Videotaped! A Garden Club Lesson

Videotaped! A Garden Club Lesson

Yesterday, I led my new group of garden club students through a lesson in which they had to videotape me. One of my graduate courses is requiring that I be recorded while conducting a micro lesson on place as part of an assignment. The course is Place Based Education – Strategies for Teaching. For the last 14 years, I have conducted my lessons using Place Based Education. I was so looking forward to actually having a course on something I felt I knew and was already doing. Unfortunately, the course has been more of a chore than a source of enlightenment. One credit packed into four weeks. I considered dropping it more than once. But, now we are in week three and last week, as I struggled to complete another assignment, I decided I just should finish the course and be done with it.

The final assignment is to create a micro lesson using place based education, implement the lesson, and be taped doing so. Many ideas for my lesson have come and gone. I even reserved a room at our public library thinking I could conduct a session on one of our local natural treasures like the sand prairie, our grasslands, the Mississippi Valley Conservancy, or even the buildings in our rapidly growing town. But, I realized I was blowing the assignment up to be much larger than it had to be. I needed to scale down.

When I considered all things, I settled on our own garden beds at the internationally themed elementary school where I am the garden club advisor. Along with plants representing France, Germany, Russia, China, Norway, and others, we have a certified Monarch Way Station. We have common milkweed. This is a plant native to our area of the country and one about which I am very knowledgable. Since I was new to this school in October, I was unsure as to how much knowledge the students at this school have about the large gardens that grace over 200 feet along one side of the building. I knew that I was unsure about what plants were in the gardens and why they were there. I was given a folder of “garden information” when I was hired. There were maps of the garden beds but they are 10 years old – the original renderings.  I thought that having the children measure and map the beds with me would be a good activity to start our place based lesson.  I could have one of the students record me. I sought permission from all the students’ parents for the taping.  And then,  it snowed. I mean, really snowed! We got at least six inches over night – more snowfall from one storm than we’ve had in a while!

My lesson changed. As I made adjustments to it yesterday, I decided to focus on the milkweed as a native prairie plant.  I had milkweed seeds. We planted them. We talked about the gardens at our school. As I thought, the students did not know much about them, nor had they spent a great deal of time in the garden. Still, they acknowledged its importance. At the end, I gave an assignment for them each to research one plant I know to be in the gardens at this school. I saw the plants I assigned growing in the gardens this fall. The major piece of information to be gleaned, was not growing requirements, but nativity. I have two third graders, a second grader, and two fifth graders in the group this year. It will be interesting to see how they do with the assignment.

As far as my place based lesson, it went fine. It was not ideal, and nowhere near my best.  I will be able to reflect on that as part of my assignment. But, today I am looking forward to checking out how they did as videographers.  They all enjoyed it and demanded to have a turn.  I am sure I will laugh as I look at myself through a rare lens – that of the camera.

One thing is certain and it is that we need to utilize the gardens at this internationally themed elementary school more than they are now. Yes, they are very pretty. But, they need to be useful too. The students need to know more about the plants, the themes, and how to care for the space. One of my goals is to make that happen.



Inefficiency in High School Scheduling

Inefficiency in High School Scheduling

The high school schedule during the last two weeks has been extremely frustrating. While the cancellation and rescheduling of things like our Spring athletic code meeting, an early release and a late start all due to weather are understandable, the seemingly continual changes made to class schedules are not.

A state bound wrestling team, term two recognition ceremony, winter sports recognition, guest speakers on school culture, character development, the monthly early release day for staff development, and more all contribute to schedule changes that mean shortened classes for students and less time for instruction.

Last year, a daily advisory period  was instituted. Although I might get some argument, I liken this to a homeroom period (which we do not have now). Previously, homeroom was held about once a month or whenever there was a need to conduct something with the masses. As I understand it, due to the increased need for students to have a period in the day when visits to teachers for extra help or to retake a test could be scheduled, as well as any “mass” filling out of forms, character instruction, or entire study body assembly attendance, the daily advisory period was born. Let me be clear, I think it is good to have this period. However, I do not think it is being used as intended. It has become a catch-all for whatever non-academic student event is dreamed of. There have been so many such events in the last two weeks, that my sophomore, who needs to retake a AP Calculus AB chapter exam has yet to be able to schedule it. He and the teacher have agreed a number of times on a day, using the advisory period, only to have it be impossible for him to attend due to some required time in advisory – for a non-academic reason.

If the advisory period is to help students get extra help, see a teacher for clarification, run to the library for a book, extra reference, or to print an assignment, or meet with other students to work on projects, it is failing miserably. The only thing it is succeeding at is interrupting the school day with non-essential assemblies, and form completion. I do not even think it is succeeding at the character development because the students (my students) are so resentful of the time they need to give up, many of the well-intended messages do not get through.

