Gearing Up for School as Summer Winds Down

Gearing Up for School as Summer Winds Down

Fall is in the air! Can you feel it? I can. The fall soccer season has started with two games this past week, one against a nearby rival last night, ending in a tie.  The afternoon was warm but by 7 p.m., when the varsity team started to play, it was rapidly getting cooler.

We have had a change in coaching staff this year and I could not be more hopeful about the team and my son’s experience. The two coaches, both local teachers, are instilling a great deal of character development in the experience. This includes the “one for all, all for one” type of thematic messages. The difference this year is that they are truly sincere in their belief in that phrase and the actions that accompany it. Talking with other parents last night, we believe it will be a fun and positive year for our sons, and one that will be much more gratifying to watch as they mature both on and off the field as people, not just teammates.  The absence of negativity will be a huge contributing factor.

I am trying to be positive about the academic year, as well. My senior has had two challenging years, and has exhibited growing traits of perseverance and tenacity in the face of some academic adversity in his courses.  As I have written before, he learns differently than most, but unfortunately there is still an overwhelming propensity to put our students in a box, rather than allow them to learn in a manner that works to their advantage.  I still do not see movement in the direction of maximizing the use of a variety of teaching styles to allow all students to learn and meet their highest potential.  We both are trying to be positive for the upcoming year and what it holds.  I expect that the excitement of senior year, college admissions, and planning for the future will overshadow all but the most troubling circumstances, which hopefully are all behind us.

My youngest will have his first advanced placement (AP) class experience. He will be taking AP Calculus as a sophomore.  All three of my boys have taken AP classes.  My oldest, took AP Calculus as a freshman, my senior took it just last year, as a junior. Fortunately, they all have been lucky enough to have the same teacher, who is adept at the art of mathematics and willing to assist students in any way that will benefit their learning. My sophomore is ready, as he took a math class online over the summer to fine tune his skills.  I doubt anyone else has spent two hours a day on advanced math this summer. Pride does not begin to describe my feelings about his work ethic.

AP classes are an interesting subject, one I will explore in a future post, soon. Over the years I have learned that different families have different reasons for having their child take one of these classes. Understanding what is involved for the student and why you or  your student want to take an AP class is key to a successful undertaking.

Yes, summer is winding down. School has started for some and will be starting soon for our students.  Whether your student is taking AP classes, has a full schedule, or plans to try a new activity this year, it is time to look forward with a positive outlook. Good Luck!


Tiny Charges

Tiny Charges

Earlier this week, toward the end of the vacation my husband and I took to the island country of Bermuda, I remembered to ask my sister-in-law who was staying with our boys how the monarch eggs that I charged with her care were doing.  I did not get a response.

Our cell phone service on Bermuda was nil, and I only used the “free” wi-fi at our resort, so the occasional text I sent might have been missed or not even received. I worried more about how my sister-in-law would feel about some of the eggs not hatching or the caterpillars not surviving than about whether there would still be ten tiny representatives of the monarch life cycle upon my return.

Monarch eggs, the first stage of the monarch life cycle, hatch in anywhere from 1-4 days after being laid by an adult female monarch on a milkweed leaf, depending on conditions. I had found the eggs approximately three days before we left on our trip. I laid out all the leaves and showed my inexperienced, yet willing, monarch conservation participant what they looked like. We discussed what they do when they hatch – eat their egg shells, and then start eating a lot of milkweed. I told her that the caterpillars will be so tiny they will look like a whitish string on the leaf, encouraging the important tool of daily observation when rearing monarchs. The string is a caterpillar, without stripes. The stripes appear in several days, as the caterpillar eats milkweed and starts to grow.

My boys have helped me to rear monarchs for the last thirteen summers. They could manage the monarch care, if my sister-in-law felt unsure or things started to go awry.  Yet, when my question went unanswered, I wondered if it was because I had bad news awaiting me upon our return from vacation.

I would find out soon enough, so I did not ask again. The day arrived yesterday. We arrived home and after initial hugs, updates, and animated conversations about all our international wait staff on the island, I asked again about the monarch eggs.

“Did any hatch? Do we have any caterpillars?” I asked.


My answer was a firm yes! We have nine caterpillars! Only one egg did not hatch. Wow! I was so impressed! Last year, I found most of the monarchs I raised in the caterpillar stage. Of the three eggs I found, only one did not hatch. So I was hoping to have a better percentage of success than 66%. Ninety percent was excellent! I was really pleased and thanked my sister-in-law and our boys for taking such good care of our tiny charges.

