Category Archives: thinking out loud

My Lake Isle of Innisfree

Silo ViewI find the cadences and images of William Butler Yeats’ poem, “The Lake of Isle of Innisfree,” comforting, and often as I turn up the gravel driveway that leads to my old farmhouse, I hear his words: “I shall arise and go now, and go to Innisfree.” In the poem, he describes the peacefulness of a rural retreat–“the bee-loud glade”–where he lives alone. And, while our farm sits on the edge of a bustling town and road, we can wander to vine covered bowers around the old ceramic silo where the nature has managed to dominate man and his racket.

This is my place, where I seemingly was meant to be, and for all its challenges–frustrating Internet, old wiring and plumbing, and lots of upkeep–it is home. We live in rhythm with the seasons: spring brings the usual succession of flowers from daffodils to irises to the summer perennials. Hummingbirds arrive, and after a brief absence for nesting, they will be back in full force, often downing a quart of food a day, zooming from feeder to feeder, perching briefly and sipping deeply, chasing others as they defend their territory. Eventually, as summer progresses, they do settle down and will share feeders with 3 or 4 perching together.

In Flight

The gardens have settled in to this place as well. After 8 years of cultivation, I have established perennial beds that include lots of flowering, bee and hummingbird friendly plants that bloom from now til first frost and sometimes even a bit afterwards. I’ll do some planting this year, but it is mostly maintenance: lots and lots of weeding. But it is work that gets me out of the house and away from the laptop and even a few minutes can make a difference and sooth my soul. Every school should have such a place for kids and adults where they can dig in the dirt and make things grow.

Wysteria
I have added a new element this year: I am experimenting with a kitchen scraps garden. I planted potato eyes, onion and garlic sprouts and one celery end for which I held out no hope. Lo and behold, when I returned from my trip, it had put forth some leaves! This is easy and essentially free.

Celery & Onions

The Inevitable Let Down Or Taking A Day

Our MyrtleI just needed a day, I think, to do not much after months of doing, doing, doing. I had planned to travel today for a last bit of holiday vacation  but slept badly last night and woke late feeling low, not prepared for a long car drive even with a decent book to listen to. I messaged my old friend who was lovely and supportive; thank goodness for old friends, indeed. We’ll meet up tomorrow at an annual get together of other old friends, mostly women I worked with at my first teaching gig in the late 80s, and then spend a few days recuperating from it all with sales shopping and binge watching and at least one movie theater movie, probably Mary, Queen of Scots. I look forward to this annual trek and know it will be restorative, but I just needed a day to make the transition.

One thing I did do was set up my feed reader as part of my general goal of being better connected. I emptied it completely and decided to just start with the people Jen Orr mentioned in her blog post. I recognized all the names as thoughtful people who were doing good work around creativity and equity. It is a good start, I think, and I am trying to keep things sustainable. I plan to have this group as a core of regular reading because I know they will connect me with a wider community and then I can add others to the core list. I hope it is a better strategy than filling the feed with every person I might possibly read and then being overwhelmed by the number of posts.

My organizational efforts  were immediately rewarded with this beautiful prose poem by Sherri Spelic reflecting on the holiday and the coming year, what we bring with us, what we leave behind, what we look forward to.

What Comes Easily to You?

I am just a few hours away from teaching the first class of the semester. I have a limited number of face to face sessions so I think this first class is even more critical than in a K-12 classroom. Every moment together counts.

Katie Martin’s pic of six questions to ask your students showed up in my Twitter feed. I followed the link to her blog post about four ways to create a learner-centered classroom. Both are worth a look. I completely agree with her that reviewing the rules or the syllabus are important but should not be the first thing a teacher does no matter the grade level. When I taught middle school, we started working on the first day and I either wove the rules in as part of our activities or spent some time with the students creating classroom rules and norms together. I wanted the message to be that this was an interactive class where we worked hard, played hard, and learned hard.

The goal of Martin’s six questions are to help teachers build relationships with their students. They are reasonable questions that would certainly help a teacher personalize classroom learning for students.

