Thursday, February 28, 2013

Build a School in the Cloud

What do you think of this vision for education?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Kids Are Not Alright

So why not?

Is it an exaggeration ot talk about "kids these days" and how broken they are?

Yes, sometimes. Sometimes it is just big headlines that sell papers, magazines and juice boxes. Sometimes all we do is exaggerate in our overblown culture of MORE.

But sometimes it is the truth. It seems like we go to extremes as a culture. La Petite has friends who are left alone like wild children, fending for themselves, and friends who are so overscheduled that she only sees them on Instagram. I have had students whose faces are drawn from the stress of the helicopter parent who follows their every move, filling their days with "enrichment" and extra classes, and students whose faces were drawn from their steady diet of Pop-Tarts, videogames and absentee parents.

Everyone needs to take a deep breath. This article argues that if we would just stop evaluating and measuring kids all the time, formally or informally, kids could relax into themselves a little. While that is not the solution for absentee parenting, it certainly would help those overstressed, overscheduled kids that I tended to see in the gifted classes I taught in public school. We need to find some sort of balance in our childrearing, somewhere between Tiger Mom/Dad and no Mom/Dad.

Maybe some kind of intervention for both types of parents?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Learning Something New - What's Your Excuse?

This week I have been grannysitting in Pennsylvania. My grandmother lives with my mom, and my mom is out if town. In India, following Buddha's path through India and Nepal. For three weeks. Did I mention that she is 69 years old?

After a week, my grandmother will go to respite care; as the only teacher at HoneyFern, I can't just leave the school for three weeks. When she goes to respite care, she will not have a telephone in her room, which has been really troubling to her for sometime; she gets very anxious, and this is a big move for her.

So my aunt got her a cellphone, and yesterday she made the first cellphone call of her life. We have been practicing making and receiving phone calls; I call her from the kitchen to tell her when dinner is ready; she calls me from the living room to tell me the trash man is here. She has made several mistakes and refuses to let me help her (other than walking her through it once and writing the steps to making and receiving a call); "I need to learn myself," she said, "You can't learn if you don't make mistakes." Did I mention that she is 94 years old?

Go learn something new.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Ten Ways to Cultivate a Love of Reading

I love to read, and I cannot imagine why other people don't. Our house is filled with books, and I cannot imagine life any other way. Even with e-readers, books are warm and inviting and tempt with experiences and knowledge. I ruined my eyes with books.

Reading is the only required homework at HoneyFern: 45 minutes a day, anything. Comic books, bumper stickers, backs of cereal boxes, anything.

So I am loving this blog on ten ways to cultivate a love of reading, and I think HoneyFern needs to start some of these, including bookclubs and read-a-thons (maybe a sponsored read-a-thon to benefit an organization the kids choose?).

To this list of ten, I would add the following:

1. Allow e-readers if that works better for kids. I have a student with dyslexia that can change the color of the background on her e-reader to make it easier to read. I have another student who can download samples of a book before he buys it which makes it easier on the wallet. I don't personally prefer e-readers, but I think "kids today" prefer the screen. I will still always have books around, and I still buy books, but maybe for next year will look into e-readers.

2. Encourage kids to read in different places, or walk around while reading. Many active kids just don't want to stop to read; HoneyFern has a porch swing that is an awesome place to read, and if it's not bothering other students, I let them wander around the house to read.

3. Encourage interaction with the book. Many teachers still don't want kids to write in books, but I believe that is the best way to ask a question without interrupting the flow of the reading, make an observation or indicate confusion. I can also go through a student's marked-up book and see what they liked or don't get. A good teaching tool.

4. Read during the school day. If you say it's important, then make the time. Period.

5. Count everything read as reading. If they are researching, that's reading. If they are tweeting, that's reading AND writing. If they are editing a friend's blog or writing, that's reading.

And with reluctant readers, remember:

6. Patience + Persistence = Success/Time (TM. Srsly. That's my saying. Don't steal it.). Keep looking for books reluctant readers might enjoy, and let them read a little lower than they are capable of if that gets them to read. I had a student at the beginning of the year who "hated" reading, but now he is whipping through books at or above his grade level, because I let him explore, read what he likes, and then gradually moved him up to higher level books of the same type.

