Poinsettias: An Enrichment Post

Poinsettias: An Enrichment Post

Between yesterday and today I taught five classrooms of students about poinsettias.  They ranged from second to fifth grade. What follows is some of what I shared with them.

The poinsettia is named after Dr. Joel Poinsett, the first American ambassador to Mexico. Dr. Poinsett, whose hobby was botany, saw the plant while on a trip to Mexico in the 1820’s.  It was probably growing alongside the road, as poinsettias do in tropical climates.  He was impressed with the flame red color of the plant and took some cuttings.  As I told the students, Dr. Poinsett must have been a man of some means, as he owned green houses! Upon return to his home in South Carolina, he rooted the cuttings of the poinsettia and produced more plants. Like anything beautiful, the poinsettia soon gained in popularity in the United States.

P02-24-15_13.04

Besides the brief history lesson, we talked about what it means when a plant is considered to be”tropical”. It is probably the last thing we are thinking about poinsettias when we see them in such prevalence at holiday time in the northern reaches of our country, such as Wisconsin. Truly, the poinsettia is ubiquitous from late October through December. It can be seen and bought almost anywhere. And, likewise is displayed similarly. Most of the students easily understood that a tropical plant would have needs other than what we have here in the mid-west in December. They knew tropical meant that the poinsettia would grow in areas of the world closer to the equator, with more warmth, bright sunshine, adequate rainfall, and humidity. As purchasers of these plants we need to imitate these conditions in our homes. We talked about how to do that as well.

The very basic part of our discussion centered around plant parts but with a poinsettia, determining the basic parts are trickier than you think.  And, I intended to trick the students!  We reviewed that most, if not all, plants have roots, stems, leaves, and flowers. In every single class, the flowers were the very last part to be mentioned! When we finally got around to establishing that flowers were indeed a very important part of a plant, I asked them where they thought the flowers were on the poinsettia plant.

poinsetta flower 17

Well, students in every single class responded, the flowers red leaves of course! This was the response I got and also the one I expected. Wait a minute, the red leaves are leaves….could they be the flowers, too? No. The red leaves on poinsettias are actually modified leaves called bracts. Bracts are leaves that cluster around flowers. Ahhhh, there is a clue! The flowers on a poinsettia are in the very center of each swirl of red leaves (bracts). They are small yellowish-green nubs, not remarkable at all.  And the purpose of the red leaves (bracts), to bring attention to the flower – where pollen is found, of course!

Plant names were also discussed with the poinsettia very obviously being named for Dr. Poinsett. But, plants have scientific names as well as their common or lay names. The scientific name for the Poinsettia is Euphorbia pulcherrima It means very beautiful flower. The Mexican name for the flower is The Flower of the Holy Night or Flores de Noche Buena. We talked about families and how just like they share characteristics with others in their family – plants also belong to families and all those that belong to the Euphorbias ooze a milky sap. The poinsettia’s sap can be irritating to the skin.

Irritating is not poisonous, however. Poinsettias are not poisonous to people! Many years ago, in the 1970’s, Ohio State University studied this very idea and found that a 50 pound child would have to eat 500-600 poinsettia bracts to just get an upset stomach! That’s a lot of leaves!  No, poinsettias are not poisonous. It is must a myth that continues to be told….and told….and told – that’s how myths get spread, right!  The students definitely understood.  Still, not poisonous is not synonymous with edible. I was sure to make that point. And, we talked about how pets are different than people and might get sick (or poisoned by much smaller amounts of poinsettia leaves). So, it is best to keep this plant away from pets.

poinsettia17

I love poinsettias. I am confident that came across in my presentations in the last two days. Twice in the last eight weeks since being at this new school the staff have verbally recognized my passion for these subjects. I am glad they can see it. The last thing I did before leaving each room was to contribute a book to their  class library –   Poinsettias : Myth and Legend – History and Botanical Fact by Christine Anderson  and to recommend The Legend of the Poinsettia book by Tomie de Paola. I recommend those to you as well.

