Saturday, December 31, 2011

Ten More Strokes

My father died five years ago after a six year fight with cancer. I know -  a real conversation starter, right?

As with most of the world tonight, I am feeling reflective, and I have been thinking a lot about a piece of advice my dad gave me once. I can't remember what the problem was; I just remember the advice. It began with a story, as usual, and I am sure I rolled my eyes when he started.

He told me about an older man who had just finished swimming the English Channel. The interviewer asked him if it was difficult (silly question) and how the man made it across. The man replied thusly:

"Whenever I wanted to quit, I told myself to swim just ten more strokes. Anyone can swim ten strokes, right? So I'd swim the ten strokes, and then after I was done I could stop if I still wanted to. I'd say to just swim ten more, and that's how I made it."

The moral of the story (my dad always had a moral) is that anything can be broken down and completed if you just have the courage to swim ten strokes at a time.

So that's what I am attempting to do: just swim ten more strokes at a time, and not think about the vast spread of water in front of me.

Happy New Year to all!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Links to Keep You Up at Night

Get it? 'Cuz New Year's Eve is coming? Funny, funny...

Today's resources focus on information and perspective on a number of topics. Enjoy, and have a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!

Rebel Tomato

The name alone is reason enough to click this link, but the site is a wealth of information on starting a garden. HoneyFern School, in partnership with the Hollydale Methodist Church in Marietta, is bouncing around the idea of starting a community garden (to extend our bimonthly efforts with the food pantry and in the same vein as "Give a man a fish, he eats for a day; teach him how to garden and he doesn't need your stinking fish anymore because he has eleventy million quart jars of canned tomatoes, beans and pickles."), and this is the site that is helping us formulate our plan.

100 Cool Classroom Blogs

You could start reading this RIGHT NOW and not finish until well into the next year. These cover all grades, all subjects and range from totally teacher-driven to 100% kid-written. An excellent sample of what a classroom blog can be.

Lucky Foods for the New Year

What are you having on New Year's Day? This site offers a plethora of traditions from around the world, food that promises good luck and prosperity in the new year. Here at HoneyFern, we are having Hoppin' John from Hugh Acheson's new cookbook A New Turn in the South. When in Rome...

5000 Historical Novels Listed by Time and Place

This is an invaluable resource for, well, anybody.  You could piece together a reasonable history of the world by choosing several novels from each time period, reading and discussing.

32 Ways for ADHD Adults to Get Organized

This should eliminate any mention of ADHD and just talk about getting organized; if you follow these steps you will be decluttered and organized for the new year. I am also fond of the 27-Fling Boogie, but it is way too much for me to keep up with.

That's all you really need for the weekend. Stay safe, and we will see you next year!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Electric Car High

A school that teaches students while solving some of our toughest problems? Check.

A school that takes some of a city's ignored kids, makes shop class the center of their world and wins accolades and prizes against engineering students at Yale? Check.

The school's slogan is "Teaching Students to Save the World." What a novel concept! Believing in students and giving them the tools to actually make a difference.

Looking forward to watching good things happen for this school. Read more about the school here.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Libraries Are More Than Books

I was talking with the parent of a new student (starting next fall - welcome, Lily!!) about libraries. Sarah is studying library science at a time when public library funding is being slashed, closing libraries across the country and slowing the purchase of new materials. People are buying e-readers and downloading free books online - why bother keeping libraries open?

Because they are more than books.

Libraries are communities with resources, printed and human. Recognizing that, one library in Illinois has started teaching kids how to research and write; instead of handing them a list of resources or a stack of books, the Hoopeston Public Library offers afterschool classes on how to research, including online and archival research, and how to put it all together in a well-written paper. Volunteers from the community assist, as do the regular library staff.

This is what I am talking about. Libraries used to be the center of the community before we got online; rooms were (and still are!) available for monthly meetings (free or modest rental fee, usually), story times and summer programs are available for the kids, and parents could access job skills training and resume writing. Now you can register to vote and utilize copy services (cheaper at my library than at the office supply store). Why don't we have more afterschool study programs? Why don't we use the spaces in the library for booktalks with local authors and writing workshops? Why not restore the function of the library - enlightenment and education, exposure to the world through information - and fund them in the manner they deserve?

I have fond memories of growing up in my local library. I also remember walking into the main branch of the New York Public Library and being intimidated. I wrote my Master's thesis in the University of Washington public library. I followed a very old woman into the basement of the Seattle Public Library to see some ancient children's books.

As Henry Ward Beecher said, "A library is not a luxury but one of the necessities of life," and from Victor Hugo, "A library implies an act of faith." Let's keep the faith, shall we?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

No Excuses For Students and Parents

I found this tough-talking article last week. It is nice to read an article on education that actually asks kids and parents to accept some responsibility for their education.

Don't get me wrong: there are teachers that need to go, immediately and unceremoniously.

But there are also parents who are blinded to their child's flaws and kids who have learned to make excuses and hide behind their label (whatever that may be).

Ultimately, education is a three-legged stool with teacher, parent and student supporting it. If one leg fails to hold up their end, the stool falls over. For too long, teachers have been blamed for the collapse of education, and it is time for parents and students to take responsibility, too.

For parents:

1. Read to and with your kids, all the way to adulthood. The material changes along with the conversation, but reading is the key to success.

2. Recognize that your child will make mistakes. Let them. Help them learn from them, not by covering them up or making excuses, but by helping them recognize how they made the wrong choice and requiring them to fix their mistake. Do this early, and be consistent. Bail them out, and be prepared to do it forever.

3. Get all the facts. Don't immediately blame the school for the failing grade. Be prepared to implement suggestion #2.

4. Give your child responsibility. Instill a work ethic. If you are still making their bed in middle school, you are in big trouble. You are not actually helping them. Kids need chores to contribute to the family and see how they make a difference.

5. Turn off the screens. Monitor their time online and in front of a TV. Minimize or eliminate it entirely during the summer.

6. Allow your child to struggle. You do them no favor by paving their bumpy road. Life is full of potholes. Struggle with support is good.

For kids:

1. Ask questions, and ask for help. If you are embarrassed to do so in class, send an email or note to your teacher. You are not expected to know everything!

2. Read Something printed, for at least 30 minutes (an hour is better). If you are not a fast reader, practice will make you faster. Find subjects that interest you, and a sunny spot in a tree, and go read.

3. Turn off the TV. Trust me. It seems like a good idea to stay up all night watching TV, but it is actually not. At all.

4. Understand that your parents were your age once. They may know a thing or two. They may be infuriating and embarrassing, but they are doing the best they can with what they have and know. Sometimes they will fail, spectacularly. You are teaching them too. Be kind.

5. Take responsibility for your work and yourself. Shoddy work that lacks thought and effort is all on you. If you don't know how to approach a task, ask. If you don't ask for help and then wait until the last minute, do not be shocked or angry when you do poorly. In the end, you are the only one who can live your life. It may seem like a great thing to have your parents constantly swooping in to bail you out, but you will regret your dependence on them one day, and you will not know how to change it. If you own up to your mistakes and try your best to change your habits, you will grow and improve in everything.

This is the only life you have. Don't expect someone else to live it for you. Education may help you along, but only if you make the most of it.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Innovative School = Positive School Culture?

Seems to be so, at least in one study of Denver schools. In the study report, schools granted official "innovation school status" in Denver have happier teachers and students and a more positive school culture. Specifically,

Innovation led to an increase in both real and perceived control over the schools by principals, teachers, and parents This increased control was viewed as a major positive by these groups, who expressed a sense of greater ownership of their schools. There was a general sense of increased empowerment around decisions including resources, workforce, and instruction. One specific change that was appreciated by many respondents was the enhanced agility to make rapid decisions at the school level, without having to wait for approval of the decision by various central office entities.

