Friday, June 29, 2012

Get Outta The Way

Sometimes that is all we need to do.

Get outta the way.

When we allow kids the time and space to create, think, experiment, fail, plan, sit, act, and so on, we help them to create great things.

When we ask questions instead of answering we grow their brains.

When we don't leap in to fix what isn't working, we allow them to become problem-solvers and critical thinkers.

When we hold back criticism or praise, we teach them how to evaluate their own work, both in regard to process and product.

When we stay outta the way and let them create and imagine, we blur the lines between work and play.

This lesson is difficult for teachers and parents to learn; somehow we don't trust that kids are curious when it is really us who need to stop thinking quite so literally and linearally (a word?) so we can see the possibilities.

Like the tiny house project; The Child has her model (above) and is working on floor plans and blueprints. I am giving her the tools and stepping out of the way. She is dreaming big, and I will give her space to see which dreams she can make happen, which aspects that she is willing to brainstorm and create her way through, and which ones she finds less important.

I am getting outta the way and watching her bloom.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Gifted 101

 How much misunderstanding can one group of kids be the victim of? See below. This scratches the surface.

Truly gifted kids are quite frequently bored in our schools. Just because they test into a gifted class doesn't mean the gifted teacher has a CLUE what "gifted" means. Gifted doesn't mean more; it is truly a different way of thinking, and it has nothing to do with color or culture. Georgia Tech has a little helmet you can plop on your head to measure brain activity, and the brains of gifted people make connections faster and with less stops along the way (that's the simplistic explanation, but you get the picture). The question of who gets identified as gifted is as simple as looking in a classroom: upper SES students, regardless of color but generally white or Asian. This is from both experience and research. It is simply a fact.

Gifted DOES NOT EQUAL MOTIVATED. They are not the same thing. This is why you have gifted kids who fail. Please click here for more myths about the gifted.

Contrary to popular belief, not every mother wants a gifted child. Gifted kids often come with hypersensitivity, and an inordinate number of them have undiagnosed AD(H)D (see info and stats here).  They are often defiant and utterly unmotivated by tasks they find useless or repetitive (which is much of public school these days). Profoundly gifted kids, those with a tested IQ of over 145, are a whole other ball of wax. They have a greater capacity for thinking much earlier than the adults in their lives. Our public school systems, and most private schools, are utterly incapable of properly educating these kids. What do you do with a ten-year-old who is writing and publishing papers at the doctoral level (Gabriel See in Seattle)?

Criteria to identify gifted students are set as law across each state, but if you have teachers who are not trained in identifying gifted kids, they will not recommend for testing, especially those kids who are twice-exceptional (or thrice; I had a profoundly gifted kid with Asperger's and Tourette's, plus a seizure disorder. I have taught several highly gifted kids with Asperger's and a solid 40% of my gifted classes had ADD/ADHD (most undiagnosed). When I taught the gifted endorsement, it was astonishing at the level of ignorance of teachers who would not know a gifted kid if they ran over one.
Gifted programs are underfunded and seen as superfluous. Teachers are untrained and lack the time (interest? wherewithal?) to get trained. Most teacher training programs spend an hour or two of gifted kids and move on.

"Gifted" programs are watered down in many schools so they receive more funding. Simplistically, a regular kid is worth 1 block of funding, but a student in a "gifted" class recieves 1.5 blocks of funding, and even more if they are ELL or also in SpEd.  It behooves the school to put more kids in gifted programs (although there are rules about who counts, and not all schools are strictly aboveboard in their accounting). "Gifted" programs are thus moving towards the middle as well, and gifted kids are once again being given short shrift.

