Category Archives: Uncategorized

Heads or Tails – I Win!

I like to make a lot of life decisions by flipping a coin.

Before you dismiss me as a crackpot, hear me out.

There is a moment when the reveal happens, when you uncover the coin to see heads or tails, during which you must access the deepest part of yourself.  Because, no matter how ambivalent you were about your decision before you tossed that coin in the air, that inner part of you knows what you really want.  There will be a tenth of a second that you will feel either relief or disappointment at the outcome, and that’s important information for your ultimate decision.

Of course, not everything we want is good for us.  I don’t use the coin technique for deciding whether or not to eat a tub full of Ben & Jerry’s Chubby Hubby ice cream.  It’s reserved for those important times where the pros seem to equal the cons, like my recent job dilemma.

Except it didn’t work this time.  “Heads” told me I should apply for the new job.  But relief and disappointment both exploded in my soul.  I didn’t want to leave my students, my colleagues, my district I had worked in for 27 years.  I had a great job that I knew how to do.

But.

I was intrigued by the idea of a new adventure, taking a job that practically described word for word, my dream career (which I had pitched to several people over the years) that seemed impossible to do in a public school.

And, I had a child’s voice in my head that urged me on.  “Mrs. Eichholz always encourages us to take risks,” she answered, when someone asked her what she had learned in GT.  “Responsible ones!” another student shouted – just to clarify.

This is true. I tell them to go outside their comfort zone, do things they have never done so they can learn what they’ve never learned.  “Don’t stick to what’s easy for you or your brain won’t get enough exercise!” We try things together that I’ve never even done, and they watch me make mistakes on a daily basis – and learn from them.

I never say, “Okay, everyone, when you are middle-aged and two years from being eligible from retirement and you live 5 minutes away from work and you know everyone in the community and you have good friends who support you and make you laugh every day, and you’ve taught K-5 for nearly three decades, throw it all away for a job that might require you to 3d print a parachute while you’re jumping out of the plane.”

But here I am.  And it feels exhilarating and completely intimidating at the same time.

I guess the coin toss kind of did work.  I think my soul was telling me that either decision would be fine.  I had a choice between two different journeys, and I picked the really scary one – mostly so I can tell my students, “Don’t tell me you can’t do that just because you’ve never done it before! Challenges make your brain even stronger!”  And mean it.

I have accepted a position in SAISD as a S.T.E.A.M. Master Teacher at their Advanced Learning Academy, which serves grades 4-12.  They have a Maker Space (with power tools!), and I will be teaching some classes, helping other teachers to integrate S.T.E.A.M. projects, and working with Trinity University students studying Education.  

 

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Are Leprechauns Real?

My Kinder students have made leprechaun traps for the last few years, and it always amuses me as they get older and sadly reminisce that they didn’t catch any leprechauns.  I’m never quite sure who is fooling who – are they just trying to make me believe that they believe, or are we all just making believe?

Just in case your students have some residual doubt, you can assign them this Wonderopolis article.

Students in upper elementary might scoff at leprechauns, but may be interested in doing some St. Patrick’s Day magnetic poetry.  You can also try this free “Irish” creative writing kit.

With this search I did on Teachers Pay Teachers, I found several free St. Patrick’s Day logic puzzles for various ages.

For those kinesthetic/spatial students, here is a lesson on shamrock origami.

I always feel a bit cheated because Pi Day and St. Patrick’s Day fall during our Spring Break – but I’m sure I’ll find a way to sneak some of these activities in anyway!

Copy of Copy of St. Patrick's Day Magnetic Poetry.jpg

Lesson Learned from a Dog

Yesterday’s post from Joelle Trayers inspired me to tell you a little about the best professional development I ever received – from a dog nicknamed Wonderbutt.

By the time my husband and I got married, I had owned three dogs, and hadn’t done a very good job with any of them.  We decided to get a golden retriever puppy together, and I resolved to do everything I could to raise this one as a properly socialized, well-behaved citizen of society.  I took her to Dog Obedience and Canine Good Citizen classes, read books, and studied every episode of The Dog Whisperer.

