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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

Humiliation? Never.

Humiliation? Never.

Recently, my social media feed offered a repost of an edutopia blog article I had read last year. It is one of those articles worthy of re-reading, re-posting, and re-sharing. Previously, I had shared the article with an administrator in our school district.  The reason being is that we experienced some long-lasting effects of student humiliation.  A humiliating incident in a math class last year, early in the semester, in which a teacher called my son “stupid” in front of his peers basically caused him to “shut down”.  Consequently, he did not get much out of the class he was taking, had no interest in going to this very sarcastic teacher for help, and resulted in a year-long bout of lowered self-confidence, periodic anger, and self-doubt.

Last month, I thought we were “over the hurdle” as it had been almost a year since the incident and my son seemed to be “holding his own” in his subsequent, but now current, math class. However, after having to speak to the guidance counselor about changing  an elective, the past experience with this teacher was broached again, bringing about more tears, and a renewed sense of anxiety.  I think my son was thinking, “will they ever remember me for anything other than what happened last year?” Well, the  answer to that is they have and they will, as some other very nice opportunities have been sent his way by the same guidance office. In addition, the teacher he has for this year’s class in the same subject area projects a much different attitude, has gotten to know my son, and has taken steps to individualize his instruction. It appears he is a conceptual learner and approaches new information from a big picture vantage point, rather than spiraling up with details to understand the concept in the way most students learn. It is unusual, but can be worked with by a compassionate, knowledgeable educator.

So, why do I write about this today? There are several reasons. First, it needs to be said that as parents, we are very supportive of our childrens’ education. Academics come first in our house and our boys know that. However, with that said, we also believe that our teachers must get to know their students.  This was one of the most grevous errors leading to the experience of last year. Assumptions about our student were made. They were incorrect. This particular teacher taught one way, in a manner that was not conducive to our son’s learning style. However, instead of finding ways that might help him, she used sarcasm and humiliation. This was not acceptable. I do believe she might have been willing to help him by reinforcing what she had gone over in class, but would have not done so by using a different demeanor or by approaching him without sarcasm.  He was unwilling to approach her for help because of the way he had been treated in class – with humiliation.  It is due to the inappropriate use of humiliation in the classroom that I write about this subject today.

Finally, I will leave you with a few thoughts to consider as you teach.

  1. Do not humiliate your students, for any reason.
  2. Use a variety of teaching models/styles in your presentation of material.
  3. Connect with your students. Get to know them.
  4. Think about whether your teaching style is meeting the learning styles of your students. Work to reach as many students as you can using various models.
  5. As a parent, speak up if you find something does not seem right, using the chain of command, if at all possible.
  6. Do not be afraid to remove your student from a situation in which he/she is not learning, if you feel that would be best. We did not do this, as my son did not want to be removed from this class. In hind sight, we should have, as we have seen that he did not absorb much because he could not get past his feelings toward this teacher and her classroom style. However, our district policies state the a student will receive an “F” if the class is dropped after the first two days of the term. This was also a consideration in our decision.
  7. Work to change district policy to enable fair and reasonable choices for students, not only teachers, regarding course changes.

Thanks for the opportunity to share blog posts on Slice of Life Tuesday: TwoWritingTeachers!

Grades: Do they measure learning?

Grades: Do they measure learning?

via Daily Prompt: Measure

Having students who work hard and do well in school, I always bought into the premise that grades measure learning. With years of experience in education, and the advent of digital grading systems, where every little grade book entry can be seen 24/7, now I am not so sure.

Lately, I have given much thought on how we measure growth in our students. In an earlier post, I described how our school district went to an 80/20 summative/formative grading system this fall. Each teacher had to enter grades in the digital grade book in one of these two categories, with these weights. As the year has progressed, I have noticed that many of the teachers have taken to using the “multiplier” next to the grade value to change its weight. Wow! This makes it really confusing! It also led me to wonder if the students realize some assignments are being given different weights. From what I saw in a couple of classes last term, there is a lot of play here. Some teachers are not changing the weight at all – with everything being weighted with a multiplier of 1.0 for 80% or 20% depending on whether it is a summative or formative assessment. Some, like one class my freshman is taking, had weights in the summative varying from 1.0 to 2.67! What? 2.67? Why use those numbers to measure the worth of an assignment? It seems subjective and highly variable.

Maybe all the play in the variability of grading has always been there, but with the advent of digital grading, it is there for all to see and examine on a daily basis. It has had the undesired effect of making me mis-trust and question the system. When a measure of learning is decided upon, I do not think it should be “played with”, at least not mid-school year, as is what is occurring with the multipliers. Are we really measuring student learning or something else? Are you getting the impression I am not a fan of digital grade books? You are right! I am not.

Then, there are the mis-entries. Why are there so many mistakes with the digital grading systems? At least 3-4 times a term, or half-semester, my boys have an anxiety provoking experience upon seeing a grade wrongly entered on their infinite campus gradebook page. Just last week, my freshman went to school to find out if he really got 54/80 (67%) on an exam last week or it if was an error. By mid-morning it was corrected to his reveal his actual grade of 78.5/80 or 98.1 percent. Relief! I could almost hear and feel his emotional response from him at school, 2 miles down the road!

He had been doing well all semester so it seemed like the grade we saw the day before was an error. When questioned, he expressed surprise, having thought he did well on the assessment. It was just a mistake. That’s all. Easily corrected with the touch of a few buttons on a keyboard. And, I agree that students can learn from mistakes, even grading mistakes.

But, here’s the thing. While I know teachers are human and make mistakes just like everyone else, these mistakes seem more and more common. It makes me wonder how much thought or examination is put into entering the grades. Wasn’t it suspicious that a student doing well should all of a sudden have such a poor grade? I think that might have been looked at and seen better using an old-fashioned book and pencil entry system.

These thoughts are just the tip of the iceberg in my head forming over grading policies, change in policies, how we teach, and how we measure student learning. There will be more to come. Stay tuned.

Inspired by the Daily Prompt: Measure