"The free play of art is the result of mastery. " --Ernst Fischer, The Necessity of Art

"Children are likely to live up to what you believe of them." --Ladybird Johnson

"...a well-trained ear, a well-trained intelligence, a well-trained heart, and a well-trained hand...." --Zoltan Kodaly


Learning Link, 107

I listened to this TED talk initially, solely in order to hear Viktor Frankl speak--knowing there would be wisdom carried in whatever he said--which is exactly what happened.

"Why to believe in others"--about five minutes of rich thoughts.   Reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:  "Children have a tendency to live up to what you believe of them" (Ladybird Johnson). 

Listen, here.


Learning Link, 106

"Data-driven".....a phrase we hear often while shaping curriculum and 'best practices'  in education.

There's no doubt about the efficacy of applying detailed feedback to improve our teaching.  It helps to shape our  direction and to fine-tune interactions.

Sometimes, that's true.

Sometimes, relying heavily upon test results to inform decisions can result in an educational environment which stunts creativity, growth, and learning.   

Walking that line is a challenge---one which Seth Godin writes about, in a business context.    Godin supports the use of data to drive growth, when appropriate.  He also says, "Data is not information, and confusing numbers with truth can help you make some bad decisions."

Interested?  Read more of Godin's work, here.


Learning Link, 105

There are times when it really helps to have directions....not that we always choose to follow them, mind you.  But still--it's often good to have a bit of an overview before starting.

One of the many places to start looking  is wikiHow.  As the name implies, it's a compendium of articles created by the users, with ideas about activities  from fixing bike brakes to writing a good thank you letter (a timely topic!).  As with most of these kinds of sites, the information may or may not be totally accurate at every point, but at least it's a good place to start,  I think.

Interested?  Check it out for yourself, here.


Daily Life, 101

Today, in First Grade Music class, a child came up to me with his hand outstretched.

Joey*      Here, this is for you.

Me          Wow, this is a cool rock.  Thank you! But I'll return the penny to you--kids should keep their own money.

Joey*      OK.   The rock is a genuine crystal!

Me         Mmm, I see that.  Very cool--thank you!

At the end of class, the same child came up to me, distraught.

Joey*    I lost my penny! It must've fallen out of my pocket and now I can't find it anywhere.

Me       Well, let's look around a bit.

After a few moments of fruitless searching...

Me      Tell you what, Joey, how about if I just give you another penny? Would that work, or was it a special one?

Joey*    Um....I guess that would be OK.

Me        Hmm, there's no pennies in my change jar.  How about a nickel?

Joey*    How about a quarter instead?

*Joey is, of course, not this budding young financier's real name.


Learning Link, 104

A riveting talk about changing educational paradigms, by a master educator:  Sir Ken Robinson.

Robinson says, "Our best salvation is to  develop this capacity for imagination and to do it systematically through public education and to connect people with their true talents.  We simply can't afford this devastation any more."

On the current prevalence of the ADHD  diagnosis and the drugs used to medicate the condition:   "The arts...and science, and  math....especially  address the idea of aesthetic experience... one in which your senses are operating at their peak, when you're present in the current moment, when you're resonating with the excitement of this thing that you're experiencing, when you are fully alive.  An anesthetic is when you shut your senses off and  deaden yourself to what's happening.  And a lot of these drugs are that: we're getting our children through education by anesthetizing them, and I think we should be doing the exact opposite---we shouldn't be putting them to sleep, we should be waking them up to what they have inside of themselves."

and   "If you're interested in the model of learning, you don't start from this production line mentality....we have to question what we take for granted".

Amazing stuff.  Listen to the whole thing, here.


Daily Life, 100

In Second Grade, several children were having a murmured discussion while taking off their coats before school began.    After a few minutes, one of the kids came over to me.

James*     So, do you believe in Santa Claus or not?

Me           Hmm.  Why are you asking me that, James?

James*     Well.  Some of the kids are saying he's not real.

Me          Hmmm.  What do you think?

James*      I don't know for sure if he is, or not. But I'm going to keep believing anyway, just in case.
                  I'm not taking any chances!

*James, of course, is not this pragmatic child's real name.


Daily Life, 99

OK....here's a 'heads up'  for any reader who may work with children: today (December 21st) might hold some unusual...some might even call it 'loony'.... behavior or events.

You probably already know why, but just in case:  between yesterday and today, there's a convergence of three major events: the  winter solstice, a full moon, and a total lunar eclipse.

Just sayin'.   If you work with kids, you'll know what I mean.

  (And if you don't work with children on a regular basis, let's just say that it's fairly obvious when the full moon occurs each month, or when a big storm is imminent.  I laughed, when someone first suggested that connection to me years ago.  After twenty years in the classroom, I no longer scoff at the idea...)


Learning Link, 103

Some thoughts on learning...from Diana Laufenberg, in an interesting TED talk:

"if we continue to look at education as if it's about coming to school to get the information, and not about experiential learning, empowering student voice, and embracing failure, we're missing the mark....we won't get there with a standardized test, and we won't get there with a culture of 'one right answer'.  We know how to do this better, and it's time to do it better."

More?  Listen, here.


Learning? Link, 102

OK, so there's not really any learning that's gonna happen here.  I just thought this car was too awesome to pass by without comment.

....1930's, meet 2030's...

See for yourself, here.


Learning Link, 101

We tend to hear about schools that are failing our children...but what about the many educators who are succeeding?

I teach Music in two  elementary schools where many of the classrooms are packed with books, vivid learning materials, and lively learning. 

Here's a picture of just what that looks like...it doesn't happen to be in either of my schools, but it looks just like our classrooms.  (There are other great posts on this "Moving at the Speed of Creativity" blog, as well.)

  BTW, if you love reading and would like to have more ideas about teaching literacy, the two books mentioned at the end of this link are great resources.

Check it out, here


Daily Life, 98

In First Grade Music class today, in the middle of playing with the Beanie Babies (to write the melodies on their Music Staff House, of course)...

Me    Allie*, honey, why are you crying?

Allie*    I miss my Dad.

Me     Mmm.....

Allie*   He works late into the night time, so I'm already in bed when he comes home.  And he's asleep when I leave for school in the morning.

Me     Oh,  Allie.  I can see how that would be hard.

The rest of the kids were very quiet...the empathy in the room was palpable.  The  children sitting near Allie patted her shoulder, and one child mentioned that his Dad worked late, too, and it was hard.

Allie*   I guess I'll be OK.  I just miss him.

Allie* is, of course, not this tender-hearted daughter's real name.


Learning Link, 100

11 year old Billy Preston + Nat King Cole, playing "Blueberry Hill"?

Yes, please!

Check it out here.


Learning Link, 99

Fitting topic for a Monday:  the intertwining of complexity and simplicity....and some ideas about both, in a short, excellent TED talk.

More,  here.


Daily Life, 97

We turned our December 'xylophone challenge' into an "inter-galactically filmed TV show!" ,  so that the Martians and other nebulous beings could watch us take solos....

Part of this, of course, involved commercial breaks, hosted by various kids.  Here's a sample...

...in 5th Grade:

Randeh*      OK, folks, let me introduce you to my best friend.  He's always here, you know? Hanging right up here on the wall above the computer, he's Duke Ellington.  Give him a hand!
Now I ask you, people, what kind of parents name their kid Duke?   I mean, come on! Did they not know he was gonna become famous? And now he's Duke?   I mean, really.   Parents, I'm telling you, check out the  Name Change  Baby Book next time!

...in 3rd Grade:

Sarah*       OK, everybody,  you come on down to the Homework Store!  What, your teacher doesn't believe you that your dog ate your homework again?  Well come on down--we got us here a vacuum cleaner that definitely will eat your homework and spit out a note to tell your teacher so.  Only 10 dollars, it's cheap, come on down!

....in 2nd Grade:

Simon*     So are you having trouble waking up at midnight because your bed's too lumpy? Well come on over and check out our super soft beds! They bounce! They're soft!  They'll bounce you to the ceiling if you have some serious trouble getting back to sleep! Yes, they'll even bounce you outside in the middle of the night so you can make some snow angels!  Better tell your Mom first though, kids, or you won't be able to get back inside because everyone else is asleep. So come on down!  Only 19 dollars and ten cents!  Come on down during the daytime because we're closed at night, and buy one for yourself!  It's soft!

*Randeh, Sarah and Simon are, of course, not these young marketer's real names...perhaps it's just as well that the products they're hawking aren't real (except in imagination) either....


Daily Life, 96

Today in PreK music, I was introduced to a new student, who just turned four years old.

