Saturday, August 18, 2018

Percussion of Personalities: The First Day of School

It’s quiet, calm. There is a crispness to the air. It begins to vibrate, causing the particles to stir and shimmer in the light. The energy arrives before the sound of giggles and feet. There is an electricity, a resonance that is palatable. It tastes sweet, sugary like salt water taffy. Stretchy and shiny, full of summer goodness, even though summer has ended. Every strand of glucose intertwined, every glimmer of flavor illuminated. Every voice succinct, yet the din is like a melody: harmonic and mellifluous. The drums providing the beat, the brass, the increasing volume of greetings and salutations. The orchestra syncs and the house lights blink, announcing the overture. 

There is no reluctance. The audience of learners takes their seats. An eagerness and excitement reverberate. The floors are sparkly, eager, for the first scuffs of the year. The walls are bare, awaiting the posters of clubs, competitions and motivation to be hung. The solemn silence has been replaced by dynamic deliberation. The building’s spirit has been lifted. For the first time in months, the hallways feel content. The programs are in hand and the ticket holders are at the ready. This is when the curtain pulls back, and all is revealed. 

It is this split second, this moment of contact that everything becomes clear. This is the collision. The percussion of personalities. First contact. Genesis. This is when dull becomes lustrous. Doubt turns to certainty. Wonder becomes action. The memory of all past first days, come in to view, but then just as quickly fade. This day, this first day, comes into focus. It is the first line of a fabulous story. All school days are stories, we need to make sure they are adventure stories. Thrilling tales of discovery and conquest. The crashing of cymbals, the roar of the snare. This semblance of anticipation and comfortability- this is the theme of the day. A non-fiction novella of community, collaboration and creativity. 

The confluence eases into separate congregations. Rooms vibrant with a blending of cultures, ideas and charisma. A bustling of individuality and idealism. It is a beautiful thing to see. They settle in to a rhythm. Craving new opportunities. Exciting experiences. There is a thirst, a hunger for knowledge. They are seated, they are hankering for activity. The bell rings and the energies converge into a stream of consciousness.A tight roll of brilliant thought and enhanced flavor. A vision is put in to place. Foundations laid. Optimism and organization solidified. This is the first stretch of the taffy. The white, waxy paper is removed, and the first pungent smell of sugary goodness permeates the air. 

It is the flexibility, the texture, brightness of flavor- these are the qualities of a great taffy. These are the ingredients of a delicious treat. The honeyed, luscious memory of the boardwalk, sand between our toes. It is also the enthusiasm, hopefulness and acceptive nature, that guides a classroom forward. Every student is a beautiful, colorful, surprise, these first few days of school. Slowly but surely their vibrancy and charm come to the surface. It takes time to get to know them. But these first encounters, these first collisions, these set the tone. These either dull the flavor or enhance it. It all depends on if you are willing to unravel the waxed paper, with no expectation or anticipation.  

Taffy, as sticky and stretchy as it gets, always holds promise. It has been a staple on every beach boardwalk for hundreds of years. Why? It is durable, it is sugary sweet, it smells of the ocean and most importantly it comes in a variety of flavors. Each with its own pungency, aroma, essence and tartness. Within every bag or box there are choices, a kaleidoscope of candied opportunity. 

Sometimes we feel like the sharpness of citrus, others the bitterness of chocolate. No matter our choice, its color and aroma lure us in. Like a classroom luminous and ardent, adjustable and diverse, we begin to unwrap until every dynamic, lively, vivacious piece is accessible and this moment, this percussion of personalities, is where it all falls into place. This is the first day of school, the first line of our story, so start writing educators, I can’t wait to read your first chapter.  

Friday, August 10, 2018

P.S. No One is Happy All The Time: A Journey on the Creativity and Depression Roller-Coaster

This post has been written over the last few months. It was written for everyone out there who struggles with anxiety and depression. Depression is not a choice and we can not snap out of it. It is something everyone feels at one point or another, while most bounce back quickly, some never seem to escape its haze. I am lucky, I have bouts, but I practice mindfulness strategies and meditation and this, for me works very well. I am balanced most of the time, but I have known people who suffer deeply from depression and many who also ride the roller-coaster of unhappiness. This post, I hope helps those who struggle with depression, see that there is hope and for those who know people who struggle, I hope this helps you understand what goes on in the mind of someone who is on the creativity and depression roller-coaster.