Empowered teachers and school dministrators feel better about the changes they make, rather than the changes that are forced upon them. One of the biggest issues with the standards movement has been implementing the same standards and approaches for dramatically different schools; innovation schools get to match their strategies to their needs without a lot of fuss and bother from central office.

The report goes on to talk about some of the challenges of these schools, so the four-page report is valuable reading, but I think my main takeaway here is that empowering teachers to run their own classroom  makes them happy. Happy teachers mean happy students; happy students mean happy parents, and happy parents mean happy administrators. Voila! Positive school culture. If we take one step in education, it should be to stop telling teachers how to teach and let them do their job. What a difference that change could make.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Resource Friday

A collection of notable resources from the week. Happy holidays to all!

"Best of" Booklists

A collection of many different year-end "Best of" booklists for kids (picture books, fiction, etc). A great resource for building a library!

50 Educational Apps for the iPod Touch

Put that expensive toy to good use!

50 Alternatives to Traditional Book Reports

For homeschooling families, or families who have leeway in how they "prove" they read something. Lots of good ideas here that go beyond the standard poster, summary or diorama.

Scripps Spelling Bee

Here's your chance to register for the national spelling bee! Even if you do not formally participate, this is a great place to sign up (free) and get word lists and study guides that will improve spelling (even if you don't find yourself writing the words out on your hand on national TV!).

10 Ways to Use Google Maps/Earth

Everyday project ideas for the flipped classroom or homeschooler!

And finally, just for fun...

Akinator, Web Genius

Think of a famous person, real or invented, dead or alive, and this guy will guess who you are thinking of.

Happy holidays!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Ultimate in Hands-On Learning

I'll cut to the chase: I'm in love, and I am inspired.

Studio H, in an effort to engage the poorest citizens of the state and teach real skills while at the same time serving a need in the area and educating the youth (oh, and earning college credit and money over the summer - little things like that), has created a curriculum based on a design/build philosophy. The curriculum is offered to juniors at a public high school, is free, runs three hours a day and culminates in the build of a final, large-scale product for the community (in year 1, a farmer's market pavillion, but also free chicken coops for locals in the fall of the school year).

Brilliant. Absolutely logical and engaging. Real. Relevant. Found out about this program via an article on Edutopia, and I think a summer road trip to the organization is in the plan.

I love it when something so simply wonderful comes to me. It's like a shiny gift from the universe, and I am grateful for it on this grey morning!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Gifted Readers

Just finished an article about engaging gifted readers, "gifted readers" defined in the article as kids who:

• Read at an early age.
• May have taught themselves to read.
• Require less drill to master the reading process.
• Synthesize multiple reading strategies.
• Possess advanced vocabulary knowledge and usage.
• Read 3 to 4 times more than their same age peers.
• Continue to read voraciously after the peak reading years end (4th -8th grades) and into adulthood.
• May prefer abstract genres like fantasy, read deeply from one genre or topic, or prefer nonfiction text to fiction.

This is a decent definition of something that is hard to pin down and can be complicated by a dual-diagnosis of ADD/HD, dyslexia, etc, and it also includes characteristics that are, at times, attributed only to girls and what they are pushed towards (hence the stereotype that girls are readers and boys are scientists). The article goes on to offer suggestions to continue to engage gifted readers, and my issues are with the first one on the list and one thing that is off the list.

The first suggestions is to "Offer a wide range of literature from reviewed district, state and national lists." This is definitely a suggestion from a teacher who is still working for The Man as she writes, and it is unfortunate. Why? Should you offer only reviewed literature so you can avoid litigation? I say offer a wide range of literature, period, and provide copious amounts of book challenge forms for parents. My favorite book challenge form is six pages long and asks the parent to really articulate why they object to the book, having read it, instead of just offering a knee-jerk reaction to something they have heard about it.

This is not to say that you should offer racy titles and off-color subject matter; there is obviously a need for common sense here. What I am saying is that restricting titles to a handful that some wonks in an office with no knowledge of kids have had time to flip through is short-sighted and ineffective. Does that mean that internet reading is off limits?

And speaking of internet reading, I come to my next point. There is nothing on this list about student-selected text, which can include a wide variety of media, including twitter, blogs, manga and other alternative forms of reading. These are the same forms of media that kids would be inclined to attempt to imitate in their writing, and yet that choice is also restricted. Isn't the point of educating a reader to keep them reading? Yes, offer challenging books to read with them, but also allow them explore and read widely in all kinds of genres, including social media.

If we want to produce readers, we need to let them read, and sometimes this means being flexible in our choices and tolerant of theirs.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Girl Brain - a Myth?

Interesting article this morning on the phenomenon of same-sex education and how it is perpetuating myths about the brains of girls v. boys.

I find the article and the premise behind same-sex schools very nearly offensive. Assignments are gender- based (writing assignments like favorite truck for boys or dream wedding for girls), styles of classrooms are stereotypical (boys are rowdy and active and girls are calm and subdued), and claims are made about how girls listen better and are more empathetic while boys have a more "systematic" brains.

This is stereotyping at its scientifically manipulated finest. Schools and institutions are gleaning bits of fact and mixing it in liberally with the same stereotypes that women have been fighting for years, reinforcing them (e.g., all girls dream of their wedding and all boys like to play sports).

"...a major tenant of the segregated classroom is the idea that boys naturally relate to objects and understanding systems and math and science, while girls gravitate towards relationships and caring.  Girls are not natural leaders or risk takers, and don’t take naturally to math, it’s argued."

Not that there isn't value to single-sex classrooms and schools, but go ahead and segregate the sexes for real reasons. Maybe some girls have been so shamed about their love for science or math that they are hesitant to excel (evidence: Abercrombie and Fitch's t-shirt for girls that says "Allergic to algebra" and Barbie's famous gaffe in which she was programmed to say, in a super-ditzy voice, "Math is hard!"); maybe some boys are not particularly athletic and would like to be in a school that celebrates their academic achievements not physical prowess (part of a running joke in Meet the Parents is the fact that the main male character is a nurse, while the controlling father-in-law is a much more manly spy, another harmful stereotype for boys.)

The majority of the scientific claims for gender grouping are baseless and not replicated, and we are harming both genders when we use invalid science as an excuse for the way we educate. It seems right because it fits existing stereotypes of both genders, but the flaws in these studies are fatal.

"...assuming gender differences, as same-sex classrooms do, can actually create those differences. Too often, even girls with an early interest in math are discouraged by adults who have bought into the idea that girls don’t have a natural aptitude for math and science... There is no well-designed research showing that single-sex (SS) education improves students’ academic performance, but there is evidence that sex segregation increases gender stereotyping and legitimizes institutional sexism."

We are perpetuating damaging myths for both genders and trying to legitimize it by using fake, inaccurate science. School and life is hard enough without this!

For more reading on this subject, please also visit the eye-opening paper published in September which refutes, with science, the "research-based" logic behind single-sex schooling.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Resource Friday - math AND reading

I have been a bad blogger. Three days have passed without a peep. The week cannot possibly have slipped away so quickly, and I think I blog in my head (and it doesn't make it to the screen).

Hopefully, though, today's resource-gathering will make up for it. I have some good ones!


Our first resource is a visual dictionary, which seems unremarkable until you begin to play around with it and explore the connections in each entry. Then it becomes a great conversation-starter for synonyms, antonyms, word origins and application. This could also be a great way to introduce new vocabulary, or expand on the old.

iLearn Technology Blog

I found this through Twitter, and every time I click on it there is something new to explore. Some of the resources suggested are free, some are not, but all offer another way to look at curriculum and teaching with technology.

