10 Days of Play: A Multi-Sensory Experience To Energize The Mind

The Science of Play Opens Up Creative & Critical Thinking

Play comes in many forms, but whatever it looks like, it’s great for your brain! The Berkshire Museum celebrates the importance of play during their annual event, 10 Days of Play. Held now through February 22nd, 10 Days of Play celebrates the recreational and educational value of play amongst community members of any age. Read the rest of this entry »

Philosophy for Children Class at MHC Supports Community-Based Education

‘Big Ideas for Little Kids:’ PBS Doc Features Mount Holyoke College Class

Each fall, students in Professor Thomas E. Wartenberg’s Philosophy for Children class pack up kids’ picture books and bring big ideas to elementary school students in the Pioneer Valley.

Rather than slogging through philosophers’ names and theories, however, the Mount Holyoke College students are teaching second graders at the Martin Luther King Charter School in Springfield, MA, to question their own assumptions, listen to each other’s points of view, and sometimes even change their minds—all through the lens of children’s books.

The class, co-taught by Wartenberg and Mount Holyoke President Lynn Pasquerella last year, is the subject of a documentary film that will premiere on PBS affiliate WGBY Channel 57 on Monday, November 3, at 8 pm. Big Ideas for Little Kids will be rebroadcast (see schedule below) and available online starting November 4 at wgby.org/bigideas.

“The second graders learn some of the basic rules for having a philosophical discussion, from what it means to be a listener who respects differences in opinion, to how to build a good argument when making a point,” filmmaker Julie Akeret, a regional Emmy Award winner, says. “These young students are excited to be asked not only what they think, but why.”

When the class was filmed last fall, the Mount Holyoke students used six children’s picture books, each focusing on a different question of philosophy. Frederick, for example, prompts the question, “What is work?” through the story of a mouse who composes poetry while his family and friends gather food for winter. The Giving Tree inspires an impassioned examination of whether a tree surrendered “her whole self” when she gave up her lush branches and towering trunk so her son could build a home. And Emily’s Art incites a debate about whether a judge really knows best in an art contest. Read the rest of this entry »

“What’s the Big Idea?” Challenges Kids to Think Critically & Philosophically

Film Project Poses Intellectual Challenges to Energize the Mind

In order to raise children who will grow up to be critical thinkers, it is essential that we not only present them with intellectual challenges while they’re young, but – as the goal of “What’s the Big Idea?” states – we must also teach them the skills that they will need to tackle complex ideas. By exposing children to philosophical ideas and questions early in life, we create opportunities for them to learn how to think critically about major topics. And if we provide the proper support, we allow them to do this big thinking in a context where they’re supported throughout their learning.

A project of Mt. Holyoke College professor Tom Wartenberg and local filmmaker Julie Akeret, “What’s the Big Idea?” introduces middle school students (12-14yr) to philosophy through film. Pairing commentary with pertinent clips relating to the themes addressed by the project, “What’s the Big Idea?” takes common tween-age dilemmas and presents them to students in a way that not only allows them to learn how to handle such situations, but encourages them to think deeply about the larger ideas that lay behind common life experiences and situations. Clips from iconic movies including The Karate Kid, Mean Girls, Liar Liar, and even High School Musical help to teach students to think critically about peer pressure, bullying, lying, and friendship. The project even offers resources for developing discussions and activities after tackling each theme – resources that can easily be used by educators of all kinds.

Read the rest of this entry »

Spark!Lab Lights the Fire of Invention

Think Outside the Box at Spark!Lab in the Berkshires

Everyone is an inventor in the Berkshire Museum’s exciting new Spark!Lab, opening to the public on Saturday, October 11, 2014, in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Spark!Lab provides opportunities for children and families to explore their inventive creativity — by designing, innovating, collaborating, and problem-solving — because these experiences empower kids to develop the skills and confidence they need to succeed today and in the future.

Developed at the Smithsonian Institution by the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation at the National Museum of American History (NMAH), the Berkshires’ very own Spark!Lab is part of a nation-wide initiative to engage youngsters in the act of invention and innovation. Here is a sneak peek of Spark!Lab at the National Museum of American History:

The Berkshire Museum’s Spark!Lab will be the third in the country to open! Read the rest of this entry »

Listen Current: Learning Through the Power of Public Radio

Listen Current Provides a Database of Current Affairs Topics, Crucial for Stimulating Critical Thinking For Teens and Tweens

Water shortages in places like Detroit and Iraq are news items tackled in Listen Current.

For learners who prefer to be active while they learn, auditory sources of information can provide stimulating and engaging educational material. Listening to an audio book, a news story on television, or radio coverage of current events can provide learners with the opportunity to engage with information while also participating in a physically engaging activity, like drawing, note-taking, running, hiking, or otherwise moving their body. The combination of engaging in auditory learning and physical motion simultaneously can help learners whose educational strengths lie in verbal/linguistic and/or bodily/kinesthetic modes of learning.

While local libraries give us access to endless audio books, and radio and television news media fill screens and airwaves with a constant stream of audio and visual explanations of events all around the world, learning from these sources requires a somewhat long-term commitment to a certain topic. Audio books are generally many hours long, and in order to truly understand a news story, it’s generally necessary to have been following the story as it develops for a few days, weeks, or even months.

Luckily for auditory learners, online resource Listen Current offers a database of news stories from public radio stations, designed and curated specifically to teach middle- and high-school-aged students explore topics in social studies, science, and language arts. Read the rest of this entry »

Vocabulary Parade: The Personality of Words Brought to Life

Looking beyond the definition and putting essence into your word

Students at Littleville Elementary School in Huntington, MA, created costumes that sent hundreds of words marching through the building just before school let out this summer!  Over 250 students, teachers and staff took part in this year’s parade. –“This celebration is a great way for children to expand their vocabulary, and gives them words they can use in their Writer’s Workshop,” said Principal Megan Coburn.

Looking for ways to support children in adding new words to their vocabulary? Dress up your child’s inner dictionary – literally! Inspired by children’s author Debra Frasier’s story Miss Alaineus: A Vocabulary Disaster, children everywhere have been creatively solidifying their understanding of big, new, and necessary words by dressing up as a definition and joining together for a Vocabulary Parade!

Just like in Frasier’s story, kiddos can use new words as inspiration for a creative costume. Working to determine what a word would look like if its essence could be worn challenges young readers and writers to think critically about what it is that a word truly means. Even words with definitions that seem simple to understand (or simple to dress as) can become complex, well-though-out projects costumes. Searching for meaning other than a dictionary definition can help add depth to the activity, too. Try working on a word like “dinosaur” – sure, making a T-Rex costume would certainly convey what a dinosaur might look like, but we might also say that a corded rotary phone is a dinosaur, or that a DOS computer is a dinosaur. Read the rest of this entry »

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