Denise Fawcett Facey

At its best, education broadens the way students view the world and their place in it.

Reaching and Teaching the Whole Child

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Figuring out what to do with your life after graduation can be difficult. This book offers answers and encouragement.
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High School Social Studies activities and projects that make learning enjoyable and test-taking easier

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Cultivating Students’ Curiosity

August 14, 2017

Tags: education, students' curiosity, test prep, standardized exams

Photo: http://www.grpm.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Boy_w_magnifying_glass.jpg
Recently, I saw a posting on Twitter that asked the question, “Does your classroom cover content or cultivate curiosity?” My immediate response was, “Both!” As I see it, it’s not an “either-or” choice. There’s no reason why content shouldn’t be student-centered, directly involving students and piquing their curiosity. In fact, content should engage students ’minds and interest to the point where they groan when the bell rings, wishing they could learn more. That’s cultivating curiosity.

But here’s the problem: standardized exams. These exams have become the monster that devoured all the fun in learning, encouraging many teachers to turn to rote learning, work sheets and practice tests in a never-ending quest to help students achieve high scores. Sure, teachers feel as if they’re under the gun to obtain those scores, but there are ways to keep students engaged, motivated and, yes, even curious without numbing their minds with test prep.

Content should be fun, which doesn’t in any way preclude being prepared for exams. Moreover, teachers have to be charged with the task of making it fun:

  • Students who act out plays and stories in English class will have a better understanding of character development and more interest in other works by that author.

  • Similarly, those who role-play battles in history will not only remember details about the events but will have a desire to discover more about the war as well.

  • Likewise, students who get to create their own science experiments become far more inquisitive about scientific study.

  • And students who are directed to apply math to everyday situations that make a difference in people’s lives will seek more opportunities to do the same.

The point is that content doesn’t have to be taught in isolation. Instead, teachers can make content relevant, intriguing, thought-provoking and, ultimately, enjoyable. All of that offers a firm foundation for curiosity. And, I promise you, students will be prepared for the test.

The Value of Visiting Artists Programs for Students

July 31, 2017

Tags: education, arts education, visiting artists program, student engagement, whole child education

Photo: http://spotlight.mcmaster.ca/ wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Visiting-Artists-Program.png
Dance, music, photography, painting, drama — kids love the arts. They’re pure fun as well as opportunities for self-expression that other school activities simply don’t provide. Moreover, for some students, the arts are where they really shine, perhaps the only area in school in which they shine. Yet, in a budget crunch, these are the first areas cut. That’s why a visiting artist program I read about recently captivated me.

The concept is simple: Artists present their work to students in class and then take students’ questions. However, the impact is profound. Moving beyond the arts classes, visiting artists programs are integrated into core subjects, giving students new perspectives not only on art but on the core subject as well. For instance, a landscape photographer who photographed the toll that waste and pollution have taken on the environment presented his photos in a science class, opening students’ minds to ecological solutions, using visual investigation, observation and documentation—all of this gained simply by viewing photos. (more…)

July Educator Forum: What Are Your Icebreakers at the Start of the School Year?

July 25, 2017

Tags: education, classroom icebreakers, classroom culture

Photo: http://www.anniesullivan.org/sitebuildercontent/ sitebuilderpictures/TeachersPlay1994_edited.jpg
Creating a classroom culture of of warmth, acceptance and camaraderie was always important to me. Simply put, I wanted my classroom to be a safe haven for every student who entered. To achieve this, I used a combination of basic understandings that the students and I shared as our means of relating to one another as well as various unifying projects throughout the year to reinforce this.

One way to develop these elements, among many others, was through icebreaker activities at the start of the school year. Take partnered activities, for instance. On the first day of school, students sat with a partner, and each had three minutes to tell a few well-known qualities that made them proud of themselves as well as a few that others may not have known. Then they used their newly acquired information to introduce their partners to the rest of the class. Providing an immediate bond between the partners, this activity also developed a sense of rapport within the class. (more…)

EdTech Is a Tool, Not a Cure-All

July 10, 2017

Tags: education, EdTech, education technology

Photo: https: https://zedgodmartin.files.wordpress.com/2014/12/education-technology.jpg
For those who began teaching in the mid-1980s, as I did, educational technology consisted of a television and a VCR. And if we had those items to ourselves rather than on a rolling cart to be checked out from the school library, we felt privileged, indeed. To say that things have changed since then is an understatement. From Chromebooks and Smart phones to Skype and Twitter—and so many other technologies in between—the forms of available technology as well as the ways to use them can be dizzying. And as for that school library, it’s now a media center, serving as the hub of technological activity as well as a place to read, or even as a maker space, where students can create their own innovations not just for artistic purposes but also for actual use. Technology can be marvelous! (more…)

Students as Agents of Change

July 3, 2017

Tags: education, agents of change, PBL, student activism

Photo: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-NFT6EkSTe9I/Uf8NPUxxsQI/AAAAAAAAmis/ CWCH7-Nz4Fs/s400/student+activism+5.jpg
“But what can we do about it?” That’s the question asked by students and adults alike, when they consider the problems that plague society. Homelessness, child abuse, animal cruelty, environmental waste, racism—these are among the hot-button issues that provoke strong opinions from students. After all, teens have always been at the forefront of protests that affect them personally. Now, they are increasingly involved in issues that may not have a direct impact on them individually but which nonetheless galvanize them. In addition to giving voice to their stances, students are acting on them as well.

