Monday, December 31, 2012

Top 10 Most Popular Posts in 2012

Seems like you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a top ten list on this last day of 2012, so here are HoneyFern's 10 most popular posts of the year. They run the gamut of topics, but all are firmly rooted in the mission of the school: that all children are unique and deserving of an exceptional education. Enjoy!

1. Gifted 101: a post clearing up some misconceptions regarding gifted kids. Droppin' some basic  knowledge on who they are and what they need.

2. Gifted Readers: how to engage them (harder than you think!!)

3. Election Day: staying apolitical as a non-profit was tough; this blog reflects on the value of the election process.

4. Worky Work, Busy Bee!!: one slice of life at HoneyFern

5. Accidental Montessori: Huh. Turns out we share some pretty huge characteristics. Fancy that.

6. Money and School: The blog where the school in question was called to the carpet for their crazy tuition rate; they went ahead and responded about how fabulous their program is (totally true), missing the entire point of the blog (and were curiously silent when I pointed out that even as they defended their crazy tuition price they raised it for the following year)..

7. What Should Children Read?: Everything. Every day.

8. If You Only Ever Watch One Video: I stand by this blog. So powerful and amazing, what the person in the video did.

9. Should Your Gifted Kid Take All AP Classes?: No. In a nutshell. And lots of people who know what they are talking about agree with me.

10. Something Shocking: In which one of my fabulous students does something that is amazing and incredible and makes me so proud I almost cry.

So there it is. I hope your new year is prosperous and filled with joy. I leave you with a video that I hope inspires you to live the examined life.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Diane Ravitch Does It Again

With a moronic rant that lumps for-profit schooling, online schooling and homeschooling into the same category. To be precise, Leon Wieseltier actually wrote the article, which Ravitch calls a "gift." (Wiesletier himself has been called a name-dropping elitist, and his politics are conservative and in line with ideas of self-aggrandizing promotion. but I digress.)

Absurd.

With that glowing endorsement, Ravitch joins ranks with all of the other extremist, public-school bashing, voucher-toting loonies who insist we completely abolish public schools (albeit on the other side but just as crazy). Ravitch agrees with Wieseltiers's categorization of homeschoolers as "hackers" whose only teaching qualifications are "love."

I can't even begin to express the enormity of the insult that this article conveys to anyone who does not follow the party line with Ravitch. I got sick of her ravings several years ago and called her on her politicization of her views (radio silence from her on that one). I can't even read her anymore with feeling vaguely ill. She believes that public schools are it, that no other options are valid, and that any straying from the standard, factory-model K-12 formula of schooling is un-American, fringe and vaguely insane.

I think it is Ravitch who is toeing the party line and drinking the Kool-Aid. The article cited above begins with a glowing ode to the author's teachers; this is simply not the case for the majority of students anymore. There are some absolutely brilliant teachers in public school, some pretty good ones, and a few that should never be allowed around kids (the first two categories far outnumber the final). HOWEVER. These first two categories are hamstrung by ridiculous, dinosaur-era policies, and very few kids would rave about the brilliance and inspiration of their teachers.

Further, the defense of college as an institution and as a practice is also oudated and absurd. College is increasingly out of reach and about as dumbed down as K-12 has been. There are good arguments for skipping college or at least re-envisioning a college degree, but both Ravitch and Wieseltier don't agree; they feel everything is great as is, and teachers hang the moon in all public institutions, which should stay exactly as they are in perpetuity.

This idea is ludicrous. Everything can and must change. One hundred years ago we didn't have cars. Thirty years ago we did not have ATMs, the internet or cell phones. College students handwrote essays and sometimes typed them. Companies hired a person, stayed loyal to that hire for 25 years, and people retired with a decent pension and a house they had paid off. This is not the world we live in now. China is a major player in innnovation, as is India. Ideas are more valuable than facts, and problem-solving, critical thinking, and information synthesis is crucial for today's high school graduates. School must change. Delivery of education MUST CHANGE.

Ravitch just alienated 1.7 million families who homeschool, and has further divided proponents of public school, and online or blended learning. There is a huge difference between getting a conversation started, and stuffing a roll in the other person's mouth so as to stop the flow of words. Ravitch has done the latter with her "gift."

Absurd.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Taking the Week Off

Boy, have I ever! HoneyFern is traveling up to the mid-Atlantic region this week to visit family, and I had some notion of blogging every day or maybe "catching up" on a few, low-stress things.

Nope.

The past few days have been blissful. First stop was Nana's, with her homemade biscotti, cioppino for Xmas Eve dinner, amazing sushi on Xmas day, along with an evening stroll in Longwood Gardens (with hot chocolate!) and Jiro Dreams of Sushi before falling into bed.

Today is shopping.

Tomorrow is...who knows? The point is that I am mostly taking the week off, but, in the interest of doing some project-y things with your family (if it's not snowing or raining; we had Xmas Eve snow!!), here is a lovely site that has multiple options for re-purposing the lowly pallet, starting with a bench.

Happy holidays to you and your family, and thank you for your continued support of our little school. We wouldn't be here without you, and we love that you are part of creating something amazing. See you next year!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Last Day, in Photos

 
(Brie and Lucy decorate)

 
(Cindy Lou Who)


 
(It takes a village)
 
 
We watched Elf, wrapped and delivered presents for a local church, drank hot chocolate, and had a white elephant exchange. A lovely way to go into the break...
 
Happy holidays!!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Failure and Play: Keys To Divergent Thinking

Timely! Love this blog about "divergent tinkering," especially as I just finished lecturing Will on the quality of his go-kart schematics and we had a long conversation as a school about how challenging it is to draw accurate, helpful blueprints to scale.

Today, America develops innovative ideas, not manufactured goods. This means we structure our schools so our kids can work on an assembly line, while our students need the skills to draft blue prints on a drawing board.

This is an important feature of HoneyFern, and another one is the next point the author makes: how important play and failure are. I have written many blogs on failure (almost equalling the number of blogs I have written on motivation), mostly about reframing our idea of failure and pleading with parents to let their kids fail (that's a hard nut to crack).

If we guide our students to think divergently, “failing” would mean testing out new ideas. Perhaps students need to “fail” multiple times in order to come up with a creative solution to a problem.

There's no "perhaps" about it. Failure is absolutely essential. If our kids don't fail, they don't learn. I have plenty of students, gifted students especially, who suffer a crippling fear of failure, so much so that they will not try anything they don't know, which in turn causes them to fail (in a traditional setting vis-a-vis grades. Not so much at HF.). Yes, failure is frustrating. There is a lot of huffing and sometimes tears. Sicily drew probably 10 blueprints before getting the very basic floorplan right, but MAN does she now know about space plannning and drawing to scale!! Sarah is just starting her greenhouse and hydroponic system, and her first set of plants rotted and failed miserably; we went down to Atlantis Hydroponics and got some more knowledge and now we are trying again. Part of everyone's willingness to keep going is the fact that grades aren't used as a weapon here, but also that they are in an environment that encourages them to try new things without penalty.

