Time for Some Summer Fun!

Time for Some Summer Fun!

It’s summer and I am ready for some fun. May was an incredibly busy month, as it usually is. School got out the first weekend of June. Usually, the release of our students means the beginning of summer, complete with a relaxation of schedules, sleeping in, and lazy days. This year has been anything but those activities.

In two short weeks, the SAT was taken, Badger Boys State Camp was attended, the Tennis Banquet was held, and summer employment started. This is just for one of my adolescents.  My youngest started an online class that requires at least 2 hours a day of work, and the summer travel soccer season is in full swing. This constitutes driving to the Twin Cities for “away” games; a drive of no less than two and a half hours one way. The soccer game is an hour and a half and home we go – another two and a half hours. Last Tuesday, we rode a “bus” with the team and still got home at 12:30 a.m.. A soccer game took eight an a half hours of our day! Too much!

In the midst of this, I am taking a three credit graduate course (700 level), on interpretive  environmental/heritage signage. My learning curve for the course has been steep as I am not writing essays (which is a strength) but rather using software to design wayside panels and brochures! It is the first course I have had in graduate school that has a laboratory component! Needless to say, it has kept me on my toes!

This busy-ness is in addition to a huge home improvement project. We are re-siding our house! Gone is the vinyl siding reflecting the previous owners’ taste. Welcome to our new facade, a rich chocolate-brown engineered wood siding with shake shingle accents in a cedar (Canyon is the official color) brown.  It is coming along and our home of ten years is finally reflecting our personalities, not those we assumed when we moved in to the property. Our youngest has taken to removing the old siding when he needs a “break” from his online course. He is also learning to drive!

Since the siding job is so huge, and my husband is the person doing the “job”. I am trying to help. Revamping my garden beds around the house has become “my job”. One is done, the perennial bed by the garage that holds my beloved common milkweed. The bed got cleaned, new gladioli and dahlias planted, and mulch refreshed. Last night I found a monarch caterpillar on a leaf and you’d think I had found a piece of gold! To me, it was!

I moved on to the front bed where everything was ripped out and fresh soil was delivered – being shoveled into the space by both of my teens that are still at home.  I enjoyed looking for the red-twig dogwood that will be a specimen plant, opposite to my limelight hydrangea.  Three  weigelas were purchased for the front of the bed and the rest is undetermined.

We’ve gone through about 30 bags of mulch and will need more! The grass always seems to need cutting, and in an effort to help, I have jumped on our tractor several times to just “get it done”.

As you can tell, we have been extra busy this June. But, it’s summer! I am really feeling the need to do something fun! So, today we will take a break as we will go to some of our favorite places in the Twin Cities – prior to another “away” soccer game tonight. It will be another long day, but hopefully, a day of fun! I think we all need it.

Life Long Learning

Life Long Learning

There is no doubt that I am a life long learner! In the midst of obtaining a second master’s degree, twenty-five years after my first in an arguably different discipline, very few could accuse me of not being committed to learning and growing through my life thus far. Taking graduate courses during the school year, and the summer – as I am doing now, is being done because I want to do it. I see value in it. My aim was to give myself some legitimate authority as I began speaking at local, state, and even international conferences on interdisciplinary learning and gardening with children two years ago. It is a topic I know well, both in theory and practical experience, but there is always room to learn more – especially when it might help to give me credibility. But, the plain and simple truth is that I love learning, being a student, and being in school!  I think I love it almost as much as I love teaching.

It has been interesting, however, to notice some things about myself – some “student qualities” that I do not think I ever took the time to reflect upon during my two previous degrees. For example, as a middle-aged learner, I was somewhat reluctant to engage in a distance learning curriculum. But, that is – in fact, what I have done. All my classes are online. I enjoy being able to write what I want to say, whereas in person, I am much more timid.  The technology rarely throws me a curve, and when it does, I have two able adolescent boys to assist me in figuring out where I have gone wrong. I can scan, upload, use zip files, find my grades, and post to a discussion forum as well as the most able twenty year old college student! Having taken typing wayyyyyy back in high school, I also am an exceptionally fast typist. This has the extra bonus of avoiding those hand cramps that I get now that I am older and have to write long passages manually.

