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.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Brain Pickings - How to Break Through a Creative Block

We all have it, yes? Creative block when we are paralyzed with indecision and everything we do seems paltry?

From Brain Pickings (one of the best internet sites ever. Srsly. Check them out) comes an essay on overcoming this, with insight from many sources, including this:

To wit, take care of yourself, read a lot, don't overschedule, work and stop complaining. How easy is that?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Unschooling, Self-Direction and School

The art of self-direction is  a beautiful thing, and this blog details the importance of developing this within oneself; it also serves as a critique of the current practices of school (including pre-school) and parenting that inhibit the growth of this vital skill.

There is much in the reserach about the benefits of pre-school, but these benefits are generally for kids who come from low-SES families; parents are not around (due to work or other factors) to stimulate their kids with trips to museums, zoos, or other activities that middle-class parents have the luxury of affording. Indeed, some of these activities disappear for all kids when they enter their surly teenage years, but the foundation for learning is often laid by parents who are involved, in both hands-on and hands-off ways.

From the blog,

" Whereas in school I was every day directed by adults to where I should come to learn, what to learn when I got there, when I should learn it, how and from whom; outside school I would set out on most journeys from my house at my own direction as to where, when, how, and to see whom. Both of these scenarios are part of adult life, but we usually enter into the former, and continue to abide by its strictures, at our own direction."


In contrast to the captivating immersion of the real-world seemed more and more like a daily grind, with interesting stuff occasionally but increasing time spent on curriculum that felt boring and pointless given my emerging self-directed developmental path forward."

The entire blog is a bit long, but the journey of the author is an interesting one that mirrors some of the kids who leave school, not because of outside factors but because of school itself (I fall into the latter category). How do we engage those kids who see nothing in school for them? And what do we do about the fact that sometimes there really is nothing there for them?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Site of the Week 3

Site of the Week is a no-brainer: National Novel Writing Month, the marathon-type sprint (try it, and you'll know what I mean) to complete an entire novel in just thirty days, starts in just 11 short days. The website linked has (free) writing guides for middle and high school, and I think adults can use them to (no one will know if you don't tell them!).

I actually made up my own month a couple years ago in April (National Non-Fiction Writing Month) and completed a non-fiction book (along with a student who wrote a book of essays) that I still have not refined and published.

Oh, well. NaNoWriMo is all about quantity, not quality, although famous books have come out of it.

Sharpen your pencils, have a seat, and get writing!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Weekly Blog Round Up

Updates on the newest blogs from La Petite  and Go, kart, GO!. Both of these students are collecting donations of monay and materials; if you would like to support either, please feel free to donate via PayPal (you can use HoneyFern's email address) and make a note which project you'd like to support or sponsor. Thank you in advance for your support of student innovation!

Please go ahead and follow these bloggers as a show of support; it is very encouraging to them when they log on and see their followers, and feel free to re-post and share their blogs!

We will have a new student blogger joining us in the coming weeks, and another student who is beginning work on a book of poetry.

Lots of writing, and many updates to come. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Best Day Ever? Possibly.

How can you dislike a day that ends with a picture like this?

Today was the first day with both new students, and the best description of the day may be cheerfully managed chaos. Highlights:

  • Ella's earthmover working.
  • Quinn helping Brie, our youngest student, get started on her earthmover and treating her like a little sister
  • Sicily demonstrating her veggie oil heater
  • Will persisting in the face of exploding hydraulics
  • Monica taking the leap and starting to work in English on math
  • All students discussing the effect of the recent debates on the Stock Market (unprompted)

This is the best school ever, for sure, and it is all about the kids and watching them be amazing. I get to do that every week, and I feel intensely privileged to do so.

So lucky. So grateful.

Just for Fun

What are you doing today?

Go ahead: Draw a Stickman!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

10 Trends in (Home)Schooling

Ten trends in homeschooling, many of which make it nearly unrecognizable from historical homeschooling. Gone is the stereotyped image of rows of desks at home, with primly dressed children paying pert attention while a long-skirted and bonneted mother leads them through their lines.

Homeschoolers are dual-enrolled, co-op utilizing, blended learning machines. Homeschoolers are also looking to hybrid schooling as a way to ensure credit for classes, utilizing schools that offer flexible designs; in some cases, hybrid schools are more traditional (i.e., students attend traditional classes and complete assigned homework before the next session), but other students look for schools like HoneyFern, which help students design their own curriculum and then allows them to work at home two days a week.

Whichever route they go, homeschoolers (and homeschooling) have changed and are in some ways  leaders in the reform movement. Parents are doing it better for their kids, and traditional schools would do well to sit up and take notice.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Children Learn Like Scientists

In yet another fine study from the Department of Duh, researchers found that when left to their own devices, children learn like scientists!