Me        We're so glad your family moved to our school!  Is Jedidiah*  your big brother, in 5th grade?

Sanika*    Yes.  All the girls love him, you know.

Me         Oh, really?

Sanika*   Yes.  It's because he's soooooo handsome.

*Jedidiah and Sanika are, of course, not the real names of this big brother and proud little sister.


Learning Link, 98

Hehehehe....a fun start for your day: Grover (who lives in the Sesame Street neighborhood, of course) learns one good way to make friends with some mean bully monsters...a minute and a half of smiling, here.

(With thanks to my friend Jonathan for the link!)


Learning Link, 97

Eight Ways to be more creative.....

Well, the actual link is to a Copyblogger post called "8 ways that crush success and stifle creativity", but the content offers helpful things to consider when looking to increase creativity, in ourselves and in others.

Here's just a taste: being willing to chart and follow your own path to success; keeping an open mind despite nay-sayers; learning to create or evaluate, not both at the same time; having confidence and being willing to tolerate ambiguity when trying out solutions.

Want more?  Check it out here.


Daily Life, 95

Kindergarten  students, shuffling down the hall in heavy snowboots, swathed to their earlobes with long scarves, encased in zippered snowsuits, dragging mittens....

Announcement over the loudspeakers:
Attention, staff and students.  Due to the extreme wind chill, there will be no outdoor recess today.

One lone, plaintive  little Kindergarten voice:   You mean we went through all that for nothing??

Learning Link, 96

Check it out....here's a compelling idea: re-creating our society so that our inherent ability to empathize is allowed to flourish.  According to Jeremy Rifkin, author of The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World of Crisis:

"What is required now is nothing less than a leap to global empathic consciousness and in less than a generation if we are to resurrect the global economy and revitalize the biosphere. The question becomes this: what is the mechanism that allows empathic sensitivity to mature and consciousness to expand through history?"    (From a  Huffington Post  article--read more,  here.)

Rifkin is the President of the Foundation on Economic Trends, and  has been an advisor to government leaders within the European Union and elsewhere.   His  books about the effects of scientific and technological changes on society  are used in universities, corporations and government agencies worldwide.

This particular talk is presented with simultaneous illustrations by RSA Animate,  and is ten minutes of absorbing information that's also fun to watch.  (Wish my notetaking skills were as well-developed as this!)

Want to listen?   Check it out here.   (Thanks to my friend Paul--who posted this on his  site, EveryDayIsAwesome.....lots of good reading there, if you're interested.)


Reality, Poetry for kids

OK, fair warning:  this poem contains puns.    I wrote it a very long time ago.....(no, I'm not implying that I've matured since then into someone who doesn't like puns....!)

At the Zoo

We went to the zoo
to see what was gnu.
We saw a duck-billed platypus
who got extremely mad at us,
and a stone tyrranosaurus
who seemed quite carnivorous.
We passed a group of Anglo-philes
who were staring at the crocodiles.
Next was the cage of the aardvark
who startled us with a loud bark
while feeding on the anopheles--
he didn't seem too hard to please!
Last we passed a large warthog
whose face looked something like a log.
We really enjoyed our trip to the zoo--
didn't ewe?

Karla, 1980s


Learning Link, 95

WOW!  Birke Baehr is an 11 year old who wanted to be an NFL football player "awhile back", but
decided he wants to become an organic farmer instead--because he'll have more impact on the world.
He also wants us to know that some kids will actually like baked kale chips, and that more kids would eat vegetables and fruit if they knew more about how their food is grown.

It's an inspiring, funny and informative five minute NextGeneration TED talk---listen for yourself, here.


Daily Life, 94

Kindergarten Music class....

Me      Hey, everybody, we're going to learn a new singing game.  It's in Spanish!

Kids     Yay!

I sang the song and explained the game, then taught the kids their part.   After they'd sung it...

Jamie*    Hey,  this is like a whole different language!

Samantha*    Yeah!  It's like another English!

*Jamie and Samantha are, of course, not these budding linguist's actual names.


Daily Life, 93

Today at 1:15pm, in First Grade Music:

Kids   Ms N! Ms N!  Look outside!  It's snowing now!

Me    Wow! It changed from rain to snow! How cool is that?

Kids  Look! It's like a blanket that's all white!

Me    Why are we sitting here?  Let's go look out the window.

So we hastened  to the windows, pressed our noses flat against the glass, and ooh'd and ahh'd.

Dancy* (in a shy, quiet whisper, with her hand on my arm, looking up at me with those big sweet eyes)   Look, Ms N,  it's even covering the wood chips.  (in the playground under the swings)

Brian*    Man!  It's piling up on the swing seats!  Look at that!

Marisa*      If Frosty really did come alive like that, I would have runned away.

Me          Why?

Marisa*   I'd be scared of some big snowman who talked to me!

Brian*     If he was a bad one, I'd just sit on him and squish him.

Chantel*   Not me!  I'd jump on his back and make him be a sled.

.....no matter how many years it happens, it's always magical if the first snowfall of the year is also when we're in school....and being with the little kids when the first snow happens is the best of all.  What a treat!

*Dancy, Brian, Marisa and Chantel are, of course, not these excited First Graders' real names. (But their excitement was real enough to charge the air with lots of joy!)


Learning Link, 94

Today's link is to a post that I found stirred my thinking around a bit.   Reflecting on goals and projects--not to mention daily choices--might already be a habit, but sometimes it's helpful to see how others frame their thinking.    Granted,  this particular post  might perhaps be a bit prescriptive for my taste--or yours---but it's worth a look.  

Check out "Twenty Questions" .....here.


Learning Link, 93

Emily Pilloton, who wrote Design Revolution, presents a compelling case for using design in re-shaping both the spaces in which education takes place and the shape of education itself.

Pilloton's talk is based on her work in a 'rural ghetto'--the poorest county in N.C.   The work her group is doing, at the intersection of design and education, uses three different approaches:

1. Design for education: "the physical construction of improved spaces and materials and experiences for teachers and students" --renovating mobile classroom trailers, closed-in classrooms which limit mobility, co-creating outdoor 'landscapes for learning'.  (That's all the detail I'm going to give, because there are great pictures and more information in her talk.)
2.  Re-designing  education itself:  'a systems-level look at how education is  administered, at what is being offered, and to whom...not so much about making change as creating the conditions under which change is possible, and the incentive to want to make change"....asking the community to grow, but also asking the "school system to envision how it might become a catalyst for a more connected community...to reach outside of the school walls, to play a role in the community's development...connect the classroom and home and extend learning beyond the school day'.

3. Design as education: teaching design "Community-focused design curricula and shop class renaissance"....an antidote to verbal instruction, this hands-on learning 'allows kids to apply the core class learning in real ways'.

Pilloton also talks about bringing back shop class but infused with a 'more critical and design-thinking curricula' with actual projects...elderly house improvement, farmers' markets, and more.

 Pilloton is hoping that Studio H, this project, will serve as a pilot project in engaging students, schools and community in real learning, community building, and a 'way to develop skills'  so that students can 'give back in a meaningful way'.


Check it out--the TED talk is  here.


Reality, Poetry for Kids

Every once in a while,  I'm posting one of the poems I've written---ones I think children might like.
(Don't worry though---you'll always know it's coming, because 'poetry' will appear in the title.)

Here's today's poem...(.written when I was also a very young kid.)


Alive, yet dead.
Tucked away in bed.
Sad and sweet,
folded neat.
In the back of your mind,
they're not hard to find.
They linger yet, not willing to go---
they're memories of things
you used to know.

Karla, 1970s


Learning Link, 92

Well: this isn't a learning link, directly, about education.

But it is connected to how we affect others throughout our daily lives, often without even knowing it.

And besides: it's beautifully written, funny, and a pleasure to read.

Here's the link to "The Only Letter You'll Get on Thanksgiving", by Paul Overton--read it here.

and thanks to Paul for writing such beautiful stuff--his site is packed full of great things to read.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!


Adult         "What do you say when someone gives you something?"

Child (in a singsong voice)    "Thank you!"

We teach our children  on an ongoing basis, to say thank you for all kinds of small everyday gifts and services.....and sometimes I, at least, forget to practice what I teach.

So just in case you didn't know:  I'm grateful that you take the time to stop by here, and visit awhile.
Thank you for reading--and to all of you who've given me kind comments in person, about what I write: thank you.

It's an amazing thing to be able to do what makes your heart sing inside, for a living, each day.  That's what teaching is for me:  being around kids---- working to learn from them, with them, and for them----being around adults who care about both children and education---having a small spot in the long pathway through time, of teachers and learners.