Play is the other essential part to thinking divergently, but I move away from the article and their idea of what play does 9and should) mean a little:

“Play” has come to mean free, unstructured time; something synonymous with recess. Play can also mean investigation, experimentation, and tinkering.

Although I believe in the second half of the sentence, I feel the first is essential also; free, unstructured time to take a break, move around and hang out with friends without a task, assignment or adult hanging over their heads is essential to student well-being. This is taking care of a student's soul, not just their mind. This is the time when kids get to relax, and it is also a great way to really get to know them and build relationships. Essential.

Of course, I also love the tinkering part of this where students get a pile of stuff and have to solve a problem or complete a task. This is very Rube Goldbergian, and it makes them think, and hard. This is where cooperation and "soft skills" come into play, too.

Bottom line? To foster divergent thinkers and help students be successful in a world where manufacturing is obsolete and ideas are king, we need to change our attitudes towards two key things: failure and play.


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Dread Post: Grades

You may have noticed that HoneyFern is a progressive school.

Only two vestiges of the traditional remain: a standardized test (required for accreditation) and grades (not required, but certainly part of the system we have with regard to college admission). The standardized test will remain in place for now, but I have been thinking about grades for many years and am thinking of how to satisfy the system we have in place while still offering appropriate, instructive and useful feedback for students.

I have always attempted to ameliorate the meaninglessness of a letter with plenty of narrative feedback; Mark Barnes set forth his method for grading in this blog. In a nutshell, he eliminated grades in his classroom years ago, replacing them instead with SE2R: Summarize, Explain, Redirect and Resubmit. This feedback cycle

"...eliminates [the subjective nature of grades], creating a true cycle of learning that overcomes the traditional instruct-practice-test-grade-move-on approach to education, which completely fails students who don’t master concepts."

I love the cyclical nature of this system. Learning isn't linear, and we often need to revisit concepts as we apply them in new settings to reinforce what we know. I am a huge fan of narrative feedback, and most parents are huge fans of a structured way to measure growth. This combines both.

The main benefit, the lasting benefit, of a structured system of feedback is felt by the students. Grades, good or bad,  are no longer arbitrarily given by a teacher, and they are no longer the motivation for working (or not). When done well, narrative feedback gives students specific things to work on, specific areas in which they are improving, and things to think about for the future. A grade gives them a letter.

The middle school parents are all on the no-grades bandwagon; although I do still keep grades, students are an integral part of them, sitting with me to discuss their work and give their own grade, explaining what they did really well and what they need to think about for next time. There is no one-shot assignment here; they get chances to improve on what they have done.

Today's pertinent example: Ella had a a materials list for her coop due today. She started this morning (totally acceptable), but when her list was "done," she had a few glaring errors (e.g., not enough wire, missing some materials, etc.). I asked her to evaluate herself, with comments about why she gave herself that grade, and then I gave my take and why. We were far apart, and we talked why that was. We hit on crucial points (could she build her coop with what she had?), and she decided to finish it tomorrow. Yes, she is accountable for the work. Yes, she needs another day to do a good job. So what? She got experience critiquing her work, an understanding of what "success" in this assignment means, and the opportunity/requirement to get it right. That conversation is worth more than the grade she would have gotten which would have told her nothing about why she got it.

Still continuing the thinking and conversation. For parents, if grades were eliminated what would you need to feel like you had a good handle on your kid's progress?

Out in the World

We have had so much going on this month that it has been hard to keep up;  truthfully, when the kids leave at 3, blogging is the last thing on my mind. Mostly I need a big glass of water and a long walk. Sometimes I do both. Sometimes I just sit on the couch and breathe.

We have been on three fieldtrips in the past two weeks, and below are pix of them. The first trip was to the Shakespeare Tavern for A Christmas Carol; they do an incredible job of this play, told in a storytelling style with an ensemble cast, each of whom plays multiple characters.

Our second trip, a last-minute one, suggested by Mandy, our lovely parent chaperone and sometimes-substitute teacher, was to the BAPS Hindu temple in Lilburn. One of our students was studying world religions, and this seemed like a great place to experience one of the oldest religions. The temple was breathtaking.


This temple took only 17 months to complete, but that isn't even half of the story. There are three kinds of marble used in this temple, and not a single piece of metal joins it. The temple is hand-carved by craftsman in India, some working on the same piece hundreds of miles away from each other. The pieces are then shipped to Atlanta where they are joined using a cetral piece that is turned and locks all of the pieces in place, or they are locked into each other, like these columns:


Ella talks more about it in her blog, too. Mandy (our intrepid parent chaperone) took a lovely picture of us to end the day:



Our final field trip was not a whole-school trip; rather, just a few students and I went to Atlantis Hydroponics to take a class on hydroponics. Sarah's first attempt at hydroponics did not end so well (rotten roots and smelly water), so we decided to try to figure out what went wrong and  get some professional advice. David and Robin were AMAZING. The girls...

pollinated Chinese eggplant,


planted green peppers (in December!!),

 
 
and took advantage of free samples.
 


Sarah started some spinach and lettuce seeds, so we will see how that goes.


Looking forward to 2013 and more adventures in the world! Julius Caesar, manatees and ziplines are just a few of the highlights as we move forward. Look for other pictures of our last day before the break; I have surprises planned!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tiny House Construction: Day 1

Well, the tiny house begins.

Sort of.

Saturday, December 15th was the first day of construction, and as with all projects, it did not go quite as planned, and we only got about 1/5 of the work that we want to finished. We started with a trip to get supplies.



 
(Dane Kolbeck was a guest star; he will be a mentor of sorts for La Petite throughout the process.)
 
From there, I will let La Petite tell you what happened.
 
 
Funniest part of the day?
 
 

(Dane's Indian name is Takes Many Breaks)
 
 
This is going to be quite an adventure!!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Bilingual Students, Or Why Learning Another Language Matters

Unbeknownst to La Petite, I have enrolled her in the spring session of our local online virtual school for French I.

This is not very HoneyFern-esque in the sense that A) the online school is a traditional school, and B) I have not consulted her first, but here is why I don't care, in no particular order:

1. She is my lab rat. La Petite test drives everything and gives me feedback before I unleash it on other students. I need her to check out the school and give me honest feedback.