Math Pickle

Hold on to your hats. This website offers plenty of free resources and instructional ideas for applying math concepts to every day problems (including $1,000,000 unsolved problems that the author of the site is attempting to get funding for - kids solve the unsolved math problem, and they split a cool million bucks!).

Hands-On Equations

This is a tactile way to introduce algebraic concepts and equation balancing. My only gripe is that it stops at algebra 1. I think this would certainly help upper level students if it got a bit more complex, but for kids who need to see it and touch it to get it, this is a great idea. It is not free, but if it reduces math phobia and makes algebra more accessible, that is priceless!

Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Gap Year

I am all for the gap year. This is when your burnt out, stressed out student takes a year off between high school and college to explore the world, volunteer with an organization or otherwise explore a compelling interest they have prior to committing to spending four more years in school. Australia has institutionalized this practice (the academic walkabout), Great Britain is not far behind, and, finally, America is figuring out that this may be a good thing.

This is not, as some students may believe, the totally best time to master your video gaming skills. Or live in your parents' basement while your mom continues to cook all of your meals and do your laundry. If you are one of the parents who does this, please, do yourself and your child a favor, and stop.

The Davidson School in Nevada has published a very handy guide to what a gap year is/not, how to pay for it, how to prepare for it (going in and coming out), and how to select an appropriate project. This school is focused mostly on students who might be finishing high school early and need some time to mature and figure out what they want prior to more formal studies, but  a gap year can be a brilliant, enriching, life-changing experience. The guide tells you that you should be able to look back at the end of the year and think, "That changed my life."

Video game high scoring does not qualify.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Hope is a Thing With Feathers

This week is about looking forward.

Generally as the calendar year ends, all sorts of "top 10" lists come out, analyzing the past year. I have decided that I will make a top 10 list looking forward. I don't like to think of it in terms of resolutions; rather, these are observations and thoughts, in no particular order.

10. Building our community is an exciting and sometimes nerve-wracking thing. We want diversity that can function well as a whole. We are too small for massive conflict, but we are not Borg. We need diverse ideas.

9. Field experiences are fundamental. I woke up with that thought in my head today. Not entirely original, but always good to keep in front of the brain.

8. Publishing work is key - it marks the finish point of a project, whatever it is. In 2012, we will publish more of our work.

7. Google+ may not be the solution to online class issues (where face-to-face interaction is necessary), but that in combination with Edmodo may be.

6. We all function better when there is a plan broken down into concrete steps. It's okay to start with an abstract whole, but having an idea of how to get to the whole makes the process more peaceful. Sometimes just having the list is calming.

5. We need more art in our lives, just for its own sake. HoneyFern tries to tie everything to something tangible, but sometimes just studying an artist for the sake of studying an artist is a good thing.

4. "Hope is a thing with feathers that perches in the soul." Emily Dickinson said that, and she was 100% correct. I feel my soul fluttering these days, and it feels good.

3. Learning for its own sake is valuable. Learning for the sake of a test is not. Repeat until it is burned into your brain.

2. Sometimes, taking the dog for a walk or doing yoga is hard to start, but it always, always feels good in the end. And the dog loves you and will sleep like a dead thing for the rest of the night.

And number 1, although it has no significance at this place in the list (even though it seems a tiny bit like it might):

1. Expressing gratitude is free and painless. Saying "thank you" to a person or to the wind or your god or the dog or whatever puts a beautiful intention in the universe, and that can never hurt. Be filled with gratitude, even for the struggles you face.

And there is my list. What is yours?

Friday, December 9, 2011

Resource Friday

Today is a little funny, a little sweet and a little serious.

Who Knew PSAs were Funny?

This is a funny, ironic take on a serious subject, done by the same guys who brought us Whole Foods Parking Lot and Yoga Girl. All three worth viewing and sharing today!

The Sweet...How Sweet It Is

Our side project for the holidays. We are Buddhist, set up a Christmas tree and light a mennorrah.  This blog with The Child and I is a new tradition that may last just one year, but we are enjoying it as we go. We have made some seriously good cookies here! Suggestions for the next 17 days are welcome, and family recipes encouraged!

The State of the States - Gifted Ed.

On to the Serious. This annual report shows how well (or not) states are doing with gifted education. Not surprisingly, gifted dollars are some of the first to go from the budget. How is your state doing?

Writing Contests

A compendium of writing contests around the interwebs.

And finally, because we love to make stuff, especially from stuff we might otherwise throw out:

CD Spectrometer

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Hands-On Biology!

As part of our biology curriculum, HoneyFern has adopted Olley Creek in Cobb County, Georgia. We are responsible for chemical monitoring (dissolved oxygen, pH, temperature and conductivity), and we will be trained in biological and frog monitoring in the spring. We test once a month, and one of the students will blog our experience, usually with pictures (but not in this case). Today's blogger is Sicily, a 6th grade student.

Today was the second day that we went to Olley Creek for Adopt-A-Stream!

It was raining; not pouring, not sprinkling. The kind of rain that slowly makes you uncomfortably wet. We chose to do lab testing even though it was raining because we went there earlier in the day to see if we should test the water, and the only thing we saw was that the water level had risen, but other than that, there were no mud or muddy parts, and everything seemed as if it was not raining (and when we got to the creek, it was merely sprinkling).

We did not have enough time to do two tests of each lab, but most of our data was almost exactly the same
(dissolved oxygen would be the main thing affected by a downpour, and our levels were nearly the same as last month). No errors occurred during our experiment, and I feel like we achieved our goal about the data we collected because it was almost exactly like the first set of data from November and it went smoothly.

It was our first time not being assisted by a professional. (Next month we plan to pick a sunny day and take more time in our data-gathering. We also need to bring trashbags to clean up what parts of the creek we can. We may also want to sponsor a trashcan at the park because there are no trashcans for some of the soccer fields, so people just throw their trash wherever).

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Would Adults Pass THE TEST?

And does it matter? At HoneyFern, we give a standardized test at the end of the school year as part of our accreditation. We will take the math and English portions only, and our work is in no way geared to this test; I am not quite sure exactly what is on it, and I am fine with that. I didn't teach to a test when I was in public school, and I see no reason to start now (and my public school kids always scored highest in the school, but does it really matter? See below.).

To "prove" the worth of standardized tests (or just to see what they were all about), a school board member in a large school district took the 10th grade standardized state test for math and English and publicized his scores. Below is part of the article:

By any reasonable measure, my friend is a success. His now-grown kids are well-educated. He has a big house in a good part of town. Paid-for condo in the Caribbean. Influential friends. Lots of frequent flyer miles. Enough time of his own to give serious attention to his school board responsibilities. The margins of his electoral wins and his good relationships with administrators and teachers testify to his openness to dialogue and willingness to listen.

He called me the morning he took the test to say he was sure he hadn’t done well, but had to wait for the results. A couple of days ago, realizing that local school board members don’t seem to be playing much of a role in the current “reform” brouhaha, I asked him what he now thought about the tests he’d taken.

“I won’t beat around the bush,” he wrote in an email. “The math section had 60 questions. I knew the answers to none of them, but managed to guess ten out of the 60 correctly. On the reading test, I got 62% . In our system, that’s a “D”, and would get me a mandatory assignment to a double block of reading instruction.

He continued, “It seems to me something is seriously wrong. I have a bachelor of science degree, two masters degrees, and 15 credit hours toward a doctorate.

“I help oversee an organization with 22,000 employees and a $3 billion operations and capital budget, and am able to make sense of complex data related to those responsibilities.

