“Humor improves student performance by attracting and sustaining attention, reducing anxiety, enhancing participation, and increasing motivation.”
Brandon M. Savage et al., Advances in Physiology Education 2017 (41:3)
This is a photo of sixth-grade me. I’d been sitting at the kitchen table puzzling over my pre-algebra textbook, which had a penchant for asking ridiculous (but supposedly relevant) questions and failing to answer my question, “WHY?”
WHY is a negative times a negative a positive? WHY is multiplying by a fraction’s reciprocal the same as dividing? WHY does cross-multiplying work?
After half an hour of reading the same problem over and over, I had become teary. My dad sat down to give me a hand, took one look at the word problem, and exclaimed: “Is Fred crazy? What’s he thinking cutting a rope into halves and quarters and then sevenths? He’s just making life harder for himself!” By then, I was laughing so hard I could barely breathe. Soon, we had figured out how to approach Fred’s problem. From then on, through homeschooling, our motto was “Laugh about math.”
It turns out this was a sound pedagogical approach (as my dad would know, given that he’s spent 30 years teaching college students). “Humor and laughter may not directly cause learning; however, humor creates an environment that promotes learning,” write the authors of a 2017 article for Advances in Physiology Education. “Evidence documents that appropriate humor, and humor that relates to course material, attracts and sustains attention and produces a more relaxed and productive learning environment. Humor also reduces anxiety, enhances participation, and increases motivation.”
My experience certainly backs this up. Some of my most memorable learning experiences—including in high school and college—are those where the class dissolved in laughter. This does not mean teachers should be expected to perform stand-up comedy, nor that every class should be as lighthearted as a sitcom. I was a history major; there are plenty of times when, given the nature of the subject matter, it would have been wildly inappropriate for class to be conducted in a humorous vein. Perhaps the best way to think about it is thus: Periodic laughter is an expression of the most productive kind of learning environment, one where students are engaged, where they feel comfortable with each other and with the instructor, and where learning is a process to be relished.
We are building a library because we love books and we love to read so much. While this space will most often feature stories and discoveries we make in the process of building our library, I will occasionally write about a book that I love too much not to share with you.
is a book I recently found and I LOVE it.
This elegant picture book would make a lovely gift for any child or adult (picture books are not just for children; I will write more about this idea in a future post). It is the perfect book for anyone who you think would be interested in a moving story (written by Kyo Maclear), beautiful illustrations (by Julie Morstad), and learning about another brave woman who changed history.
A biographical picture book, it includes moving moments in the life of Gyo Fujikawa, a groundbreaking Japanese American hero who spoke up for racial diversity in picture books.
Growing up in California, Gyo Fujikawa always knew that she wanted to be an artist. She was raised among strong women, including her mother and teachers, who encouraged her to fight for what she believed in. During World War II, Gyo’s Japanese-American family was forced to abandon their home and belongings and imprisoned in an internment camp in Arkansas.
In the meantime, Gyo was living in New York working as an illustrator. This was such a difficult time for Gyo. Seeing the diversity around her and feeling pangs from her own childhood, Gyo became determined to show all types of children in the pages of her books. There had to be a world where every child saw themselves represented. Her book Babies, initially rejected, was published in 1963 and stands as a landmark: it was the first children’s book to depict infants of different races and nations sharing growing experiences. Two million copies were sold. Fujikawa’s books have been translated into 17 languages and are read in more than 22 countries.
This exquisite book includes additional information on Gyo Fujikawa, a bibliography, a note from the creators, a timeline, and archival photos.
For the second year in a row, we set up our Halloween book give-away and it was exhilarating to see how enthusiastic and appreciative everyone, both children and adults, was when they saw the boxes organized by picture books, middle grade books, young adult, and books for parents. We start collecting books in the summer, purchasing many from book shops in public libraries. One friend loves this idea so much she’s give us three boxes of books both years.
Bill sets up the books. Natalie makes the signs. From our front porch, we could see so many children and adults taking their time choosing a book.
About 500 books went home tonight to new homes. Here are a few fun things we overheard:
“This is so amazing” “This is so dope!” “I’m so excited to read this” “My friend said this is a good author”
And from one mom: “This is my new favorite house.” 🙂
After finishing my Life Jackets project, I felt the pull to do a little painting again. During the months of making those jackets, I had done a lot of thinking about the unknown futures of individuals—now my thoughts turned to unknown pasts, especially relatives on my late father’s side. A genetic test revealed I was 6% black. Further research revealed I had ancestors who were free people of color who actually owned slaves themselves. Disturbing to say the least. A little research brought me to news that the remains of the last slave ship to reach America had been unearthed; this provided the inspiration for the painting “The Cotilda” which landed in Alabama in 1859.