2. She is only in 7th grade, but she has finished a year of high school French independently and is a bit lazy moving forward. She desperately wants to speak French fluently but does not want to listen to her teacher/mother. This is when a good outside party helps (and is also why parents come to me for HoneyFern and tutoring; kids reach a point where they need to separate from their parents or need an intermediary). The course is a high school French class, but I am not concerned about that. I want her speaking and writing in French regularly, and this will make her. Plus, it will give her confidence in what she knows and push her in what she doesn't.

3. Being bilingual is an essential skill, and the Innnovative Educator outlines why in this blog. In a nutshell, learning another language makes you a smarter and better person. Good enough for me.

I took French for two years and Spanish for two years in high school.  I can understand both if native speakers talk to me like I am a toddler, and I can communicate very basically in both. This is not good enough for students today (or me, for that matter); the world has changed, and we need to help them change with it. If learning another language is the norm everywhere else in the world, we cannot continue to be so arrogant as to think we needn't learn more than English.

I need to break the news gently, though. We will see how it goes!!!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Site of the Week: More Food

Oh, Nigella Lawson, you are such an evil temptress!!

This woman makes the most luscious, comforting, simple, non-fussy food, and the Site of the Week is horrendously bad for you Christmas Rocky Road.

We are going to ironically prepare these for the last night of Hannukah. Maybe we'll chant some Buddhist mantras before we eat, just to round things out.

Happy Holidays!!

Sandy Hook Elementary

There are not enough words in the whole of our language to express the grief I feel for the parents, students and teachers at Sandy Hook School in Newton, Connecticut.

Indeed, as I try to write my pitiful condolences to the town in a blog, I am speechless.

It is not enough to say that I am so sorry, that I grieve with you and carry you all with me, but it is all I have.

You are in my thoughts and heart.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Movies = Literature?

Love this blog from Education Week regarding using movies to teach literary analysis.

I am a hardcore, traditional reader. I think kids should read, often and widely, stuff they love and stuff they don't love, to get practice with not only the discipline of finishing and understanding a text but also to be exposed to a wider worldview. Not every student agrees with me, and many teachers get sick of trying to make it happen.

There is a middle ground: use movies to get them into the skills, then transfer to literature. Easy-peasy.

I like to think that education is like climbing Mt. Everest. There is more than one way to the top, some more difficult than others, but they all reach the same point. If we can teaching lterary analysis skills with less danger of falling into a crevasse, why not?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Losing Students

Today one of our students is returning to Nicaragua so that she can finish her final year with her friends at her high school. Monica has been with us since January, completing one full year with HoneyFern on the same calendar as Nicaragua, whose school year runs January to November, so that she could learn English and still stay on track.

Monica is 17 and very intelligent. When she first came to America, the public school system decided to place her in 9th grade, and her aunt decided just as quickly that was unacceptable for a multitude of reasons. Thankfully she found HoneyFern; Monica started an intensive course in survival English while at the same time getting multilingual instruction in physics, biology, Spanish literature, politics, culture and history.

The transformation in her is astonishing. She is still very soft-spoken, but now she sees the possibilities and knows herself better than when she first came here; she is more confident. Practically, her command of English is amazing; she just finished a research paper in English on World War II and routinely has in-depth conversations with us in English.

I have to be very honest, though, and say that this is the absolutely hardest part of the school: losing students. I have always gotten attached to my students, from my very first year of teaching, but the relationships we develop at HoneyFern are so much deeper. I miss them terribly when they go, and I wonder how they are doing. I am still in touch with most of the students who have left. They are so much a part of my life that when they are not here, I feel a void. Perhaps this is a sad commentary on my personal life, but I really don't think so. I feel "called" to be a teacher, and it makes sense that I would invest so much of myself into the students.

Not much consolation as Monica packs up her papers and prepares to leave. We hope she comes back for the tiny house open house in May 2013, and we are thinking about going to Nicaragua for her graduation in November.  I wish her the very best on her journey, and send out my heartfelt gratitude for all she has brought to me and HoneyFern.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

13 Sacred Cows in Education

...and HoneyFern has already smashed nearly all of them (still working on the grading paradigm, but that is down the road as we grow). Here are the 13 sacred cows the author argues need to be done away with; read more about each in the article:

1. Uniforms and Dress Codes
2. Flags and Anthems
3. Walking in Lines
4. Timetables and Tardy Slips
5. Grades and Report Cards
6. Grouping by Age
7. Bells
8. Desks in Rows
9. Exams
10. Morning Announcemens
11. School/Classroom Rules*
12. Fixed Classroom Walls
13. Desks and Chairs

What say you? Are there other things that need to go now, or do you think this list is all wrong?

*Common sense rules, like treating each other with respect, still belong in school., as in life

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Chickens Are Coming!

Meet Ella and her homemade chicken incubator:

(voluntary school on a Sunday; can you believe it?)

Ella is designing and building a chicken coop for her backyard this year, and she has decided to try to hatch out her own peeps. She is blogging about her work and also writing a pamphlet to help like-minded kids take care of their own chickens (we are hoping to put it in the local feedstore!).

Can't wait to see the finished project!



Sunday, December 9, 2012

Site of the Week: Cookies

I hesitate to post this because, according to this site, you are already behind, and I hate that kind of pressure regarding holiday stuff. Generally, I advocate doing only what you feel deeply this time of year, and letting the rest fall by the wayside; in other words, if you are staying up until 2 a.m. writing holiday cards to people because you feel you feel you have to (not because you want to), probably time to reconsider that activity as a source of holiday cheer.

Cookies are different, though. Last year, La Petite and I tried to do 25 Days of Christmas Cookies and were felled by a ridiculous amount of butter, six pounds to be precise. The attempt was fun, though, and I was happy to find something more moderate.

This year, Saveur has put out a more reasonable challenge, and it is our Site of the Week: a cookie Advent calendar. So far we have only made the Chocolate Mint Krinkles, but I will be consulting this site for more as we move through the winter. I also suggest the Rugelach for the first night of Hanukkah, only I am going to replace the raspberry with homemade fig jam.

Happy baking! Enjoy!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Challenge-based Learning And Other Buzzwords

Ooooooohhh....research.

Leaving public school allowed me to shuck off buzzwords like "best practices" and "research-based." This does not mean I am not doing these things or concerned with these things; it simply means I don't have to listen to people who have no idea what they are talking about throw buzzwords in their daily speeches to me. This is a beautiful thing that one can only really appreciate if one has been in the public schools.

I still read research, though, because that's what (good, professional) educators do (as opposed to doing it because an administrator told you to and for no application), and this latest piece popped up this week, happily. "Challenge-based learning" is the name of a "new" pedagogical model that has kids identifying a challenge in their community and addressing it; the authors of the article say it differs from "problem-based learning" (semantically, in my view, and not totally) in that in problem-based learning the instructor gives kids a problem to solve, and kids come up with the problem to solve in challenge-based learning. An excellent example of both is Studio H in rural North Carolina.