Motivation and drive are two characteristics that I have never been in short supply of having as a student.  It remains the same today. I strive to do well, learn the material, and be an engaged student. Much to the dismay of those who hold a popular educational philosophical belief, I am motivated by grades. True! I want the A/A+ and am willing to work hard to get it! And, it does not even matter – I am not in competition with anyone, do not have a class rank, or GPA that will count toward some unknown future college critique – I still want the A.

The other very interesting thing that I have learned is something I have always known but has been augmented in my most recent class, the class I am taking now.  This knowledge is that I am a very literal learner. I actually need to read and take notes to learn material. This is okay. I have the skills to do so. These skills include things like outlining from a text or journal article as one reads. Skills that I am not sure are being taught anymore or hold importance with today’s educators. The dependence on my style of learning was highlighted when I had to complete my first computer lab for an advanced interpretive media class I am taking now.  Essentially, this class is a graphic design course. A tutorial “packet” was  assigned to guide us through Photoshop and Indesign software. I completed each packet, taking my time. And each time, when I went to do the assignment I was somewhat lost as to what to do!  I had to look back at the packet of instructions! It dawned on me that the reason for this is because I am not learning by using my usual “style”.  It has made things a little more difficult for the class, but not impossible.

I then reflected on conversations I have had with my son who just completed his junior year of high school.   He has learned, at a very early age, that he does not learn like most students.  Most times, he has to adjust to the instructor’s teaching style. He is not a literal learner at all. While most times this is not a bad thing, and it is certainly preparing him for college classes, it has made his learning more difficult on occasion. He has had to adjust while learning, and the adjustments are sometimes just a stab in the dark.

Oh! Now, I can relate!

What does this mean for us as educators? I think it means several things. One is that we need to make sure our students are learning how to learn. There are many resources out there to help students determine what type of learning style they prefer. Likewise, there are many resources and theoretical foundations that tell us we MUST teach using many different styles (or models) if we are to adequately reach all of our students. Think about how you teach, and now, think about how you might teach the same content in a different way to enhance the possibility of reaching more learners! If learning is a positive experience, more students will go on to be life long learners well after they need to “earn” a grade.

Daily Slice to Keep on Slicing

Daily Slice to Keep on Slicing

Since participating this past March in the Slice of Life Challenge hosted by TwoWritingTeachers, I have continued to write daily, or pretty close to it.  I think I have only missed writing a handful of days. This has been despite a busy schedule of taking graduate courses,  attending three sports for two boys (Varsity Tennis, Varsity Track, and Summer Traveling Soccer League that starts in April),  starting yard work, running garden club, leading writer’s circle,  and more. I am busy but am sure to take the time to write. It is important to me. I have found the reflection to be healthy, assisting me in processing life events.

Although continuing to write daily is key to my improvement as a blogger, sometimes, my educational posts do not fall on Tuesdays anymore. For example, this past week I wrote about summer enrichment opportunities in mathematics for students,  a poem about garden club ending, a student’s gift, the music of memorial day, and a photo journal of the island of Kauai. All of these were or are slices of my life, past and present. Admittedly, some posts are more interesting that others, both to read and to write. Still, the feedback I have received helps me to push forward, putting more and more ideas into words, and words on the page.

The school year comes to a close here this week for my boys and just as it winds down for them, another graduate course has started for me. It will be fast and furious, three credits over five weeks, with a digital media project due on July 5th. Besides the class, there will be other topics to slice about as both my boys will be pursuing some work in math, one will attend summer camp for Badger Boys State, colleges will be visited, and, jobs will be done, both at home and at places of employment. The summer will end just as fast as it starts. I hope to keep slicing through it all.

Are you a teacher?

Are you a teacher?

Today, I discovered something about myself. I have a very difficult time calling myself a teacher! While at the local copy store this morning, getting my third grade writer’s circle student newspapers made from the mock-up, the clerk said, “You must be a teacher.” She was looking at the student work on the 11 x 26 inch double-sided page I had given her in order to obtain ten copies.  It was more of a question than a statement in the way she asked me. I was taken aback by my response.

“Well, I’m really a nurse who likes to teach,”  I replied, before realizing what I was saying.

What?! My brain silently screamed, as I stood there looking back at the clerk. A nurse? You phony! You haven’t been a nurse in almost twenty years!

Then, I realized that I almost said, “I’m a wanna be teacher.”  That much at least would have been true!  I  have wanted to be a teacher as long as I can remember.  Believe it or not, there were no available teaching jobs when it was my time to go to college in the early 80’s. Tenured teachers were being laid off. Who wants to spend four years in college to not have a job when you are finished? Instead, I chose nursing; there were jobs.

