Teachers go for extra credit on PD Day dance, psychology, Internet among seminar topics By Chris Woodall The politics of dance, the gamesmanship of spelling, and wrestling with the age-old question about what makes teenagers so frantic: these subjects and others occupied Howe Sound district teachers during their professional development day, Feb. 14, held at Whistler Secondary school. It was a day to recharge the teaching batteries. Hands-on teaching techniques mixed with cerebral examination of what makes Jack and Jill learn the way they do… or don't do if teacher fails to grasp the signals the student is sending. The selection of 19 workshops was determined by a survey of teachers. At "Box Cars and One-Eyed Jacks," for example, primary school teachers paired up to play a variety of simple spelling games. Using plastic "tiles" familiar to anyone who's played Scrabble, students can build words horizontally or vertically by adding letters to an original word. Suitable for Kindergarteners who might be called on just to say the letters, the game can be used up to Grade 9 as words get more complex. "Especially for lower grades, the games help students with handwriting problems who might be so focused on letter mechanics (forming a legible writing style) they aren't paying attention to learning to spell," explained seminar leader Simone Desilets, who was brought to Whistler from Edmonton for the day. "Children like to peel off the letters in a stack of words to see how a word was created from the original," Desilets says of the game's appeal. Downstairs in the dance room, Allison Leppard put a group of teachers through a variety of simple dance steps. By trying movements and twirling ribbons themselves, teachers got a first-hand idea of how to convey what it's like to do the moves to their elementary charges. "Dance provides opportunities for students to improve social skills, cultural awareness and to creatively explore the joy of movement," says Leppard. At the Hands-on Science seminar, teachers in groups of two or three were seen peering intently at piles of buttons, or car keys, or seeds. Their task: to divide the pile into sub-piles based on a set of descriptions. By this rudimentary exercise, teachers can explain to their students how scientists look at the world by dividing a large collection of (for example) animals into special groups that have things that are the same. In the keynote address, and in more detail during one of the seminars, Dr. Gordon Neufeld alerted teachers to the learning tendencies of young students. While the greater number of students are "attachment-based learners," Dr. Neufeld says, there is a minority who are "curiosity-based learners." The first type of students learn best when they feel anchored within a group. The second type learn best when they can venture forth without perceived interference. "If we don't engage these two processes, then we aren't teaching," advises Dr. Neufeld. Attachment-based (or a-based) students can be thrown off by distractions, but curiosity-based (or c-based) students "have the ability to function anywhere," Dr. Neufeld says. A basic example of the difference is this: The a-based learners can be spotted as those students who fill in the blanks of an exercise exactly as teacher suggests. There can be 30 exercises, each with the same responses because the a-based learners feel too anxious to come up with responses different from the rest of the group. On the other hand, the class clown is probably a c-based learner, striking out on his or her own. C-based learners have been known to become journalists.