Both types of pedagogy focus on issues, collaboration and problem-solving. They tend to use the design process in conjunction with the scientific method (both are remarkably similar in their approach to problem-solving).  Both utilize technology in creative ways; both require significant engagement and commitment on the part of student and teachers. Both don't teach to a test but end up teaching what needs to be learned for the test.

Both are hot buzzwords, but that's okay. This is the kind of instructional model we should be investing in, not more test prep and assessment, so I don't really care what people want to call it. For more research on the validity of this approach, here is some further reading. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Christmas Carol

Once again, mad props and much love to The Shakespeare Tavern and their excellent production of A Christmas Carol. This is our second year going to this holiday show, and they just seem to get better and better (read the book here).

Thanks also (again!) to parent volunteer Mandy Conn for driving us all over the place in her spacious and accomodating Odyssey. HoneyFern is at an odd place, transportation-wise: too big for a Camry and too small for a bus, so mini-van it is. It is an excellent problem to have, but a problem nonetheless. Thanks, Mandy!!! A little plug for her that will probably embarrass her terribly and is totally unsolicited: she is an awesome professional photographer who takes gorgeous pictures. If you need some work done, leave a comment below and she will see it!

Friday's fieldtrip is to the Hindu temple in Atlanta. Can't wait!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Common Core Kool-Aid

Rick Hess, an EdWeek blogger with whom I have not always agreed, writes this week regarding the lack of substance behind the Common Core reformers' intentions and goals, breaking down their agenda and poking big, gaping holes in it.

Common Core may not seem like much if you aren't in education. Even if you have kids in school, you may have no idea at all what the hubbub is.

I can boil it down for you: money and politics. These two things make the world of ed reform go round and prevent any real, substantive reform from taking place. But I digress.

What Hess points out in the blog above is that the standards themselves guarantee nothing. Supporters tout "more critical thinking" and "higher, uniform standards" as key features; the former is unproven, and the latter is necessary because of the transient population in the US, something that we should address at the root before slapping a standard on it (as in, why are people moving around so much and how do we get a more settled population, which is better for kids and families and communities? But again, I digress).

The Common Core Emperor has no clothes to speak of in the sense that standards do not improve teaching - teachers and teacher training improve teaching. Changed mindset improves teaching. Understanding the purpose of education improves teaching.

This country is looking at the surface of the problems in education and slapping a standard on it. We need to change the way we think about education and the way instruction is delivered (I am not a fan of packaged online curriculum either, and the push for online learning is not what I am talking about). We are thirsty for real change, and Common Core hands us a glass of saltwater - wet, but ultimately damaging.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

26 Amazing Facts About Finland

This morning, a little slideshow about Finland, home to one of the world's  best school systems, from start to finish (no pun intended).

Highlights include the fact that kids start formal education much later, have more individual support earlier and for longer, have the same high standards regardless of level and take only one standardized test.

Detractors note Finland's homogeneous population as the reason why Finland does so much better than the US, but when compared with other, similarly populated countries, Finland still surpasses them. So piffle.

We have a lot to learn.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Holidays

I'm no Scrooge.

I LOVE giving people stuff. I would way rather give someone gifts than get them myself (my mom says I am hard to buy for anyway, so it works out).

I am just fairly well tired of mass consumerism, this obsession with BIGGER and MORE or MOST. There is a commerical on TV right now where this guy in a suit is sitting around a table with four little kids and he asks them, "Which is better...bigger or smaller?" and they all scream "BIGGER!" and then the one little kid goes on to explain that if you have a smaller treehouse you cannot fit your big-screen TV. This commerical makes me sick to my stomach, literally. I cannot watch it with the sound on.

On Black Friday, 427 million Americans went shopping for things they don't need, and over that weekend, they spent 52 billion dollars. Cyber Monday raked in another 1.7 billion dollars in spending. We have learned nothing in this recession.

But maybe I am taking it a little too far. I told my family last week that I don't really want to give presents, that I'd rather spend our money on our trip to DC (where we will visit this community!! SO excited!!) and other people (like the families at the food pantry who are asking for coats for their children for Christmas). This suggestion was met with blank stares. The husband grew up with fond memories of tons of presents at Christmas (and poverty for the other 364 days), and La Petite is still a kid who likes to open presents.

I can't help myself. I think we are ruining ourselves with stuff. I think we as a country are addicted to buying (food, clothes, cars, things, you name it); our kids play with their toys for five minutes and toss them in the trash (check out thrift stores the week between Christmas and New Year's - you'd be amazed at what gets tossed). We complain about jobs going overseas then buy our families the cheapest, most disposable items out there, made in factories by poorly paid, poorly treated workers with no rights (and then complain about how manufacturing has fallen off in America).

This is not a political rant. Both parties and all people are doing this. We are buying ourselves into oblivion, and we are set up this way; our country rises and falls on consumer spending, so we can justify our spending by saying we are helping the economy (which, to be sure, we are; all trends are upward). But what is the cost? Can't we help the economy with our spending in different ways? According to ABC World News, if everyone in the country spends just $64 on American-made goods this season we can create 200K jobs; we can also spend our money on experiences that boost the local economy, like dinner at the family restaurant in town, or ice skating at the pond that brings money in for the state. Why does it always have to be stuff?

It doesn't always have to be stuff, but changing minds is harder than changing habits. I am hopefully weaning my family off the need to buy stuff on one day of the year, but I am guessing this year we will fall somewhere in the middle; we will all get a stocking, and we have decided to only buy American-made goods, and our budget is very small. We will spend most of our cash on our trip to DC and fun with friends and family.

What traditions will you keep, and which will you change?

Friday, November 30, 2012

Flying By

Gotta get down on Friday.

Two days since my last post, and so much has happened for the school. Lovely donations coming in from EcoFoil, and La Petite's trailer for her tiny house is finished and ready for the framing to begin again, much love and thanks to Howard's Wrecker Service in Smyrna, Georgia. They tow, they do bodywork - they take care of their community).

Quinn made us some amazing homemade tagliatelle, Ella finished the blueprints for her chicken coop, we searched around for some chickens to incubate (dream set here; donations welcome!), and Will has made good strides on his go-kart. Oh, and we spent $38,000 in one day.

This week has flown by, and every day has been filled with chatter, laughter and conversation. It is hard to explain the flow of our days, how the kids move around the school and each other, how conversations that would be cut off in the normal flow of a traditional school day become long meandering roads of discovery, opinions, argument and new insight. Our days fly by in a flurry of activity, and sometimes they fly by in a flurry of play. Both are amazing to be a part of.

