Tuesday, December 3, 2013

US Teens Lag in Global Education: How to Fix It

This is not particularly shocking. What's the quote? Doing the same thing and expecting different results is the definition of insanity, or something to that effect. So here we are again, with teens in the US slipping even further in the international rankings and Asian countries coming on strong.

And what does Arne Duncan suggest is the key to turning this around? More preschool, more access to college, raise standards and, last in the list, recruit better teachers.

How about these ideas:

1. Design education so it reflects the reality of the world. We are not all technological in the world, but that is the way things are headed. Stop with banning devices and incorporate them into learning. Let kids move around the class and collaborate. That's what the real world does.

2. Include students in their learning. Make them responsible for themselves by giving them a say. Let them decide what to study, even if it's just a list of possible things to study. You will get far better results when kids pick their focus than when it is assigned wholesale to a class of thirty individuals.

3. Stop holding kids back (or rushing them along). Be adaptive. Be reflective. Let gifted kids soar, and let kids who need more time to master the material take it. Truly differentiate in your classroom. How? By incorporating #2, first and foremost, you will reduce (or eliminate) discipline issues so that kids will be less likely to get off task if a teacher isn't in their face. Then plan and find a variety of resources so kids can get the help they need in the manner in which it works best (one-on-one with a teacher, out of a book, off a computer, etc).

4. Make everyone in the school responsible for the education of the students. Everyone. From the custodian to the principal to the crossing guard. All hands on deck. More adults focused on students means fewer students per adult means more focus on students and earlier intervention if any issues arise. There are ways to do this; I have worked in a school where every adult has an advisement.

5. Get off the agrarian schedule. We are no longer a nation of farmers, dependent on our offspring to bring in the crop, so why are we still scheduling school to follow the seasons? Flexible scheduling, including evening hours for teens who work or parents who want to participate in school but cannot so it during the day, hybrid models for parents who want to homeschool but need guidance, and year-round (for real) schooling that offers extra help during the short breaks are all options that can easily be implemented.

6. Institute more hands-on, trade-type options. And I don't just mean lathering about the mouth on STEM education then giving the whole class the same problem to solve (how to protect an egg with a toothpick cage, for example). If you are going to do STEM, DO IT. Find a problem in the community and SOLVE IT. And for that matter...

7. BE REAL. Fake problems that mean nothing are boring and inauthentic and don't engage kids. Real problems that kids can tackle and fix promote student engagement in school and community, a double bonus in our ever more transient culture.

And finally (or finally for now, because I could go on)...

8. Hire and train teachers who genuinely care about student learning, and administrators who genuinely care about teacher success and engagement. All this focus on crappy educators who don't care and just want a paycheck, and very little about administrators who use their job as a stepping stone to the Central Office, a resume builder, if you will.  Teachers are on the front lines, and it is the administrator's job to staff the school with teachers who want to be there, and then to protect them from idiotic tasks that have nothing to do with teaching and everything to do with busywork.

You want school to get better and students to shine? Stop waxing the same dull penny and start with real solutions.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Private School Parents Are Bad People

So says this article in Slate. The author says that rich parents bring rich change, including time and money, emphasis on money, and parental involvement.

This argument assumes that the largest issue with bad public schools is money, but it's just not. It's mindset. It's the fact that schools are still based on an agrarian calendar, still educating factory workers, and still pushing standardized tests. Money won't fix mindset.

Even China is de-emphasizing standardized testing, and they are the experts at educating compliant factory workers. Srsly.

I sacrificed 12 years of my life, and five years of my child's life, and I am unwilling to continue being an educational martyr, offering up my only child as a sacrifice. If I was called to make some real change, if people actually listened and thought about what was best for kids, then maybe I would consider returning. If adults in charge thought about how they learn best, if they considered what information they remember from their years in public school, things might change. I have tried to make change happen in my own small school district, which could be a model due to its size and diversity and have been repeatedly rebuffed and repulsed by grubbing minions who are only interested in what looks nice, not what's effective. If my system was only graduating 72% of its students, I wouldn't be making excuses - I'd be making changes.