Mia, the golden retriever, turned into a model pet.  Because I had obviously become a pro at dog training, I thought we were ready to introduce another dog into the household.  I had wanted a bulldog since I was a child.  During an innocent trip to the pet store with our daughter to get a fish, we walked out with the fish – and a bulldog puppy.

puppy

Clancy (named after the bulldog that lived in my grandmother’s apartment building growing up) quickly made it clear that I knew absolutely nothing about raising dogs.  While many dogs can be house-trained using a crate because dogs tend not to mess up their beds, Clancy apparently had no inhibition about this tiny detail.  After the umpteenth time that I had to give the dog and the crate a shower, I came to the conclusion that this was not going to work.  (My husband gave him the nickname of Wonderbutt for more than one reason: first because he had no tail, so his entire butt would wag when happy, and second because of the amazing amount of displeasure the dog could express with that end of his body.)  Despite being given plenty of toys that were appropriate for chewing, he seemed to delight in finding anything and everything that he wasn’t supposed to chew, with the end result that we had to replace the furniture and the flooring in our house.

sofa

It took me way too long to realize that the one thing that Clancy wanted more than anything else was my attention, and the more positive attention and quality time he received the better behaved he became.  He wasn’t a bad dog; he had different needs and different ways of communicating them.  Once I threw out all of my ideas of what was “supposed to work,” and realized what he was trying to tell me, I was able to re-train myself.

Clancy became my constant companion.  He loved going for rides in the car, sitting regally by my side.  If I got in the swimming pool, he would wait patiently for someone to put on his life jacket so he could get in, too.  Each evening, he would jump in my lap and snore contentedly as I watched t.v., and every morning we would snuggle together on the couch for a little while before I got ready for work.

Last month, when Clancy was a little over 7 years old, we found out that he had an inoperable tumor on his heart that had already closed his right ventricle.  He had probably been suffering for awhile but I hadn’t known until he stopped eating.  After consulting three different doctors, I had to make the hardest decision of my life.

I look back at all of the Wonderbutt pictures and stories on my personal blog, and marvel at all of the destruction he wreaked in our lives, yet all of the joy and love he gave us as well.  I wish it hadn’t taken me so long to figure out that imposing my own expectations on a dog with a completely different personality was the problem.  But I’ve learned that lesson – and I apply it to people and dogs equally.

After watching Clancy take his final breath, my husband, who suffered in silence as we paid the bills for home renovations and thousands of ruined books and shoes and never once complained that Clancy took over his favorite chair or his favorite wife and even forgave the dog for scratching his face with his snaggle tooth when startled awake one time said, “That was the best dog I’ve ever known.”

wonderbutt.jpg

Rube Cereal Machines

Thanks to Carrie Sledge on Twitter (@GreenGTAIM), I learned that General Mills has joined with RubeGoldberg.com to encourage creativity by inviting people to design Rube Goldberg machines that will pour cereal.  The General Mills contest is only open to people who are 18 years and up, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of the tutorials they created for using 6 of their cereal boxes to make simple machines.  The Rube Goldberg site hosts its own contest for participants who are 8 and up, but you should definitely check the rule book, as there are detailed instructions and a registration fee.  Whether you are competing in an official contest or not, creating a Rube Goldberg machine can be a great way to incorporate many curriculum-related skills, as well as the 4 C’s (critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity).

Larry Ferlazzo has a page dedicated to Rube Goldberg resources that you should definitely take a look at if you decide to embark on this adventure!

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Screenshot from Rube Goldberg Contest Task Announcement 2018

How to Raise a Brave Girl

In today’s headlines we hear regularly about females who have been mistreated, harassed, and abused.  Yesterday’s post suggested that part of the blame for this is the lack of strong female role models in our media.  Yet, this is obviously a complex and systemic issue that must be addressed on many different fronts.  So, I’m just going to admit that I’m the one to blame.

Those times I chose a boy instead of a girl to go pick up thepackage from the office because I assumed he was stronger.  That time I told my daughter we needed to wait until her father came home so he could fix the faucet.  The many times I told that same daughter to be careful, stay close to me, and to hug relatives she had never met.  In all of those occasions, I have unwittingly strengthened gender stereotypes.  Women are weak and incapable.  Women should be polite – even in uncomfortable situations.  Women should take less risks.

I am a person who enjoys self-reflection.  So, when I view a TED talk like Caroline Paul’s, I am ready to examine my own actions and to grudgingly accept that I have made a lot of mistakes.  My actions have contradicted my own beliefs, contributing to prejudices that I despise.

If you are a parent, teacher, or anyone who is a role model for children, I urge you to listen to Caroline Paul’s recommendations for teaching girls to be brave.  I think it’s excellent advice for us to use with all children.

For more ideas on this topic, check out this post about our “bravery deficit.”

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Blogcation 2017!

I will be on vacation this week.  Posts will resume on July 17th!

What Exactly Do We Mean by Safe?

9/11/01 was a Tuesday.  That year, I met with my 5th grade class of gifted students every Tuesday.  We had just begun reading the The Giver, by Lois Lowry, when another teacher beckoned me to the door and whispered to me about a plane that had crashed into one of the Twin Towers. Even then, as sadness overwhelmed me, I had no inclination of the far-reaching consequences of that day’s events.