Lots of work ahead, and we are all so ready to do it. Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

If You Only Ever Watch One Video...

...this should be it.

I admit, I ignored it for a while. I thought it was a hoax or spam. Finally, a parent told me about it today, so after all the kids left I sat down and watched.

I ended the video with tears in my eyes. Imagine the courage and willpower it took for this person to do what he did. Imagine all of the people around him who said he couldn't do it. Imagine falling on your face, literally, hundreds of times.

Now imagine getting back up, hundreds of time. Imagine feeling how much every joint ached, seeing the scorn in people's faces, and doing it anyway. Imagine changing your life so completely that you go from being practically immobile and trapped in a wheelchair to doing whatever you can imagine a body physically doing. Imagine that all it takes is the doing of it, and faith in yourself.


Imagine that.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Something Shocking

Sometimes my students shock me. Seriously. I have ridiculously high expectations for them, and I pretty much say yes to anything, so you would think that I am often disappointed (high expectations + ginormously ambitious project = set up for debilitating failure). I am also asking everyone who enrolls in HoneyFern from a traditional school (kids and parents) to wrap their head around a new way of thinking; generally public school students struggle with the freedom and responsibility part of HoneyFern, as well as my utter disdain for multiple choice tests and other similarly useless projects like posterboards and dioramas (homeschooled students tend to "get it" a little faster.). It is a tough transition to go from teachers handing you a worksheet and assigning the whole class a project to a teacher who works more as a mentor and a guide, helping you sort through your dreams and figure out which one to pursue, and how.

So imagine my surprise when a student, given the choice between taking the easy way out (me designing his entire curriculum for him, following general, standardized guidelines) and the hard way out (following through with his commitment to his project that he selected and designed), the student chose the hard way, the one that held infinitely more reward for him but also offered exponentially more challenge (and sometimes in a frustrating way). I am so proud today that as I write this, I almost get a little teary. He gets it. He understands the value of persistence and perseverance, and he is a changed student from the first of the year.

I won't name him or go into detail; he is one of the students who will be leaving next year for high school because of sports, so he could have easily just given up and blown it off, done the minimum to get by. But he didn't. And for that simple reason, I have a ginormous surprise for him on December 20th, right before our winter break. Stay tuned for pictures of a flabbergasted kid.

Monday, November 26, 2012

What Should Children Read?

Oh, my goodness. This is the silliest question ever. The new Common Core Standards believe that 70% of what students read in high school should be non-fiction, and this has many people up in arms about this proclamation, claiming that this will kill Shakespeare (again) and bore children to tears with manuals and memos as their primary texts.

So what's the real answer?

Everything. They should read everything. Street signs, bumper stickers, cereal boxes, trashy magazines, literature, the newspaper, internet memes, comics, manga, sports programs, subtitles, credits, captions, manuals, emails, text messages...

You name it, they should read it.

When kids are learning how to read, the ones who are exposed to a wider variety and frequency of environmental print do better; they learn more quickly, and they understand better the functions and sounds of all of those lines, squiggles and dots. As kids move from learning to read to reading to learn (in and around the 3rd or 4th grade, in the absence of any learning issues or exceptionalities), this foundation with language and familiarity with all of its uses helps them to understand what they read more.

Essays, editorials, letters, poetry, reports, primary source documents, biographies, summaries, personal narratives...

Everything. They should read everything. In middle school, the hardest age to get most kids to read, the focus should be on letting them read whatever they want for pleasure, requiring them to sit down and read for a set period a day, every day, whatever they want, gradually introducing other forms in class (or whatever schoolish configuration you use) and connecting them as much as possible to their world and the reading they enjoy. It's like fishing. Don't bait the hook with a brussel sprout. A fish wants a fat, juicy worm. Let them read a zombie story if they want, like World War Z (a personal favorite), then teach geography with a non-fiction text, using the book (document the spread of zombies across the globe. I am telling you: you MUST read this book. It's like non-fiction. But not. You could teach oral histories with this, too, and epidemiology. I digress).

EVERYTHING. Did I mention you should let kids read EVERYTHING?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Ten Reasons Why People Love What They Do

MAN, is this ever timely. Ran across an article on Twitter this morning (follow me @HoneyFernSchool) about the ten reasons why some people love what they do. Here they are below, without explanations (the article is great, so read that, too, for more detail):

1. They seldom feel disconnected from the challenge that first engaged their interest.
2. They’re remarkably well-attuned to the “early years.”

3. They are “portfolio” thinkers.
4. They don’t care what you think.

5. They are born succession planners.
6. They will stay…but just know, they’ll also leave.

7. They won’t be stopped.
8. They draw people to them without even trying.

9. They live in the now.
10. They never, ever limit their vision to serve the interests of petty competition.
I love what I do; I finally get to teach in a manner that is in keeping with how students learn. FINALLY. I may have dabbled around in my classroom in public school, and I certainly taught differently from my colleagues, but at HoneyFern I get the enormous privilege of working with these faulous kids every day in the best way for them. Humbling.

However.

The one thing this week "off" has shown me (well, many things, not the least of which is that too many pieces of pie is both good and bad, simultaneously) is that I am at a high risk of burning out. It's not the teaching part - it's everything else. Think of what it takes to run a school, from janitorial services to teaching to ordering to marketing to recruiting to administrative duties to managing social media to procurement to accounting to HR to...everything.

Now picture one person doing that for the past three years.

When I met with several people to talk about being on the Board, the one recurring theme was that the progressive private schools they had been involved with did one of two things wrong and thus failed or struggled mightily: 1) they expanded too fast and could not deliver on what they promised, so they compromised and became something other than what they were originally, or 2) the founders burnt out.

While #1 will never happen, #2 is getting close. I can tell from my anxiety dreams and level of stress when the kids aren't here. I don't know what the answer is (more pie?), but I will continue to move forward. We will see what happens.

(and if you'd like to get involved, let me know!)

Friday, November 23, 2012

Giving Thanks, a Day Late But All At Once

Happy post-Thanksgiving Day!!

This morning I slept in and am now ticking off my list of things to do: make turkey stock, work on a painting I started yesterday, read up on the next physics class, trim my horse's feet - anything but go shopping.

While I am list making, it seems appropriate that I make my list of things I am grateful for. I like to get things done, so here are all 30 things in one list, in no particularly order:

I am grateful for:

1. La Petite, first and foremost. This one is the most important. Now back to my "no particular order" system.

2. This chocolate cream pie recipe from King Arthur flour.

3. The fact that HoneyFern is doing very well.

4. That 2012 is almost over (it has been a pretty rough year personally).

5. Our health. Time to start moving around more, though.

6. The big changes that are coming next year, hopefully all positive.

7. Pastor Leonard at Hollydale Methodist Church. Working with him on the food pantry and backpack blessings has been incredible; he does amazing things for his community!

