Tuesday’s Slice of Life Are Slices of Life

Tuesday’s Slice of Life Are Slices of Life

There is much I could write about today for my slice of life post and the supportive writing community of two writing teachers blog.

There is the personal angle, really foremost in my mind that today is my 30th wedding anniversary! It really is a milestone of two lives entwined with a shared past, content present, and enduring future.

I could write about a revelation that came to me while showering this morning. Many of my writing or creative ideas come to me while showering.  I have been known to write papers, create math questions, and formulate presentations all while coming clean in the solitude of the shower. Today’s revelation was that I have been compelled to prove my intelligence for the last 20 years since making the decision to be a stay at home mom. I am truly so much more….and feel the need to constantly prove it. Why is that? A case in point is that I am pursuing a second master’s degree in Environmental Education and instead of just taking courses to fulfill the requirements, I have asked to be mentored on conducting, writing, and possibly publishing a research study. Though thorough self-examination, I am not sure why I feel I need to do this, other than to prove I can. For those who read my slice last week, I am still waiting on an answer from my professors with regard to my research proposal. I am beginning to think a course might truly be better.

Then there is the blog I posted over the weekend that deals with grading policies and final weights in high school courses. I thought I would share that here because it did not catch the attention of many readers and being a teacher based blog forum, I would be glad to have some feedback. Suggestions on what to do with the information I uncovered would be welcome as well.

I could write about giftedness. Gifted education is something I have been involved in for a very long time – close to the 20 years I have been a stay at home mom!  Recently, I read a blog post sharing an article (Crushing Tall Poppies FB page sharing a SENG blogpost) about whether giftedness is innate and what the emotional costs are, if it is not.  The person writing the article really did not seem to have a full understanding of how permeating giftedness is for the person that is gifted. He equated giftedenss with achievement and that, most certainly, is incorrect.  He failed to take into account asynchronous developement and/or what might cause a gifted individual fail to perform at an exceptional level.  Click the above link to read the article if you are interested.  I was to take a foundational course on gifted education this fall (believe it or not environmental education is a great place to offer a place for gifted students to be enriched, be leaders, and be involved in community service). The absence of it being offered when I had it scheduled in my program plan is what led to the current quandary I have with revisiting the research proposal with my professors.  Everything is entwined. The gifted student population is underserved and greatly misunderstood, something I understand from both a professional and personal vantage point.

Lastly, I could write today’s post based on the Slice of Life Tuesday prompt that the TwoWritingTeacher’s offered on their home page that asks, “What summer writing are you doing now that will inspire your future students?” Although my garden club has ended, I will still hopefully have my third grade writer’s circle in 2018.   My answer to the prompt is that I am honing my writing skills by blogging daily.  In writing consistently, I am also acquiring some ideas for student writing, such as when I did my Silent Sunday post this week on Favorite Places.  I thought that this topic might be a good prompt for third graders, especially if they had a photo of their favorite place. It might also make the foundation for a short narrative story – one of the types of writing I do yearly with the writer’s circle students. I have shared some of my writing with my students in the past, just occasionally. It shows I am a writer and I understand what problems they might encounter, as well as allowing me to be supportive of their efforts.  In essence, we create a small writing community each year in which ideas, styles, and efforts are varied but all valued.  I hope to do that again for a 7th year. Any writing makes us better writers.

 

Slice of Life and A Slice of Pie

Slice of Life and A Slice of Pie

It sometimes amazes me how fast my mood can change. Although I have experienced quicker mood swings, I definitely feel different today than I did yesterday. I am always left trying to figure out what triggered it or why I might be more grouchy one day than another.

Yesterday, I got up, did a few minor chores like making the bed and cleaning up the kitchen, and went to a coffee shop to have a latte while I caught up on some emails. In particular, I emailed one of my professors at the University where I am a graduate student in Environmental Education and Interpretation. I am trying to recruit a willing faculty member to mentor me while I conduct some research on my past garden club students and lessons. I would like to find out if their participation in garden club influenced them with regards to their environmental stewardship activities as young adults. I have a population of close to 500 students as a possible data collection base. This is the second time I have reached out to professors to see if they would take on the mentorship of  my project this fall.