Advertisements
Still Broken: Talented & Gifted Education

Still Broken: Talented & Gifted Education

A number of recent things have got me thinking about Talented and Gifted (TAG) Education services in our school district again.

These thoughts started when we learned at the recent senior meeting that one of the high school counselors was now being called a career counselor and would be the contact person for TAG students, Advanced Placement (AP) classes, Acceleration, Youth Options, and Course Options. Students can visit him to get help with registration for the above opportunities. It sounds like he is popular since his other counseling responsibilities were alleviated by the hiring of an additional student services school counselor. I came home excited for our talented and gifted student population, taking this as a “win” for the students a group of us had advocated for some years ago.

But, my excitement did not last too long, perhaps a few days to a week.  Within a very brief time, I found myself instead thinking about who was being serviced by this counselor and exactly what services were being offered.

A number of years ago, our high school (HS) went to a self-selection process for AP classes, instead of referral or need for registration approval by an assigned faculty member.  Our family found this former system faulty,  and within the leadership of the TAG Parent Group, a group I co-founded with other parents, we pushed for self-selection and deleting the need for the so-called “approval”.  This action was far removed from helping my oldest son, who ended up leaving our resident district shortly after being denied the ability to take three AP classes as a junior (he had taken AP Calculus as a freshman and AP US History as a sophomore). He was ranked number one at the time with a 4.33 G.P.A..  There was no need to deny him the opportunity of three AP classes except to weld administrative power over our student.  Subsequently, the district lost its claim to our National Merit Scholarship winner, who ended up being valedictorian at his adopted, virtual high school, as well as a Phi Beta Kappa inductee as a sophomore at his University, and a national Goldwater Scholarship Honorable Mention winner for student research who has already presented at an international level science conference and published a paper.  They were short-sighted, then. And, I am afraid that their sight has not improved.

I have had two more students qualify for TAG services at both the elementary and middle school levels as they progressed in school. Yet, neither have received anything in terms of service from our HS.  My second oldest son, now a senior, received a letter as a sophomore from the counselor at the HS who was going to service TAG students as part of a newly expanded position, two years ago.  This is the same counselor who was now  servicing only TAG students and enrichment opportunities. Unfortunately, it then happened that our student went on to have some difficulties caused in part by an overloaded schedule (which, admittedly, we allowed) and more so, because of insensitive teaching practices such as being called stupid in front of his peers.  Unfortunately, the TAG counselor did nothing to help rectify the insensitive and unhelpful instructional situation our son found himself in.  We learned, through self-examination and reflection, but with no help from the school’s administration or guidance office,  that our senior learns “differently” than most.  That, and only that, is what he is guilty of.  Stupidity does not come into play.  At all.

And then, there is my youngest boy, who is a sophomore at the HS this year.  He has consistently tested in the 97-99th percentile in mathematics on standardized tests since being a young elementary student. He accelerated in math to the extent that he is now taking AP Calculus as a sophomore. He used to be a gifted writer, having published several times, and in at least one adjudicated compilation.  In addition, his artful origami creations, a former passion, were included in a national travelling library exhibit several years ago through Origami USA.  Yet, he has never heard from the so-called TAG counselor at the HS.  He did not even get the “letter” than my second son received.  It makes me wonder if he was even referred by the middle school personell for continued TAG service – something he had benefited from since second grade, which in, and of itself, is another story. My experience has shown me that gifted education is embroiled in the politics of education, with support of the these students and their needs being highly questioned by many – but, sadly, mostly by educators, themselves.

In the spring of his eighth grade year, my current sophomore student was provided an opportunity to “double up on English” credits during ninth grade which was mis-labeled and mis-billed as acceleration but was not.  After some consideration, we refused this course of action which really attracted many by casting a wide net, and by reports was not well tolerated by some of the students.  One of the reasons for our refusal was that he was already accelerated in mathematics and was only one of five students who took pre-calculus as a freshman.  Enough was enough. However, it does seem that we should have at least heard from this counselor at some point last year. We did not. It has made me wonder if the refusal of the “accelerated” English took him off the TAG list that was sent to the high school prior to his entering last year.  It would account for the TAG counselor not knowing of him.

