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Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Ultimate Field Trip

It's almost here! 

In two days my daughter and I are heading out on the ultimate field trip to the United Kingdom.  In fact I would wager that we will learn more in those six days than the typical student learns in a semester. 

How much will she learn in just six days? 

Our adventure will include history, math (we've got to convert dollars to pounds, not to mention the metric system), fashion, language, cultural studies, religion, art, law, architecture, geography, and of course we can't forget MUSIC!

This educational experience will be:
  • relevant (engaging and meaningful); 
  • rigorous (we will either learn complex material quickly or get lost/waste money/be frustrated/get a ticket/irritate the locals...);  
  • and, thankfully, my daughter has a great relationship with her teacher.  
With all components of the "3 Rs" represented, I fully expect that she will get an "A" on her culminating project.  No, I won't be giving her an assignment, but she will want to create something to remember every single experience.

Now, Tana, let's go do some authentic learning!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Saving for a Rainy Day...or Six!

Sweet 16.

My oldest daughter, Tana,  reaches this milestone in her life in March.  It's exciting!  What fun it has been to watch her grow into a young lady.  It's just went so darn fast.

All year I've wanted to do something special for her birthday.  In fact, her best friend's mom visited with me last summer about taking a cruise with the girls.  After considering the fun we would have, we had to decline.  My husband and I just didn't feel we could afford it this year.

And then...

McFly, Tana's favorite band, announced a tour.  I just kept watching their tour date announcements hoping that they would reveal a trip to the U.S.  You see, they are a British band.

That announcement never came. 

During a lunch date last weekend my husband and I were discussing Tana's upcoming birthday.  I lamented that there were several McFly concert dates during the week of spring break and I wished we could afford to take her on a dream vacation.  Actually, I'd even looked at flights out of curiosity and couldn't believe the great prices.  Then my husband said some magical words:

"Well, if she wants to spend HER money on that...."


I never even considered this possibility.

Tana took her first full-time job last summer.  She was a lifeguard, and a darn good one!  In fact, on the grand opening day of our brand new aquatic park, Tana saved a child.  And to her embarrassment, people actually cheered.  Never did I hear her complain about going to work on those long, hot days.

But she hasn't spent a dime of those earnings.  I'm not kidding...not a dime!

Really?  What about clothes, shoes, music, new technology, fast food, movies, gas, jewelry, makeup, etc.?!  Well, she has babysat a few times and got cash gifts here and there from grandparents. When she has needed a few dollars, this is the pot into which she dips.

But honestly, she just doesn't value those things.  Apparently, the Kohl's and Penney's clothes that we bought her for school are good enough.  The "un-smart" phone that she carries fits her needs.  Her old iPod from a past Christmas still works.  She only wears jewelry that's meaningful...not showy.

The fact of the matter is, she worked too hard all summer to blow it.  Instead, she saved it for a rainy day.

Wow.  How many of us could take a lesson from my teenage daughter?

When we got back to the house after our lunch date, we called Tana upstairs and laid it out:  "If you want to go to London and see McFly over Spring Break with the money you earned last summer, your mom will take you.  You have a decision to make."

Looking dazed, she went back downstairs.

Within the hour, she made her decision...and the flight tickets were purchased.

Not only is my daughter excited about going, but she's excited about going with me! She is practically bubbling over.  As a matter of fact, we both are.  You see, through her I've also learned to love the music of this band of young men.  I would say they've been a huge bonding factor for us over the last several years.  What a grand culmination of our mother/daughter relationship up to this point!

But, it isn't as much the band I will enjoy seeing as her face when she watches them.  It will be comparable to going back in time and taking my mom to an Elvis concert.  Amazing.  She will always remember this trip.

As we searched the internet for interesting London attractions last night, we checked on the typical March weather for the area:  Highs in the 50s.  About 3 1/2 hours of sunshine per day.

In other words, bring a jacket...a waterproof one.