After dinner, I needed to refresh the milkweed the caterpillars were eating. When they are very small, I empty the entire contents of the netted growing container leaf by leaf on to the counter and make a count. Guess what?! We have TEN, not just nine, Monarch caterpillars. They all are striped now, making them somewhat easier to see, but still they like to hide in the curled edge of the drying leaves.  TEN! Ten means 100% of our eggs hatched! Wow! I am so thankful!

After counting and cleaning, which only entails getting rid of old, dried leaves, and dumping the frass (poop), new milkweed leaves were supplied, along with a slight misting of unsoftened water (something I used to do regularly, but found it is not absolutely necessary to do).

When arriving at my milkweed patch in my garden, I was greeted by a monarch flying from plant to plant! What a welcome sight! I picked some fresh leaves to place in the growing container and just happened to find three more eggs!


Today, I will order my tags from Monarch Watch, so that when I release these monarchs after they complete their life cycle, they can be tracked, if found.  This will be the third year I have participated in tagging the iconic butterfly. It will be a special year, as I will have raised more from eggs than ever before!

Thanks, Aunt Mary, for taking such good care of your tiniest charges! (And the big, human ones, too!)


My Days as Principal

My Days as Principal

Of course, this is facetious, for I am not a principal or even a teacher for that matter, but there have been times in recent years I have had to act as one. Recent duties have brought this forward in my mind once again.

Yesterday, I had to assist my youngest son on turning in his summer course mid-term. It is an online course and so far, the homework and unit tests have all been online with results being recorded as he checks an appropriate (or not appropriate, as the case might be) multiple choice answer box.  His midterm was different. He had ten multiple choice answers and then 10 short answer questions with multiple parts. All work was to be shown and then uploaded to the appropriate drop box on the course page. Since I have experience in online learning though my own graduate work and my oldest son completing high school through a virtual setting (no – this was not a move to charter school but to an online school from another public school district within our own state), I was more than able to assist him in the submission of his test.

But, platforms are different. Although there was nothing odd or difficult about this platform – working much like Blackboard, D2L, or Drop Box, we did have to scan his work (all fifteen pages of it) twice because we forgot to sign the code of conduct to show we had adhered to the exam policies, which added two additional pages to the pdf file that had already been uploaded to the computer, saved under a new file name, and ready to be uploaded to the site.  I could see that the extra few minutes to repeat these steps added to my fifteen year old’s stress. However, we were done with an hour to spare before the “clock” ran out of time given to complete the mid-term (48 hours). It was a closed book exam, and yes, we adhered to that and all the other course/exam policies.

So, in this situation, I was test proctor. I also was a course guide in that I was showing him how to perform the tasks that are part of online education (scanning, uploading, and  organizing files all with maintaining integrity). Is that not part of what principals do? They might show a fellow educator the “way” of doing, be it content or behavior management, all while maintaining and expecting integrity of themselves and their staff.   In essence, setting the tone and showing the way for their staff and students. Principals should be knowledgable, have vast experience both inside and outside of the classroom, be able to trouble-shoot, and be approachable. They should garner the respect of their staff and students not only because of their title but also because of their actions. They should possess and encourage integrity. I have been lucky to witness some fine examples of leadership from which I can draw from when I need to “act as principal” for a day or even for a couple of years!


When it comes time to submit his final exam, at the end of summer,  I will ask my son if he remembers how to scan, upload, and attach the files to the proper place in the course. This is part of an evaluative process. Principals do this all the time, do they not? Unbeknownst to him, he is gaining skills that will be useful in the future, not only as a result of learning the content in the course, but also in knowing how an online course works. What will he remember about what he was shown? Only time will tell.

Did you know that more and more colleges are offering supplemental education through online courses? And, some offer the courses for free? It is true.  Many institutions are now are offering open courseware opportunities. My 17-year-old who is adept at computer assisted design, 3-D printing, and using a CNC machine (all self-taught) is looking to learn a new computer coding language. I suggested he look at open courseware. There is plenty from which to choose. I am sure he will find something that will meet his needs.