Reading is the greatest gift an educator can bestow on a student, the gift that keeps on giving. So go read.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day...To Me

"You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection."
Buddha (563-483 BC)

I know, an odd start to a holiday when you are supposed to show your love to others (which technically I disagree with because you should show your love to others all year long, not just one pressure-laden day. But I digress).

But guess what?

It starts with yourself.

You know the old airline safety video advice: place your own oxygen mask on before assisting others.

I was at a restorative yoga class on Wednesday, and, of course, my mind was wandering as we did asanas; it occurred to me that I rarely, if ever, do something that is purely and truly for me, good for me in a real way (as opposed to going out for frozen yogurt  by myself or watching Top Chef online when no one is home). I thought about this for awhile, then my mind wandered further (which it is not supposed to do; I was supposed to be focusing on my breath, but this sort of thing takes lots of practice, which I am getting to), and I thought about changes I can make that are loving and respectful of what I need as a human being, not as a teacher or a partner or a parent, but as the foundational human being that supports all of those roles.

So I pulled my mind back to my breath. And it wandered away again as I thought about writing this blog for Valentine's Day. And then I pulled it back. And then I realized.

There are yoga studios in Marietta. A bunch of them.

And they have all kinds of yoga classes.

And I am a better human when I do yoga regularly.

And this is a loving gift I can give to myself that actually benefits everyone in the long run.

So Happy Valentine's Day to me; when I get back to Marietta from grannysitting in PA, I am going to get myself a class card and get to yoga. It's time.

Happy Valentine's Day to you and all of your loved ones. Be kind today, and then all of the other 364 days.

(I may also pick up a discounted box of Valentine's Day chocolate, but chocolate is good for you, too, right?)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Building a Culture of Innovation

Yes, please! Sir Ken Robinson discusses how to do this and why it is so utterly important to our world.

After watching this, go check out another take on this idea, Tony Wagner's Creating Innovators, one of the seminal books for HoneyFern School.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Human Scale Education

A fancy phrase that means educating on a more personal level, more micro than macro, in order to develop and nuture relationships that matter (and are healthy and continue).

Somehow, in the push to develop the assembly line in the early 20th century, we lost all concept of the idea of uniqueness. Generally, uniqueness is rewarded with a funny look and/or a label, at least when it comes to school. The idea of craftsmanship went the way of the dodo when the first car rolled off the assembly line, and the same thing happened with schools. As the factory model was refined in education (with standardized testing and assessments and lockstep curriculum), teachers lost their sense of responsibility for the craftsmanship and the art of teaching. This is a huge generalization, but we are living in a time when most teachers only have time and energy (and mandate) to get their kids to pass the test. Keep your head down, and get your kids through the test - there isn't time for much else.

As a teacher, I stepped off the wheel in 2010 so I could focus on the craftsmanship of education. My school is on a human scale, smaller to enable relationships that matter to form, smaller so I can provide the kind of personalization that only occurs when one knows one's students. HoneyFern will never have a higher student/teacher ratio than 10-1, and students will be with the same teacher for their career at HoneyFern. This hearkens back to the idea of working with the same master builder or potter to learn their skill; those masters are heavily invested in the success of the student (not just delivering information and moving them on).

I feel a tremendous sense of responsibility for the success of my students not just as students but as human beings; I actually miss then when they are gone on breaks and through the summer, and we all tend to get together at least a couple times over the summer. Will they be academically prepared for college? Absolutely. But I will also honor them and their interests by getting to know them on a personal level and actually caring about them as human beings, not as test scores

This is education on a human scale. And it is the way it should be.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Non-traditional Education Can Save the World

I am just not a traditional kind of girl anymore, especially when it comes to school. Last week I went to a Georgia Council on Economic Education (GCEE) Stock Market Game training at the Federal Reserve Bank in Atlanta. The class was billed as an advanced class for experienced teachers, so I signed up. The first class I took with the GCEE was a nightmare, featuring an instructor who verbally castigated one of the attendees for checking her email while he was talking, then continued to talk about her when she left the room, and generally treated the whole group like naughty children who could not be trusted with the wireless code. It was so bad that I left early and called the GCEE, only to be told that the instructor was "excellent." Hmm. But I digress. I was hoping that this advanced class (limited to high school teachers only) would be better.