Middle school TAG services were not favored by my boys, with one of them even opting out of them during his 8th grade year.  Content did not focus on their high interest areas and both were self-directed enough in their learning to continue to explore new subjects or deepen areas of learning on their own.  We did not make a big deal about it and let them drop the time spent with the TAG teacher.  Unfortunately, she was a friend at the time and this made for an uncomfortable situation.  But, we allowed it.   And, to give some credence to her effort, they were not the most willing students, shunning attempts she made at engaging them in the topics of her choice, like the law and philosophy.  Still, dropping the TAG course content did not change what they are capable of achieving – only, it seems, who might possibly know of their specific, and perhaps, niche capabilities.

So, can you understand my wondering about who is being serviced by the TAG counselor at our HS?  Of course, I could name a few students. I have a long history of advocacy in this area with local students. I have probably helped other students more than my own and that is something I somewhat regret.  Unfortunately, in addition, I do not see much improvement to our system of providing TAG services (beyond self-selection for AP, and other advanced curricular offerings) than we experienced when our oldest son was still a student at our resident district high school – that was seven years ago.  The players have changed but the scenarios have pretty much remained the same.  It is too bad we have not come farther in helping our most academically talented students to succeed. I wonder if they still feel as alone as my oldest son felt at times.  I hope, at least that aspect has improved.

What I have come to realize is that despite whether this counselor knows of my youngest son or not, he will be challenged and he will succeed.  He took an online math class over the summer through a highly regarded national university that specializes in offerings for talented youth.  We registered him for the course and set up his study schedule.  He finished on time and did well.  He is a talented artist.  He took care of setting up his own independent study in art this fall.  I am sure the experience will be enjoyable for both him and his teacher.  We really do not need the TAG counselor.  But, I still wonder …… if my son is not on the counselor’s list – a student who qualifies for service, without a doubt, by many definitions – who is on the list?  Or are they just not reaching out to students at all now?  I am not sure I want to know.  And, if he is not on the list – why not?  It is frustrating to realize that a system I knew was broken seven years ago, remains so.  It is also liberating to realize that I do not have choose to try to fix it again.

 

Tending My Own Garden

Tending My Own Garden

By 6:50 a.m. this morning, they were gone. My two students were off to the high school for another year. One was excited, and one was reluctant but glad it was the beginning of the end of high school for him.  He is ready for something more.

On the first of this month, I wrote about my wishes for this school year.  The post is filled with reflections, observations, hopes, and desires for the year that starts today.  The first week of September is always jam-packed for my family. Not only is school always scheduled to begin, we also have two birthdays to celebrate, back to back. One today and one tomorrow.  Luckily, we were able to do some celebrating over the weekend, so I feel good about taking care of that.

Now, it is my turn. I need to tend my own garden. I mean this metaphorically as well as literally. Over the last few weeks, I realized that I did not have to run over to school to weed the butterfly garden in an attempt to have it presentable for our students and their families on the first day of school.  I have not missed going, however much I will miss the students. It was a task that always made me resentful, for many reasons. This summer I relieved myself of this self-imposed duty for the first time in 13 years. It actually feels good!

Today, I can tend my own flower garden, not because I have to, but because I want to. Over the weekend I planted mums. Today, I will weed the front perennial bed. Later this week, I will have monarchs to release. And soon, there will be milkweed pods to collect.

Today, I will tend my mental garden. A new round of graduate classes start for me, one of which includes a research study which I am designing and need to prepare to implement by the holidays.  My time is freed up to attend to my own needs as a student, life-long learner, and community educator.

Today, there is much to be done. I have given myself time to do it. Today, while the house is quiet and my students are starting their own year, full of new classes, friends, and activities, I have time to tend my own garden. I am grateful for that.

Via TwoWritingTeachers Blog and Slice of Life Tuesdays

What I Wish for This School Year

What I Wish for This School Year

September is here. It is a time of transition, once again.  Already, some schools are back in session, or soon will be after the Labor Day holiday. With two sons still in high school, I have wishes for both of them, as well as for myself, for this upcoming year.

