Friday, January 1, 2016

All Googly-Eyed

Motivated to add some real teeth to my tech skills with my school's new (and growing) 1:1 Chromebook initiative, I plunked down ten bucks and plunged into the Google Certification for Educators, Level 1. Without any training, but after years of using Google Apps in Education, I felt a little "Johnny Come Lately" about the whole process. Not to mention that Google had suspended it's training center for a spell recently to reconfigure and regroup. One can only procrastinate for so long.

And so, after two plus hours of sitting at my dining room table during my winter vacation, locked into an incognito window on my laptop, and with my every move (in pajamas, it's vacation folks!) captured by my webcam, I passed, though I'm not sure by how much or where I might have stumbled. Unfortunately, the test doesn't disaggregate responses, despite how curious its test takers might be. However, Google nails the concept of formative assessment and applying knowledge to new situations. There was very little in the way of traditional multiple choice questions (there were some), but the bulk of the test required logging into the Google apps (using a unique username generated for the test) and completing a series of tasks using the tools we were being tested on: Google Drive, Docs, Sheets, Forms, Slides, Sites, Gmail, Tasks, Calendar, Classroom, YouTube, and more. It was robust and challenging, and rather a fun challenge. If you are a Googly-eyed geek, like myself. On to Level Two, though not before brushing up on my Google Sheet skills. The law of averages gets me every time.

If you are an educator, make a New Year's Resolution to brush up on your Google skills, or at the very least, get the official stamp of approval from Google. It's just the sort of bling to make you stand out and shine. Visit the Google for Education Training Center and make your mark.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

You Can't Go Home

Go Set a WatchmanGo Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Since Atlanta, she had looked out the dining-car window with a delight almost physical.

Here we are, right back in the heart of the Deep South, looking at this world through Scout, or rather Jean Louise's, earnest and searching eyes. And after a fifty year wait, we too look out with a delight almost physical.  Whether or not you think the book matches the force and sheer cultural presence of To Kill a Mockingbird (it doesn't nor could it) in no way erodes the exquisite taste of historical perspective that Go Set a Watchman delivers. 

Not simply a story about family, specifically the idolization that daughters can have for their fathers (oh, the heroic Atticus) and the effect that has on their own developing consciences, but it is also a razor-sharp study of place (Maycomb, Alabama), of a time (mid-20th century), of race (white and black), of class (love who you will but marry your own kind) and of politics (Jeffersonian Democrats, the NAACP, the Klan and birth of citizen's councils in response to desegregation, the tension between our federal government and states' rights - there's a lot).  The language Lee employs to talk about race and race relations is raw and jarring without being obtuse: it is spoken of in the language and cadence of the times. Taken out of context, some passages are disturbing, and expose the ingrained racism and prejudices of Maycomb's citizenry, circa 1950s.  God forbid that the ignoramus take them - separated from the book - to use as fuel for bigotry and hatred. 

Coming to grips with her personal history may come across as unexamined and naive from Jean Louise's point of view, but not from Atticus.  For Atticus represents a bygone era of the South and, in Go Set a Watchman, we get a fuller view of our idolized hero. The man we always viewed as a man of dignity, of such gentle restraint, of such righteous conviction of right and wrong - the ultimate man of the law and constitution -  is revealed to be just like the rest of us, unfailingly human (and two decades after Mockingbird, aging with fragile health), but even more devastating to his legion of fans,  he is exposed as a racist and former member of the Ku Klux Klan (even if his involvement was to see "who was under the hoods"). His failings and Scout's struggle to accept them and all they represent gives us intimate insight into the human condition.  We can only take care of our own conscience, no one else can do that for us: not faith, not family, not the government. Thus, Scout's struggle with this  uncomfortable - actually unbearable - truth becomes our struggle too. It's enough to make us sick to our stomachs. 

Alas, you can't go home again. For better or for worse: we bring to our lives our own misguided and distorted fantasies and fallacies. But, with the perspective that space and time afford, we can also get a clearer look at what has been right in front of us the whole time.  And it ain't always pretty.  In time, we all have grow up, even our precocious Scout.  