The Feeling Begins

Parched Earth. Barren, bleak, formidable. Yet, from underneath the scorched, sandy, terrain materializes a hope. A signal of unstitching. A state of Ikigai- a reason for living, ingrained in the Japanese culture. A purposeful exchange. A subtleness that would be missed by most, if they weren’t looking for it. It speaks in your mother tongue. Something from nothing. Everything from this isolation, this landscape is ultimately an idea. Swirling around you like sand, kicked up, from your tread. The sand stings, as the silicon and calcium, files down the rough edges, smoothing the thought, cohesive. The vista, the machinery our brain uses to sense our experiences. It is more than that though, it is not just a figurative place, it is not merely a spiritual journey, it is an encapsulation of our natural inheritance. Our birth right. The place where our curiosity sparks to life.

This place is toxicity free, yet there is a burden we feel of being happy. We let our agency of joy, slip at times. The guilt is visceral. It taps us on the shoulder, forcing us to see the utter mayhem, horrendous happenings and sheer devastation that occurs on Earth. We must see this devastation, internalize it, own it. For human nature is universal. It is simply the fact that most of us, at the intersection of immorality and civility, steer the course of decency, integrity and justice. Our sense of morality stays intact. This principle, this righteousness, is not a uniform we proudly wear, but a skin, both thick and impenetrable, protecting us from any oncoming sandstorm.

The Journey Begins

Shame has many costumes. Depression, stigma, remorse, liability, condemnation, to just name a few. It has mirrors in which it forces our gaze. Reinforcing our culpability. This hardened stance is difficult to maneuver away from. Its grasp is tight. For some it is a comfortable place, a cozy contrition. For others, it is mere scenery, they must traverse, to realize their gravitas, their authenticity. How can we be creative, if we do not allow ourselves to get lost every now and then in penitence? How can we be happy and content in our neck of the woods, if we do not acknowledge the blaze upon the hilltop? To, feel safe, we must admit, that we are not always protected.

Order and structure allows us to find continuity and consistency in our lives. These are facets of life, both necessary and welcomed. Miraculous moments happen every day. We awake with optimism, even if it is fleeting. We rest with positivity, that we survived another day. That hopefully our presence made a difference in some way. These revelations are empowering, liberating- they lead to creativity and creativity is fluid, it is mobile, it is transferrable. We can’t understand its motives or beckon it. We can only open ourselves up to it and hope it finds its way to us. If we are creative beings, if our imaginations are full and we are neglected by inspirations charms for too long, we can feel slighted, feel disappointed which may lead to unhappiness and strife.

And Here we Diverge

And here we diverge- unfettered joy goes one way and expectations the other. We are caught at a crossroads. We must mature, yes. We must age, this we have absolutely no choice in. But, must we surrender? The bridge between creativity, inspiration and passion does not need to be mired with self-doubt. But many times, it is.

I know while I am crossing it, each stone seems to grow larger and more difficult to step over. The grout between oozes in and sticks to my bare feet. Yes, I venture into the realm of creativity, comfortable and free of encumbrances like shoes. But, with gear full of nourishment and shelter. However, often while I am on this journey, I feel uneven, I do not feel like a whole number, but a fraction of one. A granule, rather than solidity. A speck, a grain, picked up with the breeze and redeposited somewhere abandoned. Somewhere desolate. That parched Earth, where my feeling began.

From afar I may look like I belong, like I am comfortable in my predicament. I might seem to fit on the pile of sand. The crevice where I land, appears to be made just for me. But, then again it is a fissure not an embankment. I am alone in consistency, alone in lack of vibrancy. I see the shininess and beauty of the smooth, sedimentary promontories around me. Each gathering layers as they gather acceptance, while I am getting thinner and more fragile as I wedge tighter, in the crevasse. This is depression. Unannounced it trickles in like a gentle rainfall, washing away my foundation, slipping me farther into the gap.

And Here we Converge

This is the place where creativity, inspiration and depression meet. We try to stay hopeful that a gust of wind will bring us closer to our habitat. Back to where we belong. But we forget where home is. The breeze ceases and we are left, a tiny insignificant molecule. A dot. That feels so miniscule, we can’t see beyond our limitations. We will lie there whittling away until we fade to nothing. This is depression. Only with the warmth of words, patience and rebirth, can we see ourselves again, as both sedimentary and igneous. Where our fragments become hardened with heat and pressure. Where all the little pieces come together, forging a great landscape, a scenery magnified.