I'm grateful for all of that,  and I'm grateful that you share it a bit with me by reading (and sometimes commenting!)  here.

Thank you----Happy Thanksgiving!


Daily Life, 92

Yesterday, I dropped by the cafeteria to talk with  C, our great Afterschool program director.  She was, as usual, hanging out with kids--in this case, a smart & savvy 5th grader.

C       Jack*, why are you sniffing that bowl?

Jack*    It smells like chicken broth.

C       It is.

Jack*    That would be why it smells that way, then.

C     You're very alert for 3 o'clock in the afternoon, Jack.

Jack    What's  'alert'?

Me    It's a good thing.   It means you're awake and aware of what's going on around you.

Jack*     Oh.   Why didn't you just say that?

Me      Wait, don't you like new words?

C  (chuckling)    Yesterday,  I called him a cantankerous cuss.

Jack*    That was because I didn't want to do one single thing that anyone else wanted to do.

Me      Hmm.   Yep, that sounds pretty curmudgeonly to me!

Jack*   (yanking on his hair and laughing)   You guys!  Wouldja stop calling me words that I have to go look up in the dictionary??   (...followed by laughter all  around...)

*Jack, of course, is not this good-natured kid's real name. ....and he's not, actually, a  curmudgeonly, cantanerous cuss--he's a great kid.  :-) 


Learning Link, 91

Seth Godin's daily blog posts generally provide thoughts to mull over.  Good stuff, that, for daily consumption.

Some of his thoughts, though, seem to stick around and become a pivotal part of shaping thinking. (For me, anyway.)

Like this, for instance:

"Someone who gets better whenever he fails will always outperform someone who responds to failure by getting worse. This isn't something in your DNA, it's something you can learn or unlearn.
The appropriate response is not to try harder, to bear down and grind it out. The response that works is to understand the nature of the cycle and to change it from the start. You must not fight the cycle, you must transform it into a different cycle altogether. It's a lot of work, but less work than failing." --Seth Godin

Like to read the rest of the post?  Check it out here.


Daily Life, 91

Today in Grade Two Music, we were discussing the further adventures of Harold (our imaginary friend).

It seems that poor Harold went scuba-diving with his girlfriend, FiFi, when he accidentally--not looking where he was going, of course---he does tend to do that a lot---well, he swam into a Very Dangerous Place.

Kids     Where did he go?  What happened?  Is he OK?  Did you get a letter from him?

Me      Well, he went right into the mouth of a very big fish.

Kids    A whale?  A killer whale? 

Sam*    I saw a killer whale once.  It was in the zoo.

Jodi*   Aw, that's not true.  They don't have whales in zoos, right?

Carli*    I think he must have been very frightened.

Me*     He sure was.

Dinitra*    How in the world did he fit into the whale's mouth?

Me*     Well, you see, the whale just happened to be in the middle of a big old yawn.  So Harold just thought it was a cave or something, and swam right in.   He's been trying to get out ever since.

Charles*    Man.  I'm gonna pray for that boy.

(At this point, we all laughed and started singing out next song....)

*Sam, Jodi, Carli, Dinitra and Charles are not, of course, the real names of these highly imaginative youngsters.


Learning Link, 90

"A Wrinkle in Time" comes true..... Check this out, from a post on BoingBoing about physicists, invisibility cloaks, and a space-time invisibility cloak.   How cool would this be?  (One more reason to have studied my science lessons more carefully in Elementary School...)

"Lasers would be used to control the fibres' refractive indices, opening and closing the temporal void. The fibre-optic cloak could hide events only from observers standing directly ahead of the oncoming light waves, and it could not fully block all reflections from light travelling through the cloak while it is turned on, so some light might bleed out. A distant observer looking down the optical fibre would not spot the hidden event, but they would notice the background light getting brighter and dimmer. McCall hopes that a fibre-optic cloak creating a space–time void around 30 centimetres long, to hide actions taking place over a few nanoseconds, could be built within the next year."  (BoingBoing)

I want one of those in a user-friendly pocket-pack, please....

Read the rest of the post, here.


 In a good conversation recently  about creativity and ways of making sense of the world,  we were discussing how the arts can serve as a lens---one which is cleared and put into focus through music and art and dance and creative writing.   A lens which  enriches  the lives of people whose primary way of seeing the world comes through other channels, but which is vital for those of us in the arts.

This is a  way of knowing about life  which will be far less present in our  children's lives--in  the early formal education of young people--as  arts programs are ever more stringently excised from the curriculum.  As arts programs are increasingly expected to abide by the kinds of data-driven tests which quantify concrete skills and value the accumulation of discrete pieces of knowledge---as though aggregation of information were equivalent to nurturing and expressing creativity.  

There's a  genuine need for all of us, as creative beings, to have excellent tools in our boxes, yes.   Tools which are then put into the play of creation and expression.

The state tests---which increasingly dictate every move within the education system--measure aptitude and knowledge accurately, but only for those people whose primary intelligence is best expressed with paper and pen.

That excludes many people.  It assumes that other forms of knowing-- knowledge--experience-- awareness--- are not equally valid.

All of which is not news.  All of which troubles me, and others like me.

In our discussion, C (a graphic designer-turned-elementary-art teacher) and I  wondered aloud about implementing data-driven observations as a way of justifying the inclusion of the arts in education, expressed in a form which the policy instituters can understand.

 I'd rather use any gathering of data as an engine to inform my own awareness of the efficacy of my teaching.  Sometimes it works best to simply close my classroom door on the dominant methods of teaching-and-testing, and to work with  the children who are right in front of me.  We work to give them our best, as individual teachers.

As an educational system?  The goal is present: strong learning, excellent students.  However, I think our national testing-crazed beaureacracy is on the wrong track .   In a way, the state educational system is a rusting behemoth, an engine being driven by the needs of other eras.  Packed with good drivers?  Perhaps.   But in an economy where careers which involve data-entry are being outsourced as quickly as possible, the need for creative thinkers--for people whose minds have been trained to observe, analyze and respond--is strong,  and growing.

That would be where education in the arts shines.


Poetry for Kids, 2

OK....here's the thing:  I write poetry.  (I know, many people do.)  I'd like to be able to share my poems with other people...so every once in a while,  I'm going to post one of my poems.

Never fear:  you'll know it's coming, by the post title.

But for those who may just possibly enjoy it, here goes.


I like the sound of words.
I like the crunch and crackle
as they chuckle in my cheeks.
I like their golden glimmer
and their bouncy, bopping beat.
I like the boldness of brave Bee
and the peppery popping of palpitating Pea.
I like the slithery slippery sliding
of Ssss, sneaking softly to silence.
I like the way words wet and gray
drip with rain on a sunny day.
I like their snazzy, jazzy walk.
I like the cuddly cooing of baby-talk.
I like the sound of words.

(Karla, 1980)


Daily Life, 90


I spilled hot tea on my computer the other day.  Luckily, these things are built to take life's daily loads....after some rest & time to dry, it appears to be in hearty working order.

I've been  thinking about something a speaker said at a workshop yesterday.

"Nonviolence is about surfacing the tension that's already there."  --Barry Durfel

The discussion was about closing the gap in groups of students, building community, learning to talk about our differences and learning to find our commonalities.  Celebrating both.

Even just starting on that path will take some courageous discussions and the willingness to extend ourselves beyond what feels comfortable.   

I'm hoping to learn what's missing from my own teaching practice...perhaps that should be, from the way I've chosen to live my life....and to start filling in the gaps, as much as I'm able to do so.

Good stuff.  Hard to do.  Hard to talk about.  But oh....so vital to keeping our communities alive.


Daily Life, 89

Our district held a day-long staff workshop today, which centered around exploring the implementation of the ideas in Chaos or Community ( a book which was just re-published, written by Dr. King).

It's a challenge to write about Martin Luther King's ideas, on a teeny educational blog....so much that's incredibly valuable has already been written....and there's just so much there.

On the other hand, sometimes it's only when  we  talk about the ideas in books,  as individuals, each relating it to our own experiences,  that the books come alive.

Here's what had the most impact on me, while reading:  King's comment, towards the end of the book, that people often mistake the intention for the deed.   That we hear the melodious phrases, we watch from afar  as equity is translated into laws and signed into the legal code,  we see media depictions of lifestyles and communities which appear prosperous....and we then are lulled into believing that all of the work is done.

King's view in the late 1960s, when he wrote this book?  We're not done, we've only begun.

From the discussions and the first-hand views and experiences of many of our 1000+ staff, that still holds true today.   There's still much work to be done.

Now I think, for me at least, I'd like to take a good hard look to see just what that means, worked out through daily life right here.