For more insights, see NPR's 'Go Set a Watchman a Revelation on Race, not a Disappointment'  and the New York Times book review.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Moretown School: Forever in my Heart

My heart is full of love and gratitude for my Moretown School colleagues, my students, and my families.  I will carry you in my heart, for always.  I write this farewell with love, gratitude, and affection for the eight years I was proud to serve our community as your teacher-librarian. But, long before I was hired in 2007, I dropped off my Josie to the Moretown School preschool for the very first time on September 12, 2001, when even in the heart of the Green Mountains there was so much uncertainty, fear, and grief, a day after that unimaginable day. The feeling of safety and care that enveloped us as we were welcomed into Susan Phillip's classroom imprinted itself into my skin.  A few years later, I couldn't believe that I was given the opportunity to work alongside the fine educators at Moretown School. I jumped right in.

Thank you for making it a pleasure to come to work everyday, for working together on challenges, laughing at lots of appropriate (and inappropriate) things, smiling through the long days, and celebrating our successes and most importantly, the successes of our wonderful Moretown students.  We were in this together - and adversities (She Who Shall Not Be Named, the great flood of Tropical Storm Irene, SBAC oh me oh my, and oh the incessant tattling) not only made us stronger, but made me love and appreciate you even more.  I will miss our time together with all of my heart. 'Tis truly a special, special place.

"You must do something to make the world a more beautiful place." 
Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney

"When given the choice between being right and being kind, choose kind."
Wonder by R.J.Palacio

"Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind."
The Cat in the Hat by Dr.Seuss

"Never hurry and never worry!" - Charlotte to Wilber. 
Charlotte's Web by E.B.White 

"Don't try to comprehend with your mind. Your minds are very limited. Use your intuition." 
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle.

Must be something in the water: Moretown has awesome kids!

Farewell cake to Michael Close, Kathy Mackey, and me. 
Made with love by Becky Auger. 

Did someone say buttercream frosting?

My beautiful basket given to me by my
colleagues.  Scrapbook made by our very own artist, Lisa Harvey.

With pottery by Loretta DiMario: my favorite potter!

And coffee from our sister school in Uganda.
Support them if you can: they do good work!

The best principal in the universe.  Duane, buddy:
You are the best!

I will miss you, too.

Mini books from the preschoolers. 
They open up!

Some of my favorite 5th and 6th graders.

"I hope you have a good time without us."

I love you, too. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Create, Make, and Learn ... Oh My!

Reflecting upon the intense, but exciting, week of learning at Create, Make, and Learn in July, coupled with both a busy month constructing a physical “maker space” classroom in our school in addition with an interdisciplinary curriculum and schedule involving five educators and three grade levels is making my head swim.  In a good way.  But, swimming and swirling nevertheless.  Much like the fabled Mad River that runs through the heart of Moretown, as is the inspiration for our “creating and making”.

We ask our students to take risks everyday.  We cajole them to step outside their comfort zones.  We nudge them to explore new ways of learning.  We guide them toward deep inquiry.  We try to light the sparks of curiosity and to nurture the stamina and perseverance it takes to keep going.  In a sense, this foray into collaboratively building a “maker space” at the Moretown School is a lot like being a student.  I’m being asked to stretch, to think about new possibilities, to step outside my library “silo” to co-plan, co-teach, co-create, and co-make a model of innovative learning for our students. It’s messy and unwieldy and grows larger by the addition of many cooks in the kitchen, but boy is it exciting and full of possibilities.  Thank goodness for laughter, smart colleagues, innovative administrators, and a shared vision to “raise the roof”, literally.  (Yes, literally.  We removed the ceiling tiles from our space!).

So, back to the essential question.  What is at the heart of creating and making?  Let’s look closer at their definitions:

Create: bring (something) into existence.
synonyms: produce, generate, bring into being, make, fabricate, fashion, build, construct

Make: form (something) by putting parts together or combining substances; construct; create.
synonyms: construct, build, assemble, put together, manufacture, produce, fabricate, create, form, fashion, model

My first impressions are that these are powerful verbs.  “To bring (something) into existence”.  Who doesn’t think about birth?  Powerful stuff, indeed.  To be more metaphoric, creating in a school is about the birth of ideas, of bringing ideas to fruition. We do this with students by creating learning environments for them that allow them to produce good questions, to generate  ideas, and to make/build/fabricate/construct meaning, be it concrete or mental.  The learning environment that is best for these germinations is a constructivist (a la John Dewey), hands-on, student-centered, and project-based environment.  Messy and unwieldy, too.  But, rich with possibilities, risk-taking, and growth.  

