Friday Reflection

Friday Reflection

Yesterday was a “blah” day for me. I just could not get motivated to do anything. First thing in the morning, after getting the boys off to school,  I wrote my blog post for the Slice of Life Writing challenge I am participating in for the month of March.  I enjoyed writing it and thought it turned out well, but alas, it drew the fewest readers I have had since the blog challenge started. And the rest of my day followed, along those lines. Feeling blah is so unlike me.

Energy level,- zilch. Motivation level – zippo. Accomplishments – nada.  What was going on? I had a paper to write, chapters to read, and interview questions to develop all for the graduate courses I have this spring. I have jewelry to inventory, a presentation for an Earth Day Celebration to start, laundry to do, and a house to clean. All left undone.

Blah. Yesterday was blah. I am hoping today will be better. It will be better!  This is my plan.  Instead of going to the coffee shop while my son is at soccer training, I am going to do a little shopping.  I also turned off Facebook fo the weekend. I am tired of what I am reading on there from people I know and mostly from those I do not.  Their thoughts give me angst.  I will work on my paper for one of my courses, I will do the laundry, and maybe make some peppermint patties. Baking always makes it better!

Today will be a better day – less blah.

Fascinated with Vermeer

Fascinated with Vermeer

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One thing I have realized as I have aged is that I have a creative soul. My past should have included more art history and art classes in high school and even at the college I attended as a young nursing student, which boasts one of the best fine art schools in the country!

Shortly before it was decided that I would travel to The Netherlands last September, I began reading The Girl with the Pearl Earring by Tracey Chevalier. This story, fictional of course, is based on a famous painting by the Dutch Master Johannes Vermeer. I devoured the book. So you can imagine my excitement when I found that Vermeer’s masterpiece is housed in the Mauritshuis Museum in The Hague, the exact city where we would be staying for five nights.

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Mauritshuis Museum in The Hague, Netherlands, September 2016

Den Haag, The Nederlands, or The Hague in Holland, which more Americans might call it, could be an art lover’s destination!  The Hague is known as the International City of Peace and Justice. There are a multitude of museums curated with every taste in mind.  Picasso and Rembrandt pieces are also found at the Maruitshuis Museum. Escher, a Dutch graphic artist famous for his tessellation’s has his own museum where many recognizable pieces can be found. While Van Gogh, and even a Frank Lloyd Wright piece, were noted at the Gemeente Museum, their current focus was on Mondrian & De Stijl. Never having seen so many masterpieces at once, I was mesmerized. But, nothing captured my anticipation than the possibility of seeing Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring (TedEd video on this artwork) at the Mauritshuis. It didn’t disappoint.  Vermeer’s technique using of light to highlight the mysterious girl in the painting is captivating. And then, there is the nearly 400 year mystery of who the girl in the painting represented. Was she a real person?

My fascination with Vermeer didn’t end after seeing the painting. On we went, the following day, to the City of Delft, where Vermeer lived and worked. He is one of the city’s most prominent historical figures. Easily reached by a 30 minute inter-city bus ride, Delft is a quaint mix of centuries old buildings, new shops, canals, and bistros.  Vermeer lies buried in Oude Kerk or the Old Church in the city of Delft. It was built in 1246. The stained glass was replaced around WWII but is still beautiful as the windows surround a wooden ceiling.  On the floor, you will see Vermeer’s final resting place marked with an embossed stone, amongst other grave markers.Unfortunately, you can walk on the grave markers, as they are mostly flat, being part of the floor itself. Some of them are very worn.  I did not feel comfortable taking a photo of his grave, but think the beauty of the ceiling is captured in the photo below.

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Despite our trip being six months ago, I remain fascinated with Vermeer and actually, all things Dutch. There is much to see in The Netherlands and I hope to be able to go back one day. In the meantime, I provided myself with my own art history lesson to feed my creative soul.

Who writes in the middle of the night?

Who writes in the middle of the night?

Does anyone besides me get out of bed to write something down?  This has been a fairly common occurrence for me over the last five years or so. It seems to happen when I am trying to work through a problem, have a parenting issue, decide how to address something, or occasionally, like last night, when I need to write a lesson or develop a presentation.