Daily Life, 88

Our Principal arranged for us to be able to watch an early showing of the new documentary, "Waiting for Superman".  

Discussions in the media have already been underway, with some holding that this movie will be provocative enough to cause systemic change, once it's taken hold of the general public.

I'm not so sure.   Not because there weren't good points:  there were.  It's true, the educational system in our country is a bureaucratic behemoth: cranky, ill-suited to serve the needs of most of our children.

It's also true that giving  our children the best that we possibly can give them is vital to their wellbeing--and to ours.

But those are facts that are already well-established.....and that's what I think this movie does: it simply presents the impact of those realities, as evidenced in the lives of several individual children.

It's true, there was some emotion-yanking going down.  It's also true that there was a sustained, underlying diatribe against teacher unions---neither of which is actually helpful in forwarding a discussion which should have an intense focus on solutions.

As to that, there were also some solutions proposed....arising from interviews and a bit of data  on individual schools and on systemic school programs*  where the emphasis is on individual responsibility for learning. 

What were the core ideas?  
    --Responsibility, for everyone in the process.
    --Holding everyone (adults as well as children) to high standards.
    --Expecting all children--regardless of socio-economic backgrounds--to be successful academically. 
    --Allocating sufficient resources in terms of time, funds and staffing--to accomplish the goals.

Not surprising nor new ideas.   But good ones, nonetheless.   Is it a movie worth seeing?  Probably, if you're someone who's interested in education.   Just don't expect miracles.

Those are what happen on a daily basis in many classrooms across the country, despite the system.

*One of the school programs I found intriguing was the KIP school system.  KIP stands for Knowledge Is Power.    I'll check it out and post about it at some point soon.


Daily Life, 87

Watching "Peter and the Wolf" with First Grade musicians...

Anna*    Is Peter real?

Me    Do you mean, is he a real person?

Anna*  Yes.  Is he for real?

Me    No.  It's a story.  But I agree with you, it does seem as though he's real.

Sam*    Well, he could be.  There are real Peters for real, in the world.  I mean, like Peter Pan!

*Anna and Sam are, of course, not these thoughtful First Graders' real names.


Daily Life, 86

OK,  one more Halloween story...last evening, one of my first trick or treaters was a teeny two year old.
He stood on my porch with his bag open, looking up at me expectantly.  

Child's Mother (in background):   What do you say, honey?

Child (with a big happy smile):  Happy Thanksgiving!

oh, yes....

Speaking of Halloween, we had people   who didn't need costumes to be their characters, at school today...the Energizer Bunny (chocolate for breakfast),  many zombies (chocolate for dinner, snack, breakfast and lunch), and several of the Seven Dwarves:  Sleepy, Sneezey, Dopey and Grumpy.

Make that lots of Grumpies.

And that was just the adults...


Early morning Saturday thoughts...

Been thinking about all of those mature words---like responsibility, steadiness, deliberate optimism, dignity. 

Been thinking about how much it affects me for the good, when those words are a regular part of my day.   When they are words  I spend time thinking about and working towards.

Also been thinking about that other, utterly mature word: play.  

And that wonderful word: balance.

Doing lots of thinking.  Gonna work on some doing, today.


Daily Life

No number on this slice of daily life, because it's from my entire life.

I've been spending quite a bit of time with my (nearly-82-year-old) Mom lately....and remembering how wonderful it was, to grow up as her child.

  She's always had an amazing gift for putting things in a way that made us, as kids, practically salivate to do whatever she was suggesting.  Always seeing it sincerely, but from an angle that most adults don't see.   ("Oh, honey, I think you do such a beautiful job of making your room look inviting.  It's like magic, how you get it so neat and pretty even though it was just all messy all over the place with your toys.  You know what to do!"  etc)  

Any good thing I have when it comes to interacting with children  comes directly from my Mom....so the way she approaches life has had an impact, through me, to literally thousands of children ( I've been teaching a long time, and I teach several hundred children each year).

Makes for some musing about how many people we each have an effect upon, often without even knowing it.

Just sayin'.


Daily Life, 85

These snippets of conversation come not from elementary age students, but from the college students whom I passed while walking on campus this week....

"My Dad died when I was 12.  In theory, I guess I should've been told, but my Mom never told me..."

"Well, the purple shirt and green tie, that was enough--but the fact that he was also wearing white pants..."

Makes you wish you could hear the rest, doesn't it?


Living by the Rules

"What....rules are you unnecessarily living by?"

This intriguing question is posed by "Kim and Jason", creators/hosts of the blog "Kim and Jason escape adulthood: adultitis ends here".

Now, before you start even the faintest of thoughts that this blog is about living life as a responsibility-free person---it's not.  It's just a funny compendium of posts which question some of the things we do as adults, solely because we're "supposed to"....things which can get in the way of living life with gusto and enthusiasm.

I particularly liked the post "Rule #6: Thou Shall Not Eat Dessert First". (It's here.)

What does this have to do with education?  ----Everything.  Education for life: asking questions about the way we live, about why we do what we do, about how we can do it better.

Not just in the classroom, but everywhere.

From the blog:  "  ....   "Adultitis"   can trick you into missing out on the best parts of life and cause you to take yourself WAY too seriously. We believe that life is meant to be lived to the fullest, and that your life should be bursting with big dreams, oodles of passion, and an enthusiastic playfulness. We believe in curiosity, delighting in the little things, and a faith that knows things always work out for the best. We believe that a life that embraces a childlike spirit is a life that is less stressful and way more fun."  
(from  http://kimandjason.com/blog/about-kim-jason)
This was just the tonic I needed in this pre-Halloween week at an elementary school....perhaps it will be of interest to you, dear reader, as well.

Happy reading.


Daily Life, 84

In First Grade Music class today, doing vocal exploration work using a big poster of a decrepit house, complete with ragged black curtains and scary-ish pictures of the 'homeowners' standing at each window.
(Imagine the Adams Family, diluted to grammar school scariness levels...)

Me    Wow, you all sound just like the ghost.  I'm getting scared!

Kids   Really?  You're a scaredy-cat!

Me  Sometimes.

Kids  I'm afraid to sleep in the dark...I sleep with the hallway light on....I'm afraid of monsters under the bed...I think there are big alligators in my closet, hiding behind the blanket pile....I hear scary noises when I wake up in the middle of the night and have to run to my Mom and Dad's room....

Me    Hmmm.....what do you do,when you're scared?

Katie*     Well, I smile at the darkness.  If it thinks I'm not scared, it will probably go bother someone else.


*Katie is, of course, not this intrepid, wise young child's real name.


Learning Link, 89

Wow!  Interested in learning more about art?

I am---that's one of the (many) areas I wish I'd studied more while in college.

So imagine my delight at finding this site, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art: many articles, with pictures (naturally), covering a wide variety of arts topics.

Interested?  Check it out, here.


Learning Link, 88

Seth Godin commented about change  in one of his recent blog posts. 

We're tackling this at the moment, in our Elementary school, working on creating a calmer, more respectful atmosphere in which to learn.

The interesting thing to me is that Godin's point--that some people resist change loudly, and some wait quietly to see what will happen--applies equally well to both adults and children.

No question about it, we all know: change is hard.

Refusing to change-- when conditions cry out for such action--seems to me to lead to situations that are even harder.

Read Godin's post here.


Daily Life, 83

All of my third, fourth and fifth grade students are in the process of writing pen pal letters back and forth from a small school in Zimbabwe to here.  (A friend is facilitating this process, at the other school.)
Here's a sample.....

Dear Anneta*,

How are you?  I am just fine.  Thank you for your letter, I liked hearing about your favorite food.
I have 6 cats, 2 dogs and a hamster.  The hamster's name is Petey. 

When I grow up, I want to be a doctor.  I also want to have a farm and to have 16 kids.

Do you like candy?  I like candy corn, sweeties, and Tootsie Rolls.  I'm either going to be a scientist or a princess ballerina for Halloween.

How about you?

your friend,


*Shana and Anneta are not, of course, these young writers' real names.


Daily Life, 82

Kindergarten  music class today...during which, btw, we did not mention dinosaurs in either conversation or songs....

Laney*   Ms. N, I have to tell you something really important.  Really, really important.

Me         OK.  What?

Laney*   Dinosaurs do NOT live in zoos.

Me         Oh?  Where do they live?

Laney*  In Heaven, silly!

*Laney is, of course, not this budding scientist's real name.


Learning Link, 37

Today's link is to a blog that my friend Paul just launched....filled with short, thoughtful essays on bringing ourselves fully awake to this amazing thing we all call 'life'.