Some of these actions begin in school as part of Problem-Based Learning (PBL). Selecting matters that evoke their passions—and just as frequently, their sense of justice—students devise solutions and then present them to a larger audience of their peers. In such instances, teachers serve solely as facilitators, guiding students in making necessary contacts and in developing innovative ways to present their projects. One teacher, for example, requires that students explain their solution to a social problem; demonstrate knowledge of their chosen social issue; document collaboration with a community member (via phone interview, email, or face-to-face meeting); and provide next steps (what needs to be done to ensure that the problem remains resolved). The results have been nothing short of breathtaking. (more…)

The Power of Teacher Collaboration

June 26, 2017

Tags: education, teacher collaboration, Meriden Public Schools, student-centered education, one-to-one technology

Photo: http://www.edutopia.org/sites/default/files/styles /feature_image_breakpoints_theme_edutopia_desktop_1x/ public/slates/collaboration1.jpg?itok=GEGYz-NT
What is the magic elixir that makes a school district a dynamic place where both students and teachers want to be? Is it the people, their teaching methods, cutting-edge technology? Well, one district, Meriden Public Schools in Connecticut, seems to have found it, taking itself from stagnant and lackluster to highly productive, with a real learning community where test scores are soaring. So, once again, what made the difference? In short, it was a paradigm shift, a change in educational perspective.

Asking teachers’ opinions, setting aside time for teacher conversations and collaboration, providing one-to-one technology to enable each child to have access to it, welcoming parent input, allowing students to lead their own learning—these have proven to be the ingredients of a successful school district. In fact, the result of all those conversations and collaborations among teachers in Meriden has been that teachers’ presented ideas and suggestions for improvement that have been implemented (more…)

Why Cultural Bias Hinders Ed Equity

June 5, 2017

Tags: education, whole child education, cultural bias, education equity

Photo: http://www.greenbookblog.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/unconsciousbias-1.jpg
I loved the diversity of my students. Yes, they were socially and economically diverse. And their varied and multifaceted personalities certainly kept things interesting. Yet it was the cultural diversity that made for a dynamic mix in the classroom. Russians, Ukrainians and Serbs, for instance, blended comfortably with Korean, Vietnamese and Chinese students as well as with students from Latin America, the Caribbean, several African countries and, of course, those born in the U.S. Interestingly, while the students generally got along wonderfully—sharing the commonality of a teenage subculture—when they argued or fought, it was never about racial or ethnic issues. It was simply typical teenaged angst. Perhaps that’s the beauty of being kids.

That diversity in my classroom is a microcosm of our larger society, reflecting an enormous cultural shift over the last few decades. (more…)

May Educator Forum: What Have You Learned from Your Students?

May 29, 2017

Tags: Words or phrases to categorize this post for the tags section

Photo: http://www.anniesullivan.org/sitebuildercontent/ sitebuilderpictures/TeachersPlay1994_edited.jpg
I was always amazed by how much I learned from my students. Sure, I taught them various social studies subjects along with what I hope was a good amount of character. Yet they taught me so much more, elements that have become life lessons that I have never forgotten. Among them are these:

  • Asking questions is not nosey. Unlike conversations with adults, in which prying questions in response to revealing a tidbit of information about themselves are considered intrusive, students want and even expect questions when they hint at problems they are experiencing. I learned this the hard way during my first year of teaching when I missed an opportunity to help a student who had been assaulted and failed to ask any questions at all when she made a cryptic comment. It took a friend of that student to later clue me in. As a result, I began asking follow-up questions with students, enabling me to assist them in areas far beyond academics.
  • (more…)

6 Things Parents of High Schoolers Need to Do

May 22, 2017

Tags: education, tips for high school parents, student achievement, whole child

Photo: https://www.sueatkinsparentingcoach.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/black-happy-teens.jpg
I’m intrigued by those articles written by teachers advising parents on ways to help their children succeed in school. Curious about the elements other teachers consider to be the keys to success, I read along, sometimes nodding in agreement and other times baffled by their advice. However, what I’ve noticed is that these articles seem to provide guidance—from teacher interactions and homework to school trips and fundraisers—focused almost exclusively on elementary school parents. That’s a mistake.

As high school teachers know, parents of high schoolers are often perplexed by this period in their children’s lives. The truth is, navigating a wholly new experience in which their children are, in fact, not little children anymore, but are not adults, either, means parents walk a precarious line between helping and enabling. It’s hard to let go, after years of controlling your children’s world, to allow them both to make their own choices and to face the consequences of those choices—especially when you can see the error of their decisions even before they implement them. Yet kids have to grow up. (more…)

The Value of a Great School Climate

May 16, 2017

Tags: education, school climate, school culture, principals

Photo: https://es.pinterest.com/pin/262616221996980446/

A great school is a wonderful place to be. Not based on grades—although grades are usually stellar in such schools—this is greatness fostered by people who enjoy being there, working together for the common good, sharing an educational perspective, supporting one another’s classroom successes. That’s a terrific school culture, and both students and teachers thrive there.

The thing is, a great school culture only exists in the right school climate. It's an intangible that has everything to do with the atmosphere within that school, determining how everyone in the school feels and underlying their interactions. When the climate's good, it encourages innovation, creativity, exploration and growth, among other positive elements. A good school climate brings out the best in everyone.

On the other hand, when school climate is negative no one thrives. Such schools seem to suck the joy right out of everyone who enters. It’s an oppressive atmosphere, one where colleagues interact with one another with suspicion, looking out for themselves alone, not working in collaboration with one another but rather seeking only to survive. The atmosphere created by that climate is one of strife, stress and even an undercurrent of malevolence. (more…)