I am an Environmental Day presenter at our local elementary school this year. Thrilled to be asked (finally),  I agreed to pretty much anything they threw at me. So, I am presenting on Forests.  Truth be known, I would rather present on Monarchs. Monarchs are my thing. I am somewhat of an expert on monarchs.  Don’t get me wrong. Forests are great! It is a pertinent topic for an Earth Day Celebration. We even have a pine tree forest behind the school that need to be used more, and perhaps it will after my talk. But, forests? It is a huge topic! Huge!  It has been hard to narrow down useful, yet fun and age appropriate information for a presentation. There is just so much out there!

Gathering information for months, I am getting closer to what I want to say to 375 students in our K-5 building. A rough outline has been made. Last night, I spent several hours looking at where I could snag some free posters, bookmarks, or  information sheets. I am sure that is why at 2:13 a.m. I was in our laundry room writing down my introductory statements!

I am glad I did because when I awoke this morning, I couldn’t remember the exact phrase that seemed so right in the middle of the night for introducing the forest. In the laundry room, on the counter, are my notes. I know they  will point me in the direction I need to go. This is why I write in the middle of the night! What is your reason?

Color Poems on World Poetry Day

Color Poems on World Poetry Day

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Yesterday was World Poetry Day and it also so happened to be my weekly meeting with the third graders in my writer’s circle group. I was a little on edge because the week before, one of my students had started sobbing twenty minutes into our meeting, while writing Haiku poetry.  But, as I arrived at school, all six students were smiling at me at they grabbed their writing materials from their desks and backpacks, enthusiastically entering our designated room. This included the student who had been so upset the week before! Ahhh, I could breathe a sigh of relief!  Things were going to go well today; I could tell.

This was our third week of our poetry unit. We were starting color poems. The idea to include color poetry in our unit was prompted by a book I inherited from my mom’s third grade classroom called Hailstones and Halibut Bones (1961) by Mary O’Neill. 

Halistones and Halibut Bones

It is a wonderful book, full of words that beautifully illustrate what I want to convey to the students. Vividness, mental imagery, showing without telling, flow, and personalization. This book helps me to impress upon the students the importance of writing what comes to THEIR mind when they think of a certain color, not just what people might expect when thinking of the all colors in their world. Hopefully, it will guide them in conveying THEIR images of THEIR choosen color to THEIR readers.

I always try to model what I want the students to accomplish. So yesterday, on World Poetry Day, I read O’Neill’s poems on the color black and the color red, as well as the poem I wrote last year on Cerulean. To allow the students to develop strong mental images of their chosen color, I had them pick “normal colors” for this first color poem attempt.  The students ended up with blue, yellow, orange, green, purple, and red. Making lists of nouns (mostly things and places) and then, descriptors to match the nouns was their job in our brief writer’s circle meeting yesterday. Over the week, they will start their poems, returning next Tuesday to get some feedback and continue writing their color poems. It won’t be World Poetry Day then, but everyday is a good day to write poetry!  Don’t you agree?

 

The Cycle of Airport Rudeness

The Cycle of Airport Rudeness

The cycle of airport rudeness; another way of saying what comes around goes around!

Recently, two of my family members had to take multiple flights across the country to visit a sick relative and investigate a prospective university for attending graduate school.  Due to the locations of the destinations, multiple flights were involved. Some of the flights were routed through large airport hubs and some through little regional towns serviced by prop planes. This provided ample opportunity to people watch in a variety of places. Of course, stories ensued. Rudeness towards the airline gate staff by the travelers, fueled by a large dose of me-first-ness, impatience, and lack of tolerance for waiting ones’ turn and other such offensive behaviors were noted.

The airline gate staff (I don’t know what else to call them) was also witnessed to be rude without probable cause to travelers patiently waiting to be noticed so they could address their question clearly and politely when it was their turn to have some attention. When the attention came, it was in the form of being yelled at to “stay in place” or “wait your turn.” (Confusing, because it was, in fact, their turn.)

Luckily, none of the experiences were directly related to my travelers, who experienced some very kind airline gate staff and easy airport communications.