That sound- thunder, it quiets us for an instance as we wait for the flash. Fear, shame, creativity, inspiration- they are comrades in arms. They know which buttons to push. They know where our arsenal is kept hidden. Yet, when we are pinned under the heaviest of boulders, together they pry us loose. When we choose not to be conventional, we struggle with this dynamic. Conventional is the enemy of interesting. Our life blood comes from our shade of unorthodoxies. Those traits of inheritance that are our birth right. We have a right to be happy, angry, solemn or proud. We deserve to be joyful, interesting and innovative. We hold the merit of self-preservation and self-advocacy. We must be eager to do so. But with depression buffing our protrusions down, our eagerness to advocate becomes a fretful action for survival.

Reconstitution has Side Effects

Our creative mind needs to be set free. If it brings apprehension and misgiving, we must accept that as part of the process. If melancholy and malaise, find us upon our travel’s, we must seek their wisdom, because they are apart of us as well. Each line of truth, a note, forming the base, the treble, the percussion of our lives. We wake up to an upbeat jam, setting us forth on an odyssey of discovery and exploration. We wake up to a pensive instrumental and we venture on a quest of retrospection and thoughtfulness. We have days dominated by joy and mindfulness and others made jagged with uncertainty and poignancy. But, we can tell the difference. This is what inspires us to seek the quiet moments of reflection, to listen for the grains of sand, as they wisp into the air, seeking shelter.

Depression is not a single stroke of misfortune. Nor is it a permanent structure, holding back the rivers of creativity and inspiration. It is within each of us. For some it is a result of not feeling justified or accepted. Others a consequence of fear. Ultimately though, it is not the same for everyone. It can be bottled and corked by some, while it buries others underneath that sand. Crushing their spirit, their outlook, their will-power. This is the moment of despair you can never understand, unless you find yourself under the weight of it. The only way to dig yourself out is, to reach out from underneath it because, there will be many with outreached shovels. You alone must dig yourself out, but without the tools to make it possible, you are stuck in the quicksand, the quagmire. The inspiration of others gives us a foothold- but our creative minds, openness to growth, this is what elevates us above the cave in.

There are paths we choose, and quests thrust upon us. There are times when being alone is needed. There are also times when connection and being among friends and family, is what grounds us. I am lucky enough to have strategies I use, because I am a victim of depression. My main weapon, I am a fighter. I do not get buried for long. I keep shovels close and ropes to grasp, at the ready, to keep me clear of the major pitfalls that plague my outlook. Writing for me is an outlet for my bouts with depression. Painting, singing, taking long walks, exercising, even just listening to awesome music, might be yours.

Whatever warning signs you have in place, it is listening for the sandstorm that is important. Following your creative heart, listening to your inspiration guide.  Your insight will provide you the framework to take risks and try new things. To take the leap. To find what makes you happy. Shame should never be allowed to stifle, bury, burden or isolate you. We all deserve to have joy- it is our birth right. We must never forget to help others, do what we can to try and guarantee that unfettered smiles, that childish giggles, that meaningful exchanges of mindfulness, that acceptance and encouragement spreads just as fast as the sandstorms. Then both whirlwinds will have equal chance to be encountered.

We love and hate. We smile and frown. We seek enlightenment yet get comfortable with stagnancy. There is no definitive answer to solve depression. There are also no guarantees that inspiration and creativity will find you. All you can do, is quiet your mind. Calm your spirit. Engage with the rumble, the quivering that lies beneath. Recognize the mist, breathe in and accept what is given to you. It may be an inspiration, it may be a creative embrace, it might merely, be an idea. It is what you do with it, how you make it something wonderful that will fulfil you and this contentedness might just stave off your next moment of sand blindness.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Summer Glimmer to Classroom Bloom

Shimmer and Glimmer

For many, summer is near the middle, they have weeks left, until they venture back into their classroom. The rest of us, we have ascended the peak and are now on the decent, just about to reach basecamp. Hopefully these last weeks have been full of family and fun, learning and growth and relaxation and rejuvenation. While some are still basking in the luminosity of vacation, there are many who have turned the key and entered ‘teacher mode.’ Either way, soon, all of us will be immersed in the glow of student interaction. Collaboration is slowly building momentum and design and set up, rosters and syllabi are at the forefront. It is that time of year where educators really need to pause and center before they take the leap. Excitement is building, it is palpable. But, there is also a bit of hesitancy, we know that once we enter, we say goodbye to the easy-going days of summer.

Education is like architecture- slow, detailed, with a timing, a tone. Yet, adaptable to the audience, the current culture of things, to the energy of the room. There are monologues, recipes and revelations. Every teacher has their quirks, passions and creative spirit. It can be calm and precise one moment and chaotic the next. Chaos- if you are in it- can be scary. But, order comes from stepping above it- seeing the edges. Recognizing the full scope of things, then each layer is identifiable and discrete. You are as big as the things you enjoy, the things you accept and as small as the things you let control you. So, as you become inundated with all the start of the year expectations, pause, breathe and realize it will all get done.

