Category Archives: Interdiscipinary learning

A Robin in the Wreath

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According to AllAboutBirds.org, only 40% of nests successfully produce young.

Sometimes, you just have to take a breath and look at the world. Or, out your front door and onto a wreath, where a robin built a perfect nest.

For at least the last three weeks, I’ve been hosting a new family of robins.  It was pure magic to see the mother twist the last pieces of grass in place.  When she sat, I began a log.  After she laid her fourth and final egg, I began counting the days.  On day 12, the eggs hatched.

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Now we are two.

Along the way, I invited my friend, Eric, over for a look. As his father lifted him up, Eric looked at the eggs and said, “Wooooowww!” as only a four-year-old can.

Every guest or family member who visited expressed the same wonder.

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The quartet, eyes still closed.

No one rushed to Google “robin” on their phones. Instead, there were conversations about the nest, the occupants, their growth, the male and female robins. Our front porch became off limits to the usual foot traffic. Even the drop-off dry cleaning man got into the spirit, and suggested another place to hang his deliveries.

Looking like teenagers--a little gawky, very hungry, here and there a flap of the wings.

Looking like teenagers–a little gawky, very hungry, here and there a flap of the wings.

It’s learning opportunities like this one for which we parents need to keep watch. Teaching kids of all ages to respond to the natural world is extra special when a parent models that behavior. Also, learning at home never requires a workbook.  Birds’ nests are wonderful parent resources for wonder and curiosity.

Finally, I’m reminded that some of our youngest children are never afraid of wondering. To quote four-year-old Eric, “Wooooowww!

 

 

The Art of Tinkering Teaches Thinking

It’s Saturday morning and you have a list of chores to complete.  One of them is to fix part of the backyard fence.  The wear of winter snow tore away some lengths of  wire from the wooden posts, which are somewhat rotted.VG.Blue.Fence

Your child tags along.  You talk to her out loud as you poke around in your workbench drawers.  Which would work best, nails or staples?  Should you try one first? Staple gun or hammer? Bungee cords? A tape measure? A shovel or not? A wheelbarrow? When your work apron and hers are full of supplies, out you go to fix the fence.

This scenario is the beginning of learning to tinker, to fix, to mess around, to try out an idea and then adapt it until it works.  It’s the foundation of problem solving and visualizing and talking back and forth about what might work and why.

When children use real tools to solve real problems, it creates an opportunity for a parent to help show that tinkering around is real life problem solving.  Find ways to involve your child in tinkering.  You’ll be well on your way to building a good, solid, parent and child bond.

 

 

What Does Leap Year Mean to You?

If you have a February 29 birthday, it probably means you have a celebration planned for Leap Year Day. Or, like Amy Adams in the movie Leap Year, you might be following an Irish tradition of proposing marriage to your boyfriend.

As you continue reading, listen to “A Leap Year Promise,”  by Randy Edelman. 

Your family can create a celebration, too.  Brainstorm ideas together about each family member’s life four years from now. This kind of thinking helps children to invent, imagine, wonder, and create—all top thinking skills.

Next, gather paper, envelopes, and writing materials. Have everyone write letters to themselves, to be opened on the next Leap Year Day.

Finally, seal the letters in envelopes and put them away, to be opened on February 29, 2020.

There you go: a new and fun family tradition!

Use What Talents You Possess

…The woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best.”

I love this quote, attributed to Henry van Dyke (1852-1933). It encourages us to grow our talents and share them with the world. It’s also the way we encourage students to aim high, practice, and try even harder. It’s only then that we help them uncover new abilities, whether they are gifted and talented or not.

Think about this when you work with students in school today, and listen to The Four Seasons by Antonio Vivaldi (1723). It’s recognizable to almost all and is full of energy of imagination.

Grandparents and Kellogg’s Corn Flakes

Your two granddaughters come to visit while their mother copes with a new baby. Every morning, you pour mountainous bowls of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes for each one before they come downstairs.

Did you know Kellogg's Corn Flakes has been around for over 100 years? (K.Nollet, 2015)

Did you know Kellogg’s Corn Flakes has been around for over 100 years? (K.Nollet, 2015)

You set out spoons and the yellow milk pitcher. You have firm ideas about the propriety of leaving the cereal box on the table, so you put it back in the cabinet.

Years ago, I was one of those little girls and severely disappointed.  Why?

Because I’d been deprived of one of life’s pleasures–reading the cereal box while eating.

Have you noticed how we all read cereal boxes over and over? It’s entertainment and learning, something today’s grandparents love to provide.

Lots of preschoolers can read plenty on the box because they recognize the logo, colors, shapes, and easy words. Older grandchild will notice the kayaking and Kellogg’s free cruise contest. Why not help them enter?

Do your grandkids know Corny the rooster? (K.Nollet, 2015)

Do your grandkids know Corny the rooster? (K.Nollet, 2015)

The nutrition information alone is full of math and science possibilities—percentages, measurement, minerals, vitamins—and you can practice Spanish and English at the same time.

On the back of the box, there’s a message just for you. “Discover the possibilities” the next time you serve a bowl of corn flakes.

Pluto: A Girl, A Grandfather, and A Teacher

Eighty-five years ago, 11-year-old Venetia Burney sat at breakfast with her grandfather, who was a university librarian at Oxford.VenetiaBurney
He talked to her about the latest exciting news story, that a new planet had been discovered. A suitable name hadn’t yet been found, he pointed out.

Venetia’s teacher had taught her students that the other planets were named for Greek and Roman gods and goddesses. The teacher had taken the students outdoors on a “nature walk” to make a model of the solar system. Clumps of dirt were placed apart to show the planets’ relative distance from the sun.