However, hearing these tales gave way to the following conundrum:  which comes first, the rudeness of the traveler or the rudeness of the airline staff?  One is fed seamlessly by the other, it appears, no matter where you go.

Resources for the Gifted & Talented

Resources for the Gifted & Talented

It is not a popular topic in education today, arguably it probably was not ever given attention by the demands of the masses. But, gifted and talented education (GATE) or talented and gifted programs (TAG) address the learning needs of the students at the other end of the spectrum. The educational spectrum.  At one end of special education are the students with documented learning disabilities: autism spectrum disorders, cognitive impairments, physical disability, attention deficits, hyperactivity disorders, oppositional defiance disorder, and more. The media and even professionals engaged in the field of education choose to not focus public attention on the needs of the gifted student or those at the other end of the educational spectrum. Gifted and talented students have needs too. The needs are often unmet due to political climate, lack of funding, or just a mis-placed belief that this subset of students will be fine “without” intervention, and that the common core will “be enough”. Both statements are wrong.  TAG students need as much intervention to keep engaged and launch their learning from where they are (which might already be several grades above their current academic level) to where they need to or can be.

Why is this important to me? As a parent, educator, and student advocate I have worked with this group of students for over twenty years. Groups, such as Evergreen Garden Club, were started at our school to provide enrichment opportunities based on observations that  more needed to be aimed at supplying students additional experiences in life science, project based learning, citizen science, service learning, and environmental education.  Language arts groups were started as a need was noted in a first grade classroom for above benchmark readers. A writer’s circle was started to support and encourage third graders interested in becoming great writers, when they were already writing well. And finally, a Parent Advocacy Group was started to answer the need to increase local awareness about GATE and student needs such as increased differentiation in individual classes, middle school honors classes in subjects other than accelerated mathematics, and educate district staff, the community, and parents on the emotional, social, and behavioral characteristics of gifted students and what we can do to support them. It is a myth that the gifted student will be alright without intervention. They need support from staff, administration, parents, and the community just as any other sub-set of students need support. Why we continually let this group of students down is beyond my understanding.

These experiences do not even encompass those I have had as a parent of students who fall in to this category, complete with all the joys of prideful accomplishments as well as irritating frustrations involving the educational community and systems that are in place or lack of being put in place.  Those experiences will provide additional posts at a future time.

Today, I am sharing resources I have used over the invested years working with TAG students. Since I have been visible in my advocacy for these students, I am often asked by parents where they can turn for advice and/or enrichment and even possible advancement opportunities. The following list includes many sources of reading which will increase one’s understanding of the gifted and talented student, as well as prompt ideas for meeting the needs of this special group of students that can be so easily overlooked.

SENG –  Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted This is an organization with a website that offers a great deal of information on the emotional lives of gifted students. They offer a library of articles, conferences, and practical advice on how to help gifted students and their families deal with common issues like overexcitabilities, intensities, asynchronous developement, “feeling different”, and being accepted.

Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page – Hoagies Gifted Education Page Another website with a wealth of information about giftedness. This organization has divided topics between parents, educators, and students. It has something for everyone. This was a page I visited often, early on in my advocacy for the gifted. In my opinion, it is a very good place to start to increase your understanding of these students.

Davidson Institute – Davidson Institute for Talent Development – The Davidson Institute offers conferences, scholarship and enrichment opportunities for students, as well as a database of information regarding GATE. Personally, I do not have much exposure to this group, but know some who have really enjoyed their conferences.

Northwestern UniversityCenter for Talent Development In our area of the country, the mid-west, Northwestern University, outside of Chicago, offers many opportunities for acceleration and enrichment from advanced coursework to civic leadership workshops in the summer. This institution provides NUMATS (Northwestern University Midwest Academic Talent Search) which allows regional youth to take standardized tests such as the ACT, earlier than normally scheduled. All three of my boys were eligible to take the ACT as early as 6th grade through NUMATS. There are advantages to testing early that will be the subject of subsequent postings. The major disadvantage to programs through Northwestern University is that they are expensive and some are only offered in the Chicago area.

Johns Hopkins University  – Center for Talented Youth. We also have personal experience with the Center for Talented Youth through Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Like Northwestern University, Hopkins offers many opportunities for online coursework for credit or enrichment.  Their admission guidelines are clearly stated and reachable for most gifted students. My youngest son took a summer course called Math Counts Prep two years ago and really enjoyed it. We liked it because it kept his math skills up during the summer and his professor was accessible and very supportive. It was a great experience. Again, the disadvantage is expense.

Blogs – Of late, I have taken to reading blogs and have found some really great ones on giftedness. Through reading blogs, families and students can know that they are not unusual or alone as they travel through the sometimes tumultuous waters of gifted education.

Here is a blog by the National Association for Gifted Children: Blog Page at the National Association for Gifted Children and one I just found this morning, but is supported by the Davidson Institute you read about above: The Gifted Exchange Blog

SENG also has recommended gifted blogs for teachers here: SENG Blog Recommendations for Teachers on the Gifted.

Authors & Speakers – There are many speakers and publications on the topic of GATE or topics related to the education of all students. Here are two I recommend:

Sir Ken Robinson – Sir Robinson offers enlightenment on why our current schooling system needs to change. His ideas clearly support helping TAG students to reach their potential through personalized learning. He is also a very engaging speaker and has numerous TED talks.  Here is one of his more famous talks on whether schools kill creativity. Do Schools Kill Creativity? A TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson. This is an important concept because students can be gifted in the arts like music and drawing as well as more the traditional paths of mathematics or language. Often, they go hand in hand. Again, something with which I have personal, parental experience.

Carol Ann Tomlinson – Ms. Tomlinson is the author on many books about differentiated instruction. Her described work could be used by any classroom teacher looking to challenge students through providing instruction to meet student needs using a number of different methods. I just finished reading How to Differentiate Instruction in Mixed-ability Classrooms (2001) and would highly recommend it to any teacher wishing to differentiate instruction. She is clear that differentiation meets the needs of all students, not just the gifted.

Local Universities – Often I am asked about local opportunities for gifted students. One such resource can be your local university. These institutions offer summer enrichment as well as opportunity to take college courses while still in high school.  We took advantage of classes at both University of Wisconsin La Crosse and Winona State University. Often, the universities provide need based assistance too, for families that cannot afford the course fees for summer enrichment classes.  If you are able to take a college class while still in high school, your resident district will often pay for the class. You need to check your local high school policies and programming for those opportunities.

Today, you have been provided with some resources for gifted and talented students. In the future, I will expand on this topic with additional information. It is a topic with which I have much experience. I hope you find the information useful, as we need to provide for the learning needs of all students, at both ends of the spectrum.

The Birds are Back!

The Birds are Back!

Growing up, I was never a fan of birds. On a trip to the zoo when I was much younger than ten, I witnessed a girl with red hair be attacked by a bird in the aviary at the local Zoo. Needless to say, it left an impression on me.   Then, there was the time we were in Myrtle Beach with my family over Easter break, when a seagull relieved himself on me while I was sunbathing. Human beach bird feeders brought forth contempt from me as I avoided their “area” of the beach for years to come. Finally, the barn swallows would swoop and dive at my long, black hair that seemed to flow out behind me and whip around my face as I performed the requisite the adolescent chore of grass cutting. So, it is true for the above obvious reasons, birds and I were never friends when I was growing up.

Some where along the way, that began to change. I really don’t know when. But, I can tell you now that I appreciate the birds, with their grace, and beauty that arrive in my yard to tell me spring is here. In the last two weeks, despite some heavy snowfall, I have noted first the return of robins, then purple finches, and now red-winged black birds. They join the imposing black crows that have found some sustenance on our grounds throughout the winter. Soon,  I hope to see blue birds, cardinals, and my personal favorite, the ruby throated hummingbirds!

I have taken to providing a fruit and nut mix of bird seed that sits in a feeder in my yard and homemade nectar that hangs just outside my kitchen window for the hummingbirds. The birds are fun to watch, adding color and movement to our yard. Spring is near, the colorful, chirping birds are telling me so.