Click here to watch “Life Jackets,” the 8-minute film by Pamela Beere Briggs & William McDonald featuring Suzanne’s recent project.
We have been thinking about, researching, and planning our library project off and on for a dozen years. One good thing about things taking longer than you expect is that it allows for more learning. I will be sharing on this website not only the building of our downstairs garage/upstairs library+studio, but also the amazing things we’ve learned about healthy building materials. One person who has been an inspiration to me is Isabelle Nagel-Brice of “A Tiny Good Thing.” I learned about Isabelle because I’ve been enamored by tiny houses ever since we built our little 10’ x 7’ tiny schoolhouse in our back garden. When I visited Isabel’s website the first time, I was smitten. I read every single article and post she had written.
I watched the video tour of her tiny house. I revisited her website again and again. And then…we met Isabelle and decided to have her be our consultant for healthy building materials on the library project. I’ll be writing more about Isabelle’s building knowledge and tiny house expertise in future posts. For now, let me introduce Isabelle Nagel-Brice, someone who has inspired us to take healthy building a few steps further than we had imagined. She is the person who suggested we recycle the wood from the old garage and turn it into the hardwood floor for the upstairs library. We are so happy she suggested it.
This is our Little Free Library. It is such an active library that Bill, who is our official curator, must check it every other day to make sure it is full, but not too full (so that it is easy to peruse the books). This picture I took today makes me think it’s a bit too full. We have even received thank you notes like this one, tucked inside where we can easily find it. We try to make sure to include a few children’s books, as we see children walk by and get so excited. Little did we realize how much we would enjoy sharing our love of books with our neighbors, who deposit books regularly. It’s become their Little Free Library, as much as it is ours.
“[Learning] is the only thing that never fails… the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.”
Ten years ago, I began middle school in my family’s backyard, in an 8- by 10-foot
garden shed that would be my very own schoolhouse for the next two years. Family,
friends, and strangers reacted to our decision to “skip” seventh and eighth
grade with a long list of questions. Most expressed genuine curiosity: Would we follow a set curriculum? How would
we structure our days? Could Natalie still spend time with children her age? Other
queries betrayed skepticism: How would we
know we were meeting curricular standards? Would Natalie be able to get into a
good high school? What about college? The fact was, despite my excitement, I
shared some of these same concerns. After a sixth-grade year that had emphasized
rules, structure, and achievement, the thought of learning at my own pace in my
own home with my parents for teachers and my beloved cat as my only classmate conflicted
with my developing sense of what education was. Homeschooling sounded fun, yes,
but would I learn enough? Little did I know that I would learn not only all the
things I worried I wouldn’t—pre-algebra, essay-writing, science and history—but
also lessons even more important that continue to resonate today. These
lessons, which will be featured in future “Happy Guinea Pig” posts, include: the
importance of unstructured play, time outdoors, getting enough sleep, and eating
well, as well as the toxicity of stress and peer pressure. During my two years in
Applewood Schoolhouse, I also came to a healthier definition of education
premised not on homework, testing, and grades, but on curiosity, creativity,
and a love of learning.
How can schools and families teach children to be healthier and happier
learners? This is the question at the heart of “The Happy Guinea Pig,” because
we firmly believe that a love of learning is an essential tool for living
hopefully and courageously in a complicated world.
Next time on HGP: “Laugh about Math: Having
Fun in the Classroom”
Once upon a time, a girl turned into a guinea pig. The girl’s name was Natalie, and she loved school—until 6th grade. In 6th grade, homework piled up, kids were mean, and grades were privileged over learning. Natalie was so miserable, she stopped doing her favorite things: playing outside, reading, drawing, and practicing the piano. Desperate to recover their daughter’s love of learning, Natalie’s parents decided to conduct an experiment. For 7th and 8th grade, the family moved school into their Los Angeles backyard. They planted a garden. They published a newspaper. They read aloud from a 600-page atlas, visited museums, and sewed quilts. This is how Natalie became the guinea pig—the happy guinea pig—at the heart of a schoolhouse experiment.
Flash Forward 10 years: Natalie (now a history alum of Pomona College) and her mother Pamela, are amazed at how those two years continue to influence the way they see and think about everything. “The Happy Guinea Pig” is a way to share the ways in which we can nurture a love of learning, which gives us the tools to nurture ourselves and the world. Once in a while, we will include notes from a recently retired elementary school teacher, who believes it would be much better for everyone if elements of the schoolhouse experiment could be incorporated into traditional classrooms.