At the beginning of The Giver, the fictional community is surprised by the sound of an unexpected plane flying overhead.  The inhabitants, unused to surprises, are fearful – until they are assured by a disembodied voice over the village loudspeakers that the matter has been dealt with and, “Needless to say, the pilot has been released.”

Readers do not find out until later that “released” is a euphemism for extermination.

As I walked our dog through our neighborhood the evening of 9/11, the eerie silence of the skies overhead in my own community near the airport chilled me to the bone.  Many people had been “released” that day in a way most of us could never have imagined.  Everyone I knew felt bereft, confused, and deeply frightened. I thought about the dystopian world of The Giver, where everything was safe but there was no freedom or emotion.

“This is how it begins,” I thought.  Fear.

When I ask my students how such a community as the one in The Giver, where people cannot even choose their own spouses, could ever come to be acceptable, they are often surprised by this question.  Because this is a fictional story, a fictional world.  It came to be because an author imagined it, and for no other reason.  It is incomprehensible to them that anyone could accept such an existence without rebellion in the real world.

We have a lot of discussions about freedom and safety and the barely perceptible line that separates the two.  I explain to my students some of the events of World War II – how hate and fear caused so much suffering around the world.  Those who haven’t heard of concentration camps are stunned – and many of the students are even more surprised to hear that we had Japanese internment camps in our own country.  In hindsight, it seems so unbelievable that the United States, defender of human rights, could also be guilty of stripping away those rights.

In Lois Lowry’s Newbery award speech for The Giver, she describes one of the many events that contributed to her story.  She was with her daughter, and had just heard a news story about a mass killing, and asks her to be quiet so she can hear the details.

“Then I relax. I say to her, in a relieved voice, ‘It’s all right. It was in Oklahoma.’ ( Or perhaps it was Alabama. Or Indiana.) She stares at me in amazement that I have said such a hideous thing. How comfortable I made myself feel for a moment, by reducing my own realm of caring to my own familiar neighborhood. How safe I deluded myself into feeling.”

I have not felt safe since 9/11.  It is not the terrorists who make my stomach knot. It has been the slow erosion of freedom that has become our new normal as we desperately attempt to avoid ever experiencing that horror again.  Every year, as I read The Giver with a new class of 5th graders, I consider how much closer we are to becoming the willing inhabitants of a community like the one in The Giver – safe from terrorists and natural disasters, safe from starvation, and safe from uncomfortable emotions.

No, the people who live in that community have no need to fear any of those things.  Their only threat is the one they don’t see – the people who lead them.  Those leaders – who protect them so rigorously from the menaces that lurk within a free society – will not hesitate to eliminate within their community anyone who might disturb this environment of safe predictability.  By ruthlessly removing anyone weak or different, they are able to maintain equilibrium.

In The Giver, the protagonist, Jonas, has to make the decision to leave the community in order to save it.  His best friend must remain behind to help the community to help it deal with the consequences of Jonas leaving.  But Jonas wants his friend to leave with him, and blurts out that he shouldn’t care about the community.  He immediately regrets his outburst.

“Of course they needed to care. It was the meaning of everything.”

And so, in this post I want to say that I care.  I care deeply about all humans and their rights, not just the ones who look like me or think like me or live near me.  There are evil people in this world who I fear, but I refuse to believe we must combat them by hurting millions of innocent people ourselves.  I care about the refugees fleeing desperate situations, the men and women whose live are in danger because they allied with our government in foreign countries, and the people who come here for an education so they can return to their countries and make them a better place.  It is wrong and cowardly of our country to turn them away because of fear.  I refuse to remain silent about policies based on prejudice and bigotry.

I am an educator.  In my classroom, it is my duty to remain neutral about politics.  But I refuse to be neutral about human rights. I spend much of the time teaching my students about our global community and the importance of embracing different cultures, and I decline to be a hypocrite.

If you believe that policies that discriminate and punish people of certain races or religious beliefs will keep our country safer, you are wrong.  Instead, we will lose allies and generate more hatred  – endangering us even further.

“I liked the feeling of love,” Jonas confessed. He glanced nervously at the speaker on the wall, reassuring himself that no one was listening. “I wish we still had that,” he whispered. “Of course,” he added quickly, “I do understand that it wouldn’t work very well. And that it’s much better to be organized the way we are now. I can see that it was a dangerous way to live.”

Personally, I think it’s far more dangerous to live without it.

Love Trumps Hate
image from Stephen Melkisethian on Flickr