Until then, don't call me a bad person for not wanting my child's brain to languish. I am actively involved in education, as a teacher, a learner, a parent and a person actively seeking change for all students (not just the wealthy and over privileged or poor and underprivileged). Don't call me a bad person for leaving the sinking ship just as it touched the waterline and then refuse to throw me anything other than a dollar bill as a life preserver. It's not about the money. Change your mind, then we'll talk.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Next Phase

Hard to believe it is July 30th, that the summer here in Georgia is almost over for students.

The tiny house moves on, albeit slowly. Here's where we are:

La Petite Maison sits nestled on a 10'x20' concrete slab at the back of the yard, waiting patiently for siding and plumbing and insulation and other interior goodness. We have added storage on the back and had to remove it when it stuck out too far over the tongue and made parking it impossible. Our building story has been a series of starts and stops, mistakes that we didn't see coming because there was no way to predict for people who have never built a house before.

La herself has been traipsing around Disney all week; when she returns, off we go to the mid-Atlantic region for a five-week jaunt. We have family and friends up north, and we will stay with them for most of our journey, but we are also planning on "doing" each of these cities: Philly, Baltimore and DC. Trip Advisor has an awesome 3-day itinerary for Philly, but for the other ones we are going to plan it as we go. Our trip ends on Assateague Island: wild horses, Maryland blue crabs and beach camping. #Blissful

After we get back, more work on LPM, softball again, more travels north for Thanksgiving and west for Christmas. Time passes no matter what we do, so we might as well make the most of it. Hopefully this sabbatical will help us move forward joyfully.

Those of you who continue to follow our journey, thank you for your support and encouragement. La will be blogging our trip daily, so expect a few links to that blog in the next week or so. We are reminded daily that we are not alone in the world, and that has been invaluable to both of us. We are grateful.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Last Day

Today is our last day of the year, and I always find myself exhausted and reflective on this day. It amazes me how far everyone has come in a year (not just academically), and this song is how far I believe they will go in the years to come. Thank you to everyone who has supported the school this year (parents, friends, and community members), and have a great summer!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Springtime in Education

Today's blog comes from the folks at Imagining Learning; they conduct "listening sessions" all over the country to hear what students are saying about their schools and education.

Charles Kouns posted this blog post calling for reform, and, to date, it is the most personal, profound, articulate plea for why it's time for schools to change. Take a moment this morning to read and send him your thoughts.

Here's a brief video describing what Imaging Learning does:

Have a great day!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

First Hydroponic Salad

Yes, ladies and gents, Sarah just made her first salad grown in her hydroponic system! To help her continue her journey, please read more about it here.  In the meantime, this news deserves its own blog, and I leave you with this photo of her masterpiece:

So proud!!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

On Adolescence

So La Petite turned 13 on Saturday, May 4th. This is a hard enough birthday, but in the wake of her father's death, it has been a bit more difficult. So I asked friends and family to send me their answers to two simple prompts: what is one thing you wish you had known when you were 13, and what is one wish you have for La's 13th year. I am in the process of assembling their answers into a book.

The answers were touching, personal, and painful. The answers shared many similarities; there were memories of insecurity, fear and uncertainty. Some respondents wished they had been kinder. Some wished they had been braver. One said that if she had known she would be alive for so long, she would have had more fun.

I can't share who said what. They are a private gift for La, and I think for some people it was difficult to re-visit middle school; they did not post their answers to my Facebook page but sent them via email or private message.

I remember clearly middle school. It was awful, for a number of reasons. I was awkward, physically and socially. I was smart and bored - a lethal combination. I was an outsider. I read a lot, listened to country music (everyone else listened to pop), and I was friends with my bus driver - also lethal. I threw up on an amusement park ride. I let a group of girls bully another girl. Not in the same vicious manner of today, but still bullying. That is my main regret.

The advice people gave was all the same, in different stories and examples: trust yourself. Be confident. Follow your dreams. Love yourself and your family, and take the time to cultivate good friends.

This is why I love this age. I love this age because it is crucial help them to do it right, to make sure that you are helping, not hurting. Because when we most of us look back, we see the awkwardness, not the beautiful potential and limitless possibility stretched before us.

Yes, teens are crazy. There is scientific proofTeens and parents don't always get along, but most figure it out.