I find my students studying for tests thinking they will take them in advisory, only to find out their efforts to go over previous work, learn it better or more thoroughly and schedule the time with the teacher doesn’t pay off because they are told they “need” to stay in advisory. This was the case yesterday for my sophomore.  He was not released by his advisory teacher to go and re-take the calculus exam because he had to stay for some forum. I do not even know what it was about, it just angered me.  We are sending the wrong message to our students and it is this: academics come last. Every speaker, every assembly, every form, every sports team recognition, and every character building activity comes before academics. It is wrong!

Last week, our juniors all took the ACT test. The state of Wisconsin now pays for that test for all juniors. It is given during the school day.  No longer do students follow a prescribed freshman, sophomore, junior, senior course load. Students of all grades are in all classes from AP all the way through the tech labs like CAD.  The classes are mixed, as students choose what they take to fill their schedule. This creates a problem when the junior class is “out of commission” for a day or two to take a mass administered exam.

The same day the sophomores had field trips scheduled to visit various area college campuses. And, from what I heard, the freshmen had a different field trip that day. That left our senior class with an altered schedule that turned out to be worthless. Lessons on mindfulness, college prep, and movie watching is what was offered. It was really a waste for those students (of which I had one) and poorly orchestrated.  So much more could have been done with that time. It seems to me that the senior class got overlooked. Teaching could not take place because many of the classes were missing so many students due to testing and field trips that covering any new curriculum was a complete impossibility.  What really bothered me was that the night before this happened, we attended parent-teacher conferences, and no one mentioned this at all! It took our senior telling us about the crazily altered schedule later that night.

I think our administration feels it is doing a good job. But, it is all these little things – and the ever-increasing altered schedules, loss of instructional time, and building resentment among students and parents that proves otherwise. School is a lot of things, and rapidly becoming a place to try to instill too many things, but formal schooling is for learning. Currently, there are many missed opportunities to allow our students to be successful at the one thing they supposed to attend school to attain: an education.

The last time I wrote a post expressing my opinion about my own experience, it landed me in trouble with some district staff. I realize it could happen again. But, you know, I stand for the students and what is going on is not of benefit to them.

I am participating in the Slice of Life Story Challenge sponsored by TwoWritingTeachers. For 31 days in March, participants blog a “slice” from their life and share it. It is my second year of participation in this challenge that includes a wonderfully supportive community of writers. Thank you for the opportunity, TwoWritingTeachers

An Enrichment Post: Those Amazingly Awe- Inspiring Carnivorous Plants!

An Enrichment Post: Those Amazingly Awe- Inspiring Carnivorous Plants!

One of the best gifts I received this holiday season was a PBS documentary video called, “Plants Behaving Badly”, in which two types of amazing plants – orchids and carnivorous plants –  are described in detail. I am lucky that my husband indulged me with this item on my wish list.

Plants Behaving Badly

Home alone on Saturday afternoon, I sat mesmerized by this DVD. Well, I did not really sit; I was working on making some jewelry. But, the video kept pulling my attention to it!  Wow! I was thrilled with this gift!  The first part, carnivorous plants, offered a lot of material on this group of diverse plants that share the process of evolving in different ways in order to survive in poor, nutrient – lacking soil.  For the last 10 years, I have taught a carnivorous plant unit to my garden club students at the school my boys all attended as elementary students. This year, I am leading a new group of students in a new, larger school district, about 20 minutes from my home. This week, I will introduce them to the amazingly awesome world of carnivorous plants!  Although I knew much of the content in the video from my own research and reading over the years, it was still very informative, entertaining, and awe-inspiring! Although the school district is larger, my group is much smaller. So I have spend some time this week re-vamping my unit. I was pleased to find that the video offers a few clips via You Tube that I will share with the students later today.