Colorful Transition

A classroom is the best place to shed the old and climb into the new. It is a fantastic opportunity to take-risks and try outlandish things, because students are flexible, everything is fresh, they will be more than willing to try something new with you. If you tell them you are on a new adventure, they will be your look out, they will chart the map for you. New approaches, outside the box teaching, causes a disruption in their thinking. Disruption lets you know something new is coming. Too much maintenance squelches creation and change. Howard Thurman has a great quote “Don’t ask what the world needs, ask what makes you come alive and go do it, because what the world needs is people who come alive.” As you are easing back into the realm of classroom facilitator, curate your thoughts, build something refreshing and ask yourself, is my classroom a “me space” or a “them space?”

The shimmer, glimmer of summer fades. But, the bloom of the classroom is continual throughout the year. The learning space needs to be about the students. It is challenging to say the least, to step back and leave most of the walls blank, until the first week of school. To put the tables in a pattern that will be manipulated and altered by students. When students feel like they can move a chair to a different table, draw on the graffiti wall or chalk board, add artifacts to the culture wall- this empowers them. When students have a giant makerspace full of supplies this inspires them to tinker, to create, to build something with their hands, rather than play on their devices. Technology can be a great tool in the classroom when purposeful. But, when I ask my students, “Would you rather play a review game on your device or build a model with these supplies?” Most of my students say they want to use the makerspace and trust me they love their devices.

Classroom Bloom

I asked several of my students “Why is the makerspace so popular, when you could be playing a review game on your device? Why wouldn’t your technology always be your first choice?” They responded, “We can play on our devices anytime, we don’t have a makerspace anywhere else.” They added, “I think having options, lots of supplies gets my mind going, it makes me want to build something, my device is about beeps and dings, instant gratification but when I can get creative, have time to think things through, build things, this is fun too.” This was enlightening for me. Many teachers believe that technology makes things more engaging for students. It can be of course, but it is not necessarily a student’s first choice. Give them options and they just might surprise you with their ingenuity.  Value conversation, collaboration and investigation- these approaches empower and if we let them charge up with the most meaningful fuel, they will be able to recharge themselves.

It is the freedom to think for themselves that students are seeking. Design the classroom to do just that. Let them decide how it is set up, what is on the walls, where they sit. The more empowerment they have, the more engaged and committed to the learning community they will be. Things don’t have to shimmer and glimmer, these aspects fade. But, if we keep the learning space fluid and adaptable it will allow students to bloom, anchor themselves deep into the learning experience and together, collectively become a vibrant garden, forever growing and changing with the seasons.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Pitfalls and Do Overs: A Classroom Reboot

From Mind to Momentum

The first thing you need to know about me is that I am an overachiever. I want to try new things, but I want to implement all of them, at the same time. This of course causes a lot of pitfalls and do over’s. The second thing you need to know about me is my mind is never quiet, I am bombarded with ideas, some good, some bad, constantly- I look at something interesting and need to pause and see how it can become a part of my classroom or how it can become something new. This I think, is because I have Dyslexia and so my brain is always on overload trying to make sense of my world. I need to work a little harder at seeing the big picture.

These two aspects of myself, cause my brain to be distracted a lot, as I revamp, tweak and envision. They also cause frustration because I never feel satisfied with something. I doubt my comprehension and always need to pause and make sure I understood things correctly or that I said something accurately. At the beginning of each class period, I replay the last and look for every smudge, every tear in the fabric. But, I also recognize the vibrancy of the tapestry. The positive aspects of the lesson. This in turn, sparks new ideas and the cycle starts again. My mindfulness strategies have such purpose here: breathe, own the pause, accept, and above all own it. Own my choices and never regret the fail.

Pitfalls and Do Overs

I tried a few things last year, that for one reason or another, didn’t work. The EDISON boards (see examples below), creating a wall with yarn and connections between concepts. This fell flat. It required students to collect artifacts and add them to the wall. Let’s just say, we had a half of a board all year- and it was the first unit. It ended up being dead space. As a community, we just couldn’t get motivated to keep up with it. Now, Hurricane Harvey through off the flow at the beginning of the year, but it was not an intriguing or inspiring space and thus it fell flat. I thought this would be amazing- I saw all these examples of ‘big picture’ connections gloriously forming- but alas, we didn’t even make one. This is one of those things that are time consuming and needs constant maintenance, so for me a pitfall that stays in the pit.

