Friday, September 28, 2012

Student Blogs

Happy Friday!

Just wanted to post two student blogs for you to follow: the first from La Petite chronicles her journey in the construction of her tiny house and the second blog comes from Will, who is building a go-kart from scratch. Both of these students are in middle school; these projects are student-designed and provide the base from which all of their instruction in all subjects follows.

Please take a moment to read, comment and follow!

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

How to Have Super Powers

For all of the students who are stuck in a traditional school, feeling the creativity and life sucked out of them; for all of the people who sit in a cube and watch the clock; for anyone and everyone who needs to hear it, words of wisdom from Keri Smith:

Read this entire blog here. It is so worth your time and energy.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Not Shocking: 43% of Kids College Ready

So this is not really too shocking when you look at trends in education: SAT scores edge down, and only 43% of high school seniors are deemed "college ready."

In other news, the ACT has seen a rise in students taking the test, surpassing the number of SAT test-takers by a scant 2,000 students.

Our local high school reported last week that almost a quarter (less than 25%, for those who are confused) are college ready, as judged by their ACT scores.

Not to say that one test is going to say how prepared you are, but combine these abysmal results with the recent stats that 40% of college students need one or more remedial classes their first year of college, and you have a system that is not working.

I'm just sayin'.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Having a Healthy Abundance Mentality

"When you recognize that competition is often counter-productive and quit trying to gain something at someone else’s expense, you step by step fall into an abundance mentality."

Brilliant. This is the essence of what HoneyFern is striving for in a business model and as a school. We are really about getting better than ourselves, not anyone else.

But back to the beginning.

This article discusses the "healthy abundance" mentality, the exact opposite of the "scarcity" mentality so prevalent in our society and most obviously in our schools.

I described it this way several years prior to leaving public school: public schools are one big pie. When another school/teacher/student/district has something good happen, it makes their slice of the pie bigger and everyone else's smaller. This is why teachers don't collaborate, standardized testing is prevalent and districts have such a hard time working together. There is the belief that there is only so much pie to go around.

This belief is, of course, absurd.

There is exactly as much material in the world today as there was 100 years ago (see the Law of Conservation of Matter if you are doubtful); perhaps the material is in different form, but it is there. Do we need to be more creative to access it? Perhaps. Do we need to imagine things differently? Probably.

When I started HoneyFern I was fleeing from public school, and many of my initial blogs were tinged with bitterness. I kept writing about how awful public school is and it was not helping me transition. Don't get me wrong; I still believe public schools are a sinking ship, and there is tons of evidence that supports me. The difference, though, is that now I am focused on how fabulous HoneyFern is; this includes supporting parents who are making progressive choices for their kids, even if they are not coming to HF (like counseling and referrals for different like-minded programs in their area, or for kids who are younger). I get emails weekly from parents and teachers who want to start a school like HoneyFern in their state, and I am developing materials for those people to get started.

There is so much that opens up when you drop the mentality of scarcity and embrace abundance. It is never to late to try.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Quantity v. Quality

For me, quality wins every time.

Yes, I can eat my weight in French fries, but I would give them up for a month to have one order of Thrasher's French fries (if you are from Maryland, you will know what this is without clicking the link, and you will immediately have images of the beach or the Inner Harbor pop into your mind).

I think writing a book is great, but a beautifully crafted poem is just as good (if not better, according to Mark Twain: "I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.").

The point here is that we have such an emphasis on getting a lot that we have forgotten about getting quality. I, and consequently, HoneyFern, am all about quality. This makes much more sense when you take the long-view, the research-based position on education (vis-a-vis how people learn and actually remember what they learned, versus how to cram information into a small, expedient box). Students will not get a lot of worksheets and a million grades, but the worksheets they do get will be targeted to the skill they are lacking, and the grades they get will matter and mean something.

We are not factory-model education, and this is a huge adjustment for parents and students. Students don't realize how much more challenging it is to work on projects they design; parents have a hard time seeing the design process as valuable, being more used to seeing percentages on products.

This is okay. It takes a while to adjust and adapt to this new way of thinking, and HoneyFern understands this completely. The best part is that if we do it right, the student is learning the value of this way of working in the pursuit of something they are passionate about, and parents get to see a kid excited and challenged by school and coming home wanting to keep working.