I could go on. Gifted kids are my specialty; there is a lot of misinformation in the world about who they are and what they need. It has nothing to do with color, culture, language or age. Anyone who says differently is displaying ignored which can be ameliorated with some research. Hopefully this is a start.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

10 Things Banned in School*

While there are many things banned in schools worldwide that should rightly be restricted, many feel that schools are taking regulations too far these days and banning things that can help kids build relationships, have fun, learn, and understand how to function in the real world. They may just have a point. As you read through this list, you'll see more than a few knee-jerk reactions by schools to problems that could have been solved in much more logical and meaningful ways, as well as a few things most of us can't imagine our school days without. More than being surprising, many of these bans are downright ridiculous and draw attention away from far more pressing educational issues.
  1. Touching:

    It completely makes sense to ban all types of inappropriate touching at school, but many schools have gone far beyond that. They've not only banned sexual touching, horseplay, and fighting, but other, far more innocuous types of touching as well. One school in Fairfax, Virginia decided to ban all types of touching, including high fives. Another school in Fort Worth banned hugs and hand-holding. They're not alone. Schools around the nation and the world are following suit. Schools defend their decisions by stating that the bans help ensure nothing inappropriate goes on (whether between students or between teachers and students) and reduces their chances of being caught up in a lawsuit. Kids and their parents aren't entirely convinced, and many have circulated petitions, staged protests, and quite vocally made their opposition to the bans clear to school administrators.
  2. Dancing:

    Kids today may be getting the chance to live out real-life versions of the '80s classic (and now remade) Footloose. We have no qualms with bans that don't allow students to engage in sexually suggestive dancing, but schools aren't just outlawing those kinds of moves. While silly, it actually isn't that surprising. Ridiculous dance bans are nothing new, with "The Twist" being banned by Buffalo in 1962 and all fad dances being off-limits at BYU around the same time. It seems not much has changed. In 1996, many schools banned "the Macarena" for being "too provocative." While the lyrics do reference sex, it's unlikely that many elementary school kids even noticed. Remember the Hokey Pokey? Kids may not be able to do this dance anymore either, as religious officials have said it promotes anti-Catholic feelings (again, unlikely that anyone, let alone kids, would relate the two). Dancing is apparently so objectionable that in New York, the word itself is banned from standardized tests.
  3. Red ink:

    Apparently, today's kids can't take criticism very well, even when merited. While our schools are already trying to keep up with others in the world, many schools have made that even harder by enacting ridiculous bans on things like red ink. Hundreds of schools in the U.S., the U.K., and Australia have outlawed the use of red ink when grading papers, stating that the color is too "confrontational" and "threatening." School officials state that students feel demoralized when they see a sea of red on their papers (somehow other colors are less off-putting?). But many aren't buying the reasoning, stating that children need to learn from their mistakes and be able to maintain self-esteem in the midst of criticism if they're to make it in the real world.
  4. Any kind of junk food:

    It's true that there is a serious obesity epidemic in America and that the food students eat at school needs to be markedly more healthy, but some schools have taken that issue a bit too far when making regulations. Many schools have banned junk food outright, both that being sold on campus and brought from home (spicy Cheetos have been targeted especially hard, even jokingly being called the "red menace"). While the bans may help some kids eat healthier, many feel it doesn't actually help kids develop good food habits (some studies have found that junk food bans have little impact and may actually encourage kids to binge at home). Many are instead arguing for limitations on junk food, not outright bans, so that students can learn moderation, a skill that will help them navigate real-life food choices. Of course, in typical knee-jerk style, schools are taking bans far beyond the cafeteria and not allowing school groups to run bake sales, often where a majority of their funding comes from.
  5. Holiday parties:

    Remember how much fun you had as a kid celebrating Valentine's Day and Halloween with parties? Those parties may be a thing of the past for many school kids today. The reason? Many believe they distract kids from learning and promote unhealthy eating habits. While parties might limit learning on a given day and offer kids more candy and salty snacks than they might normally consume, many opponents of bans say that the parties also help to reward kids for hard work and give them a chance to simply have fun and enjoy themselves with peers (important, given that many schools no longer have recess). The reality is that there are ways to make parties fun and educational and to limit the unhealthy treats that come with them, a more measured approach that some schools are embracing.
  6. Competitive games:

    While generations of schoolchildren may have made it out of their K-12 educations with self-esteem intact after playing competitive games on the playground and in gym class, these days kids don't get much of a choice in how they get their exercise. Elementary schools in Wyoming, California, Oregon, and Washington are part of the growing trend of schools who are putting the kibosh on traditional games at school because they say they're too dangerous. On the chopping block are soccer, touch football, and tag. These games join dodgeball, which has been banned from many schools for years because it has been deemed unsafe. While dodgeball is an understandable activity to ban, tag and other team sports are far more questionable, and many critics believe that kids shouldn't be discouraged from engaging in any physical activity. Schools point to injuries suffered by students as the reason for the ban, but few statistics exist that point to increased levels of accidents justifying these bans.
  7. Social networks:

    Based on the restrictions many schools have on social networks, you'd think they were virtual hotbeds of sin and misanthropy. While there are certainly good arguments to be made for preventing students from accessing these kinds of online sites while at school, there are also good reasons why they shouldn't be, something many critics of the bans are quick to point out. School administrators often ban access to social networks because they believe they open kids up to cyber predators and bullying and because they believe students will use the networks inappropriately. Yet social networks have a lot to offer students and teachers, especially sites like YouTube that are loaded with educational content. Additionally, many educators believe that it's critical to teach students how to use social networks responsibly, as misuse can have serious long-term effects when it comes time to apply for jobs or college.
  8. Non-motorized forms of transportation:

    You'd think schools would be all for kids getting exercise by rollerblading, skateboarding, or biking to school, right? Well, not so much. Some schools have actually banned all forms of non-motorized transportation because they believe they are too dangerous for kids. While these forms of transportation can obviously result in injury if students aren't careful, many believe that schools shouldn't have the right to dictate what students do off campus and that bike safety programs are a much more effective way to reduce accidents than an outright ban. In some cases, even students who travel with parents to school on bikes have been told they can no longer do so, greatly angering parents and cycling groups.
  9. Outside food:

    Concerns about allergies and safety are solid reasons for limiting what foods can be brought into schools, but like many other things on this list, schools have taken things far beyond what many parents and students consider reasonable. One Chicago-area school has gone so far as to ban lunches brought from home altogether, forcing students to eat cafeteria food, a policy which has forced many kids to go hungry as they do not wish to eat what the cafeteria is serving or don't have the money to pay for school-bought lunches every day. And kids can forget about treats for birthdays brought from home, as nearly all schools now ban home-cooked goods due to worries about allergies. (It's worth noting that food allergy groups don't support allergy-based bans, as they believe kids need to learn to manage their allergies in the real world.)
  10. Bookbags:

    At some U.S. schools, students have to limit what they bring to class, as they aren't allowed bookbags during the school day. School officials who enacted the bans say that not allowing bookbags inside of the school helps to reduce congestion, improve safety, and make it easier to stem thefts. While there are undoubtedly some good reasons for not lugging a backpack from class to class, students aren't happy about the ban, saying they still have to carry the same stuff to class, but now have no way to easily do so. Additionally, the students say it is almost impossible to make it to class on time when they have to stop at their lockers, which are often not close to their classes, between each hour.

(Today's guest blog comes from Rosa at Online College Courses. This trackback is not an endorsement of the product)

Monday, June 25, 2012

Why Failure Should Always Be An Option

Even typing that gives me a little shiver. It goes against everything that American education - private, public or otherwise - teaches us, and yet failure is the most instructive part of learning.

Just ask these guys:

I didn't fail the test; I just found 100 ways to do it wrong. ~Ben Franklin~

The greatest barrier to success is the fear of failure. ~Sven Goran~

Failures are fingerposts on the road to achievement. ~C.S. Lewis~

Failure is not falling down; it is in refusing to get up. ~Chinese proverb

We are so concerned in education with making kids feel good that we forget that hollow praise does nothing, and reward (and punish) extrinsically. In school,

"...mistakes result in punishment in the form of bad grades. Because we've been trained to believe that mistakes must be avoided, many of us don't want to attempt to make or fix things, or we quit soon after we start, because our initial attempts ended in failure."
 ~Mark Frauenfelder, Made by Hand~

This quote speaks to both fear of failure and a crippling inability to even try. This is utterly wrong-minded.

"Mistakes are synonymous with learning. Failing is unavoidable...the act of failing again and you the mental tools with which to solve problems when they come up."

~Tom Jennings~

We handicap our kids when we don't let them fail. Failure should be an option at every step; a first idea is generally not the best idea, but it can lead to a deeper explanation or understanding. This does not mean kids should not have a plan when facing a problem (whether it is building a house or writing a paper), but developing the plan should not take the place of pure action, and developing the plan should not hold action back.