But during middle school, everything feels awful. It may not be totally dramatic for every teen, but every person who wrote to La indicated some level of insecurity and awkwardness, enough so that it stayed with them for their life to this point. Because teens can be so awfully frustrating, the knee-jerk reaction is to shut them down, fight back, exert control.

This is the exact opposite of how to parent a teen.  Listen. Remember what it was like to be 13. Find out what they are interested in, and take an interest in it yourself (this last one can be very difficult, but try anyway). Recognize that your kid is changing and your relationship has to change, too. Every time La wants to snuggle or talk late at night when all I want to do is go to sleep, I remind myself that teens develop a different circadian rhythm during adolescence, generally, and she won't be around forever, so I prop my eyelids open and do the best I can.

La will remember this birthday as the first without her dad. There is nothing I can do about that, but I hope she also remembers to be strong and kind; I hope she sees her value and her ability. If, some years down the road, someone asks her to remember herself at 13, I hope she sees the beautiful, intelligent and compassionate human she is.

This is the job of parenting an adolescent. I hope I am up to the task.

Monday, April 29, 2013

French Cooking

Ella and Sicily prepared a meal for HoneyFern on Friday, and the results are in: diners gave them an average rating of five stars on everything from food to service.

The girls focused on French food; they started with mini-quiches (spinach and simple cheese), then had tilapia in a beurre blanc (SO DELICIOUS. Seriously. I couldn't believe how subtle the flavor was, and how amazing. Perfect with the simple fish), a cheese course and chocolate mousse for dessert.

Diners were served in courses; here are the ladies, serving the fish:

This may be our last student cooking as we race towards the end of the year, and what a way to end. Delicious!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Overnight Field Trips: Wahsega 4H Center

The week before last, HoneyFern went on an overnight field trip to Wahsega 4H Center just north of  Dahlonega, Georgia.

It was striking to me, watching the students in this environment. They were so confident, capable and knowledgeable; they worked together, dove into the challenges and didn't back down when they got frustrated.

I took massive amounts of pictures but suffered an unfortnate technical error and don't have them all, but here are some of the highlights.

Quakers, the resident duck:

HoneyFern getting ready to start their challenge course:

The course included a challenge that had never been completed; students had to balance this platform, and then switch sides (all of them) without unbalancing the platform. HoneyFern did it.

They also aced another one of the challenges that no one had completed (crossing a hot lava river on shamrocks). I had to bite my tongue to not point out in a very teacher-y fashion that all of the skills they were using (collaborative, communication, planning, logic, problem-solving, design) they had learned this year through the design and development of their projects. I bit my tongue a lot this trip to just let them apply their skill and relax in the mountains, but I wanted to shout out, "See!! It works!! Here's proof!!"
We raced on these after a practice run; I won't say who won, but it was a very, very close race!

We also did a zipline; we climbed up a phone pole to a 43-foot platform that swayed in the breeze (!), then leapt off into the abyss. Some students loved it, some hated it, but everyone made it. The final day of the camp we participated in a survival challenge; students had to build a shelter of available materials. This we did, in the pouring rain. I don't have a picture of this, but it was a pretty solid shelter.

And finally, some of our amazing students. This is the picture they would want me to post, even though I took a great one of them smiling and looking relaxed and happy. So I will forgo the typical picture and post this one of them "acting natural."


Thursday, April 25, 2013

On Birthdays, and Sage Advice

May 4th is La Petite's 13th birthday. I have asked friends and family to take a moment in the next few days to write down two things: something they wish they had known when they were 13, and a wish for La's 13th year.

This morning, her Uncle Sock (Scott, my brother), sent an email with this letter to her. I am reposting it here in its entirety, whether he likes it or not, because I think it is excellent, loving advice to not only La but also people of all ages. Not sure when he got to be so smart, but I am glad he is my brother.