A Summary of Carnivorous Plant Types

There are four main types of carnivorous plants.  Snap traps like the Venus Fly Trap are active plants that actually have developed the ability to move to catch their prey.  Another group, Pitcher Plants, are passive traps. This means they do not move, but their prey is attracted by the scent of sweet nectar and gorgeous colors to come closer and closer to the rim of the “vessel” or pitcher part of the plant. There, the unsuspecting ant, fly, or even occasional frog or mouse, slips and falls into the bottom part of the pitcher. Big deal, you say, they could just climb out!  But, no!  Nature has designed this plant to have slippery insides, many with a fatal reservoir of acidic, digestive enzymes, and downward pointing hairs to prevent the insect’s crawl up to the opening where they fell from and into the plant, in the first place! They are trapped, drown, and are digested by the fluid in the plant’s vessel. The third type of carnivorous plant is the sundew. Sundews are also tricky, luring their prey in with  “beads” of fluid that appear AND smell like nectar globules glistening in the sun, inviting a hungry insect with the false promise of a tasty meal. Once the insect steps onto the globules, he is stuck! It is not nectar at all, but a sticky glue type substance! What is even more fascinating is that some of the sundew plants are active traps and move their tentacle-type structures to encircle the prey once it is stuck. From there forward – well, you know what happens! The insect dies and the nutrients are absorbed into the plant to sustain it. Respectively, the pitcher plant is a pit fall trap and sundew plants are sticky traps. The video did not really cover Bladderworts, which are an example of a fourth type of carnivorous plant that lives underwater, sucking into it like a vacuum any tiny, unsuspecting aquatic organism that happens by.  Most likely, footage of the gorgeous Nepenthes pitcher plants in Borneo, a variety of which is known to be the largest pitcher plant in the world, displaced coverage of the small, underwater carnivorous plant that literally sucks!

Using Awe as a Teacher

I am, and have been, awed by these plants for many years. And, my experience is that students are awed by them as well.   The sense of awe is a great teacher! I try to use it as often as possible when I am teaching students about our natural world.  Many students have heard of the Venus Fly Trap, but might not have seen one.  I always try to bring an actual plant to share during our lesson. Luckily, I found a local store on Saturday with some in stock. Unfortunately, the two plants I have currently do not have traps. I think they are in their period of dormancy induced by cooler weather and shorter days. Venus Fly Traps are indigenous to only one place in the world, and that is the sandy forests of North Carolina, near the coast.  It is here that I introduce students to an uglier side of human nature – the activity of poaching and those who poach. Unfortunately, since carnivorous plants are so cool, people do strange things, like steal and sell the stolen plants.  In the U.S., the Venus Fly Trap is protected, so I let my students know that if they ever visit North Carolina, they cannot just pick up a plant and bring it home to Wisconsin! There are more protected varieties of carnivorous plants in other parts of the world, too.


Plants are amazing living entities! I know my former group of students could see how passionate I was about plants and our earth during my lessons, I hope the same for this new group! Only, time will tell! But, a large slice of my life is spent on lessons like today  – those Amazingly Awe-Inspiring Carnivorous Plants!

Post written for Slice of Life Tuesday sponsored by blog.

Thank you!

One Blogger’s Dilemma of Picking that One Little Word (OLW)

One Blogger’s Dilemma of Picking that One Little Word (OLW)

So, there is this thing going around called your One Little Word. I do not know much about it, having heard of it just recently. Last year, in March I signed on to daily blogging challenge. Occasionally, I would see a post about what one little word someone had chosen for 2017.  Last week, I learned that most people choose their One Little Word for the new year.  The Slice of Life Tuesday forum for yesterday, 1/2/18, contained many posts about the One Little Word people had chosen for this year. All this got me thinking. I love words. I am, what I consider myself to be, a “word person”. I have even told people I am a word person!  Constantly, I am encouraging my students (when I have a group of them) to learn new words, word roots, and various word meanings.  You would think I would love this One Little Word thing that is going around.

In all honesty, I am not sure I do. It has me intrigued for sure. I enjoyed reading the posts yesterday with other blogger’s words and why they had chosen a particular one. But, there are a couple of things that are bothering me in particular.  It seems one more thing to do in an ever increasingly busy life. I actually made a New Year’s resolution this year, for the first time in a long time and that is to exercise more regularly – at least three times a week – at our YMCA.  I am a grad student, nearing the end of my degree program, conducting a research study, and it keeps me busy. It is my second graduate degree, but in an entirely different field than my first.  My other roles of wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, teacher, blogger, and jewelry artist also keep me humming along. I am a very goal directed person (You can tell this already, right?). So, why do I need to choose a “word”? One Little Word?

Another thing I think about the One Little Word bug is that choosing only one word is daunting! There are so many words out there one could choose.  How on earth do you make a decision?  Obviously, it is a process. The blogs I read yesterday recounted the author’s process and progress in choosing their One Little Word. Believe me, a lot of thought goes into this! I am not sure I want to give one little word that much thought!

And yet, this morning I found myself mulling over words that I could choose.  Some that rose to the surface were:

Kindness – This year I had the experience of being treated very kindly by people. Some of the people I knew well, some I knew briefly, and some not at all.  I had a health problem and the outpouring of support was an overwhelming blessing.  Food arrived at our house, messages of concern were sent, and new friendships were forged.  You get the idea. I certainly want to be a kinder person in this coming year. Kindness is important. I do believe we need to be kinder to each other, both those we know and those we don’t.