The good points: a couple interesting resources, like Gen I (a free online game that features applications and problem-solving), and the attendees were more experienced in playing the  Stock Market Game (the winner of the past couple rounds was there). The building was beautiful, the coffee with the breakfast was good, and we had a real lunch in the executive dining room (where I hoped to pump the winner for information but got derailed by questions about HoneyFern). I also found out about a scholarship for high school students, and the instructors were very informed and knew what they were talking about.

The downsides: there was a lot of focus on standards and assessments and bell ringing (how much time people have). At one point, one of the presenters hinted that by completing one of the other online games for financial literacy, EverFi, students could earn one of the only certificates they might ever get, including a high school diploma (as in, they might not get a diploma, so at least they will get something. Georgia does have a miniscule graduation rate, so this may be accurate, but still.)

I guess I am mostly done with these trainings with large groups of people at varying levels of learning, especially when the training is not differentiated. There is too much conversation about concepts that are too basic or not appplicable and not enough relevant, hands-on learning (although we did have a couple mini-games, one of which I won). I get impatient listening to someone talk endlessly about something that I could teach myself in 30 minutes.

Maybe the value is that I actually have to sit and listen to the information; when I get it in an email, sometimes I file it away and never get back to it. I did meet some nice people, and it was nice to talk to adults during the day for a change, but that may be about it. I just wish these were a bit shorter, more hands-on and more differentiated. The same instructional techniques that are for students work for adults, too, but somehow we forget that adults don't want to sit and be talked at for three hours either, no matter how good the coffee or fancy the lunch.

Baby steps, I suppose. Start with HoneyFern, then take over adult ed. Hmmm....

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Writer's Block

It is unlike me to not write. I am a writing teacher, a teacher of writing, a writer, period. I may not be the best, and I am frequently among the worst, but I enjoy it and it helps me process my thoughts.

And my thoughts need some processing. I locked my keys in my truck yesterday, an event that has been several weeks in development; I have caught myself, hand on the lock, keys still dangling in the ignition more than once recently. So no surprise that in the middle of a day that included studying a spelling program, reading the Iroquois Constitution, laying out a greenhouse and visiting a newly-hatched chick (and on the way to buy flavored oil for a soda experiment and visit the Re-Store to find windows for the tiny house) that our day was derailed in front of the health food store

It's not that there isn't plenty to write about, and I don't actually find the physical process of writing difficult; some people have difficulty with topics and forcing themselves to sit down and write. Those difficulties don't afflict me. My block is 100% mental, and has nothing to do with whether or not I think my writing is any good. My curse is swirling thoughts and my attempt to solve all of the world's problems, to manage (and micromanage, says my husband) everything, to organize and coordinate. I wear about eleventy-million hats at HoneyFern, and then there is every other part of life: moving, grannysitting, transportation to softball practices, tutoring, time for myself that should include yoga, painting and horse time, etc - managing life itself. We are in limbo between houses, in that semi-permeable, half-moved state where you bring all the coats for the hall closet but no hangers, rings for shower curtains but no actual curtain, and one shoe of your favorite pair, the other lost in transit.

For me to write, I have to sit down, sweep away the panoply of detritus in my mind and focus in on one thing. In this instant, I understand why Jack Kerouac wrote in a stream-of-consciousness style on a continuous roll of paper; this eliminates the need to edit or slow down one's thinking, but for me it results in a frantic inability to focus fully on one thing, whether it is a student project or removing my keys from the ignition before locking the car door.  In this case, I have to follow my own advice: just get it down. Just write. The writing silences the cacophony; the editing streamlines my thoughts; the publication gets it into the world and off of my shoulders.

As I write this, two students are inside with me; it is lunch time, and one is looking for a new book to read; the other is working on his 3D game. I can hear the other students playing Twister with the chickens outside, and it is almost time to watch the news. Even as part of my brain plans the rest of the day, the other part is chipping away at the block, and in so doing calms and quiets a bit.

Here they come. Bring the noise.