But, you know, I am a teacher. I have taught hundreds of  elementary students over the last twelve years as a garden club leader. I now have thirty-six students who have participated in writer’s circle with me over the last six years. I am a teacher. Why can’t I tell a stranger that?

It must be some weird adherence to the social norm of what a “real” teacher is.  A real teacher has a license, a real teacher has a classroom, a real teacher grades student work, and a real teacher is not told they need 3 years of additional undergraduate work (on top of baccalaureate and master’s degrees in nursing and another half-finished graduate degree in environmental education) to be one.  A real teacher gets a paycheck (although, some would argue that it is not enough). No, I don’t have those things. So, I must not be a “real” teacher.  I cannot say that I am.

But, wait a minute. I have students who are not assigned to me by administration, but elect to come to my enrichment groups. I have students who do the work I ask them to do  and give it to me to receive my feedback.  I have students I care about. I have students who care about me.  I have loads of people who think of me as a teacher. Then, why can’t I say it?

My response this morning was a revelation for me. It was a kind of personal wake up call. If I do not say I am a teacher – then, I am the one thinking I am not one. This stops today.  I should not define myself by another educator introducing me as a “parent who does a lot of things.”  I should not define myself by the lack of a license.  I should not define myself by the lack of a formal classroom or title.  I know what I am; I am a teacher!  The next time some stranger asks, that is what I will reply.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go meet my writer’s circle students. We are celebrating the creation of their third grade newspaper and I am their teacher!


A Personal Metaphor: Shared for Slice of Life Tuesday

A Personal Metaphor: Shared for Slice of Life Tuesday

Slice of Life Tuesday crept up on me this week. Notably, we’ve had the college graduation of our oldest son and the death of one of our dear cats, Clark. Additionally, I’ve seen many posts about summer learning, and even written an educationally themed post mid-week on Positive Behavior Intervention & Supports (PBIS).  Our fruit trees are blooming, blue birds are nesting, and I cut the grass for the first time in many years, just to help out my husband, who is swamped with projects of his own right now. But, since my head is spinning, I thought I would offer a creative piece I wrote for a course that just ended on teaching and learning. The writing was an assignment, written and completed ess than two weeks ago. While I did not look forward to writing this piece, it began to gel as I wrote. It is an exercise that upon completing, I was filled with satisfaction and more sure that it was a worth-while endeavor. What follows is my personal metaphor for teaching and learning. Thank you, Professor Cook!

I am an Adult Monarch Butterfly!

The Monarch is a rare creature, delicate looking but strong, brave, very self-directed, and whose life depends on one plant. There are four life-cycle stages: 1) egg, 2) larva, 3) chrysalis, and 4) adult. Life is a journey in more ways than one. It is these traits that I identify with as I have learned about monarchs over the last 14 years. I also identify with the process and value of transformation, something both the monarch and I have experienced. I hold the belief that teaching needs to be transformative, not transactional, when working with students. In the book, Models of Teaching, the authors tell us many ways in which we can adapt our teaching to fit the needs of our students, allowing for transformation to occur (Joyce, Weil, & Calhoun, 2015). Adaptation is critical, whether it be for a nurse turned stay at home mom turned non-formal educator, a student learning in a system that does not teach how he/she learns, or the monarch attempting to survive lack of habitat. As authors Joyce, Weil, and Calhoun put it on page 365 of this book, “significant learning is frequently accompanied by discomfort.” Without adaptation (following the discomfort) and transformation, there is no learning and consequently, there is no life.  “Learning means changing.” (Joyce, et.al., 2015).

As an Adult Monarch Butterfly, I have passed through these stages, and changed – not just developed, but truly changed along the way. The stages are akin to a human’s developmental stages. While the timeframe each stage possesses varies according to the species, I have passed through the stages, just like the monarch. Each stage is essential and has significance.  Without the stage before, there can be no further development, or “next” stage.

We are all “eggs” at one point in our lives. The baby stage. Comparatively, my “egg” stage was longer than a monarch but still short. As a child born to a teacher and self-taught data manager, I was curious, intelligent, and introverted – a shy wisp of a thing who only aimed to please my teachers and my family.