I hate to sound so cynical about educational research, but this seems so very obvious to me. If you spend ten minutes with even a very yong child, you can watch them make sense of their world by interacting with it, testing its capabilities, combining the old with the new, failing, trying again.

You don't see very young children voluntarily submitting themselves to the kind of punishment that is sitting at a desk in a structured way; most often, young children rebel and have very short attention spans when asked to complete adult-designed tasks. The study above confirms this and says that,

"...ensuring each child has a nurturing environment to explore early on may be as or more important to getting them ready for school than ensuring they meet pre-literacy benchmarks."

This is not a radical notion to me. We should allow freedom of movement and play, ask questions and follow the lead of young kids. How better to give them a sense of their own brain power? How better to keep them thinking, active and involved? How better to give them a feeling of personal responsibility for themselves, their education and their world?

Not a big leap here. Let kids be kids and lead the way. Just like mini-scientists.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Identifying Gifted Children

This has always been an issue in the community.

For too long, a disproportionate number of gifted students have been white and wealthy; look in most schools, and the classrooms identified as gifted are generally filled with light-skinned children, even in schools that are majority minority.

New York City proposes to change this by heavily weighting a non-verbal test in their evaluation for gifted programs. The Naglieri NonVerbal Ability Test

"...relies on abstract spatial thinking and largely eliminates language, even from the instructions, an approach that officials said better captures intelligence, is more appropriate for the city's multilingual population and is less vulnerable to test preparation."

I believe this is a solid step in the right direction, but all of this starts with teacher training. When I was teaching the gifted endorsement, 100% of teachers in my classes said that if they spent any time at all looking at gifted students, it was the equivalent of a couple hours, spread over their coursework. They were never told characteristics of gifted children, potential discipline issues when bored or myths of the gifted. There was no mention of twice-exceptional students, and no instruction regarding differentiation beyond mentioning briefly Bloom's Taxonomy.

Many times the identification process starts with teachers recommending students; how many teachers would recognize gifted potential in a student who is failing their class or is disruptive? How many teachers would see that low-SES student in tutoring afterschool and think to have them evaluated? Or the student who is brilliant in the art room?

The focus on non-verbal ID is great, but we need more education for our teachers on how to spot kids who show signs of giftedness (not just hard work; highly motivated does not mean gifted!!), and we need to encourage parents to speak up for their children.

Beyond that, we need to incorporate gifted teaching techniques into regular classrooms. Baby steps, though.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Site of the Week

This Site of the Week is all about you.

The site Mark and Angel Hack Life consists mostly of Cosmo-seeming headlines ("10 Ways to a Happier You!"), but upon inspection they are actually pretty fabulous lists. This week we focus on "50 Questions That Will Free Your Mind"; personal favorites include #3 (If life is so short, why do we do so many things we don’t like and like so many things we don’t do?), #23 (Have you been the kind of friend you want as a friend?) and #50 (Decisions are being made right now. The question is: Are you making them for yourself, or are you letting others make them for you?).

Make yourself a cup of coffee (tea, water: you get the idea), grab a notebook and a pen, and roam around this site of the week. You are apt to find something good.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Child-Driven Education And Other Radical Notions

Take a few minutes and watch this. Sugata Mitra and his hands-on research with kids and education reveals this very (un)surprising fact:

"Children will learn to do what they want to learn to do."


"If children have interest, then education happens."

Thursday, October 11, 2012

School in a Box: What's Next?

So Pearson, the testing giant who stands to profit most from this latest revamp of standards (here comes the Common Core) introduced its newest "innovation" last week: school in a box.

"Pearson is in discussions with groups aiming to establish the new schools through the government’s flagship plan to raise education standards.

It would provide a “school in a box” — from teacher training, textbooks, software systems to exam assessment."

This latest catastrophe in standardization of your children is thankfully being piloted overseas, but watch out; the US tends to leap at anything "new" and could easily market this to potential schools as a way to quickly and easily offer "choice."

I am starting a school as I write. Have started a school, actually. And I can tell you right now, there is no way this box is going to make it happen. There is no book that you can read, no set of software, no program or assessment that can be packed in a box, even in combination, that will help you start a school. Just like our children, each school has a heartbeat, is unique, requires nuturing.

Prisons. You could start those from a box.

Assembly line factories. Those could be started from a box.

But not schools. Never schools. People email me all the time asking how to start a school, and I ask them how long they have to listen to me talk. As we enter this new era of expansion at HoneyFern, the conversation is even longer.

School in a box? Catastrophe.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Balance: Do You Have It?

HoneyFern is struggling to find some balance, but, as with most things, it gets worse before it gets better.

By worse, I actually mean exponentially better, if busier and more chaotic. Good things are in the works. We have two new students, three potential board members, some angel donors in the works, and a plan to move forward. So much goodness!!