....and how could you not want to read more, when the subheading is: 'because cynicism is exhausting'??

Check it out for yourself, here.


Daily Life, 81

We're working with our school community to help children become enthusiastic learners and  responsible citizens....to help them learn how to negotiate tough social situations with clarity and kindness towards each other and towards themselves.

(Tough social situations? In elementary school? ....oh, yes....think back to what it was really like, to be a grammar school age child....remember?)

The same principles and questions that we ask children could well be asked of ourselves---driving in early rush hour traffic,  waiting in line at the grocery store while someone fumbles with their checkbook and 25 coupons, applying our entire focus to our work each day....

What does it look like ....to be responsible? to do our work to our best ability--and then stretch for more? to act with kindness? with integrity?

What does it sound like.....to treat others as we'd like to be treated? to be honest and straightforward? to challenge what we see as wrong and actively support what we see as right?

The children aren't the only ones who benefit from remembering to ask themselves questions....


Learning Link, 36

Looking for Swing Music charts?

Here's a site that I've found helpful as a starting point....access to a select list of charts,  provided in any key you choose, for free.  Nice.

Check it out further, here.


Learning Link, 35

How to learn something new every day for the next 40 Days...

Over at the blog "Marc and Angel Hack Life", there's a great post: "Top 40 Useful Sites to Learn New things".

Have I gone to every one of the sites mentioned?  No way.  It hasn't been 40 days yet! 

Still, what I've seen thus far has been pretty useful.  Check it out for yourself, here.

See you tomorrow.



Learning Link, 34

Today's link is to a talk by Dr. Tony Wagner, co-director of Harvard's Change Leadership Group.

"Seven Skills Students Need for their future"....skills we all need, as lifelong learners...from critical thinking/problem solving to initiative and an entrepreneurial spirit, this is a lively and engaging talk--peppered with salient examples.

Great stuff.  Hear more, here.

See you tomorrow.



More books

..."What do people really want?.....Educating people is important but not enough--far too many of our most educated people are operating at quarter-speed, unsure of their place in the world, contributing too little to the productive engine of modern civilization, still feeling like observers, like they haven't come close to living up to their potential....We need to encourage people to find their sweet spot.  Productivity explodes when people love what they do."  --Po Bronson, What Should I do with my life?

This is an interested book, packed with stories of people who've either switched professions or who've explored many different careers before finding their 'sweet spot': the work which calls forth all they have to give.   Stories of lawyers-turned-truckers, writers rejecting 'easy money',  people in business and athletes at work....Bronson combines clear interviews with thoughtful commentary.

Even if you, like me, are  already doing work that you utterly love, this is a worthwhile and absorbing book to read.

Great for a rainy weekend afternoon....

See you tomorrow.



Daily Life, 80

Just one small comment today....four of my student musicians at my new school told me yesterday that they now owned their own ukuleles, as a result of learning how to play ukes in my Music classes.

I was stunned....pleased, of course, but---it's kind of an amazing gift to receive, to know that others are sharing in the sheer joy of music-making--as a direct result of being in my class.

Right.  You're thinking, "Well, isn't that one of the reasons you're a teacher, to affect children's lives for the better?"

Yes.  But, well, you know---it actually happened.   Wow.  I'm grateful for that.

See you tomorrow.



Daily Life, 79

Fourth Grade Music class today, talking about Halloween stories, sound effects, and scary songs...

Anna*    I love, love, love Halloween!
Kids       Me, too! Me, too!
Susanna*   Not me.
Anna*     How come?
Susanna*   I know myself too well.  I can't take any kind of scary anything.

Wow....imagine knowing yourself well enough---before you've even reached your double digits, too--to realize where your boundaries are.   Amazing.

See you tomorrow.


*Anna and Susanna are, of course, not these astute youngster's real names.


Learning Link, 33

Sound Effects

Julian Treasure has a great little 5 minute TED talk about sound affects us.....inside and out.

Find out more here.

See you tomorrow.



Learning Link, 32

How to re-frame a habit of procrastinating

Now, don't get me wrong here:  I don't procrastinate about everthing.   Just about some things.

For years, that's been a source of confusion and frustration for me.  "Why am I not doing this, when I know it needs to be finished?"    "I wish I'd started this sooner..."

Well,  Jason Fitzpatrick has a good post on Lifehacker on just this topic.  He's reviewing Neil Fiore's groundbreaking book, The Now Habit--and adding to the conversation some pertinent comments of his own.

Think you're just being lazy when you procrastinate?  Fiore, a psychologist, has other ways of viewing the habit.  He also has some helpful ideas for changing your ways, if you're so inclined.

It looks great to me....interested in knowing more?  Check out Fitzpatrick's Lifehacker post here.

hmmm....perhaps, after we go get a cup of coffee or something.

See you tomorrow.



Daily Life, 78 and Learning Link, 32

Thinking this morning about time, space and quiet.

Crucial to our well-being--even more crucial to being able to think clearly and to learn.

And yet...and yet, our school days are crammed past full, squeezed into small classroom spaces with one teeny opportunity at recess, to be out under the expansive sky....and of all things, school is not quiet.

Relatively quiet, yes.  Not deeply quiet.   Not the kind of quiet that extends long enough to allow for long periods of  what Mihaly Csikszentmihaly calls 'flow'---and musicians call 'the groove' or 'the pocket': utter focus on the creative activity at hand.  (Read more about Csikzentmihaly's work here.)

Just sayin'.

See you tomorrow.



Learning Link, 31

Simple ways to become a leader....

...with or without the title.

Trent Hamm, over at The Simple Dollar blog,  has some good ideas for how to start (or continue) becoming a linchpin....a leader. 

  I agree with most of his points except for his comment about dealing with negative talk about others: he says, " My tactic is to usually be quiet when people are being disparaged, but speak up quite a bit when the conversation is more positive".    

I don't agree.  For me,  being quiet implies agreement with what's being said.  Instead, I'd rather either say,  "That's how you see this, but it's not the way that I do"  and/or directly offer a counter-balancing viewpoint, preferably with concrete examples for support.

That said, everything else he had to say was pretty helpful.   Check out the entire article here.

See you tomorrow.



Learning Link, 30

How to play the uke in 5 minutes

Well.  Perhaps that should read: how to start playing the uke in 5 minutes.

In any case,  Ukulele Underground has many great features on its site, not the least of which is this 'crash course'  tutorial--there really is enough information there to get you started.

And of course, playing the uke is so much fun that once you're started....well, who knows where you'll go?

Interested?  Check out the site, and the tutorial, here.


Learning Link, 29

Eat Your Crayons

OK, so it's no secret that many educators deal with stressful situations and 'stressed-out' kids each day.

The designers over at Imprint  have an unusual solution: coloring for grownups.  From edible crayons to 'pouring colored lights' (you'll have to watch the video clip at the end to see that particular piece of utter coolness)  to coloring books for the elderly,  they've got a new take on one of the delights of childhood: expressing our creative selves with color (and crayons!).  Take in the fun, here.

Check out another post on the same site for a pretty fascinating history of the color wheel.  (Thanks to my friend Paul from Dudecraft for referencing this article on his eponymous blog.)  Those two color history posts are here.

Some fascinating reading to fit this color-saturated season....see you later--I'm off to go color.



Learning Link, 28

How to get more  from a practice session

An interesting post over at Lifehacker about combining passive listening (i.e., headphones)  with practice time.   Applicable to music sessions and other learning experiences.   Worth a try!

Want more info?  Check it out here.

See you tomorrow.



Learning Link, 27

How to make things happen

Have you ever heard of  'mirror neurons'?   Apparently, they're part of the explanation for why it can sometimes be satisfying  to read about doing something---so satisfying, in fact, that our motivation to actually do the activity is reduced.

Hmm....interesting concept,  explored further here.    (---and a post from The Simple Dollar  exploring how this plays out in daily life, here.)

See you tomorrow.



Learning Link, 26

How to help kids love to read and to write

Mem Fox cares deeply about people reading aloud to children (see post from Saturday, 10/2/10, for more info) as a way of fostering the love of reading.

  826 National cares deeply about helping children to discover the joys of reading and writing, through 1:1 tutoring in an 8-city network of non-profit learning centers.  It's an amazing and vibrant organization--one which yields results.  

We (in the public school system) could learn much from the philosophy and methods of 826 National...and perhaps even be inspired to teach, as they inspire kids to read and to write.

Interested to know more about this great organization?  I learned about it from Paul Overton, over at
Dudecraft.   ( His site is featuring a direct link to 826 National as well as an in-depth post about the organization.)   Great stuff all around!