“I have a wide circle of friends in various professions. Since taking the test, I’ve detailed its contents as best I can to many of them, particularly the math section, which does more than its share of shoving students in our system out of school and on to the street. Not a single one of them said that the math I described was necessary in their profession.

“It might be argued that I’ve been out of school too long, that if I’d actually been in the 10th grade prior to taking the test, the material would have been fresh. But doesn’t that miss the point? A test that can determine a student’s future life chances should surely relate in some practical way to the requirements of life. I can’t see how that could possibly be true of the test I took.”

Here’s the clincher in what he wrote:

“If I’d been required to take those two tests when I was a 10th grader, my life would almost certainly have been very different. I’d have been told I wasn’t ‘college material,’ would probably have believed it, and looked for work appropriate for the level of ability that the test said I had.

The article continues to say that these tests are written, by and large, by people with no skin in the game and no understanding of what they are doing, that they in no way resemble reality with regard to form or function.

And yet our school systems continue to structure and re-structure curriculum around these annual tests. The ones who try to move outside of this system in any way, like Georgia, which is piloting testing around the Common Core Standards (CCS), go way overboarding, setting up 30 formal testing events for 6th graders, and 34 for 8th graders. When do they get to learn? To experience, to explore? When do they get to share and teach others and transform what they know by applying it to other situations?

America needs to open her eyes. I have never seen such blantant disregard for facts, such blindness to evidence, as is currently happening regarding high-stakes testing in this country. Simply designing and administering a test that you have taught to does not constitute an education, and we are failing millions of children who desperately need us.

Hopefully the school board member's bravery and candor will help to push changes through. I wish more adults would sit in on the tests we force our children to take.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Nine Things Successful People Do Differently

I saw this article today and thought I would use the nine points to analyze HoneyFern School. This may or may not be a good idea, but I am a big fan of knowing where I need to improve. Reflection is key! 

1. Get specific. Going through accreditation forced the issue on this one, and struggles with a couple students really clarified my vision for the school. I believe that the vision of the school is specific, and now it is a matter of being consistent and sticking to it, not falling back into old patterns. When you leave the public schools, you will have been assimilated into the culture of testing and standardizing students. There is a period of de-institutionalization that occurs, and that can be problematic at times to stay away from. Suffice it to say that HoneyFern is not a waystation for students who want out of public school briefly; we are a safe haven for permanent departure from the lockstep, and we are accredited to be able to offer all of the institutional benefits (a high school diploma and scholarship opportunities) without the institution.

2. Seize the moment to act on your goals. I am not always as good as I should be on this one. I am great at making contacts and working on behalf of my students, but for personal goals it can be exhausting. One thing I am doing is making them a bit more public; this will force me to work steadily and consistently towards them because there is a lot to lose if I don't! I have found two editors for my non-fiction book and have put a personal blog online to keep track of my Day 0 goals. It is private for now, but I have crossed two off already!

3. Know exactly how far you have left to go. I have specific targets for budgeting reasons. I also keep track of academic targets for students, as well as experiential targets.

4. Be a realistic optimist. This one is tough. I am better at doing this for students than I am for myself. I think part of this is built into who I am. I am currently reading Beyond Happiness, a Zen Buddhist guide to examining what happiness is and what it means, and I am gaining some good insight from that book. Part of un/happiness is simply the perspective we bring to any event. I am trying to change my perspective. The Child reminds me of my own mantra, chanting, "First-world problem!" when I get morose.

5. Focus on getting better, rather than being good. Another tough one. After 40 years, I am finally able to say it: yes, I DO want to be recognized for being fabulous. There is tremendous reward in teaching when my students are succesful, and, ultimately, that is the best recognition, but it would certainly be nice to be rewarded for being good at what I do in a tangible way (plaques? certificates? my own TV show? whatever works). This is part of being a realistic optimist, though.  I am a very reflective practictioner, and it is important to me that students keep growing; as long as I tell them that "practice makes better," isn't that what I should be telling myself? I find this step challenging in a good way. I can see them getting better as they work through the years (the benefit of having them for many years in a row!!), and I can also see myself getting better.

6. Have grit. An online dictionary defines grit as "firmness of character; indomitable spirit; pluck." Getting through it and pushing forward even when the going is tough. HoneyFern has this. HoneyFern also has an incredible support system to help reinforce when the grit runs lows.

7. Build your willpower muscle. This muscle is well-developed in HoneyFern's headmistress. It has to be!

8. Don't tempt fate. I would not quite agree with this. I think to take risks is to tempt fate, but if you don't then how will you know what you can do? The whole enterprise of HoneyFern is one big temptation to fate, but had I not left public school to start it, I would by now have been a quivering mass of misery, and my child an I would not have the relationship we do. I think sometimes fate needs a big, ole "neener-neener" in the face. We will see how this theory works out for me...

9. Focus on what you will do, not on what you won't do. I came to this on my own when I decided to stop publicizing what HoneyFern isn't in order to promote what it is. We don't need to put down other things in order to appear more favorable. The other part of this quote is not making promises you cannot deliver on, and honoring your word in all things. That is called integrity - doing the right thing even if no one is around to see it.

I would add one more thing that successful people do differently - ask for help from experts. I came to this school with a firm grip on curriculum and gifted students; I lacked all of the other parts that make a school run (business administration, marketing, website design - the list is endless). I asked for help, listened to people who knew more than me and took their advice. Bring able to recognize that you don't know it all and to find those who can fill in the gaps is a key piece to success.

What other things do successful people do differently? How do you know?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Homeschoolers in College

HoneyFern School has built itself around a couple different guiding principles, one of which is that school shoudl be individualized to the student (like a homeschool setting). Because of this, HoneyFern students share some of the characteristics of homeschoolers - including, at times, the nervous worry about whether or not we are preparing them for college.

I came across another blog this morning, highlighting all the ways in which homeschoolers are better prepared for college than traditionally schooled students, and I felt greatly reassured. I will copy and paste here for your edification, and reassurance, this morning.

In recent years, homeschooling has seen a rise in popularity, with more and more parents deciding to educate their children outside of school. Some parents (and their friends/family) who choose this path are concerned about their child's ability to move on to college should they choose that path. Things are easier for homeschooled college students today, then they were in the past as more and more colleges have seen great success with students from non-traditional education backgrounds.  Today, homeschool students often enjoy easier admission, better college performance, and even the opportunity to enter college with several credits already earned. Read on, and you'll find out more about what the homeschool college student experience is like today.
  1. Homeschoolers often enter college with more credit
    Homeschooled students are able to work at their own pace, and as a result, students have the freedom to move significantly faster than those in a traditional classroom. Michael Cogan, a researcher at the University of St. Thomas, discovered that homeschool students typically earn more college credits before their freshman year than traditional students, with 14.7 credits for homeschoolers, and 6.0 for traditional students. Earning college credit before freshman year can save thousands of dollars and shave time off of a degree. The 14.7 average credits for homeschoolers represent a full semester of freshman year, which is typically 12-15 credit hours.

  2. Homeschool students do better on the SAT and ACT
    Perhaps benefiting from personalized test prep, homeschool students typically score higher on standardized college admissions tests. The homeschool average for the ACT was 22.5 in 2003, compared with the national average of 20.8. The SAT was no different, with a homeschool average of 1092 in 2002, and a national average of 1020. ACT and SAT scores are very important for college admissions and even financial aid, so doing well on these tests is vital to a great college experience.