Yes, we get a lot done. We have deadlines and take quizzes, and sometimes I get all rigid and teacher-y with the writing process and high standards (the motto: "Do it right, or do it twice."). Students can't just slap something down or phone it in.

But the quality of the final product is unmistakable and deeper than you could imagine. And that beats quantity, hands-down, every time.

Happy Birthday, John Coltrane!

In addition to being John Harbaugh's 50th birthday (Go, Ravens!), today is John Coltrane's birthday.

To celebrate, a little jazz for Sunday morning. Have a great day!

Friday, September 21, 2012

To Do List

HoneyFern has quite a to-do list. Some of it is less urgent than others, but it all needs to be done by just one person at this point.

This is causing a bit of stress, as you could imagine.

Here it is, in black and white, and not in order:

1. Recruit a board. A real board. Not the board I have currently, which gives advice and ideas but does not give substantial philanthropic support (read: either contribute funds or locate and cultivate relationships for fundraising purposes) and are not particularly invested in future vision and expansion. This was not a problem at all when HoneyFern started; they did exactly what they were supposed to do, which is help in building a foundation and being a sounding board for me as I developed programs. Now, I need a board that is more invested in the school, literally and figuratively.

2. Grantwriting. Lots of grantwriting. This step comes after we successfully receive 501 (c)3 status, and must happen before step #3.

3. Location, location, location. Time for HoneyFern to move off the farm, onto the, well, farm. To expand to 50 students, we need to move, and I'd like to find a similar set-up: acreage with a farmhouse. Living where we do, we will eventually recruit a student who is horse- or animal-crazy, enough to want to study them, and we need to have space (and zoning) to do so. I have a vision of a student getting a four-year-old horse and training and showing that horse as their curriculum for the year. Think of it: physics, anatomy, literature, phys ed, art - everything in one glorious beast.

But I digress. Back to the list.

4. Marketing. Hard to market what you do not have (money and a location), but it is time to blitz metro Atlanta with the glory of HoneyFern. The marketing department is hoping to recruit a board member with this area of expertise, too.

5. Recruit teachers. I have several teachers in mind, but it will take a certain kind of person to teach at HoneyFern. They need to believe deeply in the mission and vision and be willing to work harder than they ever have before. The payoff, though, is that everything revolves around educating the students. There is no superfluous fluff that takes time and energy away from what is important.  Teachers also have equal input into the development of the school, just as students do. I would like to add at least four teachers.

And finally....

6. Recruit students and families. We are, literally, nothing without them. Really, we are recruiting visionaries and innovators. There is nothing like HoneyFern in Atlanta; there is no school that encourages students to so fully embrace the idea of developing their own path and then matches that vision with rigorous academics to have a full curriculum that is project-based, rooted in application and fully accredited. On top of this, tuition is lower than the spending-per-pupil of all local school systems, the student-to-teacher ration will never be more than 10:1, and students will have a lifelong relationship with a mentor who cares as much about their success as their own families. To me, this is a slam dunk.

Is that all, you say? Realistically, each one of these can be broken down into a million mini-steps, but those are the big ones, as I see them. Ultimately, I will need help, so it all starts with the board and volunteers.

Currently taking referrals and suggestions, so if you would like to be a part of something important, get in touch. Join our mailing list, get in touch directly, give us a call. And thanks!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Out of Time

Time is a cruel mistress. Schools of all kinds are governed by the clock and the calendar.

HoneyFern has avoided some of this, but today we ran smack up in the face of it: we don't have enough time. Students are at HoneyFern three days a week, and in those three days we jam-pack as much as we can.


This morning we had an hour-long morning meeting, which is really unavoidable when you have things everyone wants to talk about. Then a 22-minute news program turned into 45 minutes over lunch because we stopped and talked about teacher strikes and unions and the 47% of America and who that is. And we had to eat and play Wiffle ball and talk about our fieldtrip to Mountasia (it's academic, for the student building the go-kart).

In between all that we planned the scale model of a suspension bridge (had to be re-done several times to make the model feasible), did group and solo math, removed the air filter and seat from a riding lawn mower (for the go-kart), discussed schematic drawings (for the go-kart), peer-edited a book review, read "Paul Revere's Ride" and discussed how to make a better second draft. Tomorrow looks to be similarly jam-packed.

The difference?