Hope –  During my health crisis, no one could take away my hope that I would be okay. I needed to hold on to this hope. Others need hope, as well. Yes, I think hope is a great word.

Perseverance – Also, a great word. Some people really need to work at this. I am not bragging here, but I don’t. That said, I need to persevere to finish my study (in progress) and my advanced degree. I need to persevere to continue to write on a daily basis. I need to persevere to publish some curriculum I wrote. But, I feel like I will do this with or without this one little word to guide me.

Improvement  –  Who doesn’t want to improve? Most of of want to improve on something we are doing in our lives! And, there in lies the problem! “Improvement” is too generic a word for me to be useful. In addition, I already made a New Year’s resolution to improve my exercise regime by making it more frequent.  I think I can take “improvement” out of the running for my One Little Word. (Am I choosing one now?)

And finally, the last word that came to mind this morning was serenity.

Serenity –  I relied upon this word a lot this fall while I had a one month period during which I did not know if my health crisis would be over with surgery or not.  I have continued to rely upon it to accept certain things in my life.  Typically, I am an anxious person. I am trying to realize and acknowledge what I can and cannot control. Worrying does not fix things, and in reality, sometimes can make things worse.  However, I almost feel like this word, whether I knew it or not, was my word for 2017.

ONE Little Word? It is so hard to decide. It has been a good exercise to think about. However, I am not sure I will put all my aspirations on picking One Little Word.

Writing Haiku

Writing Haiku

Working together on our haiku unit in the spring is one of my favorite writer’s circle activities.  By the time students are in third grade, they are at least familiar with, if not adept, at counting the number of syllables present in words. Accuracy in counting syllabic parts of words is an essential part of writing a traditional Japanese Haiku Poem. The pattern of syllables that should be represented by the words in a haiku is five-seven-five. This means, five syllables on the first line, seven syllables on the second line, and five syllables on the last line.  Most students can write using this pattern without difficulty.

However, problems arise when every word needs to count, as in the case with haiku.  Connecting words like a, the, that, and the like, are not needed and really should not be used. It is difficult for some students to get rid of them. Likewise, some students have trouble letting go of the need for the syllabic lines in haiku to form complete sentences. To me this reluctance to write without conventions is understandable when we start insisting that everything needs to be a written using complete sentences as early as first grade. But, sentences have no place in haiku.

An issue compounding the ability to write haiku with the correct pattern is that we have become lazy in our speech. Many words are not correctly or clearly enunciated. This makes it extremely difficult to determine the number of syllables in a word and whether it fits the desired line placement in the haiku the student is writing. An example I use regularly is the word Niagara. I ask the students how many syllables they think this word has in it. Invariably, they say three. Actually, there are four. We work through this together, until we all can hear the four parts. I tell them what parts have been “slurred” together by our lazy speech patterns. I show them the dictionary phonetic break down for Niagara.  Four syllables. Sometimes, it is the first time students are shown how to use a dictionary for this purpose.

I do not do this to make the students miserable or to be a stickler about the number of syllables or to have a perfect 5-7-5 haiku. I do it to make several points in a mini lesson that fits perfectly in our brief thirty minute writer’s circle block.

  1. We all get sloppy. I thought Niagara had three syllables, too. It came from years of slurring the word while growing up in Western New York.  This was the case until I wanted to use it in a haiku I was writing for an example and looked it up. Four!
  2. You can always look up the syllable count of a word in the dictionary. This mini-lesson on Niagara gives us a good chance to do that. This encourages the students to look up the words they cannot sound out or clap out to hear the number of syllables.  Knowing what reference to use, and when to use it, is a huge part of being a skilled writer.
  3. I think this activity helps the students pick strong adjectives and add to their vocabulary, as well as make a more descriptive haiku.
  4. The lesson shows that we all write from our own experience. Niagara Falls is a place I have been to many, many times in my life. It made for a good example of a haiku.

The third and last essential piece I ask of my writer’s when we work on haiku is to create a picture in the reader’s mind by carefully choosing each of the words in the haiku. Each word needs to be there for a reason, to contribute to the mental image for the reader. When the students imaginations are unleashed, and they are unencumbered by conventions or restrictive guidelines, I find they can come up with some wonderful haiku. More importantly, in this supportive but minimally restrictive writing group, the students can further their love of writing by experiencing both fun and joy while crafting their haiku.

I do not have a classroom but I did have 37 students write haiku with me last spring. Almost all of those haiku were published last month in a national poetry compilation. We wrote about bees, the seasons, and other amazing things found in our natural world.

What Joy!

Inspired by the book Joy Write by Ralph Fletcher, recommended to me by a fellow SOL Tuesday participant from the TwoWritingTeachers Blog.



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.

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!