When Tana decided to save, she wasn't sure why she was saving.  Was this money going to be used at college?  Would she need it for an emergency one day?  Or would she at some point have an amazing opportunity to buy something meaningful and expensive?

I'm so glad she saved for a rainy day...or six.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Snow Day!!!

The announcements are starting to come out on local tv and radio stations and their websites.  In many locations it's official:

No school tomorrow!

As a child, those words were magical.  As a teacher, they were the unexpected but appreciated gift of time.

But how much longer will weather dictate our educational schedule?

At the end of the work day today, I had meetings scheduled an hour away at the ESSDACK office for tomorrow.  First, our monthly staff meeting will be held and then I have a planning session for an upcoming workshop.

Tonight, however, the "snow day" announcements have started surfacing for schools in that area...including the school of my workshop planning collaborator.  This is where it gets interesting.

She is my FaceBook friend.  What?!  You use FaceBook for work?  Why, yes I do.  What a great way to stay up with my colleagues, clients, and co-workers as well as my friends!  Right away, she sent me a direct message.  "No school here tomorrow.  You aren't making the drive are you?"

After confirming that slick roads are not on my agenda for tomorrow's activities, we decided what time we would meet.  No driving necessary!  We are meeting through the use of Skype.

And Skype was just one choice of many possibilities.  If we didn't feel the need to see one another, we could just collaborate on a shared document through Google Docs.  We could start a FaceBook group and share documents and ideas back and forth.  We could share a TitanPad.  Or we could bravely try something relatively new like Almost Meet.

Why was I planning to make the drive anyway?

Just kidding.  Lots of research is available out there that shows the importance of social interaction.  I'm not trying to insinuate that meeting face-to-face can be or should be eliminated.  My point is, sometimes it's just not necessary.  We can make do.

Teachers have a whole slew of tools available to instruct, remediate, reinforce, and enrich student learning online.  In fact, many school websites today are actually highly-collaborative content management systems and not just online, static district "brochures".

And for those districts that continue to use a website that lacks interactivity, one link on a teacher's page can open up the collaborative possibilities.  Maybe that one link is to edmodo, pbworks, or Google Apps for Education.  Combine these with blogs, videos, tutorials, primary resource sites, and any of the myriad of amazing Web 2.0 tools that are available online (check out gotoweb20) and you can create one heck of an engaging, creative atmosphere for your students.  Virtually.

All have free versions.  All are engaging.  All are relevant.  Did I mention they are all free?

Education no longer needs to be from 8:00 to 3:00, Monday through Friday, weather permitting.  With an engaging teacher and the right tools, education can be 24/7.

Even on snow days.

Side note:  While researching for this post, I noticed that the current featured classroom on edmodo is our own Mrs. Smokorowski from Andover!  (There is a link on the page to a great video of this dynamic teacher and her students.)  Congratulations Smoke!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The language's OUR problem

It's an old joke, but I'll start with it.

What do you call someone who can speak two languages?

Answer:  Bilingual.

What do you call someone who can speak three languages?

Answer:  Trilingual.

What do you call someone who can speak one language?

Answer:  American.

In Kansas, students are currently encouraged to take two units of a foreign language.  Of course, these are high school requirements when anybody who has done any research on learning a language knows that it is easier to learn language at a very young age.  So, most of our schools are already missing this boat.

But I digress. I'll work with what we DO have in place.

Our kids come to 9th grade and have very little experience with a foreign language other than trying to converse with students that are either immigrants or in a foreign exchange program.  Thankfully, we recognize that there is a need for our students to learn foreign language and so we offer them an option or two.

These options in Kansas almost always include Spanish (and are often limited to ONLY Spanish) and then something romantic like French, cultural like German (think Hays), or dead like Latin.

Spanish is at least practical...particularly at the local level.  As Mexican immigrants continue to stream into the United States in search of a better life, communities that provide work for these families will also need to provide goods and services to them.  This requires communication.