In not one minute was there anything that wasn't directly related to something a student had chosen to study. I may have designed a lesson or found a resource or led a discussion, but every bit of today was focused on the students. Exhausting and refreshing at the same time. Time is still at a premium, but we get to choose how we spend it.

And that is a gift even an extra hour in the day cannot top.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Sweden, You're Doing It Right

Sweden leaps ahead of the curve once more with my dream school; there are no grades, no classrooms and students learn together based on ability, not age.

Every part of the school is designed to engage students and facilitate learning, with areas for independent and collaborative work. It is more like a house than a school, with a flexible, welcoming feel.

This is, incidentally, the way HoneyFern is laid out (with less modern furniture). See previous blogs on grades.

Read more on this new school here.

Monday, September 17, 2012

What Are You Afraid Of?

What are parents afraid of when they cling to the current educational system? Aside from the issue of finances (a not-insignificant issue when you see local private school tuitions soaring into the mid-$20k range) why would parents who want the best for their kids continue to keep them in an institution that continues to educate their children as factory workers?


What if my kid doesn't learn?

What if they cannot get into college?

Statistics to answer these questions are hard to come by; non-traditional students can be homeschooled, unschooled, privately schooled in a progressive school (like HoneyFern) or a free school (like The Sudbury School of Atlanta), occasionally public schooled, or some combination of these using online classes and early enrollment in college.  Every college in the union accepts homeschooled students, with some actively courting them. The Met Center in Rhode Island has a 100% acceptance rate to college, and 98% of graduating seniors go; they have a 94% high school graduation rate for a school that is public, non-traditional and accepts some of the most challenging students in Rhode Island.

For traditional schools, stats are easy. Here in Georgia, the graduation rate is 60%; this means that only 60% of students who entered high school graduate in four years. Graduation rates, as a whole, are dropping across the country, and only 25% of students tested recently on the NAEP writing test demonstrated proficiency in writing. Forty percent of college students in 2011 required at least one remedial class in their first year in college.

With statistics like those, there isn't much to cling to in the old way of doing things; it simply isn't working for the vast majority of students and is actively failing those at the very top and bottom of the spectrum (and doubly failing those who are 2e, combining gifts and challenges at the same time).

Don't be afraid. Come into the light, where your student is engaged, challenged and involved in their education. Embrace the 5e model of doing, and look beyond traditional schooling for your student. There is something more than a test score.

Don't be afraid.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Magic on a Sunday

David Blaine is one of the more mysterious people of our time; this morning, I am pleased to offer you his TedTalk on the subject of holding his breath for 17 minutes underwater.

Have a magical week!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Defining Question

"The question I’d ask every administrator and school board is, 'Does the curriculum you teach now make our society stronger?'"-Seth Godin

Yes. 100%. We are stronger and more persistent because of what and how we study; we are better people because we are so very different from each other in fundamental ways, and we respect those differences. We are flexible and adapt; we are informed and we ask questions.

We don't produce dioramas and Powerpoints that regurgitate information accessed online.

We aren't awash in worksheets.

Students guide their learning, and their tasks are authentic. Right now, La Petite is working with another student on the design of her roof; she wants a house that is adult-sized but still fits under overpasses. The other student is studying engineering, and this is a perfect real-life application. They are working together to figure out how to get a 14' house under a 13'6" overhead limit, a skill that is sorely missing in our society today. That the task is real makes it that much more valuable.

So, yes, Seth Godin, we are. Thanks for asking!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Everything You Studied in High School Was Wrong

This article featured in GOOD (and online magazine) posits that (nearly) everything about high school curriculum is wrong.

Memorizing formulas is physics is wrong; students should be designing and testing as engineers do.

Chemistry is utter nonsense; instead of memorizing periodic tables and chemical formulas, students need to know how things react to each other.

Discussing Shakespeare and writing book reports are wrong; students should be learning how to defend themselves in writing.

Even history comes under fire, with this quote:

"Artificial intelligence theorist and education reformer Roger Schank...eviscerates the saying that that those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it, noting, "I guess no U.S. president ever took history because they have all forgotten the lessons of the Vietnam War, the history of Iraq and the history of foreign incursions into Afghanistan." He goes on to point out that many "untruths about the Revolutionary War and the Civil War and World War II," are currently shared in schools."