I have realized that my posts have gotten away from my tag-line of student enrichment but truly part of my own students’ enrichment has been from what I have encouraged them to do as their mom. Learning no longer takes place only in a brick and mortar building. Those days are gone. If we truly want to encourage and inspire life long learners, we must encourage our students to stretch themselves. And sometimes, that means stretching ourselves, as well. I do not think I would be a great principal on a daily basis but to act as one for a day – to make sure my own student has integrity, knows how to submit his exam, and is back at the desk learning a new unit today – I know I can do it once in a while. So can you.

Look for new learning experiences and/or platforms for your students. Help them to learn outside of school. They do not even have to know you are their principal! We will keep that part just between us!

Enriching Travel

Enriching Travel

Where have you travelled this summer? Have you taken your kids? Have you enriched them by exposing them to a landscape, culture, music, or food other than your own? Let me know in your comments.

Travel has always been an important of exposing our boys to the diversity of our country and world. I know budgets are tight and it is tough to travel with kids, but really you should try go at least one place in the summer and take in something that is not “the norm” for your family. It can be free. It doesn’t have to cost money to experience a different place or culture.

We have always travelled with our boys. They have been able to see some great sights. Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) was a favorite. This was their first exposure to “real” mountains. Our love for hiking might have started there. Hiking is free, you can do it anywhere. What a great take away from a vacation experience!

Gettysburg National Battleground was another favorite, as was our trip to Philadelphia the same year. What a contrast between history and modernization! Philly is a great city. I worked there for a short time, near Fairmount Park, and have fond memories of it. The history is rich and exciting when children are able to see things they learned about in school, such as Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. The Battlefield can be unnerving when you take the time to read the signage and understand how many lives were lost on our own country’s soil because of its philosophical divisions.  It’s best we expose our children to this history in an effort not to have it repeat in some awful fashion.

Culturally, we stayed in downtown Philadelphia, amidst the great sky scrapers with all the noise, smells, and activity a city has to offer. For three days, we walked – everywhere. We did not touch the car once in was parked in the hotel’s underground garage.  We ate at the Reading Terminal Market, walked to the Franklin Institute, strolled to the Independence Mall area and exposed our boys to life in a city. One of the things we saw was a man on a street corner, across from our hotel with a huge albino snake wrapped around his neck, charging five dollars for a photo.  It was an experience that is memorable. And, no, we did not even get a photo.

We have been able to take wonderful beach vacations, too, in the U.S. and abroad. Carlsbad California has a wonderful, wide beach that is empty in December, as were the beaches in La Jolla and Coronado.  The beaches on Sanibel and Amelia Islands have been long remembered for shelling. The beaches on Maui and Kauai are loved for the awesome views and power of their waters that instill respect and cautiousness, while still being able to be enjoyed.

Sometimes, a skill learned on one vacation gives way to being able to enjoy it on another. This was the case with hiking. Since we learned to enjoy hiking at RMNP, when we went to Kauai five years later, hiking through the rainforest to reach a beach (the only known way in and out – other than by boat), was something we just had to do!

Hike in only beach on Kauai, 2013. © Carol Labuzzetta

By now you are thinking, that is great but it did cost money to get to those places. True. But, you can scope out local historical places where you live and learn from just taking a day trip with a picnic lunch. We live close to the Mighty Mississippi, history surrounds us, as it does almost anywhere you live in the United States. Take a trip down the Great River Road and visit the Effigy Mounds National Monument in Iowa. Go to some lookouts up river near, Pepin, Minnesota and look for Bald Eagles. Speaking of Pepin, take a ride to visit Laura Ingalls Wilder’s childhood cabin. Imagine your family living in that tiny cabin and surviving the long, cold Minnesota winters. Incredible!

There are many enriching and exciting travel experiences you can provide your family that do not cost a lot, or even anything at all.  Take a drive off the beaten path, you will be glad you did!


Enrichment Post: Summer is the time to learn Origami!

Enrichment Post: Summer is the time to learn Origami!

I cannot exactly remember when Ben’s obsession with Origami began. It was sometime in fourth grade, or possibly the summer before. Origami is a great craft to learn. Summer is the perfect time to learn it.

It is a craft that can be as simple as a crane or as complicated as a dodecahedron or moveable pieces.  If you have a self- directed child, origami offers a great deal for those who can independently learn.  There are books and websites, videos, and tutorials all for those who are interested in becoming good at this ancient craft.

Origami is the Japanese art of paper-folding. The simplicity of making a beautiful object with just knowing how to fold and crease paper is inspiring.  Origami also offers a chance to build mathematical vocabulary and understanding of geometry. It can be done just for the challenge of making the desired shape. Or, it can be delved into for understanding how art, science, and math all blend together to make something work. The math and art are easy applications to understand. Where does the science come in?