8. The Georgia Student Scholarship Organization and our new partnership for next year (if you are a corporation or individual who pays taxes in Georgia and would like to donate, please contact us)!

9. My puppy, Gatsby, who turned one yesterday and is very much the spoiled child.

10. Andrew Odom and the Tiny House r(E)volution for suppporting La Petite as she builds her tiny house.

11. And while we're at it, Tumbleweed Tiny Houses for offering their support and assistance, too. We are going to a Tiny House building workshop in January 2013 in Orlando and very much looking forward to meeting the whole team!

12. Might as well thank them all: Tiny House Talk and Kirsten Dirksen, too!

13. Golden Paints. They are too expensive, but they are beautiful and excellent to work with!

14. My horse, Sadie.

15. Poetry.

16. My incredible students who make every challenging and most excellent.

17. Fresh pasta.

18. Learning new things.

19. Garden planning.

20. My dad, who passed away five years ago but who is always with us, every day, in a million little ways.

21. My oldest friend, Kerry Allen (Langkammerer).

22. Hydroponics. I am grateful for hydroponics, and Atlantis Hydroponics.

23. Howard's Wrecker Service in Smyrna, who is working on La Petite's trailer for her house.

24. My mom, who, at 69 years old, is going to India for three weeks in February 2013. Amazing.

25. My brother, who reaffirms my political beliefs every time I talk to him.

26. My country, that allows us to say whatever we want. This is a liberty that we take for granted.

27. The following people: those who hold the door, smile, say "please" and "thank you," and who are otherwise generally courteous. It doesn't take much.

28. Draft Horse Owners of Georgia, a Facebook page that has the most supportive online community I have seen. There is disagreement, but it is not demeaning.

29. My husband. We are not perfect, but we are trying. Doesn't sound like a glowing endorsement, but after this past year, that's pretty good.

30. Moving forward and making progress.

So there it is. Some of it is practical, and there isn't much glowy romantic fluff this year. As noted in several posts, 2012 has not been fabulous, and I am glad to be shut of it. There is so much to be grateful for, though, and making the list helps me keep that in mind.

Here's to gratitude, and starting every year fresh!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

How To Change Your Community With One Word

FOOD.

That's the one word that Incredible Edible uses to changes small towns from down-and-out to up-and-coming. This organization is based in the UK, but their website offers practical advice and tips for the vegging of your community that apply anywhere (local hardiness zones notwithstanding). Seattle has jumped on this bandwagon to create the nation's first "public food forest," and many other communities all across the country, urban and rural, are creating community garden plots and planting their front yards with green peppers instead of green grass.

Food builds community, and if it can educate while it nourishes, why not?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Project-based Learning

Project-based learning is the rock upon which HoneyFern rests. It places the learner front and center, giving them freedom and responsibility that fosters innovation and creativity.

For more on what project-based learning, please take 15 minutes out of your life to watch this video of High Tech High with its profound message and explanation of how project-based learning can really change a student's life. Then get in touch with HoneyFern to schedule a visit.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Nothing About Us Without Us Is For Us

The title of this blog post is taken from a video discussion involving three students from Youth in Action, a student advocacy group that places students at the center of school reform (social change in general, really).

And where else should students be?

I have said many times in this blog and IRL that education has become too political and adult-centered; change is not happening for the benefit of students, regardless of how many educational buzzwords are thrown around. Education should be utterly student-centered; the only question to ask when implementing a reform is really more of a gut-check for adults: is what we are about to do truly for the benefit of kids? If there is any doubt, throw it out.

Recently I spoke with several people who insisted that pulic school is changing to be more focused on students because it has to, and yet speaking to kids in public schools and teachers in the trenches, and watching the news or reading essays and articles on education, these changes do not seem at all student-centered. There is still a dogged insistence on standardized testing (and standardized teaching - I still love the administrator who told me he would have to observe me again because the lesson he dropped in on was "too student-centered")); there are still textbook adoption committees. Both of these things ignore the reality of students and the world, and that is just the beginning. Funding formulas, charter schools, grading and teacher training have not changed substantively in quite some time, and the (lack of) quality of public schools shows that clearly.

You want reform? Ask kids. Then listen. Imagining Learning is doing that, and the results are clear. Students want a voice and respect; they want belonging, community involvement, meaningful work. Any school that does not offer these things is a dinosaur.

As the student in the video says, "Nothing without us is for us." When is the last time you listened to a kid?

Best. School. Ever.

Srsly. Quinn made us homemade bread and Nutella for the last day before the Thanksgiving break,  and at the end of the day we all sat down together and had a tea party.

 
(Quinn is the one in the floppy hat)

Look how happy and relaxed. These kids genuinely enjoy each others' company, and the tea was a perfect end to the day.

Best. School. Ever.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Site of the Week: Middle School

The Site of the Week this week is focused on a grade band close to my heart: middle school. When I went for my master's degree, it was always my intention to focus on middle school. There is something about this age that I love. Kids in grades 6-8 are sassy, curious and very, very funny. They get sarcasm but can be compassionate and sincere. They love to play but want to be taken seriously. They stand on the precipice of young adulthood, but they still make fart jokes and build things with cardboard and skip down the hall.

Middle school was featured on NPR's "This American Life" last week, and that broadcast is the Site of the Week. The voices of the students (and the befuddlement of the adults in the recording, at times) reflect clearly the voices of students in middle school everywhere. Many people find this age exasperating, and as a parent I can understand that; La Petite has her moments, for sure. The take-away, though, is that if we let our kids find their voice and we listen to what they have to say with an open mind and heart, they will keep talking to us, and if they keep talking to us, we can forge a bond that is strong and resilient, much like middle school kids themselves.

Listen to this podcast with your middle school kid, and ask them what they think about it after. Tell them about your experiences in middle school (mine were fairly horrible; mostly I remember being completely uncomfortable for the majority of the time. That and throwing up on a ride at the fair, an event so traumatic that no one even mentioned it, just flashed sympathetic and vaguely disgusted glances at me for a couple weeks afterwards), and ask about theirs.

Have a great weekend!

Friday, November 16, 2012

A Request

HoneyFern is a small school trying to grow. We are not suffering any pains because we are doing it the right way: slowly, intentionally and with integrity.

We are, however, trying to offer programs and support that a larger, more fully funded private school might offer; we have several students building large projects, we go on frequent fieldtrips (including upcoming fieldtrips to the opera, the Centers for Disease Control, a high ropes course, Blue Springs State Park to swim with manatees and more), and the school in generally tries to be responsive to student needs, ordering books and programs as students need them. HoneyFern is funded entirely by student tuition; we do not have debt, and we do not plan to have debt.