A second endeavor that fell flat was the community board (see pictures below). The calling cards were great- we used them repeatedly, throughout the year, to create collaborate groups and for students to find partners across class periods. But the board itself, again stayed almost exactly like it looked week one of school. The follow-through just wasn’t there. I finally took down the cards and moved them to a different wall and covered the community board with awesome student work. This, I consider a do over. I am going to try this again but make it wall of cultural heritage, interests and hobbies and science curiosities. Broaden it to me more of a fluid spot where weekly a different class updates it. This way they can maintain it easier. I love the idea of artifacts from all the different cultures represented in my classes all coming together as a mosaic of diversity. This makes it more personal. This is my #1 do over.

There were things that worked well in my classroom last year. Things that I have utilized for many years that will be dusted off and improved upon: flexible seating, makerspace design and the graffiti wall. These were appreciated by students and never felt like a chore or task, but rather an aspect of the classroom design, that helped the room feel communal and accessible. But, reconfiguring the tables and creating more cozy seating arrangements is step one. Not setting up the makerspace before school, rather, letting students organize it, to where it is user friendly for them, step two. Step three, buckets of chalk and no tables blocking the graffiti wall- making sure it feels like a fluid and free space for science expression and artistic creativity. It needs to be not only content specific, but a place to sketch, draw and collaborate for students. These are do overs, but in the magical sense that they are already a highlight and now just need a fresh coat of paint.

The Reboot in Thinking

The last thing you need to know about me, is that I reflect a lot. I write a lot. Yes, I blog a lot too and podcast, however, most of my writing stays, in my journal or on my computer. I share very little of it because I am extremely hard on myself. But I have flashes of inspiration, I read amazing educator blogs and Tweet’s and get a jolt of insight. There are so many educators, that I am so thankful for, that listen, read, and send positivity my way. There are also many more who support me by their presence, their openness to change, their collaborative nature, who chat on Twitter and with every click inspire someone. This is the epitome of change- when we share our pitfalls and do overs, we hopefully spark others to do the same.

This profession is glorious. It is global and universal. It is collaborative in nature- we truly make one another better, when we open ourselves up and let our voices be heard. Our words may fall flat, they may be overlooked. But, often, they resonate. Someone reads them and thinks to themselves- see other people struggle, with the same things I do. Someone else feels exhausted, underappreciated. Someone else is joyful and excited to be in the classroom. There is so much optimism and mindfulness in our Educator Twitter verse.

Pitfalls and do over’s, successes and refurbishing these are the cornerstones of education. Not everything goes as planned and that is okay. We know this going in. Our emotions as well as our profession, are truly universal and when we recognize this, we form a bond, a connection that runs deep. We will most likely never meet in person, but virtually we are friends. This wave, this network is a conduit – each circuit a surge of inspiration, each current a life-line and together, they create the mainframe for all educators. All you need to do is plug in. Can you feel the spark?

Friday, July 20, 2018

What are AP/Gifted Learning Skills, are They Exclusive?

The Seeds of Self-Learning
As educators we instinctively know the basic skills every student needs to thrive in the classroom. We design and implement lessons to enhance these skills, give our students the opportunity to grow and hone these skills. Research and literature, and almost every educator out there, will tell you, that there are certain skills, aptitudes and level of readiness that students and learners need to be successful. But what are these skills?
Experience in the classroom as an educator, has shown me, that these personal approaches and tactics are extremely important. These methods range from effective communication, organization, critical thinking, teamwork and confidence. These strategies are something engrained in every classroom to some degree and are necessary facets, of the foundation of every students’ learning arsenal. Advanced curriculum, gifted, advanced placement, academic and Special Education, alike. These skills are universal.
As educators we understand the need for these skills- they are fundamental to our students’ knowledge acquisition and self-advocacy. So are adaptability, initiative, motivation, curiosity and imagination and even a bit of humor. Even though these attributes are more personal, we can model them and push our students outside the box, nudge them out of their comfort zone, to help them strengthen these traits. When students are surrounded by these strategies, they become more empowered and more equipped to deal with the challenges of learning. This is also why it is so critical as teachers, that we form strong relationships, not only with our students, but with their parents, then together we can reinforce these.