Origami is now used for many advanced structures. It can be used for solar panels, heart stents, telescopes, robotics, air bags, and more. The possibilities are endless. Origami is the not only the art, but also the science of paper-folding! If ever there was a great example of STEAM education, Origami is it.

During his approximately three years of creating more and more complex origami structures, Ben also collected many books on the subject, created a travelling exhibit for our school,  belonged to a group called Origami Salami founded by, and consisting of,  young leaders who started their own regional chapters, had a piece chosen to be included in a national traveling exhibit, wrote a guest blog piece, and decided Robert J. Lang was a pretty cool guy!


You can search on Amazon for books on Origami, or there are kits available there as well. The kits usually come with paper to get you started. Barnes and Noble also offers kits, as does other craft stores. It can be an affordable or an expensive hobby. I know Ben spent a lot of his own money on books written by the experts in the field, as well as some of the more fun, tutorial type books like Modular Origami Polyhedra (2008) by Rona Gurkewitz and Bennett Arnstein.

We also ended up buying a great deal of paper from which the structures were made. You can imagine this torus ring took a great deal of paper (as well as, time!)


Summer is the perfect time to explore something new like the ancient art of paper-folding, Origami! Have fun with it! You will never know where it can lead!

Summer Learning: Ramp Up your Vocabulary!

Summer Learning: Ramp Up your Vocabulary!

An earlier post of mine regarding ideas for summer learning drew some attention from online readers. It is still receiving regular views, despite not being published recently. This tells me that people, most likely parents, are looking for ways to enrich their children over the summer. Over the next few months, I will try to offer a more specific, weekly ideas on things you can do over the summer to enrich your child.

One area that can always use opportunity for enrichment is language arts. When my boys were younger, let’s say between kindergarten and 6th grade, I encouraged them to learn new words over the summer by making a “word wall” on their closet door.  The words I chose to post, usually on Sundays, came from words encountered in a book they were reading or from a resource book of lists containing common vocabulary based on grade level.  Since it was an activity for enrichment, the words chosen were high interest and slightly above grade level.

One way to do this is to use an online word generator for word walls. Scholastic has one  here: I just found this and it is user-friendly. You can made lists of words based on subjects, alphabetical order, or even the Dolce Sight Word list! You can generate your own word list too. Just now, I made a list of words for a presentation I did for elementary children on forests. These words were what I thought would be challenging for most students. This list might be somewhat generic, depending on the student with whom you will use it.  But, the nice part of being a parent and generating a word wall list is that  you know your child better than any teacher. You are reading books together, or still helping them choose books from the library for the summer. You know their interests, you know their skill level. You can hand-pick the words that will benefit their vocabulary and their interest areas.

Another resource for finding age appropriate word lists based on topic is at This site offers several different avenues to learn words. You can play a word definition game and earn points. The game adjusts to your knowledge of words and will eventually challenge your vocabulary. There are also word lists that are generated per topic or even event (like taking the SAT). I’ll have to share this with my high school junior who will take that college entrance exam next month. This is a fun, easy, and transportable way to learn new words if you access to a computer and the internet.  You can also put in a topic to search and the site will let you know if they already have a word list generated. In the search bar I typed in The Great Gatsby and Forests (as separate searches) and both queries returned extensive word lists.

The Lexile PowerV website generates lists of vocabulary words for over 125,00 books. It can be found here: Lexile PowerV Vocabulary Tool.  The lists are ten words long that are challenging and important for the students to know while reading the story.  If you know your child’s lexile reading level, this site would be an excellent resource to match books they are interested in with increasing vocabulary.

There are other sites, too. Keep in mind that I did not use any of these internet sites when I made my word wall lists for my boys. I just tried to challenge them with words I thought they should know, like “photosynthesis” for example. Or, I paged through one of the novels they chose for summer reading and extracted words I thought would be a challenge, but again, important to the story they are reading. It doesn’t have to be fancy. You can always just search in the dictionary, as well. You, or your student,  can write words on a sheet of paper and post it where they spend a lot of time. Talk about the words on their list throughout the week. By the end of the week, if they have spent some time talking to you about the words, or even using one or two to include in a letter to grandma, your children will increase their vocabulary!  It should be painless.

And, who knows? It might also be fun!