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It's a Mystery?

Recently, as I sat in the waiting room of the dentist's office, my past flashed before my eyes. On the table across the room, there was a magazine that held pictures which so titillated me as a child I could still recall details from them as adult. Unfortunately, the little kid in the red t-shirt was faster; he beat me to the Highlights Magazine and I got stuck with a six month old Newsweek. I went to the chair having never had a chance to linger over the hidden objects picture puzzle.

Way back in the day, Weekly Reader and Highlights were my favorite periodicals, so I was curious to see if they still even vaguely resembled the editions I remember. After further investigation, I'm happy to report that both are alive and well, in print and online. I'm even more pleased that Highlights looks almost exactly like it did half a century ago when I was eight years old -- complete with my favorite, the hidden objects picture puzzle. And do you know what? It's still a darn good feature.

The instructions for the hidden object puzzle are simple. You are given a list of items to find that are "hidden" in a very busy line drawing. From a metacognitive perspective, it's an interesting task. You have to deal with lots of input into the working memory while searching for critical information. You know what to look for, but if you visualize, you run the risk of constructing false knowledge. If the list says, candlestick, which candlestick is the right one? A saucer and thumb-loop kind? Tall? Short? Decorative? Simple? To draw on your recollection of multiple images of candlesticks while searching the puzzle is actually pretty complex. Of course, you could always peek at the isolated pictures on a back page, but I always thought that was sort of cheating.

Last week, TM featured a story on Highlights Magazine's State of the Kid survey. The sample was composed of about 850 survey respondents who self-identified as Highlight readers, which presents an obvious bias, so it may not have been the most sophisticated research tool, but I'm guessing the results may still be representative of the general American kid population. The survey tells us that kids worry about school, they wish they had more time to play, they have to do chores, they value their friends, and many would like to have more of their parents' attention. But the most interesting question and response came in the wrap up:

"What should grown-ups know about being a kid today?"--[it] elicited some perplexing results. The top two responses, which comprised more than 50 percent of the total, were "Being a kid is hard" (28.9 percent) and "Being a kid is fun" (21.3 percent).
Now see, that's not a mystery to me.Why? Because if someone asked me "What should policymakers know about being a teacher today?" I would probably say, "Being a teacher is highly complex and incredibly demanding, but being a teacher is rewarding and fulfilling." I guess that's just a fancy grown-up way of saying "It's hard, but it's fun."


It's not unlike answers teachers offered in another survey for another day. We'll talk about Teaching for a Living: How Teachers See the Profession Today next week. Meanwhile, if you too have a hankering for a good old Highlights hidden pictures puzzle, they're now available as an iPhone app!

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