I, then, had a fairly normal day. I went grocery shopping. I weeded my front perennial bed. I did some laundry. I wrote a blog post.  And, I picked just enough fresh blueberries from our bushes to add to the ones I already had in the refrigerator to make a blueberry pie. Those activities take us to almost 9pm last night.  My seventeen-year-old and a friend came back to the house from tennis practice and made omelets while we chatted in the kitchen. My husband took our youngest son to the activities code meeting for fall sports at the high school.  I watched about an hour of T.V. (the most I usually watch these days) and went to bed.

I did not sleep well. But, I had not slept well the night before, either. Still, I had a fine day yesterday – one full of activity, purpose, and even fun! So, why am I grouchy today?

Part of it might be that I heard back from one of the professors I emailed. She wants to see my research proposal to consider taking me on this fall for independent student credits. Her request to see my research proposal signifies some progress. But, beyond that, the remainder of the email was not encouraging.  So, I am left trying to decide whether I should just take another course instead of trying to involve people who are reluctant to invest in me. It is both frustrating and disappointing. There are few courses to choose from and the one I had planned on taking – Foundations of Gifted and Talented Education – is not being offered. It leaves me with Advanced Educational Psychology  or Collaborative Organizational Leadership. Neither thrill me like the prospect of taking the G & T course did.

The other part of the change in my mood might be just the recognition that summer is half over and we are headed into a transitional phase again.  Typically, I do not do well with transitions. Summer sports have ended and are nearly over. Fall sports are gearing up. Paper work, digital or otherwise, needs completing. Uniforms need to be ordered.  Progress on online summer course work for my youngest has been steady but slowed this last week. He needs to take a mid-term exam by the end of the week or he will be seriously behind. We need to schedule a few more college visits for our son soon to be a senior.  He needs to start working on college applications since a few of them are already open.

Laundry greeted me on the kitchen table this morning, as it did not make to the respective closets last night. We are missing twenty-two socks! Twenty-two! Where are they all?

All if all, things are good. But, I am grouchy. Today, I will try to snap out of my grouchy mood. Perhaps I will go make some jewelry – a hobby of mine that is satisfying and somewhat profitable.  Maybe, I will go pick some more blueberries. Maybe, I’ll decide on a course, and just pursue the research on my own. Maybe, I will just sit and read a good book.

Right now, I am going to make a pot of coffee and have a slice of that blueberry pie I made last night that was still too hot to serve by 10:30 p.m.. Surely, my mood will improve after eating something so yummy!

 

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.

Twenty Years of Student Advocacy & Ten Things I Learned

Twenty Years of Student Advocacy & Ten Things I Learned

Ten things I have learned by being a student advocate for two decades:

1. You will feel a sense of power and/or relief when positive change is made.

Do not let this feeling of accomplishment let you rest on your laurels.

2.  You will be frustrated or even angry when the needs of those for whom you are advocating  goes unnoticed or concerns go unheard.

Take a break. Gather your strength and be ready to go forward in the future. Anger will get in the way of progress. Be Calm and Advocate On.

3. Change is slow, sometimes it is non-existent. Not all advocates work in the same way. This was a huge revelation for me.

In my advocacy work, multiple students benefited; students other than my own, sometimes with a snowball effect, leading to positive change for those in other grades – grades levels or content where students had not yet experienced the difficulties we were advocating to change. While this is positive, many do not realize the positive change made for them was born of a difficulty someone else had. Maybe your child did well because of someone else’s difficulties. Please keep that in mind. 

5. Advocates are often invisible forces.

This is still true today and something that I fight to come to terms with. Recently, I learned of a change in teaching staff for a particular course that historically caused many students trouble has been instituted for next year.  This is, in part, due to myself and a very small group of other students and parents speaking out.  Future students will not have difficulty with this teacher in this course. No one realizes how the road has been paved.. You must be willing to accept this invisibility. Sometimes, it is hard.

6. It is not all for one and one for all, despite what some want you to believe. It should be and can be, but is not, yet.

Some advocate for their student only. Thoughts of others who qualify for the same services are not present. This is a very selfish mindset, but one I believe born of some cut throat tactics that are used due to the importance placed on GPA or class rank. Despite this, I am not for abolishing those traditional indicators of success. Do not think that someone will advocate for your child. If you see the need for change or opportunity, do not wait for someone else to speak up. You have to be the advocate. You will learn how to advocate by actively engaging in the activity. While you are at it, advocate for others at the same time.  This is part of the mindset of global learning.