Hatching out of the egg, the monarch larva eats its eggshell first and then the milkweed leaves on which it was born. Milkweed is the monarch’s only nourishment, as knowledge is mine. My eggshell were the lessons of my family, loving parents and grandparents, as well as a cherished sister. As soon as I had a taste of knowledge, my hunger for it grew. Just as a monarch caterpillar eats more and more milkweed, I hungered for more and more information. Through my primary and secondary education, and my initial college degree, my only food was information. I thrived on it. It was readily available – everywhere. I dined on it daily, as it seemed to be the only food I needed. During my college and graduate school programs for nursing, I fed my thirst and hunger by devouring more science and facts, nourishing me as I grew, needing no other food. Work was secondary to learning, just as moving from milkweed plant to milkweed plant is secondary to eating for the monarch.

There are five stages of my development as an educator that coincide with the five instars of the Monarch caterpillar. Essentially, the caterpillars are still the same being, but are getting larger. Just as I was the same being, only gathering more information. During the first instar, I was home learning from family during formative years. The second instar for me were my K-12 schooling years. The third instar was spent getting my baccalaureate degree in nursing. My fourth instar was getting my graduate nursing degree and working as a nationally certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner. I was “plump” with knowledge by then, just as the caterpillar is plump from devouring milkweed. Finally, the fifth instar was a period of self-examination, staying home with my children, volunteering, and developing enrichment programs for students.  I reached the 5th instar stage about 14 years ago while searching for more food (knowledge). The fifth instar monarch caterpillar is huge, increasing its size many times over since birth, just as I increased my knowledge many times over. This happens until a signal is received from nature for the caterpillar and inspired by acquired knowledge of nature for me.

I pupated (Stage 3) and metamorphosis took place as I left my nursing career behind to emerge as a teacher. Although, I believe that being a teacher is what I was meant to be, just as the monarch caterpillar is meant to be a butterfly! It is a new life!

Being an adult monarch is hard. I flit from student to student never really having them as my own (as I am an informal educator), but needing them and developing relationships with them along the way. They are the source of my purpose and my inspiration. This is just as the monarch butterfly flits from flower to flower, needing their nectar and visiting with them for sustenance, leaving their beauty behind to find another.  Both of us are fighting for survival, me as a non-formal educator, and the monarch, as it seeks habitat.

My quest for knowledge has been entirely self-directed, just as the long journey of migration is completely self-directed for the monarch. I must be a late season adult monarch then, one who must sustain myself for the long journey to Mexico that lies ahead.  It has become apparent that my journey will be long as well, as a non-formal educator.

I know I will not survive all environments as some do not accept me or provide me a welcome place to share the results of my nourishment (their classroom). The monarch cannot survive without milkweed or habitat. In the same vein, I will not survive if I cannot share the results of my metamorphosis – knowledge, a love of learning, adaptation, self-direction, and transformation – in essence, passion. These are traits all students need to navigate the educational system today.  Traits we hope to impart through modeling and models, such as myself, that it can be done.

If I am lucky enough to survive, (and I might not as they sprayed my garden home with pesticide today – truly, they did), I will continue to try to inspire our youth to care for the home we share – our earth.  It doesn’t matter what country you travel to or call home, the U.S., Canada, or Mexico – such as the monarchs as they migrate, we need to provide and care for those that are with us; Butterflies or Students. This means adaptations to fit their needs. If students are not learning with an inductive model, try direct instruction; if students are not learning with direct instruction, try experiential or project based learning. It is up to us, teachers or butterflies, to adapt to our surroundings.  Right now, we have a better chance than the Monarchs. We both need our youth to survive. Let us provide the right environment or habitat.

I believe that a major tenant of all the models discussed in the text Models of Teaching (2015) was transformation.  We want our teaching to be transformational for our students. This means being vulnerable. It means learning new things from each other and adapting to new methods and new surroundings. This is no better described than in The Power to Transform by Stephanie Pace Marshall (2006).

Another theme of all the models in the text, Models of Teaching (2015), was teaching students to learn and use strategies, the strategies we model as teachers.  Strategical adaptation is as essential for learning as it is a survival tactic for monarchs. Unfortunately, as they are not sentient beings, monarchs do not have the ability to be strategic. We do. We must.

In so far as I have transformed myself, I wish to be the inspiration for future transformations and encourage others to fly as far as they can.

I am an adult monarch butterfly.


Joyce, B., Weil, M., Calhoun, E. (2015). Models of Teaching,06). 9th edition. Pearson, Boston,       MA.