  3. Homeschool GPAs are consistently higher
    As a homeschooled student, you work on a flexible schedule. Young children may rely greatly on their parents for scheduling and instruction, but high schoolers typically become more autonomous in their studies, learning key skills for success as independent students in college. Research indicates that this time spent learning how to study independently pays off, as homeschoolers typically have higher GPAs than the rest of their class. Homeschool freshmen have higher GPAs in their first semester at college, with 3.37 GPAs for homeschoolers, and 3.08 for the rest. This trend continues with an overall freshman GPA of 3.41 vs. 3.12, and senior GPAs of 3.46 vs. 3.16, indicating that homeschoolers are better prepared for college.

  4. Homeschooled students are more likely to attend college
    Homeschooled students seem to be more likely to participate in college-level education. As reported by the Homeschool Legal Defense Association, more than 74% of home educated adults between 18-24 have taken college level courses. This rate is much higher than the general US population, which comes in at 46% for the same age range.

  5. Homeschoolers are everywhere
    Patrick Henry College is one college that specifically caters to the homeschool population, but homeschoolers are increasingly accepted in a wide variety of colleges and universities. In fact, homeschoolers are now in over 900 different colleges and universities, many of them with rigorous admissions. Some of these colleges include Harvard, Cornell, Princeton, Dartmouth, Brown, and Rice University.

  6. Homeschooled students are more likely to graduate
    Making it to college is one thing, but actually sticking around and graduating is another. Students who have homeschooled will typically do better than other students, with a slightly higher retention rate, at 88.6% vs 87.6% for traditional students. Graduation rates show a higher disparity between homeschoolers and the national average, with 66.7% of homeschooled students graduating, compared to 57.5%.

  7. Some colleges actively recruit homeschool students
    Homeschool students have proven themselves to be so outstanding that several colleges have begun to actively recruit them. Boston University, Nyack College, and Dartmouth are among them, with a Dartmouth College admissions officer recognizing, "The applications [from homeschoolers] I've come across are outstanding. Homeschoolers have a distinct advantage because of the individualized instruction they have received."

  8. Homeschooled students are very likely to succeed in college
    Research and probability indicates that homeschooled students typically do very well in college, not just academically, but socially as well. Skills learned in homeschooling translate very well to the college campus, with strong self-discipline and motivation. Colleges recognize this advantage, including Brown University representative Joyce Reed, who shares, "These kids are the epitome of Brown students." She believes they make a good fit with the university because "they've learned to be self-directed, they take risks, they face challenges with total fervor, and they don't back off."

  9. High school transcripts are often not required for college admissions
    Although traditional students will typically be expected to submit their high school transcript, homeschooled students usually do not need one, submitting other information instead. Sixty-eight percent of US universities will accept parent-prepared transcripts. Others will take portfolios, with letters of recommendation, ACT or SAT test scores, essays, and more, allowing homeschooled applicants flexibility in admissions.

  10. Homeschoolers can play college sports
    As long as they meet standardized guidelines, homeschooled athletes can be awarded freshman eligibility to participate in college level sports. The number of homeschooled students participating in sports is growing as well, with up to 10 each year in 1988-1993, and as many as 75 students in the late 90s. Homeschool waiver applicants are typically approved, and in the 1998-1999 school year all applicants in Divisions I and II were approved, indicating not only an increased interest in college sports from homeschoolers, but an excellent openness in participation.

  11. Many homeschoolers are National Merit Scholars
    The National Merit Scholar program is an academic competition offering prestige and cold hard scholarship cash for high achieving students. The number of homeschool National Merit Scholars is increasing at a high rate: in 1995, there were 21 homeschool finalists, compared with 129 in 2003, a 500% increase. Homeschoolers are clearly doing well in their studies, and as a result, are reaping the rewards in scholarship money to use in school.

  12. Homeschooled students may have higher college acceptance rates
    Colleges and universities often recognize that homeschooled students tend to be exceptional in their academic performance, and combined with advanced studies and extracurricular activities, make great candidates for admission. In addition to actively seeking out homeschooled applicants, colleges may also be accepting more of them. In the fall of 1999, Stanford University accepted 27% of homeschooled applicants. This doesn't sound like a lot, but it's an incredible number when you consider that this rate is twice the acceptance rate experienced by public and private school students admitted in the same semester.

  13. Homeschool students are often in honors programs
    High achieving homeschool students can benefit from advanced curriculum in college, which is why so many of them end up in honors programs once they go on to study at universities. At Ball State University, most homeschooled freshmen were admitted at a higher level than regular students. Eighty percent of homeschool students were admitted to "upper levels of admission," and 67% were in the Honors College.

  14. Homeschooled students may receive federal financial aid
    Due to some confusion in the past, homeschooled students may have had to obtain a GED in order to qualify for financial aid. But the Homeschool Legal Defense Association indicates that laws have changed, and as long as students have completed their education "in a homeschool setting that is treated as a homeschool or a private school under state law," they are eligible for federal financial aid without a GED.

  15. Many scholarships are available to homeschooled students
    Traditional scholarships are often open to homeschooled students, but there are also some created specifically for the homeschool crowd. In an effort to attract stellar homeschooled students for admission, colleges are developing homeschool scholarships. Belhaven offers $1,000 per year, College of the Southwest awards up to $3,150 each year, and Nyack College will give up to $12,000. With the high cost of a college education, these scholarships can really pay off for homeschoolers.

This is a guest post brought to you via Online College

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Middle School - the Most Important Transition

A new study out this week indicates that the transition between elementary and middle school may be tougher - and more important - than previously thought.

Seems like kids who transition from 5th to 6th grade (as opposed to a K-8 school structure),

show a “sharp drop” in math and language arts achievement in the transition year that plagues them as far out as 10th grade, even risking thwarting their ability to graduate high school and go on to college. Students who make a school transition in 6th grade are absent more often than those who remain in one school through 8th grade, and they are more likely to drop out of school by 10th grade.

This is an important finding. When I started my Master's program and indicated that I wanted to focus my study on middle grades, I was alone in my cohort of 35. Everyone else thought I was crazy, and more than a few expressed their belief that middle school kids should be set adrift on an island for the three years and then brought back to civilization for high school.

Many parents seem to treat this time in much the same manner. They stop helping with homework, and some get that divorce they have been waiting to get until the kids are older and can better "handle" it.

MISTAKE. Parents think they are off the hook when kids hit middle school, but they need to parent even harder during these years. Kids are biologically wired to begin the process of separation from their parents at this time, but kids also need parents very close, just in case. This can be difficult for parents when they have a sullen, moody, belligerent child who thinks they are a moron, but press on. Kids make the decision to drop out of school during the middle grades, and they start being heavily influenced by their peers into early drug and alcohol use and experimentation with sexual behaviors. Kids may change, seemingly overnight, from the cuddly sweet baby you remember to a surly foreigner who slams doors speaks Sarcasm fluently. Some kids come through adolescence with far less sturm und drang, but there will be at least a little storminess.

Keep your kids talking, stay involved in their lives, stay involved in their school and do not take a powder during these years. You need to reinforce early lessons on consequences for behavior, celebrate success, and encourage your kids to explore who they are and what they like. You may feel like your kids "should" be independent, especially with school, but they are not always ready to juggle the demands of changing classes and keeping trak of assignments, along with extracurricular demands on their time. Check homework and let them know you will help them (do not do their work for them. This seems like advice from the Department of Duh, but you might be surprised by how many parents write their kids' papers in middle school). Do not overschedule your kids; they need time to dream and think and wonder; it is hard to do that if you rush them from lesson to class to activity.

Many children (and parents) have survived adolescence. This study on the struggles with the transition to middle school serve as a reminder to be vigilant and supportive. Your kid is working hard to become an adult. Help them, and enjoy the ride!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Space Between Holidays, or How to Stay Awake for School

Along with being "the most wonderful time of the year," this time of the year is also the most difficult to get anything done. After a week off for Thanksgiving, the three weeks before the winter break are beyond challenging for students and teacher alike.