The first comment below the article seems to be what the prevailing reaction would be; another commenter notes that young children would never know what they like if they don't try different things.

I think that most of the tasks asked of high school students are a bit ridiculous and not based in anything useful; I do believe in general knowledge but not so general as to be nothing more than trivia and not to dominate the entire day (as currently happens in traditional high schools, public and private).

What say you?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Red Pony

The Red Pony happens to be one of my all-time favorite books. Steinbeck does not flinch from childhood disappointment, and the book is well-written, with a poignant ache that makes the reader both long for their youth and be glad they are well shut of it.

Here, Shmoop has a lovely series of summaries, lesson plans and guiding questions for the book. The authors of this unit "speak student," and the language is designed to help students not only delve deeply into the book with academic language but to also relate to it in their digitally-fueled lives.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Opting Out of Grades

I don't believe in grades.

There. I said it.

That said, because HoneyFern is accredited, I must give them, so I try to make them as meaningful as possible (involving the student in setting criteria, evaluating only what applies or serves as a formative assessment, etc).

One parent (also a teacher) wrote a letter to his child's teacher requesting that his child not be graded at all. Were I to receive that letter, I would happily comply.

What do you think? Could we eliminate grades altogether? With what would they be replaced?

(I have my own thoughts on this matter; curious to hear what you think one way or the other!)

New Rules in Education

This is not  a political message, although politics show up in it. It has long been my contention and stance that politics have no business in education, that if it is not 100% about the kids, then it should not be a part of the conversation.

Recently, President Obama has been making comments regarding education, comments that echo Bill Clinton's sentiments in 1992 about "work[ing] hard and play[ing] by the rules" to get ahead. I don't think anyone would argue that the first part is necessary, and most would agree that the second is also critical (although some disagree and feel rules do not apply to them - not the subject of this post), but an editorial in the New York Times suggests that there is more to it than simply working hard. After all, many people work very hard every day and seem to just spin their wheels.

These days to get ahead it is not enough to know something; to truly be successful, one needs the additional skill of adaptation and lifelong engagement in the process of learning itself. From Alvin Toffler: "In the future illiteracy will not be defined by those who cannot read and write, but by those who cannot learn and relearn.” We need to teach our children what it means to learn something, how to direct themselves and how to persist in the face of struggle with a concept, idea or problem.

It is not enough to pass the test; it is not enough to simply meet the standard, Common Core or otherwise. Any school that "reforms" itself on the premise of those two things may improve their test scores but not their students' lives.

And isn't that what learning is about?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

When You Come to a Fork in the Road, Take It

Yes, over Labor Day we traveled, and The Child picked up a fabulous deck-over trailer for the tiny house project, along with some other materials that include a brand-new, double-hung Anderson window, a "perfect" exterior door, all the metal roofing for the house, and a few other sundries to make the project seem real. Much love and gratitude to my friend Luke, who supports this project with a wealth of knowledge, in addition to supplies. He is an organic farmer in West Virginia, so if you are in the area, look him up. He also sent us home with some heritage pork and incredible pears; they have the same taste and texture as a D'anjou, but are so much better. Never sprayed with chemicals, and the trees have 35 years of terroir in the West Virginia mountains.

You can read all about the weekend in La Petite's blog (a.k.a "The Child"). She is enjoying writing it, and her voice is getting stronger and stronger. Make sure and comment for her; a little encouragement goes a long way!

In addition to the material goods we picked up this weekend, I have picked up something else: the understanding that HoneyFern must either expand or accept that we will be small forever. There are many pros and cons to each strategy, but I have decided to take the first step to expansion, which is applying for federal tax-exempt status (501(c)3). This opens the school up for grants and foundation funding and makes expansion more of a possibility. After this, who knows what happens? Stay tuned for details on the journey; it should be interesting.

I have added a guestbook to my website; please visit, leave a comment and let me know if you'd like to be on my email list. I am building a list for a monthly newsletter, and you will never receive more than you can handle. This will keep you apprised of our progress and let you know of volunteer opportunities, potential job openings, and just generally give an idea of what's happening.

Have a great week!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Student Blog Updates!

For those of you following along, a couple HoneyFern students have written several blogs on their projects this week.

La Petite is building a house, and Go, Kart, GO! is building a go-kart from scratch. Please follow them and comment on their work! Suggestions are always welcome!

Have a great weekend!