Dear Sicily –
It has been quite some time since I was 13 but I still have vivid memories of that age and the excitement I felt about becoming a teenager. It was about this age when I started to realize that as I got older, more was expected of me and but this was offset by more opportunities being available to me. One of the benefits of getting older is perspective. Things that were so crushingly important to me a certain stages of my life now seem unimportant if not trivial. Perspective is something that one gains through experience and time and it is something that we continue to gather as we go through life. Hindsight is said to be 20/20, but the truth is that the answers are always there if you know the right questions and have the right person to ask.
While no specific instances particularly stands out, I do recall being very concerned about appearing to know what I was doing or saying. As for that actually being the case, not so much. If you approach new situations with an open and inquisitive mind, you will broaden your world and gain the knowledge of other peoples perspectives. Gaining other perspectives, including those from people which you disagree, will prepare you for just about every life situation you will face.
Here are a few tips that might help you navigate through the next few years:
 Stay even – don’t let the highs get too high, or the lows too low

Make a friend with someone that you have nothing in common with

When you look at pictures of yourself 20 years from now, your haircut and clothes will make you laugh

Trust your mom and never be afraid to talk to her about anything; she has been there and done that and can help

Express your opinion, but in a way that is respectful and cognizant of differing opinions

Have fun – you might be teenager, but your are still a kid. Enjoy the silly kid stuff as long as you can.

Appreciate yourself and be confident

Accept failures, not as defeat, but as an opportunity and challenge to do better

Define your values and stick with them – be flexible enough to change as you gain perspective

You are not going to marry your first, second, third or even fourth boyfriend

Be compassionate

If you want to be trusted, be trustworthy

Set goals

Understand the sacrifices that your Mom makes for you and let her know you appreciate it

Clean up your room and make your bed; trust me, eventually you will feel good about it

Graciously accept your victories

Be tolerant of others

Occasionally, delay gratification

Earn some money and save it for something special

Stay awesome! (just an older version)
I am very proud to be your uncle. I love you. Happy Birthday!
Have a great day!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

I Will Not Let An Exam Result Decide My Fate - Suli Breaks

If you watch nothing else regarding education reform, if you don't read another sentence on what's wrong with schools and standardized testing, I hope before you give up all hope of change, or before you close your eyes to the problems that exist, I hope you will watch this spoken word performance by Suli Breaks. I posted his other video several months ago, and here is a follow up, just in time for testing season.

He speaks the truth. It is telling that so many of the comments ignore the message and focus on race, perceived socio-economic status, his accent and/or grammar. When it is too painful to acknowledge the verity of someone's statements, get personal and insult them.

Please share widely. It's time.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Many Good Things

First and foremost, we have our first completed project: Ella's chicken coop. Ella joined us in the 2nd quarter of this year, and in that time, she managed to design and build her chicken coop and build an incubator to hatch a chick (which may, unfortunately, be a rooster). Her small flock of five fancy chickens are growing happily in their new home.

Secondly, Will has made good progress on his go-kart and is getting  ready to order his clutch and mounting bolts for the engine. Witness going from here:

To here:

And finally, more progress on the tiny house.

We have nearly dried in the house, with the exception of two dormer triangles and a door, and I put out a call for help with the metal roof; I am pretty well scared of heights, and it is not safe for La Petite to be up on the roof, so I asked if anyone would be willing to help out by donating their labor and time to put the roofing on.

Not only did Kurt Waggoner of Dr. Roof step up to do the labor, but he also brought along Gulf Coast Supply and Manufacturing to donate the missing bits and pieces of roof (which were actually quite substantial) and is also working on a siding supplier to donate the siding.

This is excellent news, and we are so grateful to have been fortunate enough to hook up with these two people/companies. Apparently, Kurt is known for donating his time simply because he likes to help, and Gulf Coast Supply has helped quite a few people, as evidenced from their Facebook page. They support education, and they are involved in their community. Just what the world needs more of!

HoneyFern is off to the Wahsega 4H camp on Thursday and Friday this week to get our experiential, environmental education on; have a great week!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Chickens Are Home To Roost

She did it. Ella finished her chicken coop.