Case in point: this blog. I am finding great articles on education that I don't feel like reading and commenting on; the subject matter is thought-provoking (like the fact that NCLB waivers may cause schools to lose tutoring funding - no such thing as a free lunch!), and there is lots to talk about, but I just don't feel like it.

My goal for the next three weeks, though, is to continue at the very least to provide one useful link or insight daily. Today's link is tied in with our study of biological classification, the system of organization developed by Carrolus Linnaeus as different species were discovered. Some things in science just need to be memorized, and the "Kingdom, Phylum, etc" is one of those things. So here is a lovely list of the top 10 scientific mnemonic devices, good for biological classification and other things, including parts of the periodic table.

Happy memorizing!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Cyber Monday?

I'd like today to be re-branded as "Sleep In And Do Nothing Day," but I think I am starting my campaign too late.

Instead, I will just say that I am glad to be back, grateful to my housesitter, and thankful for my family and friends. And for those of you who will be shopping online today, here is a link for some cool gifts for smart kids.

Off to get more coffee...

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Public Schools Are Failing Gifted Students

This has been a gifted-heavy blog week, for reasons unknown. It is no secret to those that know me that I happen to love the gifted in all of their messy, misunderstood glory. The general population knows very little about these kids and perpetuates common myths in their daily life: gifted kids are straight-A, super-motivated and chronically well-behaved. The unfancy truth is that some gifted students suffer from crippling perfectionism, emotional sensitivity due to heightened awareness of the world around them, asynchronous development, increased rates of ADD/ADHD (known as twice-exceptional or 2E) and more. They are also some of the funniest, most interesting and intuitive people I have ever met; they are challenging, infuriating and fabulous.

And failing in the public schools.

A recent article in the Chicago Sun-Times pointed this out, specifically highlighting an elementary school in Chicago that announced the closure of its gifted program due to "enrollment pressure," just days after the National Association for Gifted Children released a report detailing the ways in which the gifted have been negatively impacted by No Child Left Behind. The school could not justify the extra, gifted-only classroom.

Apparently, the kids just weren't worth the money.

How about this: let's go ahead and eliminate all funding for teacher's aides for one-on-one assistance for kids who need it (autistic, physically disabled, etc). After all, they are such a small part of the population! Let's just throw them into the regular classroom and hope their needs are met, the same way we are doing with gifted kids.

Offensive, isn't it? So why is it okay to treat gifted kids and their education in this manner?

We need to re-evaluate our priorities and make sure all kids get what they need in school. If not, vote with your feet, parents, and find other options. That's what I did!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Let Your Students Change the World

In the wake of the now-infamous video of a police officer casually pepper spraying peaceful student demonstrators at UC Davis on November 18th comes a beautiful plea to college presidents: let your students change the world

I would go even further: encourage your students to change the world. Invite them into dialogue about issues that matter, and empower them to take control of what they can. School at all levels should not occur in a vaccuum; what happens in the classroom should apply to what happens outside of it, and if it doesn't there is something very wrong.

It is easy for cynical adults to forget the protests of the 60s and 70s, the marches and demonstrations that resulted in (more) equal treatment for all citizens. It is easy to be complacent and stick our heads in the stand - easy and dangerous. Don't you remember righteous indignation at a wrong? Haven't you ever been moved to action by something monstrously unfair?

If you stand for something you will fall for anything. Don't you want your kids to stand for something?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Resource Day!

We have just finished turkey at Nana's, tody to Uncle Sock's, then Redwing Farm, then home. Thought I'd leave a little something for everyone to do over the Thanksgiving holiday, just in case things get a little tedious or your football team isn't on (or winning!) or youa re sick of the commercialization of the holiday.

Google+ Resource

Our first site is a compedium of troubleshooting, suggestions and plain old descriptions about Google+. This may be old hat to some of you, but for others, the idea of moving to Google+ from Facebook is daunting. Perhaps this will help!

Mathematical Art of M.C.Escher

A lovely YouTube video of the master of matehmatical arts. We are starting a tesselation after the holiday, and this is a good jumping-off point, especially for the more artistically inclined student!

Unit Plan Based on TED Talks

An excellent way to integrate critical thinking with traditional research skills. Great for odler students; most of the talks are high school and older. This also allows for tons of student input; indeed, the student selects the topic and tailors the project.

National Book Award Finalists Read

And finally, for those of you in a turkey-induced food coma, how about some National Book Award finalists reading from their nominated books?

Sigh. Don't you just love the holidays?

(Big shout out to our housesitter who is probably snoring on our sofa or zoning out to the big screen. Thank you!)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Things That Aren't On Bubble Tests

Copy-and-pasting this entire blog today; it is important to remember what is important: keep the most important thing the most important thing.

From Gerald Bracey, here's a great list of things that AREN'T on the bubble tests our kids are taking:
  • creativity
  • critical thinking
  • resilience
  • motivation
  • persistence
  • curiosity
  • endurance
  • reliability
  • enthusiasm
  • empathy
  • self-awareness
  • self-discipline
  • leadership
  • civic-mindedness
  • courage
  • compassion
  • resourcefulness
  • sense of beauty
  • sense of wonder
  • honesty
  • integrity
Anyone want to argue that students who possess these will be less successful in life than those that don't?
Anyone want to argue that these are less important than regurgitating decontextualized fact nuggets on a standardized assessment?

Anyone want to argue that schools shouldn't be teaching these?

Anyone want to argue that these are not being crowded out in favor of increased emphases on fact nugget regurgitation?

No? No? No? No? Then why, again, are we doing what we're doing?


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Talent v. IQ

Practice makes perfect, or does one need to be innately gifted to achieve superior levels of performance in anything? This is the question addressed in a recent New York Times article. Actually, an answer is proposed that would offend proponents of the view that all children are gifted - "strivers" are not capable of the same level of achievement as the gifted.

This idea is directly at odds with recent ideas regarding practice and talent: his book “Outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell observes that practice isn’t “the thing you do once you’re good” but “the thing you do that makes you good.”

Gladwell believes that it is a mixture of practice and timing (e.g., the month of your birth helps determine whether or not you will have a shot at NHL greatness), and that giftedness, although a real thing, plays very little role in "any measurable real-world advantage."


David Brooks, the New York Times columnist, restates this idea in his book “The Social Animal,” while Geoff Colvin, in his book “Talent Is Overrated,” adds that “I.Q. is a decent predictor of performance on an unfamiliar task, but once a person has been at a job for a few years, I.Q. predicts little or nothing about performance.”

This is completely at odds with recent scientific research regarding IQ and success. Study after study corroborates the fact that IQ does matter:

Exhibit A is a landmark study of intellectually precocious youths directed by the Vanderbilt University researchers David Lubinski and Camilla Benbow. They and their colleagues tracked the educational and occupational accomplishments of more than 2,000 people who as part of a youth talent search scored in the top 1 percent on the SAT by the age of 13. (Scores on the SAT correlate so highly with I.Q. that the psychologist Howard Gardner described it as a “thinly disguised” intelligence test.) The remarkable finding of their study is that, compared with the participants who were “only” in the 99.1 percentile for intellectual ability at age 12, those who were in the 99.9 percentile — the profoundly gifted — were between three and five times more likely to go on to earn a doctorate, secure a patent, publish an article in a scientific journal or publish a literary work. A high level of intellectual ability gives you an enormous real-world advantage.


