Weekly Roundup 4-28-13

School: There is a growing movement to view atypical modes of thinking and learning not as deficits, per se, but as variations on brain wiring that are often accompanied by “unusual skills and aptitudes.” Sociologist Judy Singer coined the term neurodiversity in the 1990s, and the concept is set to become the “rallying cry” of a new kind of civil rights movement. The field of special education in particular is taking note.

Psychology: When wrongfully convicted people are finally set free after serving lengthy prison sentences, they often face an uphill battle coping with the psychological, emotional and practical aspects of life “on the outside.” A paper published in 2008, titled “Coping With Innocence After Death Row” was recently made available to read on the blog Deafinprison.wordpress.com. It explores some of the difficult issues exonerated inmates face.

Scholarship: Thomas Jefferson once said, “As for what is not true, you will always find abundance in the newspapers.” What was true about untruth in 1806 remains true about untruth today. As if we needed another reminder, a recent post on Discover’s Collide-a-Scape blog calls out an uncritical media for covering pseudoscience as if it were real science.


Is it Summer Yet?


Mud Pie Kitchen.

A kid-centered local business in Wilmette, Growth Spurts, recently posted a great Pinterest board with outside play ideas for children. Growth Spurts is actually an indoor play space for kids, but it looks like they are moving a few activities outdoors in anticipation of summer. I poked around Pinterest, and found a few other boards with inspiration – some for playing outside, and some for just playing (you never know when you might go for that play therapy credential, right?). After the recent flooding and crazy weather, I think we’re all ready for a little sunshine and fun!

Links to other Pinterest boards:
Play Space Ideas
Mud Pie Kitchens
Outdoor Fun
Waldorf Preschools
Get Back Outside
Play Learn Grow

Finals Week

Picture 7

With approximately two academic papers, one or more comprehensive reports, and a poster presentation due within the next two weeks, I’m posting a few feel-good links for everyone in my cohort. Hang in there, guys! We’re almost done and soon will be embarking on some amazing internship experiences. Two weeks to go…

Research humor: “Scientists receive 12.6 million dollar grant to format references correctly.”
Good doggies: “Golden Retrievers who helped comfort Newtown families head to Boston to make bomb victims smile.”
Good deeds: “Chicago Tribune Buys Pizza for Boston Globe After Last Week’s Hell Picture 9Week; Gesture of thanks for ‘tenacious coverage.'”
A Coffee Story: We couldn’t get through finals without our trusted friend and companion, coffee. Read what it takes to get that critical beverage from the other side of the world and into your “#1 School Psychologist” mug.
Escape to Paradise: When it all becomes too much, move to an island. NASP just announced there are several job and internship openings in Hawaii.

Weekly Roundup 4-21-13

School: A follow-up editorial in The New York Times about their recent article discussing some of the problems with increased police presence in schools. The comments section to the editorial is worth a look, too. Some interesting input from teachers who share their experience (mostly positive) with police officers in their schools.

Psychology: A good overview of research and opinion regarding reading on paper vs. screens. As people discover the limitations of books-on-screens (one finding: it’s harder to navigate long, difficult texts in a digital format), research seems to confirm that comprehension is actually reduced when we read pixels instead of print.

Scholarship: Research published just this week explores the subtle cognitive effects of Tylenol. Apparently, acetaminophen blunts neurological pathways related both to physical pain and social distress. “When people feel overwhelmed with uncertainty in life or distressed by a lack of purpose, what they’re feeling may actually be painful distress … We think that Tylenol is blocking existential unease in the same way it prevents pain, because a similar neurological process is responsible for both types of distress.”

School’s First Ever “Rain Day” Closure

Screen shot 2013-04-18 at 9.58.27 AM Screen shot 2013-04-18 at 9.58.46 AMScreen shot 2013-04-18 at 9.59.03 AM

You might have read about the rainstorms and flooding all over Chicagoland this morning. In fact, the school where I’m completing my practicum closed today for its first ever “Rain Day.” The photos above were sent out by the district superintendent. He actually came to school, because where he lives the flooding wasn’t bad, saw the situation, and called off school for the day.