We need to let our kids dive in and fail. We need to teach them that learning is in the doing, and mistakes make us smarter.

"To fail is a natural consequence of trying. To succeed takes time and prolonged effort in the face of unfriendly odds. To think it will be any other way, no matter what you do, is to invite yourself to be hurt and to limit your enthusiasm for trying.

~David Viscott~

This approach does not translate into grades but instead focuses on the intrinsic rewards of persevering and problem solving; it is not for the faint of heart, nor is it for those who are more concerned with GPA than learning.

So get out there and fail. Fail early and often. Fail boldly. As William Saroyan writes, "Good people are good because they have come to wisdom through failure." Let's all of us get a little smarter today.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Reading Assignments

Just gathering a few interesting pieces of reading from the week; there is never enough time, and there are so many interesting things to see online. I am, of course, conflicted about spending time in front of the screen instead of out in the world, so I attempt to gather what is interesting and check it out later. Some is academic, some is just interesting, and a couple are videos, so no reading at all.

Starting out with a video from the History Channel, just to be ornery, of a man building a tiny house for a show. I'd like it think it only took 42 minutes, but I am pretty sure it didn't. As I look at these beautiful houses, including those built by the incredible Bear Creek Carpentry Company, I get a little intimidated. I believe the  key will be to move slowly and steadily. We may also need a benefactor and a mentor. Another vid of a solar cabin, possibly the direction we are heading, but who knows? It's a lot to take in!!

In less fabulous news, the city of Tulsa, Oklahoma completely destroyed a resident's medicinal garden. I am sure there is more to this, and I am planning on following it. Can't see why this would happen.

This morning brings a report that gifted kids are dumbing themselves down to fit in, a phenomenon I have experienced first-hand as a teacher of the gifted in public school. The result of this is that gifted kids become intellectually lazy and their gifts don't seem to give them any advantage, academically. Many end up doing really poorly. But, hey, they are cool, right? Plus, this study is out of Australia, so maybe it doesn't apply to the US. Ha.  #wise up!!

A landmark monograph in gifted education, which is too academic this morning, and thus will be put off for awhile.

To end sweetly, I have been looking at the benefits of cinnamon and honey and dreaming of bees. Summer time. Today I will be checking in on my first batch of mead, and hopefully scoring some glass jars from Freecycle (best place ever, if you can respond quickly to emails).

Welcome to all new HoneyFern peeps on Facebook! You can also follow us on Twitter (@HoneyFernSchool). Have a great day!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Tending the Seeds We Sow

This morning two related messages were delivered:

1. Organic tomatoes are a thing of the past.

2. The EPA needs to ban chemicals that result in hive collapse.

This got me reflecting on my little garden, started so optimistically in early February; it has become a bit tired and neglected. My snap pea crop failed and squash borers got my yellow and butternut squash plants. Strawberry production has been horrible (plenty of green, hardly any fruit). My fennel has grown wild, gone to seed and is now affected by some wierd something or other that is causing it to die in sections. My dill is leggy and gone to seed.

This is a metaphor. When we don't tend what we plant, it goes to seed, dies off, becomes subject to dangerous outside forces that threaten it.

Today I am going to get back to my little garden; I am going to weed, trim the paths, and tidy up the beds. I think new plantings of fresh late summer veggies are in order, and maybe some flowers.

It is time to tend the seeds I have sown.

Monday, June 18, 2012

TV and Fireflies

We have killed our television, and some interesting things have happened as a result.

I grew up without TV. We had our first TV when I was in 6th grade, a black-and-white set that received whatever channels the bunny ears could pick up; we were allowed to watch 30 minutes of TV a week (except during football season, when the TV was on all day). Color TV hit our house in 8th grade, and I watched in wonder as Moses turned the Nile red instead of dark grey.

Television is bad for you. About 90% of the 40,000 studies done on TV in the last 40 years agree. Chronic TV watchers weigh more, walk less, spend more. Chronic TV watchers are more violent and have lower IQs. It's true. Not a fun couple of sentences, but true (find some facts here. And some terrifying and depressing support here).

