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Archive for March, 2013

Natalie was watching TV with Grampa one morning when figure skating came on. Natalie was mesmerized by the skaters gliding smoothly across the ice, dancing to the music in their sparkly costumes.

She said, “Grampa, one day I will be on TV skating like that and I hope you are still living to see it.”

Grampa subtly hinted at getting Natalie out on the ice to foster her dreams coming true. We have finally, in the last couple of weeks, been able to try skating a couple of times.

She had taught herself to rollerblade last summer so I knew she’d have a fighting chance with ice skating as well. She did pretty well staying on her feet and even taking a few tiny strides before ending up on her rear.

We are a long way from her television debut, but the exhilarated smile and sense of proud success was worth it.

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IMG_0918You’re given a plot of land and have the financial resources to do what you please. What is the plan?

The WordPress Daily Writing Challenge has me excited again. I’m not sure with four kids, a full time job and 2 hours of commuting how I would even possibly keep up with a daily writing prompt, but I do tuck away some of the prompts for later use. This one spoke to me right away. So many possibilities!

We are planning on putting our house on the market soon and moving closer to jobs and school. I have found a small parcel of wooded land that I am interested in and it is in a perfect location, so my mind immediately settled on building a house. But, I think my dreams can fly higher than that. I mean, the financial resources to do what I please? Let’s go!

I struggled long and hard with the decision of where to send Natalie to school for kindergarten. I think in my heart I wished that I could homeschool her because only I know truly how she learns, how smart she is, and what she is capable of. And I believe that children have a hunger for knowledge that burns brightly until the sameness, fairness and standardization of public education stifles that flame.

And, so, I would build a school on this land. A school that looks nothing like a school. It would be a school that looks more like a children’s museum, with bright, inviting colors and windows. There wouldn’t be any classrooms with tiny chairs or desks all facing the same direction. When you walk into the building, you would see a reception area and a large, plush auditorium with amazing acoustics (I feel so bad for student performers in school auditoriums because no matter how well they sing or play, it tends to sound… weird). We would call this room the Assembly Hall. Maybe we would name it after a benefactor or a famous orator. We would meet here every morning for announcements, the Pledge of Allegiance and an energizer or a speech or a preview of the day. There would be themes or units presented here in multi-media formats by a variety of teachers or older students. This would center the students for what they would work on for the day.

The students would then meet with their homeroom groups and set goals for the week for their own learning based on common core standards and the learning theme. At first, much of this would be provided for students by the teachers, but as the students were able to demonstrate independence, they would set their own goals for the week. Goals would include work flow goals as well as learning goals, guided and approved by the teacher. Based on a passport of standards that the student needed to demonstrate for a given theme, the students would form groups and determine how they would demonstrate their knowledge. They would complete the equivalent of a KWL chart – scribing what they Know, what they Want to learn and eventually what they Learned, or something cool like that.

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There wouldn’t be “classes” where students move to another subject because of a bell. They would direct their own learning based on their interests. Want students to learn about condensation? Have them design an experiment to demonstrate condensation and write replicatable instructions that another student could follow. Want students to measure length? Have them determine which brand of hot dog matches which brand of bun best for a family picnic. Want students to determine volume? Have them determine how many bottles of ketchup to purchase for said family picnic dependent on how much ketchup the average person uses on a hot dog.This would be a technology-rich environment where a common theme would be “if Google can answer it, it doesn’t belong on an assessment.” Tests as we know them would become a thing of the past. Homework would be family discussions, research or data gathering for a project the students have deemed important.

Since I have the land and financial resources I need, there would be a large green house in conjunction with our school. Students would learn the nutritional value of vegetables and fruits and make a case for growing certain produce in our green house. They would need to be able to provide evidence of the nutritional value and necessary growing environment of their vegetable of choice. Each year there would be a presentation and vote on which produce would be grown in the green house. And science projects to determine how to create the appropriate growing environment for the produce chosen by the people. We could learn principles and concepts of advertising and government as well as science concepts of planting and growing seeds. We could learn about health and wellness to see which vegetables provide the most benefits and which produce students would be willing to try. Students could create menus and recipes for meals that students would actually eat incorporating these different fruits and vegetables. Math would be important in determining the area for the gardens and how many plants to plant based on the menu and needs of the population. Biological concepts in planting and identifying seeds and plants as well as seedling and weed identification would play a big role. Students would need to understand how weeds can affect a garden and why it is important to provide the plants with sunlight, water, and soil nutrients. Mathematically, students could graph plant yield by journaling the different types of conditions provided to each section of the greenhouse.

Students could determine what types of movement would benefit cardiovascular health and increase the “fun factor” to encourage movement and fitness. The students would drive what types of fitness programs were available from volleyball to wall climbing to swimming or running or yoga.

And, since we have a lot of available land, there could be prairie land, forest land and a pond ecosystem to study. There would also be animals present; woodland creatures, pond denizen, and farm fodder to raise and study. I would incorporate community farmers to teach students about creating cheese from milk or breaking in a horse or pest control methods. Students would determine what methods have the least health and environmental impact, yet produce the biggest yield.

Students interested in the arts could create advertisements, visual aids and media to support lessons. Or dramatic productions demonstrating voice and production, incorporating math concepts in set and costume design.

Learning would be aimed and capturing a child’s inherent desire to learn along with their desire to maintain control and produce relevant products. Parents, teachers and community members would be involved in the process as well as the production. Students could demonstrate their knowledge to people in that field of development. Students could take aim at real community problems and present ideas to solve these problems.

There might be mini lectures throughout the day based on student inquiry on certain topics or teacher-directed learning. Emphasis would be placed on collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and problem-solving. Instead of report cards, students would demonstrate what they know by publicly presenting projects, products, outcomes, successes and failures to interested parents or community members. Parent-teacher conferences would become a thing of the past as parents would be involved in their students’ learning outcomes from inception to presentation, fostering and encouraging their children to learn an dush their boundaries to new learning outcomes.

My teachers would need different resources than teachers today. First of all, they would need a lot of collaboration and brag time. Collaboration to determine which standards were going to be covered by whom for which unit. Brag time to tell other teachers about the creative, student-directed ways in which students were determining their own course for learning. My teachers would need the time and desire to continue to explore their own course of knowledge. They would need to create ways to demonstrate what students know.

The environment would be ever changing and engaging and inviting to students. It would be technology rich and based on experiencing learning rather than passively accepting, memorizing and spewing facts. My school would foster inventors and leaders and inventors; life-long learners and innovators; mathematicians, scientists, authors, historians, gymnasts, artists, musicians, teachers, and creators. Would you send your child to a school like this?

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