Until this all comes together, though, I, the sole teacher, marketer, webmaster, grantwriter, HR/payroll/accounting, recruiter and social media manager, am seriously busy. The priority is always the students, so they are the bulk of every day, but when they leave, the afterburners kick on, and away I go - planning, calling, writing, emailing, marketing, meeting, organizing, planning, planning, planning.



I have found in the past that if I just put my head down and do it, it gets done, but so do I; I get done. Grumpy. Overwhelmed. Not joyously happy. Amazingly enough, the thing that helps me speed up is taking a few moments to slow down. Go for a hike. Cook a meal (not just making dinner - BIG difference!). Paint. Write. Rub the horse. Lay on La Petite's bed and watch her bop around her room. Things like that. Nothing complicated, expensive or hard. Sometimes I have to schedule these interludes (irony), but if I don't they won't happen.

This is a joyful thing I am doing here, this lovely school, and in seeking balance, I remember to enjoy the fruits of my labor, and it makes me a better person.


Monday, October 8, 2012

Knowledge as a Mosaic

Just had a great conversation with the parent of a profoundly gifted child; his observation that knowledge is like a mosaic. You add pieces at a time, and maybe they don't make sense at the time in the whole picture, but eventually, with time, experience and perspective, you can step back and see how they connect to the whole.

In my mind I immediately pictured those mosaics that are actually collections of photographs that make a whole picture, like this:

 (picture made up of photographs from baby's first year)

Our final picture of knowledge is actually a collection of  pictures, loaded with meaning. From the outside, anyone can understand the superficial image, but we are the only ones that really know what it all means, as the "photographer" and artist that put it all together. Love that this means we don't necessarily have to know why everything is in our minds at the moment it enters.

(if you want to try your hand, here is a little online tool, and here is a tutorial. Good stuff.)

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Oh, Alfie Kohn, I Really Want To Agree With You...

...but the way you keep framing your arguments gets in the way.

I don't know if you are trying to be provocative, or if you are trying to get people riled up, or maybe it is not your fault, and the editors of your most recent essays are giving them controversial spin, but most of your recent essays seem to be finger-pointing and accusatory towards the very people who may be trying to change education.

Take, for example, this article on failure. You call allowing kids to fail "conventional wisdom" when there is plenty of evidence that this idea is not-so-conventional (evidence: no longer giving zeroes, padded grades, social promotion), and you go on to malign those people who subscribe to this notion (does that include Edison? He was a famous failure, as were Einstein and Steve Jobs).

Later in the blog, you clarify and say that they failure needs to be "reframed" by adults, then go on to say that adults aren't doing that either.

Really? Where is the research that says they are not doing this? Since you are clamoring for "conventional research" yourself, on what do you base this claim?

I do love your work, but it seems like you are stirring the pot to try to stay relevant, deliberately choosing to poke the people who would support you. At the end of the blog you throw in some conversation about grades and how they are irrelevant and the debate rages on. Is this really what you are writing about? The irrelevance of grades? If so, grab some research to back it up (there is plenty, as you well know) and leave the whole conversation of about the benefits (or lack thereof) of failure out of it. You end with a gross generalization that throws your entire argument for a loop, discussing environments in which kids would benefit from failure.

I appreciate the contributions you have made, but you need to focus and keep the most important thing the most important thing. For now it seems like you are only interested in railing against those that might support you.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Site of the Week

This post idea is shamelessly stolen from something retweeted on my Twitter feed (@HoneyFernSchool); I am going to attempt to remember to post one site every week that has made an impression for one reason or another. They may or may not be entirely related to education, and this week is sort of, kind of not really related.


Simply shameless.

Fall food pictures have been coming out for a couple weeks now, and they are enough to make me forget I just ate lunch. For their contribution to the obesity epidemic, food photographers should be regulated as strictly as a 16-ounce soda in NYC.

But I digress.

The Site of the Week is pretty straightforward: simple fall suppers, photographed from above. Nothing too crazy about that. The best part is that they are all delicious, simple and don't have super-exotic ingredients. When you want to cook something fabulous on a weeknight, these are your go-to.

Oh, and a bonus: we are re-growing celery, inspired by this blog. So far, so good!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Education is Not "For" Anything

As a teacher, one of the first things I learned was to expect the question, "Why do we have to know this?" Every time I planned a lesson, I tried very hard to have some real purpose behind it, some application that would make sense and somehow render the subject more useful-seeming. This is easy with some subjects (reading, writing), less so with others (upper level math, string theory), but a couple days ago I came across an essay that made me reconsider my need to have a "purpose" for everything.

This essay asserts that education, in and of itself, is purpose enough, that we need to really define what education means, beyond testing (but not excluding testing) in order to produce students who can function without anxiety in this world.

Boy, do I ever agree.