I took an on-line professional development class this week, about making connections between junior high gifted education and high school AP education. Trying to find a bridge between the skills needed to pass and excel on the AP College preparatory exams and the junior high advanced curriculum. One of our assignments was to read over part of an AP exam, I chose the AP Biology exam, because I am a life science teacher. After reading the exam questions, we were to determine what skills, we felt were pertinent to mastering the test. Not just the knowledge skills, but also the learning skills.
As I was reading the test, which was challenging indeed, there were short answers, multiple-choice questions and one long essay, where students had to combine their knowledge of human and bee anatomy, plant germination, biomes, cells and climate change. It was an awesome question, which included graphs and charts, students needed to interpret and analyze. It also required students to make connections, predict results, justify conclusions all the while, integrating scientific knowledge and facts.
I read over the essay question several times and dissected its structure and vocabulary. Then I read it again. Then I went through the short answer and multiple-choice questions and broke down what the question was asking and what skills students would need to answer it quickly. It is all about speed on an AP exam. The tests are timed and if a student struggles with the needed skills, they may not finish. They may completely understand the content, but processing the framework of the question, especially on a written assessment, is just as important as the content knowledge required. It was a very enlightening assignment. It really got me thinking about my lessons with my gifted curriculum in 7th grade. Do I provide enough opportunities for them to acquire and enhance these skills? Also, how do I also integrate them more in my non-gifted curriculum class?

Watering, Fertilizing and Pruning
After analyzing my data, I came up with six learning skills, I felt would be critical to possess, to be able to answer the questions, on the AP exam thoroughly. The first being, interpreting and designing graphs. The essay asked them not only to read and analyze the provided data tables, but to also design one to display their conclusions. Now in a science, math, and social studies class reading, and interpreting graphs and primary sources occurs frequently, at least it should. So, this, I feel confident that I do well. But, I will do it more. More drawing and writing graphs and data tables. More primary sources and peer review articles. This is a must. Not just being able to draw them and understand them but to use them to make connections between concepts and ideas.
Interpretations of graphs and data leads right into the second skill, evidence-based research. If students can’t conduct research, find valid data and discover reliable information, then it is all for naught. We must teach them to be able to distinguish fact from opinion and repeatable and trustworthy evidence, from mistruths and outright lies. We also must provide them the best search engines, periodicals and web sites in which to find scholarly and scientific research. The internet is full of bias and manipulation and we need to provide them ample opportunity to conduct research, compare articles and conclusions and determine for themselves, what is reliable and respected data based on different sources and well-respected research.
Evidence gathering is critical but conducting experimental design projects- observing, asking the right question, developing the procedures and conducting a controlled scientific experiment, is the best way for students to integrate all these skills and build their scientific prowess. Cookie-cutter labs will not do this-labs need to be written and designed with a goal in mind, by students. They need to be able to formulate their own questions and reach their own conclusions- not a specific result. In my classes, we have three six week long experimental design projects per year. This goes hand and hand with the third skill: prediction, reasoning and analyzing information. If they can do this, they can muddle through the mounds of misinformation and find the authenticated and supported evidence they need to interpret their ideas.
The fourth skill, as aforementioned, is experimental design. This embodies both the fifth and sixth skills: understanding correlation vs. causality and argumentation and justification. If students can design a well-thought out experiment, conduct scientifically based research and determine conclusions based on cause and effect not just interconnection – they will be able to successfully justify it. They will be able to use verifiable evidence and write accurate conclusions based on their results. Without a controlled experiment using experimental design, one can’t claim causality. We can say that misbehavior correlates to a low grade on a test- it may appear to be undeniably true- however, without conducting research and measuring different levels of behavior over time, we can’t claim a causality. We can only say that we feel there is a correlation- that the two things have something in common.
Causality versus correlation, in my experience at least, is one of the hardest things for students to grasp. As adults it is conundrum as well. We want to see cause and effect, in everything that happens- it simplifies things, it makes things easier to understand. For instance, with the long-debated topic of sugar causes children to be hyper. If we give our children candy in the evening, we notice they won’t go to sleep. The sugar and hyperactivity research provide a perfect example of why it’s important to unwind the two notions of causality vs correlation. The fact that sugar consumption and hyperactive behavior often occur together, a correlation, does not mean one causes the other. In fact, research supports that is doesn’t. It is important especially when analyzing data that students understand the difference, or they will misinterpret the data, make false claims and formulate incorrect conclusions.