The effect on our household after three weeks have been marked. To wit:

*We have more time. With the longer days of summer and no TV, we have given ourselves an additional four hours of time daily. Crazy. I am hoping that soon we will lose our compulsion to fill those hours up, but for now, we seem to be constantly looking for things to do. The b-word (bored) has not shown up yet. A good thing.

*We talk more. This is some days a bad thing (more opportunities for bickering) and a great thing (odd conversations pop up, and spontaneous laughter).

*We go to bed earlier. Even with the extra daylight, we don't feel the need to stay up until the wee smalls to watch something on the tube.

We actually caught fireflies in a jar last night. We sit outside and listen for frogs until the bugs drive us inside.

We get a little sick of each other and are running out of reading material (but making art like crazy and speaking French).

Sometimes it would be nice to sit on the couch and watch a cooking show together; I miss watching the national news every night and feel a little bit out of it. We do have Netflix but will probably get rid of it. We have watched TV on the internet, but it is more trouble than it is worth, and I don't like being separated on individual laptops to watch different things (although some would see this as a plus).

I don't miss the political ads.

I am glad we have no TV but believe we will eventually find an OTA box that can also wirelessly stream the web to the TV; this will still limit our watching but allow the news and various sporting events (which The Patriarch cannot live without).

For now, though, we will keep art-making and ignore the screen in the corner.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Happy Father's Day!

And without further ado, some wonderful quotes about the man we call "Dad," "Daddy," or "Papa."

A truly rich man is one whose children run into his arms when his hands are empty. ~Author Unknown

One father is more than a hundred Schoolemasters. ~George Herbert, Outlandish Proverbs, 1640

Blessed indeed is the man who hears many gentle voices call him father! ~Lydia M. Child, Philothea: A Romance, 1836

Henry James once defined life as that predicament which precedes death, and certainly nobody owes you a debt of honor or gratitude for getting him into that predicament. But a child does owe his father a debt, if Dad, having gotten him into this peck of trouble, takes off his coat and buckles down to the job of showing his son how best to crash through it. ~Clarence Budington Kelland

Sometimes the poorest man leaves his children the richest inheritance. ~Ruth E. Renkel

A father carries pictures where his money used to be. ~Author Unknown

It is much easier to become a father than to be one. ~Kent Nerburn, Letters to My Son: Reflections on Becoming a Man, 1994

The words that a father speaks to his children in the privacy of home are not heard by the world, but, as in whispering-galleries, they are clearly heard at the end and by posterity. ~Jean Paul Richter

Any man can be a father. It takes someone special to be a dad. ~Author Unknown

For my husband:

There's something like a line of gold thread running through a man's words when he talks to his daughter, and gradually over the years it gets to be long enough for you to pick up in your hands and weave into a cloth that feels like love itself. ~John Gregory Brown, Decorations in a Ruined Cemetery, 1994
And, finally...

Fatherhood is pretending the present you love most is soap-on-a-rope. ~Bill Cosby

Friday, June 15, 2012

Resources From The Week!

Just a  few resources from this week...

Ten incredible short films made from short stories; incredible stuff here! Great for a rainy day (or a black smog day, as we have in Atlanta).

Stuck on what to read? has created a handy flowchart of classic literature for high school students.

If, when reading, your mind begins to wander, remember that you are not alone.

If you missed HoneyFern's posts on the art class we are taking this summer, check it out here. Right now we are taking an online class, but Flora offers in-person retreats and classes, too. I am sure there will be other online classes, too.

HoneyFern is also incorporating more yoga into the day, and here is one of the videos we are using; each of these is about 15 minutes long, perfect for the reluctant or time-pressed yogi. If you are at work, just be aware that the audio starts when you click the link.

And finally, The Child has decided that she would like to take a cooking class, so we are exploring our options online first; America's Test Kitchen (home of Cook's Illustrated) offers an online cooking school with a two-week free trial. We are starting this Monday. We may also look at the Top Chef cooking school, but that seems more geared to recipes than techiniques . Technique is everything! Now if only our tomatoes would grow faster!!

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Independent Project

What happens when kids get fed up with their education and demand more?

Sometimes, they start a school.