See you tomorrow.



Daily Life, 77

Thinking, this morning, about dreaming.

Busy school days---packed with transitions and the myriad details inherent to a smooth operating system when there are hundreds of people involved--understandably busy, but not conducive to providing space and time for children to dream.

Busy afterschool hours, too: music lessons and team practice and dance rehearsals and tutoring and chores and and and......

Just wondering where, in all of that noise,  a child could find even a small expanse of quiet space to dream....and wondering what the impact will be, later in life.

Not criticizing, just wondering....

See you tomorrow.




Check this one out...

Straight-forward, clear talk about teaching kids to read through immersing them in the direct 1:1 joy of stories, read aloud:  Reading Magic, by Mem Fox.

Funny, how often language acquisition and literacy skills mirror the same processes in music...

See you tomorrow.



Daily Life, 76

Wondering, today, how teaching song lyrics could possibly be confused with helping students to gain fluency and enlarge skill sets in developing literacy skills in the primary grades.

Particularly when so many other options exist within each learning discipline.

Just sayin'.

OK, that's my rant for the month. 

See you tomorrow.



Daily Life, 75

OK, this is not for the squeamish:

At the Second Grade Curriculum Night last  evening,  students displayed their science experiments (mealworms in cornflakes) on paper plates....not unduly distant from the plate full of cookies...

just sayin'.....

See you tomorrow. (Hope your breakfast went down OK after that...)



Daily Life, 74

Have you read Guillebeau's distinction between good work and great work?

Not a new concept, as he says, but it caught me this morning: "Good work is useful, productive work.  There's nothing wrong with it, but the problem is that we have too much good work.  (His italics)  Great work, on the other hand, is revolutionary.  Great work leads to innovation.  While most good work is comforting, great work is simultaneously comforting and discomforting, because it pushes us to go further."  Guillebeau, The Art of Non-Comformity,  p. 211

The characterization of good work as 'comforting'  is eye-opening for me; it's troubled me previously that the good/great distinction undervalues the contribution and satisfaction levels of what I actually do every day.   "What's wrong with it?"....and here I see: it's good, but it's static.   

Yep.   More to think about.

See you tomorrow.



Daily Life, 72

Kids are awesome.

That's all.  Just sayin'.

See you tomorrow.


Daily Life, 73

In First Grade Music today...

Me "And what's this part of the xylophone, this big part on the bottom?"

Kids "The resonating chamber!!!"

Jack*   "I think that part is really big and really empty."

Rachel*  "Well, that depends on how you look at it."

Me   "Hmm....first, yep, it's the resonating chamber.  Good memory, everybody.  Second, Jack, you're right, it's the biggest part and there's nothing inside.  Rachel, can you tell me more about that?"

Rachel*    "Well....it IS empty, in one way.  But if you look at it another way, it's really fulled up."

Me    "Hmmm....tell me a little more, OK?"

Rachel*   "Well, it's all full.   It's full, you know, with all of those sound waves and all of that sound."


See you tomorrow.


*Rachel and Jack are, of course, not these young musician's real names.


Learning Link, 25

Some good advice about helping kids (hmm...and ourselves?)   to learn more about technology over at Lifehacker awhile back.

From the site:
"New York Times writer Kevin Kelly spent the last year focused on teaching his son to be technologically literate and in the process came up with a few rules for technological literacy in the 21st century."   

Good article--check it out  here.

See you tomorrow.



Daily Life, 71

Heard any good questions lately?  Here's some that have come my way of late:

"What is the right thing to do in this case?"

"What do you want to do?"

"If you took away any question of fear, what are some of the things you'd like to do during your life?"

"What kinds of things make you happy?"

"Who says?  Who says you have to do it that way?  Want to look at it my way?"

From Pre-K to adults, we all wonder, sometimes....

See you tomorrow.



Learning Link, 24

OK.  If you care about kids and  creative writing, and you don't yet know about 826 valencia,  you might want to check it out.    Fantastic organization,  original ideas, and pirates!  You can find  out more,  here.

See you tomorrow.



Daily Life, 70

"But I want it to be this way."

"My ideas are different."

"Who said it has to be that way?"

"That's not what I meant."

Learning to have fierce conversations can be difficult for adults, who've been conditioned to 'be nice', to get along with everyone--sometimes at the expense of true individual needs.   It can be challenging to speak the truth calmly, kindly and clearly.

So why do we sometimes gloss over what children say, or--in the interests of 'the team'---encourage compromise?

Just sayin'.

See you tomorrow.



Daily Life, 69

Learning music often includes learning how to perform.

That happens to be a statement which carries a burden of political weight in our district at the moment, but regardless of the context, we often find ourselves teaching students how to deal with performance anxiety.

Here's a phrase that might prove helpful:   "Fear is energy mangled and a powerful motivator, so I just turn it into something positive."  (Sloane Berrent, quoted in Guillebeau's new book, The Art of Non-Conformity, p. 46)

The concept of  "the jitters"  being a form of energy that can be used to improve both the enjoyment and quality of performance is not a new one.   I simply liked the straight-forward way Berrent phrases it.

See you tomorrow.



A poem for the month

A colleague gave me this poem--neither of us knows who the author is.  (If you do, please let me know in the comments--thanks.)

We accept responsibility for children
who like to be tickled,
who stomp in puddles and ruin their new pants,
who sneak Popsicles before supper,
who can never find their shoes.

And we accept responsibility for those
who can't bound down the street in a new pair of sneakers,
who are born in places we wouldn't be caught dead,
who never go to the circus,
who live in an x-rated world.

We accept responsibility for children
who hug us in a hurry and forget their lunch money,
who cover themselves with Band-Aids and sing off key,
who squeeze toothpaste all over the sink,
who slurp their soup.

And we accept responsibility for those
who never get dessert,
who don't have any room to clean up,
whose pictures aren't on anybody's dresser,
whose monsters are real.

We accept responsibility for children
who spend all their allowance before TUesday,
who throw tantrums in the grocery store and pick at their food,
who squirm in church and scream in the phone,
whose tears we sometimes laugh at and whose smiles make us cry.

And we accept responsibility for those
whose nightmares come in the daytime,
who will eat anything,
who have never seen a dentist,
who aren't spoiled by anybody,
who go to bed hungry and cry themselves to sleep.

We accept responsibility for children
who want to be carried and for those who must,
for those we never give up on and for those
who don't get a second chance.

For those we smother..
and for those who will grab the hand
of anybody kind enough to take it.

--Author, unknown

See you tomorrow.



Daily Life, 68

During First Grade Literacy Block this morning (I was a visitor):

Teacher     Well, why in the world is it important for us to learn how to read?
Kids          It impresses the grown ups!  It lets you know what the pictures mean.  It tells you stuff.
Teacher     Good answers!  Why do you suppose it's a good idea to learn how to read really well?
Rachel*    I know! I know!  Reading....reading....you know, it sort of opens up a whole new world inside.  You know, it's like, it's like...it's like it brings a whole new life into you."

Seriously.   Amazing, yes?

*Rachel is, of course, not this perceptive student's actual name.  Although these are her actual words, not dressed up....I wrote down what she said, right after she said it.  (That is, after my jaw came back up off the floor....)


Learning Links, 23

Good ideas to help keep an organized work space

This is one area that yields sound dividends in a much calmer day and more productive output--for me, at least,  reading up on new ideas (or new takes on old ideas) is generally a good idea.

Interested?  Check out this Lifehacker article.

See you tomorrow.



Daily Life, 67

Learning something new can be exhilaratingly hard work.

It's a good thing to experience that on a regular basis, for many reasons.

Oh, you're wondering what brought this up?  Glad you asked: my friend Dave let me try using his backhoe to dig up part of his back yard this weekend.   WOW!  As much fun as learning a new tune, but with a powerful engine humming through the levers.

Can that experience be useful in the classroom?  You bet.

See you tomorrow--



Reality: Poetry for Kids

Talking with my students about--and being introduced to--imaginary friends...reminded me of my big brother Joey, who had three imaginary friends during childhood.

Since one of our other topics was poetry and song lyrics, it seemed appropriate to post, this weekend, the story of Gonieony, Geengy, and PanPan--Joey's longlost friends.  Here it is, written (by me) when those friends had not been away yet, for very long...

Gonieony, Geengy, and PanPan

 Gonieony, Geengy, and PanPan
slept beside Joey's bed.

Gonieony, Geengy, and PanPan--
"My best friends", Joey said.

Gonieony, Geengy, and PanPan
followed Joey's feet...
up the stairs and down the stairs, and
up  and down the street.