The authors go on to say that practice does matter, and, anecdotally, I have worked with truly profoundly gifted students who were utter failures in school and for a time after. Because they did not "apply themselves" (ridiculous, archaic way to look at it - who wants to apply themself to a useless task?), their grades and achievement in school landed them in the lowest part of their class while their scores on the SAT and ACT earned invitations to gifted programs across the country. Eventually, I have seen, relying on one's formidable intelligence runs out; as I tell my gifted students: you may be smarter than I am, but I know more than you. It is the work that makes one great, even if the native intelligence is present.

It is a combination of hard work and brains - the first highlights the second, but the second will only take you so far without the first.

Now try telling that to a gifted kid...

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

No Gifted Child Left Behind

The debate continues on how best to serve gifted students. These kids are more trouble than you think (see common gifted myths here. Read carefully. Unless you have a gifted kid, I would be willing to bet that you believe the majority of the myths. I'm just sayin'.).

To re-cap, in most schools, gifted kids are offered one of the following choices:

1. Once-weekly pull out classes. Rest of the week is spent in a regular classroom which may or may not differentiate for giftedness (but is federally required to differentiate for lower ability students).

2. Subject-specific gifted instruction based on scores and student need; generally for older students.

3. Subject acceleration where a student will go to a different grade for a specific subject.

4. Grade acceleration - not common. This is when a child skips a grade. Schools remain allergic to this option.

5. In class options: cluster groups, tiered assignments, etc. Success in this depends on the skill level and classroom management of the teacher.

6. Enrichment programs which can be offered whole-school (schoolwide enrichment model, SEM) or to specific kids.

Or schools like HoneyFern which offer individula curriculum wherever the kid happens to be irregardless of biological age. But I digress.

This article discusses a program in Montana specifically for gifted kids; it focuses on enrichment and doing things instead of academic projects, and for that reason it is being questioned by parents in and out of the program. Arguments against highlight the program's lack of rigor, and arguments for stress non-academic skill development (cooperation, creativity, dealing with perfectionism - see above myths - etc).

While I believe that gifted programs should be rigorous, I disagree that "rigor" automatically means "traditional academics." As stated in the article, gifted does not mean "more"; gifted kids do not need an extra worksheet of the same work they finished in five minutes. They need more complex tasks that force them to examine their thinking and revise their work; they need work and activity that engages all parts of their brain. The program in Montana does that, but perhaps not in a manner that people are used to - part of the problem.

Gifted kids, more often than not, get the short end of the stick. The predominate myth - that they will learn regardless of what happens, that they don't need special resources or teacher - is patently false and results in high school dropouts (25% of high school dropouts are gifted - myself and my husband are anecdotal evidence). Fair doesn't always mean "equal." Sometimes gifted kids need more. Would you deny a severely handicapped student in a wheelchair the ramp s/he needs to access the school? In the same way, we need to stop denying our gifted kids access to a wider body of experiences and knowledge that helps them grow and develop at their pace.

Reflecting on what works is important, but keep moving forward and let gifted kids have access to programs that work for them!

Monday, November 21, 2011

How About Better Parents?

I have been having Twitter conversations lately that revolve around focusing on what we can change (instead of the myriad of things we cannot); these conversations have covered education, parenting, work situations - pretty much every situation in life.

So imagine my delight when I ran across this New York Times article about focusing on what we can change in education: our parenting. A study conducted by the folks who administer the PISA exam (you know, the one the US is falling behind on) found that parents had a large impact on test scores, and that something as simple as getting kids up for school and asking how their day was can have a marked effect on their performance in school.

This is common sense to me, but I guess for some people they need a researcher to tell them so they will believe.

I would add the following to their suggestions of reading and otherwise engaging with your kids:

1. Discipline your angel. They are not perfect, they will make mistakes, but they need boundaries, the first and most basic of which is RESPECT.

2. Similarly, respect your child. The best way to teach it is to model it. You are not better than they are, just older and taller. You have the benefit of experience, so you should remember what oppression as a child felt like.

3. Give your kids chores as soon as they can walk, starting with picking up their toys and graduating to more substantial helping. This builds work ethic and responsibility, two things that play a huge role in persistence as they get older. Parents who do everything for their kids are handicapping them for life. Boys and girls alike should know how to cook, clean, shop and budget. Add to that list checking the oil, jumping a car's battery and changing a tire and your kids will have a more substantial skill set than 90% of kids born in 2000 - a beautiful gift.

4. Say no, but say yes, too. Listen to the request and think about your answer before giving it. Teach your kids to wait for an answer instead of pushing it. It is okay to think about what you want to answer first instead of blurting out a knee-jerk "NO!"

5. Make sure your kids understand that no matter what they do, you will love them, and that they understand it on a cellular level. Live this daily, demonstrate it daily. Even when you have a teen who is grinding down your last nerve, make sure they know they cannot push you away, no matter how obnoxious they are. On the other hand...

6...BACK OFF. Stop swooping in to fix everything, and stop glossing over mistakes. Mistakes are how we learn, and fixing them is how we become better thinkers and problem-solvers.  Don't bail your kids out all the time; sometimes they need to muddle through the consequences. Cause and effect: not turning homework in on time? Not a life-threatening issue. Not turning in a  timesheet on time, not getting paid and having your lights/water turned off? A big deal. Stop rescuing them when they are young so they learn to A) plan ahead and prioritize, or B) bail themselves out when they get in a fix.

7. Give your kids all the experiences you can find and afford, and stop giving them so much STUFF. The difference between low income and high income parents? Low income parents show love with STUFF, and high income show love with experiences (based on Ruby Payne's ground-breaking work on poverty). Which lasts longer, do you think?

Parenting is difficult, at times ridiculous, work, but it is work worth doing and, thus, worth doing well. Be kind to yourself as you make mistakes, but get in there and make them. Be thankful you have kids to parent and the stamina to do it!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Hamster Wheel

There is nothing better than the first day of a vacation week - seven days of emptiness stretching out before me.

Except that we will be driving approximately 2,500 miles to be with family and friends. That's a lot of driving.

But still. Back to the peaceful music.

I love HoneyFern School, and I love what I do. It is challenging, rewarding, fulfilling and intellectually stimulating. I do not love, however, my total inability to relax on the weekends. I am so wound up in my head after a week with kids ages 5-14 (between HoneyFern and tutoring, I have grades K-9) that it is nearly impossible for me to unwind. Sleeping in is a pipe dream, and lounging on the couch with a cup of hot chocolate, daydreaming out the window is laughable. I can't slow down the hamster in the wheel of my brain long enough to just be. Cooking helps some, as does going down to the barn.

So a week-long vacation is about right - two days to slow down, four days to visit, and one day to get ready to go back to work. That's the plan anyway. We'll see what the hamster has to say about it.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Middle Grades Matter

Yes, that is the title of an article published a couple days ago by the US Department of Education. It is sad to me that we are still trying to convince ourselves that the years of 10-15 are important. As a refresher,

Research shows that many students at the greatest risk of dropping out of high school can be identified in middle school by their grades, attendance, behavior, and test scores. Countless studies have shown that if middle level schools are to meet the diverse needs of young adolescents, schools must be developmentally responsive, socially equitable, and academically rigorous.

This is as true now as it was 20 years ago, and yet our nation's middle grades are still patently ignored or denigrated or simply treated as a holding pattern before high school (call them middle school or junior high; each connotes a different model but covers the same years. Middle school is a specific type of school that is structured around the specific needs of this age group, whereas junior high is seen as an intro to high school and is typically designed to be less nuturing). Although I would normally dismiss an article with a title like this as being generated by the Department of Duh, it makes several good points about the type of atmosphere and curriculum that these students should be exposed to, and, funny thing, not one of the suggestions is, "Flog children with high-stakes test prep."