Here's where she started:

Or maybe more accurately, this is where she started:

And here is her lovely coop, completed, with little chickies running around and getting bigger every minute:

The peeps are now pullets, and Ella has about 8 inches less hair:

She also built a coop for my chickens as we moved them from one house to another; I threw together the chicken yard with recycled scraps and have fewer chickens, so it's not quite as shipshape as Ella's beautiful creation:

Busy girl! Ella could not have done it without her parents, Mandy and Kyle, both of whom have rallied around this project and helped her get it done in just under four months (including building her own incubator and hatching out a chick, which may turn out to be the only rooster in the flock, unfortunately).
What's next? Designing and remodeling the playhouse next to the chicken yard is the plan, but we will have to see what other ideas Ella comes up with. Maybe a little garden next to the chicken yard/playouse? Mandy would love that!

Ella is the first student this year to complete her project, and I couldn't be prouder of all that she has done!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Food For Thought: Altucher and Godin

Today I am simply posting two links for you to read.

The first is a rather strange blog post about unschooling yourself; it's not that I don't agree with much of what the author writes. It is strange because the tone of the piece is almost maniac and mildly aggressive in its assertions (the author is a hedge fund manager, so maybe that explains the tone), but the ideas behind the blog are solid. See what you think, and let me know.

The next is perhaps the longer piece from which afore-referenced blog (perhaps) sprung. Seth Godin's work has been making the rounds of the interwebs in the form of this longer e-book (Stop Stealing Dreams, linked above) and his pithy little sayings about marketing. I can't quite figure this guy out either. Maybe my Spidey sense is off. I like what he says, but his marketing and meeting tips throw me off and makes me think it is ALL marketing (even the smart stuff about stealing dreams and his newest book, Poke the Box, which costs money but has a free workbook online).

Food for thought this Wednesday.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

What Can't Be Done With Good Friends?

First of all, this blog is brought to you by Luke Bair of Redwing Farm in Monroe County, West Virginia; we could not have done it without him. Everyone should be lucky enough to have one friend like this in their lifetime.

First, a "before" picture. This is what the house looked like on Friday morning at eight a.m.:

So what did we do with ourselves? First, the speed square and a little bit of instruction:

And then, the first rafters. This was easily the most time-consuming part of the day. There is quite a bit of math involved in this, and quite a bit of figuring, fitting and re-fitting. Once we had the right fit, that served as a template, and up they went. 

There is a bit of a gap in pictures; we had all hands on deck for rafters, and I had to run out and pick up six sheets of plywood for roof sheathing, 15 2x6s, roofing felt, a wacker tacker (best. tool. ever.) and about eleventy millions screws, nails and fasteners.
Ella and Sicily got started on the first layer of housewrap; it got a little crooked in the beginning but we made it work.


And Ella's dad Kyle got up on the ladders to help with the rafters; Kyle was CRUCIAL on this day.

Everyone got involved in the final housewrap layer:

Girding our loins. This step is not for kids (safety first!), so La Petite is the photographer for roof shots. Luke essentially hauled a full sheet up the ladder and handed it to Kyle and I; we all then squared and nailed the sheet. Did I mention that I am scared of heights?

First sheet up:

Second sheet was a piece of cake compared to the first; this was not a full sheet, and it was going on the shallow-pitched dormer.

Add some felt:
In the meantime, the girls learned how to put in a window, and then promptly put them all in (after documenting the roofing). #NotYourAverageSchool
We don't have action photos of all of this, but here is an interesting window, one that needed adjustment to make more room for the loft. I also picked this up with all of the wood and bozillion screws, nails and fasteners. We had to go from a 2x3 to a 2x2. Yes, we are planning on filling in the big gap. #ItsTheRealWorldSoBeFlexible

The temporary view from the bumpout window:
In the midst of all of this, we had a fence guy, Steve, setting posts. He was also wrangling Lucy, the dachshund, when she tried to make a break for it. What a good sport he was!!!

There is a huge gap in photos due to a natural phenomenon that occurred right around 7:30: the sun began to set. We continued roofing in the dark, trying to get the roof up. Alas, one cannot rush roofing.

However, you remember the before picture? Well, here it is again, just in case:

Drumroll, please...here is the after:
So there we are. The result of a thirteen-hour day, finished in the dark, with an excellent job boss and good friends. We would have gotten a nice group photo, except it was dark, and late, and everyone was probably too exhausted to smile (it would have been a grim photo). The plan is to get the house dried in in the next two weeks so we can start work on the inside.
It is real. La Petite is building a house.
Really, what can't be done with good friends?