Chicago has been hit hard. I’ve lived here just four years, but this was the worst I’ve seen it in the northern suburbs. Wish us luck as we try to dry out and get things back in order!

Here are some local links:

Chicago Flooding: Live Blog Updates from the Chicago Tribune.
Emergency closings.
Photos from around the area.

Weekly Roundup 4-14-13

School: It’s not clear that increased police presence in schools actually makes children safer. But it is clear that more police in schools leads to more children being pulled into the legal system for minor infractions that used to handled in the principal’s office. What was once a “ding” on a school record is now a misdemeanor charge that leads to arrests, criminal citations, and court proceedings.

Psychology: Traditionally, extroverts were presumed to good salespeople, while introverts were presumed to be terrible at sales. But a new study turns such assumptions on their head, and proposes a new personality type that excels above all others when it comes to sales: the ambivert. As it turns out, being enthusiastic but also able to listen well is the best predictor of sales prowess. And, as it also turns out, most people are ambiverts. Go figure!

Scholarship: A relatively brief blog post citing lots of research on how to break a bad habit and replace it with a desirable one. Citations galore!

Illustrated Timeline of the History of Schizophrenia Through the Ages

Screen shot 2013-04-11 at 8.25.00 PM

Scientific American just published an interactive timeline of the history of schizophrenia, from Ancient Egypt to the present. It’s very interesting, and comes on the heels of important discussions taking place surrounding the release of the DSM-5. From the article:

“Less than two hundred years ago, schizophrenia emerged from a tangle of mental disorders known simply as madness. Yet its diagnosis remains shrouded in ambiguity. Only now is the Diagnostics and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, psychiatrists’ primary guidebook, shedding the outdated, nineteenth-century descriptions that have characterized schizophrenia to this day.
“There is substantial dissatisfaction with schizophrenia treated as a disease entity, its symptoms are like a fever—something is wrong but we don’t know what,” says William Carpenter, a psychiatrist at the University of Maryland and chair of the manual’s Psychotic Disorder Workgroup. Psychiatrists may discover that this disorder is not a single syndrome after all but a bundle of overlapping conditions.”

Further Reading:
Vaughan Bell’s latest article, about new research on schizophrenia.

The Resignation Heard ‘Round the World

Dear Mr. Barduhn and Board of Education Members:

It is with the deepest regret that I must retire at the close of this school year, ending my more than twenty-seven years of service at Westhill on June 30, under the provisions of the 2012-15 contract. I assume that I will be eligible for any local or state incentives that may be offered prior to my date of actual retirement and I trust that I may return to the high school at some point as a substitute teacher. As with Lincoln and Springfield, I have grown from a young to an old man here; my brother died while we were both employed here; my daughter was educated here, and I have been touched by and hope that I have touched hundreds of lives in my time here. I know that I have been fortunate to work with a small core of some of the finest students and educators on the planet.

I came to teaching forty years ago this month and have been lucky enough to work at a small liberal arts college, a major university and this superior secondary school. To me, history has been so very much more than a mere job, it has truly been my life, always driving my travel, guiding all of my reading and even dictating my television and movie viewing. Rarely have I engaged in any of these activities without an eye to my classroom and what I might employ in a lesson, a lecture or a presentation. With regard to my profession, I have truly attempted to live John Dewey’s famous quotation (now likely cliché with me, I’ve used it so very often) that  “Education is not preparation for life, education is life itself.” This type of total immersion is what I have always referred to as teaching “heavy,” working hard, spending time, researching, attending to details and never feeling satisfied that I knew enough on any topic. I now find that this approach to my profession is not only devalued, but denigrated and perhaps, in some quarters despised. STEM rules the day and “data driven” education seeks only conformity, standardization, testing and a zombie-like adherence to the shallow and generic Common Core, along with a lockstep of oversimplified so-called Essential Learnings. Creativity, academic freedom, teacher autonomy, experimentation and innovation are being stifled in a misguided effort to fix what is not broken in our system of public education and particularly not at Westhill.