Gonieony, Geengy, and PanPan
went exploring with Joey each day.
They conquered the yard, and sunk a few ships,
and turned  the bathtub into a bay.

Gonieony, Geengy, and PanPan
could hide in the dark or the light.
Why else could Mommy not see them,
when they're standing so plainly in sight?

Gonieony, Geengy, and PanPan
ran off to Wewash when Joey turned ten.
They liked it so much, they stayed for a while---
but he still sees them, now and again.
---Karla, 1980s

Not great poetry, I know---more, just a bit of fun for a Saturday morning.

See you tomorrow.



Learning Link, 22

"A teacher that can be replaced by a machine, should be."
"If children have interest, then education happens."

Both quotes, by Arthur C. Clark, are part of education scientist Sugata Mitra's astounding TED talk about the process and results of his educational research.

In his words, "this could change everything".

Intrigued?  His discussion will more than live up to expectations.  Check it out here.

See you tomorrow.



More books....

Current bookshelf.... 

The Boy Mechanic, by the editors of "Popular Mechanics' magazine
Funny, interesting, practical although not necessarily useful drawings and directions for woodworking and other projects

A Place of my Own,  by Michael Pollan
So well-written, it almost doesn't matter what the topic is.  In this instance, however, it's a good subject, too: a journal about building a small cabin by hand, as a beginner carpenter.....with many digressions into the literary and social implications of the process, as well as practical details.  An absorbing read.

Fierce Conversations, by Susan Scott
I'm ambivalent about this one, although I do intend to finish it.  Basically, an exploration of enriching conversations---some good ideas but very slow-paced.

All Marketers tell stories, by Seth Godin.
What needs to be said?  It's a Seth Godin book.  That alone makes it worth the read.

Up next....(as soon as it arrives on my doorstep, actually):
The Art of Nonconformity, by Chris Guillebeau.
I read a great post about this on Johnny B. Truant's blog and immediately ordered the book.  More, as soon as I get to read it....

What are you reading?  I'm interested to hear....

See you tomorrow.



Daily Life, 65

One of the students who clearly shines in Kindergarten, already, is also one who spent the first few years of her life out on the beach in Hawaii.

Not in an expensive PreSchool.  Not listening to hothousing tapes, cds and whatnot.

Not even in an intense homeschool.

Just running around on the beach, playing and hanging out.

And already, she's making her mark in Kindergarten.


Not judging here, just sayin'.....

See you tomorrow.



Daily Life, 64

Kindergarten Music today:

Me     "...and this is a conga drum.  There's lots of drums here that we're going to learn to play this year!"

Sara*    "My daddy has lots of drums in his garage.  He even has a big one with lights."

Me     "Wow, Sara.  How cool is that?  Is your Dad a musician?"

Sara*  "No, he's just a drummer."

With apologies to George and my other drummer friends out there....

*Sara is, of course, not this young music critic's real name.


Daily Life, 63

 A thunderstorm cascaded over our town earlier today, changing the light, clearing the air.  Ushering in a double rainbow that filled the sky for a few brief moments. 

Reminded me of how many words carry that kind of beauty:
Luminous.  Evanescent.  Lambent.    Twilight.

Made me think about the words with which we surround our students--and ourselves--each day.

Just sayin'.

See you tomorrow.



Learning Link, 21

What's one difference between jazz and bowling?

and what in the world does that have to do with teaching?

Check out today's  post from Seth Godin (his blog is here) if you'd like to hear his thought-provoking answer.

See you tomorrow.



Daily life, 62

On the morning of September 11th, around the turn of this century,  a classroom full of second graders leaned forward in their seats, straining to hear what it was that the grownups were discussing so seriously, out there in the hall.

That morning,  an entire school full of elementary kids were nurtured and protected and loved, with an even more dedicated intensity than before.

Sometimes  sorrow can push us hard  to work towards joy.

Just sayin'.


Learning Link, 20

 Leo Babauta (of mnmlst and zenhabits.net) has some good ideas about ways to help clarify what's important and what's not, in our lives---and on our 'to do' lists.  

Especially timely insights, as we start a new school year.  Read more here.


Daily Life, 61

Grade 1, talking about favorite foods during morning meeting:

Alexandra*   "My Mother's mac and cheese!  I'd eat it every day.  She adds extra butter and cheese and crunchy things.  It's yummy."

Rian*   "I know what artichokes are.  But I can't eat them right now, until my bottom two grownup teeth come in."

Stuey*   "My favorite food is gum.  Did you know I've had this gum (in his mouth at the time) since yesterday?"

*These budding gourmets' names are, of course, changed.  Just as their food delights may, in the future..


Learning Link, 19

An artist and musician friend often talks about the process of creating as one of 'listening to the materials'.  

Found the same concept in writer Michael Pollan's thoughtful book on building a small cabin.

From A Place of My Own,  by Michael Pollan:

"The architect Louis Kahn used to talk about interrogating his materials in order to learn what they "wanted to be'---that is, what the distinctive nature of a material suggested should be done with it:   
         "You say to brick, "'What do you want, brick?"  Brick says to you, "I like an arch."  If you say to   brick, "Arches are expensive, and I can use a concrete lintel over an opening  What do you       think of that, brick?"  Brick says, "I like an arch."

.......Working attentively with their materials can draw the architect and builder into a kind of dialogue with the material world; you learn a lot about a shingle--and about red cedar--watching how it responds to your handling."    (A Place of My Own,  Michael Pollan, pp. 199-200)

Just thinking about how that process evidences itself in working with creating music and most importantly, working with children....


First Day of School

  "Xylophones? We get to play xylophones this year?"

"Hey! She said we get to lounge on the floor while we listen..."

"I really wanted to play the drum with the ropes, because I'm really really good at it. I hid my head because I wanted to keep my crying inside  so that I wouldn't be embarrassed in front of the class."

"My pockets make jingling noises."

"I'm the best whistler in my family. Listen."

"I don't know where my classroom is, and I'm only 5..."

"My daughter just got a fulltime job today."

"We're working on that."

"Just clarifying what was actually said."

"What?! We're going to learn how to play ukuleles?"

"I don't like to sing in front of other people.  No, I don't want to even just stand with the group, because I don't like to stand with other people.  OK, I would rather just be the audience. That's probably going to be OK."

"I told you my name once already.  You already forgot?!"

"Electric Bass? and Banjos?  AND Ukes??  ...That's coooool."


Last day of summer for 2010

It's official:  the new school year begins for us tomorrow.

Does anything more really need to be said?


Learning Link, 18

Looking to buy a new computer sometime this year?

According to Gizmodo, it's cheapest to buy computers in the Autumn & in April.

Interested?  Read the article here.


Learning Link, 17

How to Learn and HAVE FUN!!

If you like Cajun music, dance and food, the  Blackpot Festival & CookOff would feel like three days of sheer heaven,  based in  Lafayette, Louisiana.

It's put on by the Red Stick Ramblers,  and features many local bands and a day-long cookoff.  Some of the best music and dance around....

Want more info?  Check it out here

See you on the dance floor!


Learning Link, 15

What Great Teachers Do Differently, by Todd Whitaker

Yes.  You're right: many  books and materials intended for teachers' professional development  are written poorly and contain nothing of real value.

Not this one.  It's evident that the author has spent time in the classroom: pertinent examples drawn from real life, truthful clarity in discussing issues, and a collection of the things we'd all like to remember to think about, and to do.

Check it out:
  In a discussion about standardized  testing--or, as Whitaker put it, the "shark-infested pool of standarized testing" :
"Effective teachers don't let hot-button issues shift their focus from what really matters.
....Effective teachers focus on the behaviors that lead to success, not the beliefs that stand in the way of it.
....Effective teachers keep testing in perspective.
....fully aware that success on standardized tests brought them greater autonomy to do what they believed was best for students....
....center on the real issue of student learning."  (pp. 109--111)

"Great teachers have high expectations for students but even higher expectations for themselves."

"Great teachers consistently filter out the negatives that don't matter and share a positive attitude."

"Great teachers never forget that it is people, not programs, that determine the quality of a school."

(all quotes above, pp 127-128)

Intrigued?  More depth and more great quotes await....well worth the time,  I'm thinking.

Learning Link, 14

How you can learn  to play the Ukulele....really.

First of all, it's a forgiving little instrument.
Sounds great, from the first time your fingers brush its four sweet strings.

But, you say, how to get started?  

The answer?  (Cue orchestral swell here):  Ukulele Underground.

Great site, free lessons, tons of information.  

Happy strumming!


Learning Link, 13

How to make your dreams come true

One way is to simply get started.

