me thinking about all the decisions that have to be made towards the end of the year. Helping a parent make the final determination about whether or not to retain a student in the same grade is probably the least enjoyable responsibility as a principal.

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How Much is an iPad App Worth?

Modern Mom blogger, Andrea Benton, posted an article titled Why Parents Should Pay More for Educational Apps. While it’s probably not the best lead in title for someone like me (read: frugal), it still piqued my interest so I read on. In her post, Ms. Benton cites three main points:

1) Apps cost money to make.

2) Think of apps as a long-term investment.

3) The “One and done” mentality meaning, once our kids have played them they move onto something else

Here’s what I would add in support of Ms. Benton’s position as you consider how much an iPad app for kids is worth:

4) The old saying, “You get what you pay for”, definitely holds true in the case of apps. The difference between a $1.99 app and a free one is often noticeable. And typically the difference between a $9.99 app and a $1.99 app is even greater.

5) Install the AppShopper for Apple products. It costs $.99, which you will easily earn back with your first discounted app purchase, and sometimes it’s free! You can search for apps that are currently on sale and/or add apps to your wish list and receive notification when they go on sale. You can also view the price history and deduce whether it will go on sale for a lower price. The App Shopper has a 4.5 star rating with 185 reviews.

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Graduation for Fifth Grade, Really?

In order to bring some meaningful traffic to my blog, I have been participating in online mom communities like Mamapedia and Modern Mom. It’s fascinating to me the questions that people have about all sorts of topics. Today, one such question got my attention:

“What is the proper etiquette for gift-giving? Do you give gifts for a 5th-grade graduation party?”

As an educator (and a mom), I’m a big believer in celebrating accomplishments: earning a good grade on a long-term project, making the honor roll, placing first in the spelling bee, earning a letter in a sport, being chosen to design the cover of the yearbook, so on and so forth. However, I am having a hard time with all of the various graduation celebrations these days.

Pre-school, Kindergarten, Fifth grade, Eighth grade, High School, College and beyond. It’s overkill. I know for some kids, maybe Eighth grade is as far as they will get, and I’ve worked at schools like that, but is this really what the U.S. education system has come to that we now celebrate the completion of Fifth grade? Fifth grade. Long ago when I was a kid, we didn’t graduate from Fifth grade. We completed it and then moved on to Sixth grade. There was no hoopla.

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What a Teacher Really Wants, Not Another Mug

During the course of my career as a teacher and school administrator, I’ve received my share of memorable gifts from students. And one of the first things I learned as a teacher is to appreciate each gift, regardless of what it is; although honestly, that didn’t keep my teacher friends and me from having a little fun with some of the more unusual gifts we received.

Since most of the gifts were given to us on the Friday before the winter holiday break, the other grade level teachers and I agreed to wear any and every gift that was wearable on that day. We did this every year.

One year, my colleague pinned on a 2 inch long, 1-inch tall rhinestone “JESUS” brooch and tried really hard, albeit without any success to put on the pants that a student had given her. They were dark green jeans. I put on a pair of the biggest gold-plated hoop earrings I had ever seen along with a vest (the kind that buttons up the front).

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Momnesia

My kids are 5 and 2.5 years old, and I am a chronic sufferer of momnesia. If you’re a mom, you may know all too well what I’m referring to. And the more kids you have the stronger your momnesia. I go downstairs to the kitchen and stare at the cabinets wondering for what reason did I come downstairs.

I come back from the grocery store with a bag full of items, only to realize that I forgot to get milk, which was the main reason I went to the store. I spend 30 minutes looking for my sunglasses only to find that they were perched on my head the entire time, and it’s my 2.5-year old who points that out to me.

Momnesia

One time I asked my mother-in-law if My Man (who is now 41) was a good baby. She says she doesn’t remember. I say, she has momnesia…or she doesn’t want to tell me because he was probably the devil’s spawn.

Either way, moms who have older kids often tell me that they don’t remember what their kids were like as babies and toddlers or they gush about how lovely their child was as a baby. That’s called MSM (mom’s selective memory). It’s another disorder common to moms.

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Gifted vs. Accelerated

One of the things I quickly learned as a school administrator is that kids enter Kindergarten at a wide range of abilities and with differing degrees of background knowledge. This doesn’t mean that those that don’t know are dumb, and equally, it doesn’t mean that those that do know are gifted, although those parents like to think their kids are. ;) What it does mean is that some kids enter Kindergarten accelerated. Giftedness (true giftedness) is often times fairly obvious and when it’s not as obvious, then it is identified through a variety of testing measures in third grade. It is commonly agreed upon by educators that by third grade students “level out” and sort of “fall into their natural ability levels.” Typically, that’s also the grade level when schools identify and label kids as GATE or GT (Gifted and Talented Education). I believe kids are over-identified due to pressure from parents and GATE standards/cut offs that are too low.

If a kid attends preschool for a year or two before starting Kindergarten, it is very likely that that child will know a lot more than a child who does not, particularly if the child that does not attend preschool comes from a lower SES (socio-economic status). The gap between those that attend and don’t attend is pretty clear especially when accounting for SES. Some kids enter Kindergarten knowing how to read, while other kids can’t tell the difference between the letter “a” and “d”. Some kids can identify each of the coins, how much they are worth, and how to count coins, while others may hardly know what a penny is. Some know where China is, while others think it’s a city in Southern California, called Irvine.

We try to be fairly deliberate about teaching Stinker and Stinker Jr. and exposing them to all sorts of things, even different religious beliefs. Stinker has been asking a lot questions about why some people don’t go to church. The other day, he asked me where people go if they aren’t in heaven. Man. That’s a hard one to discuss with an adult let alone a 5 year old. Husband, feel free to take that one.

If there’s one nugget of advice I’d give to parents from an educator’s perspective, I’d say expose your kids to a variety of things. It’s so beneficial to broaden your child’s experiences as that helps develop more background knowledge. This is one of the reasons I think it’s great to travel as much as possible with the kids. They get a true sense of the global society we now live in.

Anyhow, Stinker has been learning how to identify and count coins. So he broke into one of his piggy banks to count them. He stacked the coins into piles equal to $1. Then he asked if he could go buy something, to which I responded, “no, put them back in your piggy bank”.
Gifted? No. At least, too early to really tell. Advanced? Sure. He’s been in preschool for 2 years. But in this competitive day and age, even “advanced” is all relative.