A long train of failures has brought us to this unfortunate pass. In their pursuit of Federal tax dollars, our legislators have failed us by selling children out to private industries such as Pearson Education. The New York State United Teachers union has let down its membership by failing to mount a much more effective and vigorous campaign against this same costly and dangerous debacle. Finally, it is with sad reluctance that I say our own administration has been both uncommunicative and unresponsive to the concerns and needs of our staff and students by establishing testing and evaluation systems that are Byzantine at best and at worst, draconian. This situation has been exacerbated by other actions of the administration, in either refusing to call open forum meetings to discuss these pressing issues, or by so constraining the time limits of such meetings that little more than a conveying of information could take place. This lack of leadership at every level has only served to produce confusion, a loss of confidence and a dramatic and rapid decaying of morale. The repercussions of these ill-conceived policies will be telling and shall resound to the detriment of education for years to come. The analogy that this process is like building the airplane while we are flying would strike terror in the heart of anyone should it be applied to an actual airplane flight, a medical procedure, or even a home repair. Why should it be acceptable in our careers and in the education of our children?

My profession is being demeaned by a pervasive atmosphere of distrust, dictating that teachers cannot be permitted to develop and administer their own quizzes and tests (now titled as generic “assessments”) or grade their own students’ examinations. The development of plans, choice of lessons and the materials to be employed are increasingly expected to be common to all teachers in a given subject. This approach not only strangles creativity, it smothers the development of critical thinking in our students and assumes a one-size-fits-all mentality more appropriate to the assembly line than to the classroom. Teacher planning time has also now been so greatly eroded by a constant need to “prove up” our worth to the tyranny of APPR (through the submission of plans, materials and “artifacts” from our teaching) that there is little time for us to carefully critique student work, engage in informal intellectual discussions with our students and colleagues, or conduct research and seek personal improvement through independent study. We have become increasingly evaluation and not knowledge driven. Process has become our most important product, to twist a phrase from corporate America, which seems doubly appropriate to this case.

After writing all of this I realize that I am not leaving my profession, in truth, it has left me. It no longer exists. I feel as though I have played some game halfway through its fourth quarter, a timeout has been called, my teammates’ hands have all been tied, the goal posts moved, all previously scored points and honors expunged and all of the rules altered.

For the last decade or so, I have had two signs hanging above the blackboard at the front of my classroom, they read, “Words Matter” and “Ideas Matter”. While I still believe these simple statements to be true, I don’t feel that those currently driving public education have any inkling of what they mean.

Sincerely and with regret,

Gerald J. Conti Social Studies Department Leader
Cc: Doreen Bronchetti, Lee Roscoe
My little Zu.


Weekly Roundup 4-7-13

School: My alma mater has started a pilot mentoring program in Santa Fe, NM that pairs college students one-on-one with local elementary students who need help in math and reading. Way to go, St. John’s!

Psychology: In honor of World Autism Awareness Day (April 2), the publisher Wiley has opened access to selected journal articles on the topic of autism. The free articles are arranged by topic and intended audience, making them easily accessible to everyone.

Scholarship: Can you make yourself smarter by “training your brain” with computerized games of memory and repetition? In a meta-analysis of the best research on the effects of memory training from around the world, British scientists conclude that you cannot make yourself smarter by playing “brain games.” While the games may provide a temporary uptick in performance on the specific task being trained (e.g. memorization), this do not translate to broader skills or an increase in intelligence. In other words, brain games train you to get really good at brain games.

Separated at Birth?


Recently I was wandering around the Internet and came across the image on the upper right (I think my journey started when I was looking up the Gold Museum in Bogotá, Colombia, which led to reading about obsidian, which led to an interesting article about the use of obsidian by Aztec warriors posted on the Corning Museum of Glass’ website. Phew!). Of course it reminded me of Maurice Sendak’s classic Where the Wild Things Are


I’m sure Joseph Campbell would have something to say about this!

“Where the Wild Things Are.”
Maurice Sendak.
Aztec warriors image, via Wikipedia Commons.
“The Florentine Codex.”