What I wish for my high school students, a senior and a sophomore:

1. I hope that you have a year filled with learning that is satisfying. You both are self-directed in your learning already, so I hope for that to continue. But, I hope you find some joy, satisfaction, and challenge in your school work.

2.  I hope that you have teachers who really love to teach and do their job well.  I believe most people in academics want this for themselves. However, in today’s educational climate whether love for teaching stays or morphs into frustration is up to the individual and the circumstances in which they find themselves. You never can tell how it is going to be.

3. Be a squeaky enough wheel that you get some grease, but not so squeaky that you become labelled, are repelled, or left “flat”. We all know squeaky wheels get the grease. Sometimes, I become concerned that the “average” or even “gifted” student’s needs are overlooked because “they are doing okay” or do not make enough noise to be heard.

4. Continue to be involved. Enjoy your sports: tennis, track, and soccer. You are both loyal and committed athletes that are assets to your team and teammates.  I hope that is recognized. Appreciate other forms of involvement and creative expression.

5. I hope your organizational skills continue to grow. I hope you have teachers that will continue to model how to organize, study, and ready yourself for performance. We need more of this.

6. I want you both to continue to manage your time well. Please, continue to adhere to our family belief that academics comes first.

7.  Appreciate and widen your support system. You never know when you will need a friend, mentor, advocate, recommendation, or advice. Know that your supports can be people from all walks of life.  Continue to be a support to others, as well. Both of you are apt at lending a hand, and not for any reason (credit, recognition, etc,) other than because you can and want to help.  This makes me especially proud.

8. Be a good friend, as well as a good student. Try hard, do your best, and good things will come to you (hopefully)!

9. Continue to make good and safe decisions. Thank you.

10. Finish as strong as you start, meet the goals you set, and get ready to fly!

What I wish for myself for this school year

  1. I wish that parents voices are heard, contemplated, and included in district decision-making.
  2.  I hope that no educator calls my student or any other student “stupid”. This is somewhat of an old wound but one that is ripped open at the outset of each new semester. Therefore, it needs mentioning.
  3. I hope that I can verbalize concerns rationally, without too much intensity.
  4. I believe that while we are good, we can always be better at what and HOW we educate our students. Strive for excellence, not meritocracy. Do not give in to “good enough” mentality. There is always room for improvement.
  5. I hope there is a lessening need for character education. This starts and grows at home, not just within the school walls for only 8 hours a day.
  6. I hope for more transparency in grading. The students deserve “a bird’s eye view” of their semester at the outset. This means having a comprehensive syllabus that includes ALL points and percentages for the entire course, from start to finish, delineating where (what assessments) those points are derived from.  This means not changing points, percentages, or multipliers, without first informing the students.  This means the teacher assigning the work is the one to grade it, unless the students are aware, in advance, that a “co-teacher” will grade their work.  This means, having your act together before you start assessing.  This means grading in a timely fashion, and not withholding a grade to see how they do on other assessments first. The students deserve all of this and more. You are affecting their learning outcomes in both good and bad ways. I hope for more good than bad, this year.
  7. I hope that I use restraint in paying attention to the digital grade book (which I hate).  For me, this means looking at it only twice a week or less.  It means my students (and yours) need to keep abreast of it themselves.
  8. I hope that no summative assessments are lost by any teacher! Again, somewhat of an old wound, but one that was not resolved satisfactorily.  If a test is lost, the party responsible needs to make amends, not the student.
  9. I hope that hard work is recognized and rewarded.
  10. I hope our educators are filled with passion for their subject area as well as a caring attitude toward their students.
  11. I hope that teachers invest in all students. This means getting to know them all, not just those you think you connect with.
  12. I hope that I transition to not volunteering this fall. I know I can find other ways to contribute and I will.
  13. I hope that all volunteers are recognized and appreciated for their contributions.
  14. I hope that our educators, students, and administrators stay safe.
  15. I hope that our buildings are warm, friendly, approachable places for both students, parents, and community members.  Smile, and say, hello!

I hope for a great year! Let us all make it so! It does take a village!

 

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!

 

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!