Which brings me full circle.  Innovative approaches to student learning require innovative approaches to teaching. Being a singular teacher-librarian in my bricks-and-mortar library does not lend itself to this kind of teaching, nor learning, for my students.  I am inspired by my colleagues, and validated by my administrator who sees my role as an educator who can help guide our students toward authentic creating and learning.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Why Fairy Tales Still Matter

Re-printed from Bear Pond Books Resources for Educators (K-12) and written by Helen Labun Jordan.
Why Fairy Tales Still Matter 
Why do fairy tales still matter? Lots of reasons. They've traveled around the world and across many generations. Some of them have been around for over a thousand years (an early form of Cinderella appeared in China in the 900's). They still spark imagination and address universal themes: good, bad, parents, children, love, jealousy, bravery, being eaten by wolves, being stolen by a witch, etc. They're foundational texts referenced throughout our current culture.

Do you need more reasons?

Meg Allison, librarian at Moretown Elementary School, joined us on Saturday, April 12th, to share her thoughts about fairy tales and what she learned on a summer trip to France and Italy supported by the Rural Trust Global Teacher Fellowship. You can read the background information on her talk here.

Early Interest in Fairy Tales

Meg remembers how fairy tales spoke to her sense of imagination and wonder as a child. These tales are often children's first introduction to creating new worlds through simple stories. Meg read books around her house that anthologized traditional fairy tales and her toys often had fairy tale themes. She was also fascinated by a handmade fairy tale picture book, The Magic Dollmaker, that her parents created when they were students in college.

As an educator (and parent) Meg can also see how fairy tales offer a symbolic way for kids to work through basic anxieties, like the tension between wanting to be good and occasionally straying off that path (like Goldilocks sneaking into the Three Bears' house). Or, the reality that we need to work through challenges that can seem overwhelming to get to our final goal (St. George and the Dragon, where he slays the dragon after 3 attempts). Or, children showing agency to find their way out of a difficult situation (Gretel pushing the witch into the oven in Hansel & Gretel).

Fairy tales have also been a common reference point across generations, kids hear the same tales their parents did, and see references to those stories in more contemporary work. The Dorothy Canfield Fisher list has two fairy tale related books this year (Frogged and Far, Far Away) and the Red Clover List has one too (Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs). But recognition of fairy tales is also fading. Meg asked one class to name their favorite fairy tales and their first answers were Frozen and Tangled (from the Disney movies). After a lot of prompting they thought of Cinderella. 

Why the fading fairy tale knowledge? Some of the answer may be the number of other stories competing for children's attention. Fairy tales have also fallen out of favor with some schools and parents because of their violence. Meg notes that the violence serves a symbolic function - the protagonists working their way through difficulty to reach the happy ending. It is often not realistic (the wolf eats Red Riding Hood then gets cut open and she's fine?). Meg agrees that some children are particularly sensitive-- in general, though, she sees the violent parts of fairy tales as a device to acknowledge the basic truth that sometimes bad things happen.

Traveling to France and Italy

One of the first questions Meg gets is - why start a fairy tale study in France and Italy? We associate fairy tales with Germany and the Brothers Grimm who recorded the oral storytelling traditions there. We know that Grimm Brothers were recording stories already commonly told in Germany in their lifetime. In fact, the written tales also predated the Grimm brothers by several generations and came from outside of Germany. The Pentamerone, written in the early 1600's in Italy, provided the basis for many Grimm tales, including Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty and even Hansel & Gretel. Charles Perrault, in France, then adapted the Italian tales, plus added some new ones, to create Mother Goose tales. He used these tales to entertain the court of Louis XIV. Perrault's work eventually made its way to England where new variations became what we most commonly know as Mother Goose stories today. The Grimm brothers followed both Perrault and The Pentamerone by more than a century.

Fairy tales changed again in America, and in recent generations. From anthologies that often weren't visually appealing, American authors and illustrators created beautiful picture books. Some of Meg's favorites are pictured in this Pinterest Board.