Good advice from the folks at 37Signals.com (who also wrote the helpful book ReWork--see Learning Link 4 for a review) can be found in a short article


Learning Link, 12

How to write better

Are you re-working your September curriculum letter for the 10th time? Lost in the maze of writing PTA Open House notes, field trip permission slips, and such?

Happens often, to many of us. Here's a brief article full of good writing tips (from Copyblogger) which may help:

Hahaha....guess we'll see if it helps improve the writing here! (hmmm...hope so!)


Learning Link, 11

Looking to add interesting material to the classroom section of your school's website?

Check this out: Copyblogger Brian Clark Interview on Content Planning for Blogs.

Clear advice with a focus on building 'robust, engaging content'....here's the link:


Music and Art take to the streets

Are you interested in street art?

How about pianos, out on the street, for any passerby to play?

As part of an art experiment?

How cool is that?

Check it out:

....uh, and no: I'm not going to draw any of the obvious references or wisecracks about public school music education and this event...you can do that one on your own.


Learning Link, 10

Getting started with plans for the school year?

How about this idea, from the classroom wall of a great teacher I know?

She kept a list on the wall of words & phrases to let people know they're doing a great job.

I tried this last year, changing the focus a bit. It worked well for me.

Here's my working list for this year:

Things I want to think about, every day:
Dignity. Calmness. Centered. Kindness. Listening. Energy.
Autonomy. Mastery. Meaning. Play. Story. Design. Empathy. Symphony. Purpose.

That second line, in case you didn't recognize it, is from Daniel Pink's book, A Whole New Mind. (If you haven't read it...well, let's just say it can deepen awareness of what the fundamental abilities are for success...)

How about you? Any words you find important to remind yourself about, each day?



Looking for some good reading for the school year?

Have you ever noticed that there are certain books which become worn from re-reading?

Books which make some things more clear?

Here's some I find helpful:

Letters to a Young Poet, Rilke
Linchpin, Seth Godin
Tribes , also by Godin
If you want to write , Brenda Ueland
The War of Art, Steven Pressfield
Shop Class as Soul Craft, Matthew Crawford
A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink
The Old Way of Seeing, Hale

And blog posts from Seth Godin (www.sethgodin.typepad.com and Leo Babuta(zenhabits.net).

Plus, nearly any TED talk by Ken Robinson.

Current reading?
Robert Francis (Collected Poems), and The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle.

And, as always, looking for good (non-fiction) suggestions. What are you reading these days?


Learning Link, 9

Are you drowning in details right about now?


Working on that one...


Learning Links, 8

Amazing presentation-- a headset which controls the human-machine interface.

Apparently our thoughts can change the world.



August 7th

No big learning news or links today.

Just thinking about what it takes to play music that's real. To live, for real.

Beauty comes at a high cost.

Sometimes there's no other way.

Learning Links, 7


This time around, not another TED talk but instead, an interesting take on the contributing factors for success, from Malcolm Gladwell via RadioLab. (If you haven't listened to any of the RadioLab shows, check them out if you have time. Good stuff.)


Adventures in Learning, 4

My hands are greasy.

And I am utterly content.

Today, a teenage friend of mine went down with me to our local co-op bike repair "we'll teach you while you do the work yourself" shop, mostly because I was, frankly, a bit intimidated about going there on my own.

Foolish, but true.

It's a place of beauty. Not sure everyone would see it that way, but for me, those bike repair stations with their orderly rows of tools, exposed brick walls and quietly intent work was an inherently satisfying sight.

What did I learn?

1. It's useful to listen while someone's explaining how to do things, and wait to ask questions until they're done.
2. It's even more useful to speak as little as possible, try to follow the directions, and only ask questions after trying on my own.
3. Repair follows an orderly pattern. Much like cooking and baking: sensible.
4. Bikes are far more user-friendly than I would ever have guessed. Accessible technology (well, at the level of my free-to-me bike, anyway).

I admire people who can fix things (as regular readers may already know). And finally, finally, finally....I'm starting to enter that world myself.


More tomorrow.



Adventures in Learning, 3

OK, more in the exciting saga of learning in daily life.

First of all, in case you didn't know, the 'preferred method' of maintaining aluminum chairs? Car wax. Yep. Surprised me, too.

Second, that clothesline. I was inordinately proud of being able to a) hang it up high enough without falling off the ladder and b) using screws, not nails. This last tidbit is thanks to a friend who carefully explained to me the proper uses of each.

See? I'm learning. It's just s-l-o-w.

In any case, the clothesline worked great--until I put a moderately heavy sleeping bag on it. Hmm: sag-city. Also, the hook worked itself right out of the dandy little hole in the tree bark. Ugh.

Unfortunately, most of the directions online include using a posthole digger, metal poles, and cement. Budget for this project is at zero for the summer, so now it's time to learn through experimentation. Wish me luck on this one! (Better yet, how's about some advice?)

On a more successful front, I also started a repainting project using some old chairs from my Mom's basement. They were destined for the 'free' pile anyway---great raw material for learning.

So what did I learn?

1. Despite meticulous effort, the paint streaked like crazy with the paintbrush. Either it's too big (which it was) or it's the wrong kind of brush for this kind of paint. Switching to a sponge worked better but now there are small bumps in odd places. Grrrr.
2. Sanding these pieces down before washing them, then painting, would probably have been a very good idea indeed. I'll do that on the other chair.
3. For the first time, I understand why my Grandfather and some of my friends want to have workshops, separate from the house. It's nice to be working in the quiet outoors, and it's also handy to have the proper tools nearby. There's something about working in a space which is intended for just this use, also, which gives me more patience and the willingness to take the time to do it right. Perhaps a teeny tiny bit of the dignity of (and true desire for) good craftsmanship is starting to become mine.

Lastly, it occurred to me today how much different this whole process of doing things is, from watching or reading about other people's work. Far more absorbing, though I love to read about it. Actually starting to do things myself, overall? Moments of sheer frustration coupled with intense satisfaction.

I'm ready for more. See you tomorrow.



Adventures in Learning, 2

I admire my grandfather.

Also, I admire any of you out there who have that same skill set: being able to fix nearly anything.

And, you ask, what exactly does this have to do with learning?

Well. Front lines, folks: hands on learning. It's clearly the winner for accelerated learning in the classroom, so I'm hoping for similar results with my ventures into home repair and crafting.

Today's adventure? Restoring a 1950s aluminum lawn chair's graceful sleek silver lines, that I remember from my childhood. (uh, not that I was alive in the 1950s, but the chair certainly was around then.)

First things first: steel wool and lots of scrubbing. To my utter amazement, this accomplished nearly all of the work! Here I've been using this chair for years, wishing it didn't have so much rust obscuring its beautiful lines--and THIS is all that was needed to restore it?!

There's most definitely a lesson in there somewhere. I suspect it will also be a humbling experience, so I'm gonna save that one to think about later on in the day.

What else did I learn?

Fixing stuff gets a lot of gunk under fingernails. Yuck. It's all good, though, thanks to the miracle of soap and water. (Yep, I know already. Don't bother to tell me to wear gloves. Gloves are unwieldy and make it much harder to do detail work, at least at my current level of skill.)

In any case, now the chair is nearly clear. Next step--read and ask about how to bring it fully alive again.

(BTW, if you're reading this, thinking "How can she not know to do xyz?!"---please, don't keep that knowledge to yourself--put it in the comments, where it will be most welcome!) (and put to good use!)

Coming up tomorrow....hanging an outdoor clothesline that doesn't sag to the ground after one use. See you then!



Learning Links, 6


OK, so I realize: there's a lot of TED links on this blog.

Right--that's because it's a treasure chest of great ideas and advice.

Today's link? Three minutes of advice on how to succeed in life, distilled from discussions with TED speakers: 7 years, 500 interviews.

The result is like a turbo-charged multivitamin for encouraging creativity and success.

Well worth the three minutes (yep, you heard me correctly) it takes to listen. And then some, I think. What do you think?


Adventures in Learning: 1--News from the world of a novice crafter

Lessons learned while making a seat cushion for my back porch:

1. Needles tend towards sharpness. Have some respect.
2. If you sew without laying out the material and pinning it first, the result will look as though you did not lay out the material and pin it first.
3. Master craftspeople can probably use cruddy materials and still end up with a beautiful, polished product. I'm not yet a master craftsperson.
4. The learning process is absorbing and probably never-ending. It's also nice to have some useful products along the way.
5. It feels GREAT to be able to do it myself.

OK, there's the news from my first ventures in DIY land. I realize it's not about public school education, directly, but hey--all of life can be about learning, right?

More later.