What does all of this mean?

As we try to grow, branching out into more marketing and recruitment, we need more funds. On this blog there is a little button that says "Support Progressive Ed." This button leads you to a Paypal account for HoneyFern, and any donation you send in, large or small, will go directly to the program you indicate (or into the general fund if no program is indicated). Want to help us swim with the manatees? Earmark your donation to that fieldtrip. Like the idea of students dressed up and sitting in the audience of La Traviata? Send us to the opera with your donation.

Are you a corporation that pays taxes in Georgia? Interested in suppporting progressive education? Please considering supporting us through the Georgia Student Scholarship Organization. Your corporation can donate up to 75% of your Georgia tax liability and receive a dollar-for-dollar Georgia tax credit as well as a federal tax deduction. Individuals and couples can donate, too; contact us for more information on that program.

Whatever you choose, whatever amount works for you, thank you for supporting progressive education and small schools in Georgia. We could not do it without you!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

La Petite's Podcast Interview

Awesome.

Mad love to Andrew Odom and his support of La Petite's tiny house. Here is the podcast interview he conducted with La Petite earlier this week; in it, they discuss why she is building the house and what she hopes to get out of it. We are going to meet Andrew and his family next week and see his own tiny house, but in the meantime, I so appreciate his support and present this interview for your listening pleasure.

(La Petite's cover gets blown in this interview, but she will always be La Petite to me!!)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Quinn Cooks!

We had an open house for all families at HoneyFern last week, and one of our only male students vaccuumed the school in preparation.

This past week, our other male student decided that he wanted to begin cooking lessons, so we started off with pizza featuring homemade mozzarella, crust and sauce. Below is the video of Quinn making cheese. Enjoy!!


Next week is teatime, featuring homemade bread with homemade Nutella. Quinn will be serving the ladies tea, and he hopes desperately that Will is there, too!!!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Student Project: Hydroponic Greenhouse

Sarah, our newest new student, has decided that for her project she will be building a greenhouse with a hydroponic system. Because we both know very little about growing plants hydroponically, we decided it would be best to go ahead and set something up right away to experiment and figure out what works best. This video is of Sarah's first experimental system for lettuce.

 
 
We will check back in as we proceed through our experimental setups! Feel free to leave comments or suggestions on how to improve this!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Site of the Week: World History and Biology

Okay, late, late, late, but I have a massive case of the lazies (with a touch of the burntout), and I just couldne't get it together to post the Site of the Week Saturday (I took a nap instead).

This week, I found a great YouTube site that has short, fabulous videos on world history and biology. Strange combo but remarkably effective!

Enjoy!

Mindful

After a long weekend of softball (more on that later) and brief evening reading 12 x 12, I stumbled across a reference to this poem, which, in light of recent events in my personal life, is very timely. I share it this morning in hopes that it will inspire you to take a moment to be mindful.

Mindfulby Mary Oliver

Every day
I see or hear
something
that more or less

kills me
with delight,
that leaves me
like a needle

in the haystack
of light.
It was what I was born for -
to look, to listen,

to lose myself
inside this soft world -
to instruct myself
over and over

in joy,
and acclamation.
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,

the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant -
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,

the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help

but grow wise
with such teachings
as these -
the untrimmable light

of the world,
the ocean's shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?

Have a beautiful day!

Friday, November 9, 2012

How to Make Time Pass in the Office

It is a beautiful day here in Georgia; today one of the students is making lunch for the school (homemade pizza with homemade mozzarella, sauce and crust) and we are also going to monitor our stream. A good thing.

If you are trapped in an office and trying to make the time pass more quickly, here are five TedTalks that are really important for parents of gifted kids to watch. They are about 15 minutes each, and all give you reason to cheer and lots to think about.

Have a great day, and a beautiful weekend!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Worky Work, Busy Bee!!

Quick updates for the week; everything seems to be flying by, and blogging time has been limited!!

What are we doing?

1. Visiting a machine shop to get a critique of go-kart schematics;

2. Starting cooking classes with pizza, featuring homemade mozzarella, pizza crust and sauce;

3. Trying to figure out the mystery pH of our hydroponic system (4.5 one day, 7.5 five days later);

4. Working on blueprints for a chicken coop/artist space;

5. Translating children's books into French (Fancy Nancy);

6. Gearing up for a podcast with Andrew Odom, another local tiny house builder and starter of Tiny
r(E)volution;

7. Winning a $25,000 grant for board development;

8. Still recruiting an Executive Director; and

9. Adding more students!

This year is flying by, and before we know it we will be out of this location and (hopefully) into another one next fall, with at least 20 students and another teacher. If you'd like to join us, please contact HoneyFern to schedule a visit and get to know us better!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day

Every time I vote I remember the first time I voted. My polling place was an old folks' home in Catonsville, Maryland, and I remember standing in an endless line of old people; the whole building smelled like baby powder and disinfectant. I was so excited to be voting, having waited so long for the right, and I was probably the only person smiling in the line. It took about an hour to get up to the booth, pull the curtain and cast my vote. I stayed up all night and watched the returns. My candidate won.

Voting is the most important responsibility we have as citizens of this country. Full stop. So why do approximately 40% of eligible voters stay home? Voter turnout this year is likely to be lower than eight years ago in one of the most polarizing elections in, well, four years. A vote that is split nearly evenly down the middle, as it has been for the past three elections, in hardly a referendum or a clear indication of what the country actually wants. Why do people stay home? Apathy? Ignorance? Disenfranchisement? Probably a combination of the three.

I have been saying that no matter who wins this election, we all lose. Until everyone who is eligible votes makes it to the polls, and until there is a clear unity in the direction of the country, Americans will continue to bicker, squabble and be disrespectful of each other's choices.  "This American Life" on NPR had a story on Sunday about how we are no longer able to discuss politics, that it is less about trying to understand the other's point of view and more about getting them to change their minds; both sides call the other one ignorant, uneducated and foolish, and both sides are equally distorting facts and statistics to make their points. Friendships and families are tested during election season; I cannot speak to my brother at all about politics, so divided are we.

This deep divide in the country is not right either, but perhaps the issue is that we are not all involved, and if everyone who could vote, did, then we would actually understand better the pulse of the country. There are many reasons for voting, and elections matter. The polls are open until 7 pm local time; if you are registered to vote but do not know where your polling pace is, text WHERE to 877-877, then reply with your full home address. Your boss is required by law to allow you to vote, and there are many organizations who are working hard to get you to the polls. Get your kids involved by printing out this map and having them color each state as the returns come in. Do a little research on the electoral college in general, and find your state's electors.

GO VOTE. It is the most important thing you will do this year.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Site of the Week: Rhyming?