I actually enjoyed reading the suggestions as an affirmation this morning. Is your school doing it right?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Random Friday

It is random Friday, in which I have nothing specific on my mind but am posting specifically for the requirements of National Blog Posting Month. So let's have a little fun, shall we? Just a couple paragraphs chock full of stuff to read.

First off, for your musical entertainment, here is a piano lesson for "I'm Sexy and I Know It" by LMFAO (and you're welcome; now you will have that in your head for the rest of the day). I am attempting to teach myself piano, which is difficult when you don't practice, but getting ditties like this one in my email makes me want to play.

Today we are going to the Fernbank Museum to see the Darwin exhibit and the Galapagos Island IMAX film.  Perhaps heading downtown and then heading out of downtown on the Friday before Thanksgiving is not the best idea I have ever had, but it is better than doing it yesterday when the BET Soul Train Awards shut down parts of Peachtree Street in front of the Fox Theater.

I am personally doing the Day Zero project challenge (doing 101 things in 1001 days) and although I am having difficulty figuring out 101 things to do, I believe that making this might end up being one of the things. One of my goals is actually to finish writing my list of 101 things. I am stuck at 65. Day Zero is not to be confused with Project Zero out of Harvard which is, ironically, what my Master's thesis was on (teaching for understanding).

I am still having issues with one space after a period and the controversy swirling around the Oxford comma. Vampire Weekend has a song called "Oxford Comma," but I am not posting it here due to profanity.

Seems appropriate to begin and end this blog entry with music, so to kill your first earworm, here is another. You may not want ot click the link. Fair warning.

That's it. I hope everyone has a lovely Friday; bundle up here in the south!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Virtual School - Blessing or a Curse?

HoneyFern is a fan of technology. Computers can do amazing things; they can open the world and show us things we may never see in real life. Based on that premise alone, many people are turning to virtual schooling. Add in the money-saving factor, and many school districts are beginning to implement full-scale online schools.

Blessing, or a curse?

The New York Times offers a blog that believes virtual schooling may be a curse, positing that while virtual school may be a good thing for active students to get the basics (competitive sports participants, actors or any child who is otherwise engaged in an all-encompassing, semi-professional occupation), online schooling for the standard kid may be little more than parking a student in front of a computer and absolving oneself from responsibility. There is very little research on the success of virtual schooling; some of it says kids do better on tests, some say kids do worse. The research seems to skew towards the perspective of the researcher, so the data is unreliable right now.

HoneyFern has tried virtual schooling, both as an entire curriculum (disastrous, and quickly abandoned) and as a pick-and-choose model. Right now we are utilizing Aleks as an artificially intelligent math program with lots of success; each student has their own account and proceeds as quickly or slowly as they want to/need to/can, and we have opportunities for individual instruction when the explanations are not clear.

Of course, we also do lots of real-life math, from figuring compound interest in the Stock Market Game to budgeting for weekly shopping to finding sales tax, along with standard measuring in science using the metric system. So although we are using an online option, there is opportunity for application.

This is how online learning should be - applied. Classes of 40 kids spending all day in front of a computer while a teacher roams around (or surfs online at the back of the class) may save money, but it won't help  kids. Will kids in that virtual model learn more than 30 kids in person? Who knows? The data isn't there yet. What I do know is that decision-making in education has been based on money, not kids, for quite a while, and if things don't change, virtual schools will out. If there is no mixture of online and applied knowledge, results could be dismal.

In education, one size never fits all, or even most, and to think that online schools will save education is wishful thinking. It may save a few dollars, but that's all.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Structure (or Not) of a School

Reading an article from the Los Angeles Times this morning on a homeschooling family in California that converted a guest room to an actual classroom with a teacher's desk, cubbies and a whiteboard.

"Homeschooling" takes multiple forms. Some (like the above family) school at home with a set curriculum and daily structure; the opposite end of the spectrum is unschool, with no set curriculum and a daily schedule that is dictated by the student (and can include a day's worth of TV viewing, which is what most people think of when they think of unschooling but which is really just a small part of it). Most families do something in between, a mix of structured curriculum, field trips, outside classes and days of just living (errands to the grocery store or volunteer outings).

HoneyFern dabbled in too much structure, and it felt plain wrong, but no structure feels wrong, too. I think we are striking just the right balance these days with daily math, structured biology labs and writing assignment sprinkled generously with field trips, geocaching, running a food pantry, weekly cooking and real-life competitions (like the Stock Market Game, which has taught us more about the economics of our nation in four weeks than any set curriculum possibly could have).  Each student has their own academic plan that takes into account their interests and abilities, and we all meet in the middle for science (which is much more fun in a group) and French (which has to be learned as a community).

As always, we will continue to tweak the school to make it work for each student, but our philosophy and mission of educating the whole student through relevant, engaging and personal experiences remains the same. We still have multiple drafts of papers (groan) and academic reading for syntheis and evaluation (double groan), but when what you are reading applies to what you are doing (like chemical and biological monitoring for our adopted stream, Olley Creek in Austell, Georgia!) then it is far less painful.

I do miss the whiteboard sometimes, but we make do. :)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Getting Lost

I wish this were a metaphor, but, unfortunately, it is what it says: we got lost on the way to Macbeth at The Shakespeare Tavern. Hopefully the nice folks at the box office will be able to reschedule us for tomorrow.

In the meantime, we are doing some math and then going to find a geocache in our neighborhood.

Better luck tomorrow.

Updated: We found the cache.

The word of the day is "bilious," and there was a little of that in this picture.

The cache is in a Civil War cemetary; this is the picture of the tree growing through the fence.

It is customary to take a little trinket and leave one; we did not have a trinket with us, so we took nothing, but we are going to go back in the next couple days and leave this:

Happy hunting!!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Online Ed and Cash Cow, Suckers!

Two interesting reports out over the weekend.

The first comes to use from PARCC, which stands for something long and deals with assessment for college readiness. They have somehow been tasked with writing the content standards for the Common Core Standards (CCS, or, as I like to say it, "Cash Cow, Suckers!"), and good news! They are done.

I have perused the 98-page document for English, and I can tell you unequivocally that there is absolutely nothing new here. There is no insight into the progression of courses, no earth-shattering revelation about how to motivate learners, nothing. For a brand-new teacher, this document might be helpful in terms of having a baseline idea of skills, but other than that it is just another attempt to wrest dollars for education.

This is disappointing but not unexpected. One of the ways in which education stays "fresh" is the continual re-packaging of the same ideas with new names and acronyms to remember, thus giving the appearance of growth and change. Needless to say, I am not drinking this particular brand of Kool-aid; I find the standards to be simplistic and low and not much changed from the state standards we spent eleventy million dollars writing, assessing and rolling out over six years.

Our second report comes from Evergreen Education Group (EEG) and deals with trends in online learning. Major supporters of EEG include many online learning companies, so the graphics may be a tad biased. Of all the graphics, the thing that strikes most is the continual upward trend in online learning, and the continual underfunding of the programs. This is to be expected, as traditional educational hegemony is threatened by anything smacking vaguely of reform, but the fact is that online ed in its various forms is here to stay, has been proven at least as effective as public school for the majority of participants (but without the bullying, rushing to catch the bus and terrible lunchrooms) and will soon be as ubiquitous as the cell phone (I am thinking of comparing online ed right now to the brick phones in the briefcases of the late 80s with future online ed as a sleeker iPhone). Why not really explore what online ed can be, treating it as a potential solution instead of part of the problem?

Will follow both of these trends as they continue to emerge, one repackaging the old and one attempting to implement the new.