HoneyFern gives grades, and that is a struggle for me sometimes. Here we are, being all individual and whatnot, then I come along and plop a grade on something. That is not exactly how it works, but it feels like it sometimes. What is more telling is the process a student went through, how they acted when they encountered obstacles or did not know, what changes they made as they went, how they improved over the last time. This is difficult to grade, but it has more value than a worksheet or test in the long run. As the author of the article says, " However you dress this up it means we have to put process before content; how we learn before what we learn. Otherwise, we will bring up children who are unable to cope with twenty-first century life."

When was the last time you learned something (anything: a skill, a hobby, a language, a fact) just because? Compare that to the last time you learned something for a test (or, as an adult, for work-related improvements). What was the difference in your approach and your feelings towards what you were learning  when it was to please yourself versus to please someone else (or pass/get a raise)?

If we can figure out how to honor each student's process and voice instead of shoving them all towards the same goal, that might be the best way to revolutionize education and begin to see some real change. If we can treat education as the means and the end, what would that look like?

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Tiny House Builders, Unite!

Seems that there are other young tiny house builders across the land; La Petite has company! A 17-year-old in California is holding an open house on October 11th to celebrate the completion of his tiny house.

He blogs about his experience and invites anyone who can to attend.

I would like to know more about this person, and if we were less than 3,000 miles away, a road trip would surely be in order!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Following the Circadian Rhythm

I cannot think of an excellent reason to not nap at 2 pm, and this article backs me up.

Keepin' it European...

Realistically, I have eleven million things to do today, and I am not speaking hyperbolically (well, maybe a little). I have identified a property for HoneyFern that I am trying to go see today, and I have also found a potential angel donor (and am working on a couple others. If you would like to be an angel donor for our move, please contact me!). I am working on email marketing plans, lesson plans and plans for next week when students are on their flex week (still working, but at home).

I am planning a possible overnight field trip to swim with manatees in Florida at Blue Springs State Park and also calling about a high ropes course in North Georgia.

I have two scheduled phone calls.

I need more coffee.

Have a beautiful day!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Habit Forming

On this rainy Monday morning, a few musings and links regarding habits.

Several years ago, one of my last good ones in public school, I decided that whatever I taught I would teach through the lens of the 16 Habits of Mind. I would teach them directly, briefly, then ask all of the kids to make connections with everything we did. It became the language of the classroom. This was one of the best years I ever had teaching; kids made huge leaps in their achievement and, more importantly, intellectual habits. We were talking in terms of persistence, creativity and flexibility instead of meets or exceeds the standards. We did not once participate in test prep or even discuss the test, but my kids blew it out of the water, with 98% of them exceeding standards, and 30% of that 98% getting perfect scores on the sections for which I was responsible (reading, language arts and social studies). It was the year I earned the Master Teacher designation on my teaching certificate.

And all we did was change our habits.

Willam James offers three rules for forming new habits:

  1. The acquisition of a new habit, or the leaving off of an old one, we must take care to launch ourselves with as strong and decided an initiative as possible. Accumulate all the possible circumstances which shall reenforce the right motives; put yourself assiduously in conditions that encourage the new way; make engagements incompatible with the old; take a public pledge, if the case allows; in short, envelop your resolution with every aid you know. This will give your new beginning such a momentum that the temptation to break down will not occur as soon as it otherwise might; and every day during which a breakdown is postponed adds to the chances of its not occurring at all.
  2. Never suffer an exception to occur till the new habit is securely rooted in your life. Each lapse is like the letting fall of a ball of string which one is carefully winding up; a single slip undoes more than a great many turns will wind again. Continuity of training is the great means of making the nervous system act infallibly right … It is surprising how soon a desire will die of inanition if it be never fed.
  3. Seize the Very first possible opportunity to act on every resolution you make, and on every emotional prompting you may experience in the direction of the habits you
    aspire to gain. It is not in the moment of their forming, but in the moment of their producing motor effects, that resolves and aspirations communicate the new ‘set’ to the brain.

Joan Didion got into the act with her discussion of character as it relates to self-respect and habit:

[C]haracter — the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life — is the source from which self-respect springs.

Self-respect is something that our grandparents, whether or not they had it, knew all about. They had instilled in them, young, a certain discipline, the sense that one lives by doing things one does not particularly want to do, by putting fears and doubts to one side, by weighing immediate comforts against the possibility of larger, even intangible, comforts.


[S]elf-respect is a discipline, a habit of mind that can never be faked but can be developed, trained, coaxed forth.

So self-respect goes hand-in-hand with discipline and character. Perhaps there are parts of character that are innate, but others can be strengthened, deepened and improved.  Kids in that Habits of Mind year had success they had never experienced before, and they felt better, more confident, because of it. If changing a habit is as simple as changing your mind, and doing so improves everything about your life, what are you waiting for?