Some of these picture books reflect the French and Italian roots of fairy tales. We looked at Ruth Sanderson's French-style Cinderella and at Paul O. Zelinsky's Rapunzel, with artwork inspired by the Italian Renaissance and Petrosinella, the Neapolitan telling of the Rapunzel story.

Fairy Tales in the Classroom & Library

Fairy tales present many possibilities for the classroom. First is simply learning the stories that have been told for so many generations. Fairy tales often are for slightly older children, but there are books like Yummy (recommended by Meg) designed for a pre-K or Kindergarten audience.

In older grades, teachers and librarians can get into more details about the story and also the history of the stories. In picture books there's an opportunity to discuss how the story and pictures connect with each other and with this history, for example with Zelinsky's interpretation of Rapunzel. You can also find fairy tale retellings in different cultures to compare - for example Cinderella (France),Cinderella (Korea), Cendrillon (Caribbean), The Rough-Face Girl (Native American).

Meg leads an activity with her students looking at the elements common across fairy tales: recurring patterns or numbers, magical happenings, royalty, special beginning, special ending, good characters, bad characters. Once they are anchored in these elements, students can move on to looking at how they appear in variations on the fairy tale form - for example Jon Sciezka's Fairly Stupid Tales.

Meg is starting on a project inspired by the doorways she saw touring the castles and other fairy tale settings of France and Italy. Using the figurative understanding of portals into the world of stories, plus the actual doorways of Moretown, students will be writing about their town's stories and history. You can see a longer article about classroom projects to explore town histories from our 2013 Exploring Family and Place talk.

The Rural Trust Global Teacher Fellowship

The Rural Trust Global Teacher Fellowship provides funding for summer studies designed by teachers in rural school districts. They award $10,000 for two teacher trips, $5,000 for single teachers. The goal is for teachers to travel and bring back travel experiences that enrich the classroom. You can read the blog from Meg's trip here.

Meg and another Moretown teacher, Pamela Dow, used the funds to travel through the settings of fairy tales in France and Italy. You can bring traveling companions (who pay their own flights, but can stay with you) so both Meg and Pam brought their daughters. Afterwards, the foundation brings together all Fellows from that year to share their experiences. Previous Fellows become reviewers for the next year's applications, and Meg notes that they give feedback on all applications so that teachers who don't get in one year can improve their application for the next year.

The Rural Trust Global Teacher Fellowship was made possible with funds from The Rural School and Community Trust, helping rural schools and communities grow better together. Read more about the program at the website for the Rural School and Community Trust.

And that is the end of our 2013-2014 educator events! Later this summer, we'll be asking about topics of interest for 2014-2015 - if you have any feedback to give right now e-mail or see Jane in the Children's Room. Thank you for joining us and for your support of Bear Pond Books.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Bear Pond Books Resources for Educators (k-12): Fairy Tales with Yours Truly

(This post originally appears in Bear Pond Books Resources for Educators (K-12) blog, written by Helen Labun Jordan.  I've changed some of it to fit my blog, but otherwise, credit goes to Helen and 
Bear Pond Books for the original post). 

The last installment of Bear Pond Books 2013-2014 Author-Educators talk series is happening Saturday, April 12th at 11:00 am in the Children's Room. I'm delighted to have been invited to talk about fairy tales.

Last summer, my colleague Pam Dow and I received a Global Teacher Fellowship through the Rural School and Community Trust to travel to France and Italy and study the homes of fairy tales like Rapunzel, Rumpelstiltskin, and Sleeping Beauty. You can read an article about the Fellowship here

I returned with many ideas for the elementary school classroom. This February, WCAX-TV in Burlington, VT covered our school's day-long immersion in traveling to Paris, France (just like Pam and I did)  in their exceptionally produced story Welcome to Paris. 

Join me on the 12th in beautiful downtown Montpelier, VT to find out more about France, Italy, fairy tales and using them in schools. This talk is free and open to the public. Bear Pond will have discounts on books and certificates available for teachers who are able to use this workshop for continuing education credits.

Want to learn more before the talk? Here are some resources to check out:

This will be the final event of the school year - but Bear Pond Books will have a few more articles posted before the summer, and events will start up again in the fall. Want to be informed of services, events, and other educator-related stuff at Bear Pond Books? Sign up for our educators' newsletter (be sure to click the educators' option - default is our general newsletter) and be the first to know about upcoming educator events.