Letting the Flowers Bloom
As educators, we have a pretty good grasp on the skills needed to be successful learners. These learning skills enhance our growth-mindsets and allow us to see the world not as a chaotic place but an environment of observation and discovery. They help us make sense of our surroundings, but more than that, they help us piece together the layers and connections in our landscape and see our place in it as meaningful. There are six skills that go beyond the basic learning skills, that when combined allow us to go one step further. To be able to make deeper connections. When we can successfully interpret graphs and data, we use them effortlessly to support our evidence- based research, we find reliable, valid data to support and argue our ideas and ultimately, we teach ourselves how to think and how to understand the world.
Finally, when we can reason and predict we can find the confidence to explore our world because we know what to look for, we understand that bias and manipulation are all around us – but we possess the skills to weed out the misinformation, to get to the garden: both flourishing with ingenuity and grounded in science. If we teach these skills, students will understand that cause and effect is present all around them, but that correlation is too. Knowing the difference, will bring clarity of thought, determination of purpose and a mindset of investigation rather than acceptance.
These skills of course, are not exclusive to advanced curriculums, but in my resent PD course, they were focused on making sure junior high gifted educators are strengthening these skills in their students, for students to be more successful in high school AP courses. These strategies are integral to the success of students taking AP exams, but they should be identified as essential skills for every student. This is my focus on my gifted courses and my academic students. Every student is going to get ample opportunities to hone and improve these skills. We must teach our students to teach themselves, believe in their ability to learn and grow, ask the right questions and evaluate their answers. These skills are invaluable, essential and only meaningful if we share the strategies and step back and allow students to use them. Step away from pre-planned labs and set answer assessments and activities and let students take the lead. This is when these skills will become integrated into their learning process, not my repetition but by experience.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Classroom Microhabitats

Gardens can be well-groomed with precise rows of petunias and squash, or they can be unkempt and more natural. The gate can be kept closed, protecting the vegetables and flowers, or it can remain ajar- letting the wild creep in. Pruned, planned, weeded, tended- these all evoke an image of award winning horticultural masterpieces. All perfectly arranged, meticulously maintained. They are a sight to be seen and not touched. To sit in and admire, rather than to climb in and play. You can wander, but you must stick to the path. Stay off the grass.

The more organic, free-form, untamed, overgrown field, however more distracting, is often in fact, very disciplined, with a hierarchy in place, for flora and fauna alike. Snakes, beetles and butterflies, roam more freely, with little hindrance in their habitat. Even the most beautiful, groomed and cultivated of gardens, has the same creatures, they just simply stay hidden, for fear of removal. Nature untouched or contained, always welcomes the native dwellers, in some fashion. This begs the question; can we ever truly have free reign over nature? We can sculpt and manipulate, but can we ever fully tame it?

We must accept the indigenous animals and plants, if we want access to the potential energy that runs through the landscape. We must embrace the weeds, if we want to see the flowers sprout from their midst. We can choose to pluck them, a nuisance to most gardeners, to allow more daisies and daffodils to flourish, or we can let them find their path in the shadows. But, we must acknowledge the balance of nature. We must see the garden in its entirety, whether sleek and pristine or messy and unpolished. Both styles are alluring and graceful to someone. While many will choose the perfection of a private, charming space, others will feel more comfortable, trouncing amongst the tall grasses, hidden blossoms and complexity of a lush, agrarian patch.

Microhabitats form in every classroom. Various styles of gardens and wild fields. Students bounce between them effortlessly. They are the cultivators, indeed. Some areas are loud and energetic, others are quiet with only the gentle sound of crickets, reminding us they are there. The climate is dictated by the energy level, the focus and the freedom. The more we place the learning in student hands the calmer the weather. There are stormy seasons, but that is good, every garden needs the rain to thrive. Whether monsoon or sporadic showers, it is the continuity of nurturance that counts. A garden, absent of the hustle and bustle of nature, will never fully flourish.

The insects, the animals, the pollen and seeds- these are the components necessary for any greenhouse, nursery or natural space to develop, rise and prosper. Every flower, every lady bug, every worm aerating the soil, each a contributor to the space, each integral to the cohesion. Gardens, both uncultivated and unkempt and structured and maintained provide a flow of energy and a cycle of existence. We must recognize their uniqueness, embrace their beauty and let nature take its course. This is when the balance arrives. The equilibrium emerges. This is when the gates open and the wild and tamed become one.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Looking at the Eclipse through the Cereal Box

Depression is real. It is not easily erased or suddenly overcome. It takes time, patience and a glimpse of what lies ahead. For, when we are dragged down, into the darkest of caves, we may hear voices around us, but we only see the rock: both slippery and moss covered. They seem treacherous and impenetrable. Although, if we just turned around, we could see the way out, our feet stand firm. Our eyes locked on the trap, that lies before us, entombs us. I have been there many times and only because those around me, made their voices louder than the darkness, did I turn and find my escape. 


