How Did We Come to Playground Rubber Wood Chips? #TeacherMom

This was my inquiry on Google. Which then changed to “history of playground surfacing.” I earnestly wanted to know how we went from the sand and grass of my childhood to rubber mats and engineered wood fiber. Was it really, as comments on the currently popular image below would have us conclude, that today’s schoolchildren and their parents are over-protective “snowflakes?”

Turns out, there’s quite a bit more to the issue than nostalgia for the good ol’ days of tough kids and tough love.

An element that especially caught my attention was accessibility. In 2000, the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed as a civil rights law to prevent disability discrimination. Sand and gravel do not allow wheelchair-bound children to access playground equipment. Suddenly, I find the nostalgia fading for times when public funds only served able-bodied kids.

The much more slippery slope here, of course, is safety. I know I look back at my playground-sand “rug burns” with some strange fondness, and I’m certainly the last to suggest that preventing all cuts, bumps, or bruises is of a higher priority than play and exploration (I tend to congratulate my kids on “battle scars” when they get hurt while playing).

But I see nothing wrong with taking measures to mitigate serious injuries, especially when they are brain-related. Consider these figures from the CDC:

  • 200,000 children under age 14 visit hospital emergency rooms each year for playground-related injuries
  • 20,000 of these children are treated for traumatic brain injuries each year
  • The rate of hospital visits for traumatic brain injuries has recently increased significantly

While there are those that scoff at the fact that grass isn’t considered a safe playground surface, it’s important to remember that its “ability to absorb shock can be affected greatly by weather conditions and wear (via American Association of Orthopedics)–in other words, it becomes worn, compacted, and ultimately dangerous if you’re going to swing upside-down by your legs above it.

And again, it’s important to note that when we’re talking about brain injuries in children, it’s a serious conversation. According to the Brain Injury Association of America, “The assumption used to be a child with a brain injury would recover better than an adult because there was more “plasticity” in a younger brain.  More recent research has shown that this is not the case. A brain injury actually has a more devastating impact on a child than an injury of the same severity has on a mature adult.”

Of course, all precautions can be taken to an extreme — when we put kids at greater risk for childhood obesity than brain injury because we’ve so associated so much fear with rigorous play, for example, we still put them in harm’s way.

But when we wonder why things have changed since our own childhoods, we should remain curious, careful not to let our reminiscence stray into assumption and generalization.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

3 Tips to Help Students Rise Above the Echo Chamber

I recently had the opportunity to volunteer again as an exhibition mentor at my old IB PYP school. And, as usual, the children were brilliant, brimming with ideas and enthusiasm for taking the lead on their unit of inquiry.

But over the last few years, I’ve started to notice a puzzling trend: no matter how much research and exploring the kids do, and no matter how many counter-articles I suggest, the basic opinion they start with is often the opinion they end with (plus some charts and figures to support it). Why?

How do we help kids make the shift from searching out facts that support their existing opinions (something the internet is all-too-willing to give us all), to instead searching out the truth, even when the truth is surprising?

Here are 3 thoughts I’ve had since the end of this year’s exhibition (that hopefully I can better employ in mentoring next year!!). I would love to hear your suggestions, as well!

1. Model research that responds to the unexpected.

My first thought was on how we model research to our students. Most teachers extensively model how to find answers to their questions. But I wonder how often we show them what it looks like when we encounter an article or chart that assert alternative possibilities? Do we think aloud as we digest this new information, or do we discard it in our search for the information that backs us up? If the latter, I think we’re missing an important opportunity to teach students to be open to new ideas.

2.  Employ visible thinking protocols — especially “I used to think…Now I think…

This is a kind of mental scaffolding exercise to help students break down their thinking and how it is evolving. Reflecting not just what our opinions are, but on why we have them is crucial for healthy metacognition for us all!

3. Play the “Devil’s Advocate.”

I have had a tendency as my students’ mentor to help them find articles to help them find out more about their topic — which generally involves research on their existing opinions. But I have come to realize that what they need more from me as a mentor is just the opposite — to share resources that directly contradict their claims, encouraging deeper digging and questioning.

Videos like these from Futurism come to mind, especially since they start with phrases like “Despite what you might have heard…”

Genetically Modified Food Is a Great Advancement

Three Major Reasons Automation Won’t Leave You Unemployed

In this information age, it’s easy for all of us to get stuck in our own echo chambers of opinion. It’s crucial we help our students learn to rise above it now.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

A Provocation into Online Research, Media Litearcy, & #FakeNews

The content for this week’s provocation began with me investigating all this viral talk on #FakeNews. The more I researched, the more I came to two conclusions:

1. The need for educators to help students discern accurate sources is not new, though the stakes are getting higher if we don’t succeed.

2. Rather than focusing on the current FakeNews frenzy, it’s more valuable for us to step back and examine the big concepts surrounding the issue.

So yes, this provocation is useful if you’re wanting to talk to your students about Fake News. But more importantly, it’s more useful for helping your students recognize all that online research entails: the good, the bad, the ugly, and why all that matters for them.

Resource #1: “Where Things Come From”

Resource #2: What IS Media Literacy?

Resource #3: What is Media Literacy?

Another resource from TED_Ed on verifying factual news.

Provocation Questions:

  • Why do we ask questions?
  • How does online research compare with other research (from books, newspapers, etc.)?
  • How has online research changed over the years?
  • What is the power of information that can spread quickly?
  • What is our responsibility to cite and share accurate information?
  • Why are there different perspectives on what sources are trustworthy?
  • What role does social media play in research?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto