An Enrichment Post: Summer School

An Enrichment Post: Summer School

For over ten years – almost the entire duration of time I led the Evergreen Garden Club at one of our district’s four elementary schools, I wanted to be involved in providing an enriching summer school experience on Monarchs or other seasonal horticultural topics. After all, our growing season in Wisconsin is short and what better time to involve children in nature and gardening, as well as the lessons it can provide, than during the summer?

So I asked, several times over many years, about how I could be either hired to be a summer school teacher or be utilized by the teachers who were teaching summer school.  I asked teachers. I let the principals I worked with during the school year know of my interest. I asked the summer school principal – who, at the time was part of district administration. And, I asked two different superintendents. I was available. I was passionate about the subject matter. I had a substitute teaching permit – which allows teaching up to three weeks at a time in Wisconsin.  My requests never went anywhere. Mind you, I am generalizing a bit here.  I cannot say with one hundred percent accuracy that I asked each person I worked with each year.  As with any system, our district has had a fair amount of staff and administration changes.  So, although my desire to be involved in summer school was usually met with enthusiasm and optimism to bring the idea to reality, the year passed and, more often than not, the person I spoke to changed positions and the request, along with my interest, was forgotten.

I am sure that some of this occurred because summer school is often seen as a time for remediation. Summer school provides a chance to catch those students up who had fallen behind or did not fare so well during the school year.  But, it can also be a time for low stakes enrichment. Studies show that when there is a more relaxed learning environment, and less focus on “teaching to the test,” students’ might actually absorb more content. Plus, it demonstrates, in a very real way, that learning can be fun. In addition, a garden based summer school would provide a chance for students to participate in experiential, place based learning that some might find fit their learning styles better than a traditional classroom.  And, let’s face it – our kids all need more exposure to nature.

In 2014, I went a step further and wrote a piece curriculum specifically tailored to a camp and/or summer school setting, called Monarch Education for the Environment. The following spring a local university, Winona State, asked me to teach it for their College for Kids Camp. After a period of initial excitement, the class was cancelled due to the lack of registrants! I guess nature could not compete with the attractiveness of technology based courses like Lego Mindstorms or Robotics. I was disappointed and felt sad at what potential students had missed out on.  The course has never been taught. However, nature remains an exciting teacher.

But, I persisted. When hired for a new Garden Club Advisor position in a different school district this fall, I let the hiring principal know of my interest in offering a summer school enrichment opportunity.  She took it under advisement. Spring came and garden activities at this new school became all-consuming. I thought about the summer school option but did not bring it up again. After all, repeatedly bringing it up in the past had never made an impact.

All that changed a few days ago. I was contacted by the lead summer school teacher at the school in which I am now based. She wanted to schedule some lessons to be provided by me during their summer school session in July!  So, after a few back and forth emails, we hatched a plan. The younger students will get a lesson on plant parts we eat, complete with samples to try. And, the older kids (3rd – 5th grade) will receive a lesson on monarchs, mimicry, and the butterfly habitat found right in our own school yard! I am excited. What took over ten years of asking to participate in summer school took less than one year in a different district! This amazes me. I realized that perhaps, I was asking the wrong people at the wrong time. In any case, I will finally be able to teach some summer school lessons for enrichment! For that, I am very grateful!

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No longer the turning point

No longer the turning point

It’s here. The end of sophomore year in high school for my youngest son. I know, it is usually not a milestone that is marked. For our family, it has become one.

Yesterday, we attended parent – teacher conferences at our high school. Never again will we have a sophomore aged high school student. A couple of his teachers were not there. One was his art teacher. We saved talking to her for last because she likes to show off the student work and chat about their progress, so you might end up wandering the halls of the building to view their creations. But, she was off setting up at a student art show at local vineyard, where his paintings will be displayed with his peers. His social studies teacher was also absent. But, he’s doing fine in both of those courses, so all is well. We spent the most time with his AP calculus teacher – hearing how he is preparing them for the AP exam later this month and visiting, as this teacher has had all three of our boys.

The conferences were good, as they always are, and we go mainly to keep the lines of communication open with the teachers, since we do not really have concerns.  But, the end of this sophomore for our youngest child is significant. The goal I had for him this year was to finish it still being happy with going to school and enjoying what it has to offer.

This might seem like an odd goal but there is some history behind it that will explain more. In the late winter of our eldest son’s sophomore year, he was so disenchanted with being under-challenged, he ended up going through the open-enrollment process that  allows students to attend school in a district in which they do not live. He enrolled, with our permission, in a virtual high school within another public school district three hours away. Sophomore year, seven years ago, was his last year as an official student at our resident high school, the same school his brothers now attend. It was a good choice for him. He ended up not only being more challenged but also being the Valedictorian of his class at the school he attended virtually for his junior and senior year.

Two years ago, our middle son experienced his sophomore year. This is when somewhat of a pattern emerged. By the end of his sophomore year, he was experiencing difficulty with a teacher who had been unprofessional and callous by telling him he was “stupid” in front of his peers. I am really not sure how anyone who is taking pre-calculus sophomore year in high school can be categorized as stupid, but that is what was said. Two years later, I can honestly say that event was a turning point for him in his educational process. Staying in that class, knowing what the teacher thought of him, prevented from getting any kind of help with the material (why would you go to someone for help who spoke in such a way to embarrass you), led him to questioning his self-confidence and his abilities. His motivation has suffered. It was an awful experience, one I do not think he has fully recovered from yet. It happened during second semester, sophomore year.

Thus, I began to see late winter and early spring (February – March) of the sophomore year in high school for our boys as a turning point. So, when this year began for our youngest,  I had a sense of trepidation. I hoped that he could get through the year without any major event that would alter his course or change his feelings about school. Like our other two, he has a fairly heavy load with an AP class, playing two varsity level sports, and furthering his artistic abilities.

And, here we are. The last PT conferences of the year and he still likes (I could even say loves) going to school. He loves being challenged both academically and with his sports participation and art projects. He’s had a great year. No, he doesn’t have straight A’s. I learned that doesn’t really matter. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great if you have them, but does not really mean all that much if you don’t. Our grading processes need an overhaul – but that is a subject for another post. Happiness is what matters. A sense of belonging and being understood matters. Being challenged matters. Knowing you are respected by your peers AND by your teachers matters.  I think we are over the hump. Our third, and last sophomore will make it through the year still with a love for school. And, I think that is priceless!

Investments in Home Maker Spaces

Investments in Home Maker Spaces

About a year ago, we got a 3-D printer. As parents, we try to support our children’s interests. Outside of school, each of our sons have some self-cultivated abilities that seem to be serving them well to complete their well-roundedness and sense of accomplishment. To a very large extent, they are innate talents, supported by hours of self-imposed practice, and an internal desire to learn and excel.

Our eldest son was musically supported with years of music lessons, a piano, two saxophones, a clarinet, and various reeds, oils, stands, microphones, sheet music and such. Although deciding not to be music major, music filled this child’s youth. Despite the lessons being helpful, the desire to play well and share his talents, were self-imposed. Hours, especially during the stresses of high school, were spent on learning piano concertos and instrumental pieces, culminating in two exemplary  performances at our state level solo ensemble. It is hard to believe that was five years ago!  Right about now, during the stresses of graduate school, he is probably wishing he had more time to practice his musical abilities. I know I am wishing that for him. Perhaps, by June he’ll have time. Investments pay off over time.  The music is there waiting for him.

The 3-D printer, although purchased as a “family” gift, has been solely used by our middle son. He is our inventor, entrepreneur, and tinkering maker – essentially a wanna-be engineer – which he plans to pursue formally this fall.  He took to the printer right away, learning its controls, types of plastic filaments, and tricks to producing the products he sought.  The printer, as with any tool, is not perfect. But, the imperfections have led this child down a road of persistence, inventiveness, and self-reliance. The printer has been fixed a number of times. Again, this has been solely our second son’s “deal”.  Not once in the last year, has he asked for help fixing it. He just figures it out on his own, orders the correct parts, makes the repairs, and starts printing objects again!  This last repair involved the direct soldering of wires because he discovered the plastic connector the company had used was not the right grade for the degree of electricity that was traveling through it, so it melted. Despite the fact that during this process, my table got ruined from the soldering, I am finding it hard to be mad about it.  The table can be refinished and the printer got fixed, yet again!   The amazing thing is that none of the skills he’s used with his work on the printer have been formally taught to him.  He is self-taught because he wanted to learn how to use (and fix) this machine. Isn’t that what school should be all about? School should foster the love of life long, independent learning. If this can be augmented at home, it should be.

Our youngest is an artist and his abilities are also self-taught. Like his brothers, work on his talent is self-imposed. He’s drawn some fabulous portraits, won a drawing contest  sponsored by an olympic athlete, tried out watercolors, and now is learning how to use oil paints. Like most artists, he is self-critical.  His first oil took 30 minutes, (pictured below.)  Although we love it, he does not. A couple more oils were tried and unseen, as they were “trashed” before we could get a look at them. Yesterday, true to form, he developed his “own” methodology  (like he has in the past with his pencil drawings) for layering the oils. Like his brothers, what he produces and the persistent determination, self-reliance, and degree of self-teaching amazes me. Again, I am glad we have the resources to be able to support these talents that are not gained in the current educational climate. For these abilities and the co-existing self-determination are not taught and I am beginning to believe they cannot be.  It takes self-reflection, access to instruments, materials and tools, and the desire to learn, improve, and contribute – whether it be musically, physically, or artistically – and whether or not there is an associated “grade.”   It also takes time and freedom to learn self-expression.

I know now that what I might have sought for my sons in the past from educational institutions, my husband and I have provided at home – right in our own maker space(s). And, while they do not receive grades (nor seem to need them for motivation),  they learn, they improve, and they flourish under their own will and self-imposed guidelines.  Perhaps this is the best kind of learning, and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Intangibles of an After-School Garden Club

The Intangibles of an After-School Garden Club

For thirteen years I ran an after school garden club at our local elementary school. From 2004-2017, I met with students once or twice a month to delve into the world of plants, garden based organisms, and our local environment.  Through my recent graduate work, I am starting to put this whole experience into a conceptual and theoretical context.

In mid-December, I sent a survey I constructed and had approved by the Institutional Review Board at the University I attend, to 115 participants. My sample was drawn from a population of about twice that size who were members of the garden club during the first five years, 2004-2009.

By mid-January, the digital survey response window had closed. I ended up with a fairly good response rate. This morning I finished my first analysis of the data, looking for themes and commonalities in the answers I received. Having done quantitative research before, this is my first experience with qualitative research, and I feel a little bit like a fish out of water.

But, one of the most interesting aspects of my study is the question that asked: Did being part of Evergreen Garden Club effect any of the following developmental traits?  (Check all that apply). MemoryStudyQ25graphicresultsqualtrics.jpg


Knowledge Level regarding local environments/habitats = 28.26%

Confidence Level = 4.35%

Comfort Level in working with multi-grade level peers = 19.57%

Sense of Belonging = 17.39%

Sense of Accomplishment = 19.57%

Sense of Pride = 10.87%


Given that I know the content of my lessons, it makes sense that the former garden club students thought their knowledge level had increased and that they considered this a benefit (considering the constant testing that takes place in today’s educational climate.)  But, what I find most interesting is the three intangible benefits of being in a multi-aged, after-school garden club. I highlighted these in orange.

In today’s educational climate, making sure each student feels connected and a sense of belonging is essential.  It appears this was an unintentional benefit from being in this club. Second graders worked with fifth graders – as well as third and fourth graders. High schooler’s came to assist with our lessons.  Students returned year after year for continued engagement with this group. They might not have been able to put what they felt into words at the time they were members, but as young adults, they now can! Evergreen Garden Club students felt like they belonged! They felt they were part of a community, working together to improve our little spot in the school yard on the edge of town.

Although I had a few students drop out over the years, I am proud that I was able to provide a long lasting group that fostered belonging and a sense of community as well as the accomplishment of beautifying the school grounds and providing habitat for butterflies. So, I ask you – how do you foster a sense of belonging for your students? From previous experience, I know what doesn’t work.  Now, I am starting to provide some evidence as to what can work to ensure students feel connected to their school community.

As I analyze more of the data, I am sure I will share more of my findings with you.  But, for now, it is very heartwarming to know that yes – together, we made a difference!

My Silent Sunday Photographic posts will return on 4/1/18, as the Slice of Life Challenge (described below) will be concluded at that time. Thank you!

I am participating in the Slice of Life Story Challenge hosted by TwoWritingTeachers. This challenge involves blogging daily in the month of March, as well as commenting on the posts of other bloggers. It is my second year of participation. Thank you for the opportunity to connect with others through this supportive community!

 

 

 

Inefficiency in High School Scheduling

Inefficiency in High School Scheduling

The high school schedule during the last two weeks has been extremely frustrating. While the cancellation and rescheduling of things like our Spring athletic code meeting, an early release and a late start all due to weather are understandable, the seemingly continual changes made to class schedules are not.

A state bound wrestling team, term two recognition ceremony, winter sports recognition, guest speakers on school culture, character development, the monthly early release day for staff development, and more all contribute to schedule changes that mean shortened classes for students and less time for instruction.

Last year, a daily advisory period  was instituted. Although I might get some argument, I liken this to a homeroom period (which we do not have now). Previously, homeroom was held about once a month or whenever there was a need to conduct something with the masses. As I understand it, due to the increased need for students to have a period in the day when visits to teachers for extra help or to retake a test could be scheduled, as well as any “mass” filling out of forms, character instruction, or entire study body assembly attendance, the daily advisory period was born. Let me be clear, I think it is good to have this period. However, I do not think it is being used as intended. It has become a catch-all for whatever non-academic student event is dreamed of. There have been so many such events in the last two weeks, that my sophomore, who needs to retake a AP Calculus AB chapter exam has yet to be able to schedule it. He and the teacher have agreed a number of times on a day, using the advisory period, only to have it be impossible for him to attend due to some required time in advisory – for a non-academic reason.

If the advisory period is to help students get extra help, see a teacher for clarification, run to the library for a book, extra reference, or to print an assignment, or meet with other students to work on projects, it is failing miserably. The only thing it is succeeding at is interrupting the school day with non-essential assemblies, and form completion. I do not even think it is succeeding at the character development because the students (my students) are so resentful of the time they need to give up, many of the well-intended messages do not get through.

I find my students studying for tests thinking they will take them in advisory, only to find out their efforts to go over previous work, learn it better or more thoroughly and schedule the time with the teacher doesn’t pay off because they are told they “need” to stay in advisory. This was the case yesterday for my sophomore.  He was not released by his advisory teacher to go and re-take the calculus exam because he had to stay for some forum. I do not even know what it was about, it just angered me.  We are sending the wrong message to our students and it is this: academics come last. Every speaker, every assembly, every form, every sports team recognition, and every character building activity comes before academics. It is wrong!

Last week, our juniors all took the ACT test. The state of Wisconsin now pays for that test for all juniors. It is given during the school day.  No longer do students follow a prescribed freshman, sophomore, junior, senior course load. Students of all grades are in all classes from AP all the way through the tech labs like CAD.  The classes are mixed, as students choose what they take to fill their schedule. This creates a problem when the junior class is “out of commission” for a day or two to take a mass administered exam.

The same day the sophomores had field trips scheduled to visit various area college campuses. And, from what I heard, the freshmen had a different field trip that day. That left our senior class with an altered schedule that turned out to be worthless. Lessons on mindfulness, college prep, and movie watching is what was offered. It was really a waste for those students (of which I had one) and poorly orchestrated.  So much more could have been done with that time. It seems to me that the senior class got overlooked. Teaching could not take place because many of the classes were missing so many students due to testing and field trips that covering any new curriculum was a complete impossibility.  What really bothered me was that the night before this happened, we attended parent-teacher conferences, and no one mentioned this at all! It took our senior telling us about the crazily altered schedule later that night.

I think our administration feels it is doing a good job. But, it is all these little things – and the ever-increasing altered schedules, loss of instructional time, and building resentment among students and parents that proves otherwise. School is a lot of things, and rapidly becoming a place to try to instill too many things, but formal schooling is for learning. Currently, there are many missed opportunities to allow our students to be successful at the one thing they supposed to attend school to attain: an education.

The last time I wrote a post expressing my opinion about my own experience, it landed me in trouble with some district staff. I realize it could happen again. But, you know, I stand for the students and what is going on is not of benefit to them.

I am participating in the Slice of Life Story Challenge sponsored by TwoWritingTeachers. For 31 days in March, participants blog a “slice” from their life and share it. It is my second year of participation in this challenge that includes a wonderfully supportive community of writers. Thank you for the opportunity, TwoWritingTeachers

Mnemonics of Childhood & Career

Mnemonics of Childhood & Career

Once children reach school age, teachers offer many ways to remember content. While never a fan of mnemonics, I am a fan of words.  And, there are a few of these word tricks that stand out from childhood.

My first example has to do with learning music. Introduced to the world of notes, scales, clefs and octaves with Orff instruments in third grade, one of the first mnemonics I remember is Every Good Boy Does Fine. Of course this stands for the notes on the treble clef staff, E, G, B, D, and F. Although useful for learning the notes on the staff, once learned and music is produced, I never had much use for this particular mnemonic. However, I obviously remember what it means, almost 40 years after learning the saying.

The second recollection of mnemonics I have come from science class. Here exists the following:

ROY G. BIV –  Is this a person? No. It stands for Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet or the colors of the rainbow or that on a prism spectrum. Still remembered, still useful today.

My very educated mother just served us nine pizzas, is an old mnemonic for remembering the order of the planets. Now, since Pluto’s demotion, I believe for some it has been changed to end with the word noodles. I did not recall exactly what this mnemonic was word for word and had to look it up. Honestly, just memorizing the planets in order did the trick for me.

And, therein lies is some of the problem with the use of mnemonics. I always found it interesting and less than useful to have to learn one thing to remember another, instead of just memorizing the thing you needed to learn in the first place.

But, having been a former nurse and advanced practice nurse practitioner, mnemonics were popularly employed in the health care and medical field for memory aids.  One of my first jobs as a nurse was in the neonatal intensive care unit. There,  I had to learn what an APGAR score meant as I used to have to run to the delivery room for any high risk deliveries. In the mnemonic A= Appearance, P=Pulse, G=Grimace, A= Activity, R=Respiration. APGAR scores indicate the “health” or status of the infant upon delivery and their adjustment to life outside the mother’s womb.  They are done at one and five minutes, respectively, with the highest score being a “10”.  As you can imagine, in many of the deliveries I attended, the infant received low APGAR scores for a variety of reasons. This is a mnemonic I used almost every day in the first five years of my nursing career. Today, many moms will report and/or record their babies APGAR scores but few really know what the mnemonic stands for in meaning.

Another maternal child nursing mnemonic is TORCH. This stands for a series of infectious diseases that can have ill or even fatal effects on the newborn infant.  Somewhat odd to this mnemonic is that the “TO” together stand for one disease, Toxoplasmosis. Then, R is Rubella, C stands for CMV or Cytomegalovirus, and H is for Herpes. Again, an important mnemonic, but if you do not use it, you lose its meaning.

PEMDAS is a well know mnemonic used in middle school mathematics to remind students of the order of operations. Parenthesis, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition, and Subtraction. Again, probably useful to get you going but after you know how to do more complex problems, the use of the mnemonic is most likely forgotten.

And, there is lies much of the problem, many mnemonics are so specific, unless you are involved in using them on a daily basis or they were ingrained during a formative time in your development, you lose what they stand for in meaning.  Likewise, most people do not go around speaking in mnemonics, even to those in their same discipline. I only know healthcare mnemonics or elementary education mnemonics, not mnemonics for physics or climatology or oceanography or anything else in which the content would be foreign to my knowledge base. And, so it is probably much the same for others.  You know what you know because you have to use it. Mnemonics might be a trick to trigger your memory but one that will only last as long as it is used. I just always found it more useful to memorize the fact and not the trick.

pixabaysolar-system-2453896_1920How useful have you found mnemonics in your life?

Inspired by the  Daily Prompt: Mnemonic

Awe Inspiring…Inspiring Awe

Awe Inspiring…Inspiring Awe

One of the most useful teaching techniques I have found is using awe to inspire learning. What is awe? This word is both a verb and a noun, according to the Oxford online dictionary:

NOUN
  1. a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder:

    “they gazed in awe at the small mountain of diamonds” ·

    [more]

    synonyms: wonder · wonderment · admiration · reverence · respect ·

    [more]
VERB
  1.  inspire with awe:
    “they were both awed by the vastness of the forest”

    synonyms: filled with wonder · wonderstruck · awestruck · amazed ·

    [more]

    It is interesting to note that both of these examples from the dictionary cite our natural world! There is so much from which we can be inspired existing in nature!

I believe my interest, and initially accidental, use of awe in my teaching came from raising monarch butterflies and sharing the miracle of their metamorphosis with first my family and then my garden club students, and other community members.

Once I saw how engaging and motivating awe could be to students’ willingness to learn, I purposely sought topics that contained some element of awe. For example, did you know that the famous carnivorous plant called the Venus Fly Trap is the ONLY species of kind? And the only place it grows indigenously is the sandy, bog-like soils of the Carolina coasts in the United States? You might not realize that because, in this day of global trade, fast shipping, and unfortunate poaching, you can buy a Venus Fly Trap in any number of places…..especially at Wal-Mart in August! Of course the geographic habitat of this plant is not the only thing that is interesting. The Venus Fly Trap has evolved to trap insects to make up for growing in those poor, quickly drained soils! It is amazing!

Another example that always intrigues my students is the fact that we have a cactus that grows outdoors in Wisconsin! It is a variety of the Prickly Pear Cactus. When we talked about cacti and succulents during the garden club unit on this topic, once again, habitat was discussed, as it should be. But, who could guess that after finding out about the environmental needs of cacti, we would find one growing on the prairie or in someone’s yard, here in Wisconsin?! I further inspire awe and imbue excitement in the students by explaining that I have seen this cactus grow in many places during my travels…..Bermuda, California, New York State, and others….few of which possess desert-like conditions. After all, I don’t think you can say the side of the highway between Carlsbad and San Diego, California is a desert!

There are many, many other examples. Others have noticed the effect awe has on a human’s curiosity. You can read more about it in this article by Jake Abrahamson in the Sierra Club Magazine from December 2014, The Science of Awe.

It turns out that not only does awe inspire curiosity, it is also healthy for us to feel it! As a parent, many of us aspire to letting our children know that we are all part of a bigger picture, that the world is not only about us. What better way to convey that than through providing some awe-filled experiences? And the best part is, many of these type of experiences do not cost a thing! They are free!

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Gaze at the stars on a summer night – get out of  town and city lights for the best viewing.
  • Watch a monarch caterpillar form its chrysalis.
  • Watch a monarch butterfly emerge from the chrysalis.
  • Find out about rare and endangered species in your area, make an effort to learn about them and see them, if possible.
  • Visit a big city with little kids and look up at the tall buildings! Humans designed and constructed these structures.
  • Watch a baby being born. (Maybe, starting with an animal baby would be best!)
  • Stand on a mountaintop and take in the view.
  • Ride a bike down a volcano (Yes! This is possible! We did this in 2015 on Mt. Haleakala in Maui, Hawaii.
  • Find out how corn kernels are formed – amazing! You’d never guess all that corn silk had a purpose!
  • Grow a flower bulb without dirt!
  • Watch tadpoles turn into frogs.
  • Watch a chick hatch from an egg.
  • Marvel at the colors in a sunrise or sunset.
  • Watch an eclipse (with protective eye-wear, of course).

There are so many things that can inspire awe. What awe filled experiences have you had, personally? Have you ever used awe-inspriation in your teaching? I hope you consider adding some awe to your teaching or parenting style. I have found it not only useful, but extremely satisfying for both me and the children.