Friday, March 29, 2013

And the Tiny House Has Arrived..And Has Windows...Sort Of.

So we made it home without a ticket, even though we passed two of Georgia's finest. Our theory is that the officers looked at the giant box we were towing and figured that no one would be stupid enough to haul that without a permit.

Ha. Yes, we were.

But all's well that ends well, and the tiny house is in the yard where it will be finished. It's a bit cattywampus (crooked, or woppyjod, as a true Southerner might say), but it gives us plenty of room to work around the house and to let the privacy fence guys do their work this week.

As promised, some pix from yesterday.

This is us loaded up, checking the safety chain. La Petite suggested I run ahead and film the rolling vehicle, but with a bum ankle I decided against it. So we have a stationary picture:

Definitely an anxiety-producing trip. We removed the dormers to get our height down, and cleared all low-hanging branches and rogue power lines with ease; La Petite said, "Oh, we had at least ten inches to spare." #NotComforting

Our rig in the cul-de-sac:

Parking spot:

Backing in:

Where we will work; it will eventually be straightened out and moved closer to the privacy fence that is being built next week:

After we parked and leveled the house, Mama made a couple sawhorses (yes, I did!!):

And we cut out some windows; La became a pro with the Sawzall very quickly:

Final picture of the house for day two; you cannot see the bumpout from this angle, but all windows are cut:

And finally, La in Mama's sunglasses; she says she looks like an old lady (blerg), but I think she looks happy, which is priceless:

Final push with Luke today; we are wrapping the house, putting in windows and putting up the roof rafters and plywood. Ella, she of the chicken coop, and her dad Kyle are coming to help hoist the plywood up the roof (and for moral support and astonishment at our progress these three days!), and it is supposed to be gorgeous and sunny all day today. Look for our last blog tomorrow or Sunday sometime; La has a softball tournament all day Saturday, so that's where we'll be.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Sheathing and Moving a Tiny House

Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans. ~a bunch of different people online~
May you live in interesting times. ~Chinese curse~
As promised, tiny house updates will be posted on this blog; La Petite is struggling to get back to it after the death of her dad, but progress is being made, and it should be documented.
My friend Luke (from Redwing Farm in West Virginia; best organic veggies and heritage pork and expanding in the coming years) is here this week for three days, and we are taking full advantage of his talents; he has built about 20+ houses in his lifetime, including the house he and his family live in and his late father's beautiful retreat. He has volunteered to help keep us going and was featured in the framing pictures posted earlier in February.
On Wednesday, we sheathed the tiny house in plywood in preparation to move it; this may seem a little odd, but we wanted to make the structure as stable as possible for the short trip to our house. We had originally planned to keep it at HoneyFern, but plans change, yes? So we adapt, and change with them.
Here we have the end of the tiny house. Behind this wall will be a bathroom and a dressing area/closet:
Skipping to the front, this is La Petite, gluing around the large window in the bump-out:
Nailing in another stud. Yes, a bit after the fact, but it was necessary to stagger the plywood seams:

La doesn't love the ladder; this is one of the reasons we are hoping to get Luke on the roof before he's gone. Even if we have to put the metal on ourselves, if we can get the plywood up we will feel better about it. It is pretty amazing how uncomfortable learning a new skill can make you. Yes, it is very exciting (we are building a house?!), but watching Luke walk around with a nailgun like it is an extension of his arm, versus La and I, a bit awkward and unsure, is definitely disconcerting. This makes me realize how important it is to leave your comfort zone, frequently. It is the only way to learn and grow. But I digress. Back to pictures:
The bumpout from the inside. La is going to build in a setee/storage space:


One more sheet to go:

The long view:

La Petite, selfie:
More pictures today and tomorrow as we race to exploit, er, utilize, all of Luke's talents before he leaves Saturday morning. Moving the house and putting windows and roof rafters in today.
As a side note, Luke, La and I all have our thoughts on what the policeman will say first (after "License and registration, please") when he pulls us over as we move the tiny house:
Luke: "Just what is that thing you're hauling?"
Suzannah: "Are you aware that a license plate is required to haul a trailer?"
Sicily: "Do you know why I pulled you over?"
Stay tuned!!