Marshall, S.P. (2006). The Power to Transform. John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, NJ.

What I’ve learned about Procrastination

What I’ve learned about Procrastination

This semester I have learned a little about procrastination. Never considering myself to be one in the past, I can now claim the title of Procrastinator!   Since this is really not something to brag about, and I’d like to return to my pre-procrastinator state, I thought I’d share some of my observations.

  1. It’s easier to put things off when they don’t interest you.  For example, I really need to clean my closet. There are piles upon piles of old course work, out grown clothes, and snow boots that need to be put away.  Although I think about this task each time I enter my closet, which is several times a day, it is still left undone.
  2. Do not agree to be a speaker unless you really know the subject matter. This Friday is Environmental Day at our local elementary school. Having been the garden club facilitator for 12 years, I have always wanted to be asked to be a presenter at this event. This year, my wish came true and I am presenting! Excited? Yes. Anxious? A little. Since I am a self-taught expert on Monarch Conservation, I would be very comfortable talking about that subject. But, alas, I am speaking about Forests. Don’t get me wrong, forests are important! However, the topic is huge and there are 6 grade levels for which I will present.  It has been hard to whittle down what needs to be said in a way kindergartener will understand, but 5th graders won’t be bored. Oh, and I have 35 minutes per presentation. Let’s just say that after I make my Slice of Life post today, I’ll be working on my presentation.  I think I’ve determined that I need two levels of content (K-2 and 3-5).  The old saying “be careful what you wish for” is all that comes to mind.  I hope I can remember that in the future!  My dream of being a presenter has been dulled by my procrastination due to the subject matter and a feeling of inadequacy.
  3. It is easier to procrastinate when you are tired. I’m not sure anything more needs to be said about this. You are tired, so you put it off for another day.  It becomes a vicious cycle.
  4. Procrastination begets procrastination. This is entirely what I am afraid of happening!  Having never been a procrastinator, I don’t care for the feeling I have knowing I have become one this semester. I want to break the cycle. Luckily, with my term ending Friday and the presentations finished on the same day, I feel I have a chance to break the cycle of procrastination.

Maybe it’s just time to fulfill these obligations, get some rest, and move on to something else, something that interests me, and something I am comfortable with talking about. My next course doesn’t start until the end of May and my next speaking engagement is in July.  I think I have learned some things that will help me avoid being a procrastinator! At least, I hope so!

What a Hoot!

What a Hoot!

Friday, my boys were off from school for the Easter holiday break.  About mid-afternoon, I looked out our back window and saw a white patch in a tree at the edge of the field behind us. The landscape is slowly greening up but the trees have not leafed out yet so seeing something pure white mid-way up a tree was odd.  I wondered what it could be so I got out my binoculars and look a long look.  Ah, it was still too far away.  We have another pair of binoculars – a “real” pair, not the child’s pair I was using initially, so I dug those out of their resting place in the front closet.  Back at the window, the white “thing” was still in the tree, but its shape had shifted.  Now, I knew it was alive, just as I thought!

Staring, dialing in and out of focus using the binoculars, I stood at our living room window for 10-15 minutes, looking for clues about what was in that tree behind our house. This also required a lot of blinking, as my contacts did not respond to being shoved up against a glass lens as I peered into the eyepiece.  In the meantime, my fifteen year old asked what I was up to. When I told him, I spilled what had been on my mind.

“I think there might be a snowy owl in that tree back there, by the edge of the field,”  I told him, excitedly!

“Seriously? Mom.”  he replied, shaking his head. But, he got up off the couch to take a look.  My boys are used to my nature–based escapades and frequently indulge my thoughts, if only to prove me wrong, as time permits. At this point, I went to get my camera to try to zoom in close enough to prove it was indeed an owl, a snowy owl!

The camera didn’t help, but then my son said, “Do you want me to go out there and take a closer look?”

“Sure,” I said. “Take the binoculars with you.”


A few minutes later, he was waving to me.  I went outside, taking the camera with me, hopeful.  He shouted something. I couldn’t hear it.

“What is it?”  I shouted back.

“Well, it’s not an owl, mom. It’s our neighbor’s cat!”

A half hour spent – looking, wondering, snapping photos, enlisting the help of a reluctant teen and hoping, just to find out the white patch in the tree behind our house was our neighbor’s cat!

What a hoot!

Oh, yeah. Our neighbors do have a white cat. Obviously, I was hoping for something more exciting.