Whether you are a writer or a rapper, a poet or a poseur, this Site of the Week is for you: an online rhyming dictionary. Type in your word and up pops many rhymes, including near rhymes and multiple syllable rhymes.

A very helpful tool!

Friday, November 2, 2012

On Halloween

I admit it: I was one of those, "If you're not wearing a costume, I'm not giving you candy" types of people. Nothing would make me turn off my porch light faster than a group of kids in t-shirts making up lame excuses, like "I'm a student," or "It's laundry day."

That changed this year.

The neighborhood we live in had fewer porch lights on this year (by half, probably) than when we last trick-or-treated it (about two years ago), and barely any kids in costume (whereas they were nearly all costumed before).  I asked my kid if she thought that if, given the opportunity, kids her age and younger would choose not to wear a costume, and she said she believed they would dress up if they could.

And with that, it hit me: dressing up is a middle-class privilege. Handing out (and receiving) "the good candy" is a middle class privilege. Our neighborhood is decidely working class, trending more toward the lower-SES than the middle. Our local elementary school is 90% free-and-reduced-price lunch eligible.  My daughter and I generally make her costume every year, and the total price comes in around $30, what you might spend to buy a costume in a bag. A family with two or three kids may not be able to shell out the bucks for a costume; does that mean they should stay inside on Halloween, or, worse yet, choose which kid gets a costume and which one doesn't?

We talk about our economy in vague terms, with both presidential candidates tossing around billions of dollars like a beach ball, but in reality, the economy hurts kids in terms of their childhood; little things like trick-or-treating are affected, and just like that are gone. This is one of those walk-a-mile-in-someone-else's-shoes kinds of revelations. Seems simple, but this week I listened to every adult I spoke to rail against kids who aren't in costume. That was me in the past, but not anymore.

(Understand that I still have some issues with 16-year-olds wandering around asking for candy. I haven't quite shaken that. I am talking about middle school and lower).

My kid's candy haul was less this year, but the night was no less fun for it. We painted one of the horses like a tiger and took him around with candy so the neighborhhod could see a live horse (one little girl asked if she could pet our cow), and one particularly incredible person in the neighborhood staged an elaborate haunted house that was the biggest draw of all. I wished I had bought more candy. I wished it hadn't taken me so long to see why giving candy to uncostumed kids is okay.  Next year I am going to stock up on the good kind of candy and hand it out to everyone who knocks.

I leave you with this Day of the Dead video; have a great weekend!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!

A classic for Halloween; stay tuned for undead pictures of the whole school later in the day...


Have a spooky day!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Sandy Clean Up

No post today except to say that my thoughts are with those who hunkered down as Sandy roared past last night. My whole family is in that region, and many friends in West Virginia are now also dealing with blizzard conditions.

For those of us out of the region, some good reminders on how to stock a disaster kit. Stay safe, and please make sure and check in when you can!

Monday, October 29, 2012

What Would Help You Achieve Your Greatest Potential?

A new school in Ottawa asks that very question, and on November 11th they are holding an open house to help your student answer it. Compass Learning Centre is based on the model of North Star in Massachusetts.

Here is Compass's promo video; if you have a teen in the Ottawa area, check them out on November 11th!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

La Petite Wins!

In addition to being a budding master builder, La Petite plays travel softball, and yesterday her team won their first tournament of the fall season, qualifying for a berth in the USSSA World Series in Orlando.

La Petite is a catcher, and she and the shortstop got the final out when LP threw a girl out who was trying to steal second (LP also batted .682). Other highlights: a homerun from a player who had been slumping for a long time, watching a pick-up player run circles (literally) around the infield as she stole base after base, and seeing the girls stay in the game when things got rough.

So proud.

Site of the Week: David Foster Wallace

I love David Foster Wallace, and I am still angry that he took his own life four years ago. Infinite Jest changed the way I thought about fiction and was the first book I read outside of college that required serious study to understand (I kept a vocabulary list; in addition to words I initially thought were made up, the book has 150 pages of endnotes, including an entire fictitious movie catalog).

I saw him read in Seattle twelve years ago, and I think I realized then that he was not long for this world; a sweaty, shaking, nervous mess, he took frequent gulps of water as he read and barely made eye contact. His reading voice was sure and steady though, as if his own words propped him up. He disappeared into the back of the store immediately after the reading. He reminded me of a mouse - skittish and shy.

So the Site of the Week is an unfinished story about the Internet. And as a bonus, one of my favorite essays of his, "Consider the Lobster."

This September 8th DFW would have been 50. I miss him.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Girls Who Code

Yes, you read that correctly: girls can do computer science just the same as boys. In New York City, Girls Who Code is a non-profit organization that teaches underprivileged girls the art and science of computer science, including developing apps and websites (more than just your standard, drag-and-drop sites).

With only 14% of engineers in the United States being female, and the huge gap between highly-skilled jobs in the STEM industry and qualified workers, this organization and others are focusing on bringing girls into the sciences.

About time, I say. This country is underutilizing 51% of its population, paying them 82% of what they pay men and ignoring their drive and capabilities. As a nation, we cannot afford to alienate girls in STEM any longer.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Random Acts of Kindness

Have you done any lately? When was the last time you were kind for no reason, maybe even to a stranger or someone who you don't feel deserved it?

This guy has been performing random acts of kindness every day for 289 days. He gives me hope for humanity, even during election season when things get especially nasty and it seems like our country is about to implode.

"Doing good feels good," to paraphrase a parent. She is absolutely right. Go try it today: do something totally random and very kind, and report back. It needn't be huge; one of the things I like to do is very small but effective. Sometimes we shop at Aldi, a grocery store that secures its carts with chains to avoid paying staff to retrieve them from all over the parking lot. You insert a quarter into the cart to release the chain, and when you put the cart back, you get your quarter back. I started leaving the carts secure but unchained to give the next person A) a free cart and B) a quarter if they wanted it.

One Saturday I left my quarter and was sitting in my car in the parking lot, organizing my stuff to go to another store when a lady knocked on my window; when I rolled the window down, she handed me the quarter I left in the cart, saying she noticed I forgot it.

This may not seem like much. It's a quarter. But this particular Aldi is in a very low-income neighborhood, and sometimes a quarter makes a huge difference. This lady ran across the parking lot to give it back to me. I explained what I was doing (leaving it on purpose) and she almost cried. I drove away, and when I pulled into the next grocery store (sometimes I go to several), I heard someone calling across the parking lot. It was the same lady, and she wanted to know how much that simple gesture touched her and that she was going to start doing the same thing.

A quarter. It doesn't take much. It is the compassionate, connected intention behind the act, not the grandeur. Go do something nice today.