I'm not going to get into a debate about whether we should learn Spanish or they should learn English.  For me, that is a moot point.  If I own a business and I want to sell them something and they can't speak English, I have two options:  1) Find a way to communicate or 2) Lose their business to someone else.  Period.  I only have control over MY situation and I don't want to waste my time complaining about something I cannot control.

Our kids who are planning to live in communities in which they will sell to or SERVE people who speak a different language, would certainly benefit from learning that language.  This would include medical professionals, business owners, educators, etc.

However, what I think we are missing is that we do not want to limit our kids to be competitive locally.  We need them to also be competitive globally.

In the global scheme of things if my child plans to sell goods and services (or even just serve) the world, learning Spanish is not a high priority.  It's not even on the radar.  Neither is learning French, German, or Latin.  What language DOES my child need to learn?  Well, who is the global competition?

The United States used to be the bottom line.  Everyone knew that.  Everyone else taught their kids English so they could compete.

In case you haven't noticed, things are changing.

It's time that we learn some lessons from the rest of the world.  At this time in our country, I think it is critical that we begin offering opportunities for our kids to learn languages that will help them be globally Mandarin, Cantonese, Hindi, or even Arabic.

It boils down to each community's priorities.  In Kansas, we have "local control."  Do we want to prepare our kids to be successful at home, abroad, or both?

The world is getting smaller everyday.  We want OUR kids to help shape it.  Their ability to communicate will be critical.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


I just finished reading a very good book called The Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. The author discusses some very interesting data that correlates with extreme success…indicating that simply hard work is NOT enough to raise a person to fame and wealth.

In one section of the book, the correlated data revolves around cultural and ethnic differences. The cultural difference that I’m focusing on within this blog post is the American concept of a summer break. These delicious three months “off’ can be traced back to our humble beginnings as an agricultural nation. It just made sense.

Now, however, there are those who disagree. According to the research presented, our poorest students do not make the gains in mathematics and, even more so, in reading that our middle-class and wealthy students make over summer break. And certainly, even these gains do not compare with the gains made throughout the school year by all students. The research actually shows that these students gain nothing—nor do they seem to lose.

Other cultures, particularly those that are out-performing our students, do not take time off for a summer break. In fact many countries require student to attend more days as well as longer days. The obvious question then becomes: Should we have our students spending more time in school?

I don’t think the answer to this question is as obvious as the author suggests.

Every culture, indeed every family, must decide the values that will be reinforced on a regular basis to raise the children to lead the next generation. Is the traditional American education at the top of this list?

Consider the case discussed by Mr. Gladwell within this book. A middle school student is accepted into a year-round school that requires her to attend from 7:30 a.m. to after 5:30 p.m. with 2-3 hours of homework before bed. The student described often goes to bed after 11:00 p.m. These students, however, have tremendous success—as defined by the American culture.

My question is: Where are they getting their values?

Do we really want the public education system raising our children? What responsibilities do parents have in the raising of these kids if they are actually seeing them only for a few hours on the weekends?

Some would argue that there are parents out there who just simply are not teaching their kids an ethical value system. Since they are not, the government must. There are no easy answers in a society that wants all children to have opportunities.

I, however, want my evenings, weekends, Christmas vacation, and, yes, summer break with my children. I want to raise them with a value system that corresponds to my religious beliefs. I want my students to experience the rewards of being successful—even if that has absolutely nothing to do with financial rewards.

Summer break provides me with an extended period of quality teaching time with my kids. Hmmm…I hope the school year doesn’t decrease our annual gains.


Over the last several years I have experienced frustration with the educational system in this great country. As an avid reader, I often find myself immersed in research showing the effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of different teaching and learning techniques as well as cultural barriers that seem to be hindering the growth of our students. So, through this blog I intend to share on my thoughts on these topics…mostly to understand my own thinking but also to spark the thoughts of others.

The system can only change if we, as educators, change it.