But, I did wonder about one of the questions: What comes easily to you? This is a potentially powerful question. But as with all things: it is all in what we do with. If the answer is used to customize activities so Suzie always gets to write and Billy always gets to draw because it comes easily to them, I think we could be taking student choice too far.

Given a choice in how to respond, I’m probably going to choose the way that comes easiest to me, in my case by writing text. In fact, publishing my little sketchnote/infographics and committing to public writing has been my way of moving away from what comes easily and pushing myself outside the proverbial comfort zone.  (I probably add 750 words a day to my journal…writing isn’t the problem for me, publishing is.)

I shared my course outline with some colleagues and at least one pushed back on requiring a “TED style talk” to present the work from their passion project. Wouldn’t some people be uncomfortable doing that, he asked. Yes, I’m sure they will, and I might tone down the “TED talk” rhetoric so it eases the pressure a bit, but the students WILL do a stand up presentation about their semester-long project. They are going to become school administrators and education leaders, and they need to get comfortable presenting ideas in front of groups of stakeholders.

We do lots of things that make people uncomfortable in my class at one point or another, from coding to recording videos of ourselves to solving challenges. For some people, just taking a course called School Technology causes anxiety. I combat that by being as supportive and reassuring as I can that while they will be expected to try out tools, failure will not affect their grades. (I don’t grade anyway really but that’s a whole other blog post.)

I am offering lots of choices this semester: from pursuing your passion to choosing from various tools to “writing” to your blog using a variety of media. But, I also am planning whole group activities around topics and tools, and I will expect participation from every student to some degree.

I think we should use the answer to the question of what comes easily to a student as a foundation for supporting them and a springboard for pushing them beyond the walls created by their preferences. I am a huge fan of Seymour Papert’s idea of hard fun where learning is challenging, but we find satisfaction in that challenge. He comments:

My whole career in education has been devoted to finding kinds of work that will harness the passion of the learner to the hard work needed to master difficult material and acquire habits of self-discipline. But it is not easy to find the right language to explain how I think I am different from the “touchy feely … make it fun make it easy” approaches to education.

My class is not easy in many ways and does require students to do more than a typical textbook, lecture, discussion kind of graduate class. You will get metaphorically dirty in this class but if you’re willing to try out things that may be difficult for you, I can promise you hard fun.


Blog Challenge Update:

Bad news: I had just turned out the light and plumped the pillow last night when I realized I had not posted a blog entry. I made a futile attempt to see if I could do it from my phone if only to keep the very short streak going but gave up pretty quickly and went to sleep. And slept soundly so clearly wasn’t too upset about missing.

Good news: In an effort to be more public about my blogging (honestly, I could probably write away here for months without anyone knowing), I shared my 10,000 Steps post on Facebook and got some nice feedback.

 

Connecting With Nature

At the recent CoSN conference, I attended a spotlight session presented by Dr. Milton Chen that focused on outdoor, experiential learning opportunities, mostly through the national parks. Sadly, Dr. Chen had, along with many others, resigned from the National Park Service education advisory board after being ignored in their efforts to engage with the new administration.

But, he remained passionate about the possibilities of outdoor education and describe Alice Waters’ Edible Schoolyard program. The farm-to-table approach to gardening means that kids learn to both grow AND cook their own food.

I firmly believe that raising even a small amount of your own food is good for the soul: some leaf lettuce, herbs, spring onions, and radishes are all easy crops to grow in a pot in a sunny warm place. There is a simple joy to adding a bit of fresh rosemary or chives to your potatoes or salting and crunching into a freshly pulled radish (better yet, dip it in melted butter).

But, connecting to nature can be as simple as keeping a bird feeder. While we have lots of birds who stick around all year here in south central Virginia, we also have migrants.

In Flight

My favorites are the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. April 1 is the traditional day for me to put up my first hummingbird feeder. We had our first siting today, April 4. It was a male–it usually is–and I added our siting to the hummingbird database. It took just a moment or two to submit and I was able to see my entry immediately and see that we were very much on the northern edge of reporting.

These kinds of migration tracking projects have been around for almost as long as the Internet. While they are certainly wonderful ways to have students experience collaboration and scientific discovery, they are also moments for students to connect with the natural world, to stop for a moment and wonder at the joy that is a hummingbird.