Eclipses, an obscuring of light, a shadow over an object, a blockage of illumination. They are a sight to see when they are high above us. We can't alter them or avoid them, instead we have embraced them. We travel long distances to be able to encounter them first hand. To us, mere mortals, the moon and sun appear to come into such tight contact, that they seem to merge. I remember as a child, poking a small hole in a cereal box and going outside to take a peak, at one of these events. There really weren't any glasses available to the public back then, so we had to make our own makeshift optical devices. Every child in my class, was told to bring in an empty cereal box, to create our personal telescopes.


With Captain Crunch or Fruit Loops boxes in hand, we ventured, onto the grass at school, our teacher explaining the science. I have a vivid memory of feeling very separated from the occurrence, as I peered through the pin-sized opening. The box, smelled sweet of cereal remnants, distracting me. I wanted so much to feel the shadow cross over me, feel like the Earth was disappearing for a moment. But, that cereal box, held me fast to the planet. It was a view both accessible and safe, but guarded and remote. Now, as an adult, these eclipses, both literal and metaphorical, feel more scientific somehow, more meaningful when I come into contact with them. These transitions of light: alter perception, heighten curiosity and ultimately create realignment. They often transfix, but they also kindle our outlook, highlighting the need for change.

Obscuration does not only happen during celestial events of course. Shading and dimming can take place anytime, anywhere. When we lose sight of our achievements, walk away from our dreams, hesitate to take a risk. My grandmother always called these momentary or prolonged 'fits of fancy,' bone orchards. The cracks in the earth, from lack of rain, the places where we wear ourselves thin. Where we let fear choke us from behind. Fear is not something to be despised, it is a lifeline. It directs us away from danger and pain. It is a part of us, down to a cellular level. We have to coax it, appease it and befriend it. This is when it becomes beneficial rather than terminal.


To avoid the labyrinths, we may come across, we have to keep a map close at hand. We have to stay on the path. Once you wander off into the wilderness, you can encounter nature at its purest, which is beautiful. But, you can also run into a bear or a mountain lion and if you are alone, they can trap you, in the farthest corner of your trepidation. We all feel this creeping, stinging feeling of certain collapse. We all make a wrong turn and become a statue, even if it is temporary, in the midst of the bends and twists, of the labyrinth of our thoughts. Every day we conquer the mazes placed before us- these lessons and puzzles we must solve to continue. They are placed before us not to trick us, but to test our resolve. For how can we make sense of the world, without the trials and tribulations of being human. But the entanglement, the snarl of self-deprecation, can place us smack in the middle of Mordor, the Forbidden Forest, or at the dinner table of the Queen of Hearts. To steer clear, we must find our own happiness, hold fast to our own grace, our own intentions.

Why take the first thought, best thought approach, when you can take a few more steps up the incline and see all the avenues. When we hyper focus on what we want and disregard what we need, we never feel fulfilled. We take comfort in knowing where we are going, but this can blind us, to alternative roads that may actually be less bumpy, filled with less potholes. The bog sets in, when we try to hard, to keep up with those around us. When we place ourselves in someone else's shadow. This quagmire is self afflicted. We can only escape the slough, if we choose to. We have to want to escape. We have to ask for help. The densest marsh, however,  can easily be sidestepped, if we see its muck, not as a trap. But, instead we use the mud to form stepping stones. The structures that heighten our lowland path, to an elevation both sunny and inviting.

Putting Down the Cereal Box

An eclipse does not have to separate us, isolate us, distance us from the action. The light may be blinding and we may have to look away temporarily, but if we put down the cereal box, we can see the positive effects much clearer. Observing from afar can be beneficial, it can be the coax you need, to allow fear to guide you into the flare. But viewing the world through a pin-hole is limiting. Why erect edges around vast opportunity? Why buffer the sounds of encouragement? Because the cereal box feels safe. It reminds us of childhood, both fruity and sweet. 

Our confidence is heightened, when we can see the bright colors, of the cartoons, on the outside of the box and enjoy the memories of youth. But, then we must place the empty cardboard, in the recycling bin, knowing we have gained nourishment, albeit minimal. Cereal may be sugary and provide us with some energy, but it is quickly burned calories. We need to see them for what their worth and then look forward and revel in the notion, that our next meal, will be a juicy burger, or piece of chocolate cake.

Stay tuned for my podcast -And Here We Diverge- its is all about inspiration, creativity and the depression in between. 

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