7. Supporting individuality does not mean selectively leaving students out.

This brings us to the importance of having standardized pathways for enrichment, advancement, and other opportunities. All those who qualify should be offered opportunity, no matter whether they have an advocate or not.  The opportunities should be presented to all. My experience has been that this is not the norm. Individuality comes into play through choosing which path to take.

8. It costs nothing to listen. Hearing is the first key to change.

Over the years I have asked for many meetings with teachers, administrators, and even two different superintendents. This has been an enlightening experience. I have learned that most of those in authority will listen, but many do not hear.  Follow-up with educational concerns from stake-holders or community members is lacking. Change is almost elusive. Few understand and are even puzzled by advocates that are not after a single beneficiary (the advocate’s student). Hearing concerns takes more than just listening. Following up on concerns should be part of a district’s continuous improvement. 

9. Being an advocate is lonely.

This is one of the basic truisms of advocacy in an educational setting that desires reform. Parents and students are afraid to speak out. Honestly, I understand. There are many reasons for this hesitancy.  However, some expect you to speak for them and reap the benefits from your outspokenness. Make sure you have support, in the form of someone to talk with, at the very least. No one wants to jump on a sinking ship that is full of finger pointers. Be the one who sticks your finger in the hole, but do not expect the survivors to thank you.

10. Advocates need to network. This is  something I initially learned when our school district formed a Talented and Gifted Advocacy Parent Group in 2010.

The more people you know and can gather to aid you in your quest for student advocacy, the better. There IS strength in numbers. Although there will be many opinions, if student needs are put first, outcomes will benefit more than just one.  You need to know support systems and your network will change as time moves forward. Some people will remain constant, some will find priorities or philosophies differ enough to allow them to fall away from the network. But, others will hear your message and join. Keep talking!

Just recently, a parent contacted me to let me know she had advocated for our entire student body at the high school with concerns regarding grading practices. She asked to meet with me to share her reception. She knew I had advocated for our student body in past, and now, she was doing the same! I was so proud of her efforts, the inclusiveness of her concerns, and her ability to let me know from where her inspiration had come!

Slice of Life: Anxiety vs. Relaxation

Slice of Life: Anxiety vs. Relaxation

Today’s post is truly a slice of my life. I am buried in work for my grad class on Advanced Interpretive Media Design. This will probably be the most busy week of the summer for me. My final project is due, along with the regular week’s worth of assignments. So far I am not all that optimistic that time will be on my side. There is a lot to do and seemingly not enough time to do it. This is the problem with a perfectionist personality! This is time to do it adequately but not time to do it in an excellent fashion. Why this continues to bother me when I am this old is beyond me!  It is ingrained in me to strive for excellence.

Life tends to move on when one is preoccupied with a task. This is also what is happening to me now. Our cherries have ripened all at once. They need to be picked! I have carved out a limited amount of time to do that. But, once they are picked they need to be processed – that takes time, too.

firstharvestbackcherries2017

Our youngest son has two soccer games this week. My husband and I will probably split the duties on those, but since he works on the day of the second one and it is in the Twin Cities, that responsibility will fall to me.  I am trying to get as much done as possible to be able to go without undo anxiety that I should be working on my final course project, due July 2nd.DSC_0351

My sister, and her family, who I dearly love is coming in from out-of-state for a visit. We will be hosting them at our cabin in the Northwoods this coming weekend. Ideally, I should be making some meals, and planning activities. In reality, I have purchased non-perishables, including a lot of wine as well as white t-shirts and tie dye kits. I really would like to visit with out a lot of pressure to turn in my week’s work (all due, July 2nd).

The school district committment that I wrote about earlier this week, is Wednesday night, make that tomorrow night. I woke up today feeling like I should cancel attending due to the pressure and anxiety I am feeling about getting my coursework done. I will decide tomorrow morning whether I can keep that committment.

It is mid-summer, a time of year for reading good books, lazing around, campfires, and long walks. I cannot say I have done much of that yet.  I did only get 5 and a half hours of sleep last night and it was not because I was doing something fun. I am very familiar with anxiety and insomnia.  When I do not sleep well, I do not function well.   Earlier this morning, I was trying to move something with my mousepad on my computer and realized I was touching the table instead!  This is not good! It is uncharacteristic for me to say this but, I really think “I need a break”.  My course ends July 9th and I will be so glad it will be over.  This is a slice of my life right now.

 

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.