There are links in the video to current projects. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Time Keeps On Slippin'

I have been remiss in blogging. Already we are in week three of summer, and it is slipping through my fingers like sand.

We started our art class and have added the first layer:

It doesn't look like much, but there will be many layers on top of this; the point was to get past the blank, white canvas. This didn't take very long, and it was kind of rushed, which is rather astonishing when I consider all of the time I have stretched out before me.


Seems like there is never enough time; however little or much we have to do, these tasks seem to expand themselves to fill up the day. I am always amazed at how much we do during the school year when summer rolls around; seems like we must be superhuman to get all of our daily stuff done (grocery shopping, laundry, cleaning) on top of school things (planning, blogging, resource-gathering, etc) when, during the summer, it is difficult to get the dishwasher emptied after the dishes are done (we have been known to use all of the dishes out of the dishwasher. Makes putting clean dishes away a snap!).

This is hardly a complaint. Summer is time to let your mind wander, to swing in a hammock, to do nothing but watch the lint grow in your navel. Summer means fresh blueberries, swimming, walks up the mountain and antique browsing or movies on the most humid days.

Summer is for lazy contemplation, relaxing and thinking deeply. We are indulging in all of these things. And you?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Summer On Tap

Some events we have to look forward to this summer!

HoneyFern is taking an art class that starts on Monday; the class, called Bloom True, is with Flora Bowley, is offered online and will last for approximately five weeks. Stay tuned for paintings!

Our project to build a tiny house is moving forward with the generous help of the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company; our books are in the mail, and we are learning more everyday from this page on Facebook.

Nous prenons une cinq-semaine une classe française avec Summer Osborn dans Cobb d'ouest. Ce devrait être un grand hasard pour parler avec les autres étudiants et améliore notre conversation!

I am also reading six new papers about motivation, chatting it up with The Met School's Nancy Bain about developing learning plans with reluctant learners, and embarking upon a professional development spree that involves lots of reading and yoga.

In the middle of all of this, I would like to pick blueberries and can tomatoes and go for hikes with the puppy and monitor our stream and gaze at my navel. The summer does not seem long enough for all of these thins, but we will do our level best!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Tumbleweed Tiny House Project

HoneyFern is, as always, reflecting this summer on how to make school even better for next year. Part of our approach is going to be a more formalized move towards individual learning plans and active, applied learning; the Big Picture Schools do this is on a "small" scale (still much larger than HF; they were initially funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation initiative for small schools), and I have already been talking with them about how to implement certain parts of the individual plans.

However, one of my students has leapt way ahead of me, indicating that for her curriculum next year she would like to build a house. My first thought was the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company. I stumbled across this company ten years ago and have always wanted one; now, they have generously agreed to support the project with reading materials and are connecting my student with other students who are doing the same thing next year. They have also invited her to post guest blogs on her project to the Tumbleweed blog.

This is what it is all about! I have already had someone volunteer to be the student's expert mentor for this project, so not only will she be connected electornically with a larger national community, she will also have local, IRL support. She will also be investigating clean energy like solar power in the Future City competition this fall, so she can apply this group activity to her work with her tiny house.

This is what school should be like!

Friday, June 1, 2012

And Just Like That...

...the first week of summer is over.

Goodness, that was fast.

I managed to avoid nearly all semblance of work this week (except teaching myself about quantum mechanics and reaching out to some very interesting schools to talk about how to better create learning plans with students; more on the latter, later!), and to cap the week off, my computer staged a very dramatic mini-death whereby all of my "favorites" were wiped out. I narrowly avoided losing all my files - you know, silly things like report cards, administrative records and the book I have been working on for a year now. It has been interesting trying to reconstruct what I can remember as being "important" in my favorites and letting everything else go. Must be that they weren't that important to begin with, and isn't the internet itself just one big "favorites" bar?

Makes me feel better to think of it that way.

So chemistry starts next week, and we are starting by making a cheeseburger, complete with burger, cheese, bun, pickle and mayonnaise. If that isn't applied chemistry, I don't know what is. Search this site for "cheeseburger chemistry" to get all six videos (including tomatoes, which we are going to skip, for now). Awesome resources in general for different topics in chemistry!

Have a great weekend!