PlutoWhen Venetia’s grandfather asked her what she’d name the new planet, she replied, “Pluto,” the Roman god of the mythological, dark underworld.

Impressed, he relayed this suggestion to an astronomer friend, who brought the name “Pluto” to his colleagues, who voted in favor of it.

[Listen to a 2006 interview with Venetia here.]

Venetia’s grandfather rewarded her with £5 and wrote a note to her teacher, recognizing the “capable and enlightened” instruction and the value of the “nature walk…[where she learned about the] gloom of distance.”

What does this story teach us? First, when grandparents talk with their grandchildren about current events, it matters. Conversation knits generations together and helps children learn to think.

Second, when students learn interdisciplinary topics like mythology and science, they put together their learning in wonderful ways we cannot predict.milkyway

Third, when a grandparent writes a letter of thanks to a teacher, it is not only recognition, but also a gracious act of goodwill and appreciation.

 

 

 

 

Credits:

https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/newhorizons/main/index.html

http://mentalfloss.com/article/48673/venetia-burney-11-year-old-girl-who-named-pluto

http://facts.randomhistory.com/pluto-facts.html

http://nineplanets.org/news/an-interview-with-venetia-burney-phair/

 

Do Pets School at Work, or Work at School?

To mark Take Your Dog to Work Day (June 26), I offer this piece from 2010, published at Lesley University as “The Magic of Mario and G Force.” Learn what a difference pets make in the classroom.

It’s a steamy spring afternoon in a city school. Twenty-six hot first graders in navy polo shirts plop onto the rug to hear their teacher read a story.Brown and white guinea pigs Afterward, she asks her students to write a journal response from the perspective of hamsters Mario and G-Force, the class pets.

Then the magic of this lesson unfolds. As students drift to different areas of the room to write, many of them choose to sit in the camp chairs arranged around the large hamster cage. It has tall rolling legs, bringing it right up to student level—perfect! This means Mario and G-Force participate as full members of the class, offering viewpoints from all 4 sides as they nibble, groom, and snuffle around.girl writing

Students who gather around Mario’s and G-Force’s cage sit as easily in their camp chairs as if they were adults sitting around a campfire, except they have journals in their laps. Voices drop to a murmur as students read Mario’s perspective aloud to themselves or review G-Force’s opinion with a partner.

Where is the teacher during this half hour of student writing? Not at her desk, which is practically invisible. She’s working one-on-one with two or three students as the rest of the class handles the writing on their own.

And their writing is terrific! Children show me some of their journal responses and I see spirited and imaginative writing, wonderful vocabulary, and students who love to write. Mario-G-Force-and-camp-chairs-as-writing-center is a blueprint for success if ever there was one.red guinea pig

For first graders only, you say? Not by a long shot. I’ve been in secondary classrooms with pets and comfortable chairs and they are the kinder, gentler places our adolescents need to support their growth and development.

Try some Mario and G-Force in your classroom. The results won’t disappoint.

Common Core Plus S’mores

Our daily conversations are full of fractions and estimation:

I’m half way there…The project is 75% complete…About a quarter of a piece

What fraction best represents this slice?

What fraction best represents this slice?

That’s why it’s important to thread these skills into teaching whenever possible. And since this Friday, May 15, is National Pizza Party Day, pull out all the stops!

Remember math worksheets with pictures of pizza showing how     ¼ + ¼ = ½ ? Without a visual, it’s hard for some students to understand that when they add fractions, the piece gets bigger but the denominators get smaller.

Guy Fiori's S'mores Pizza.  Photo by Yunhee Kim, Food Network Magazine

Guy Fiori’s S’mores Pizza. (Photo by Yunhee Kim, Food Network Magazine)

This isn’t just for young children, either. I’ve known many students who needed the help of visuals and manipulatives right into high school. Providing these aids is not babyish, nor is it some kind of crutch, nor should it be shaming. Knowing that you need tools to help solve a problem is smart.

When you have a pizza party math lesson, it’s an interdisciplinary feast! Allow students to make the dough and choose their own combinations and amounts of toppings.

Will you use 1/2 of the bag? (Photo by K.Nollet, 2015)

Will you use 1/2 of the bag?
(Photo by K.Nollet, 2015)

Next, students write out the recipe using fractions and demonstrate making their pizza, explaining their math along the way. You might even have a taste testing to choose the most delicious variations.

Sprinkle about 1/8 of a bag on each slice.  (Photo by K.Nollet, 2015)

Sprinkle about 1/8 of a bag on each slice. (Photo by K.Nollet, 2015)

There you have it.  Common Core math and English language arts, plus a built-in assessment.

From Zymurgy to Zyzzyvas

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Photo by K.Nollet, 2015

Are you a dictionary lover? If so, you enjoy holding the book in your hands while browsing through its pages. You relish the distraction of looking up a word, because you see lots of other cool words along the way.

I never mind when students do that; in fact, I encourage it.  At their age, I’d visit my grandmother’s and tuck away in a corner with her 1937 version of Merriam’s Collegiate Dictionary, Fifth Edition. It was an adventure and I loved the last word in it, zymurgy (p. 1174):

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Photo by K.Nollet, 2015

 

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Image from unvegan.com

Today I click on Merriam Webster online and get to the point without distractions, a real loss. Also, I need to know the word for which I’m searching, which takes the fun out of it. The last word in today’s unabridged version (you pay for it) is zyzzyvas, a genus of South American weevils. Notice the amazing snout of one in the photo.

There’s value in having physical dictionaries in classrooms and homes.  It’s not just about finding the word.  It’s about the pleasure of finding a word that’s your very own discovery, as you hold a book in your hands.

 

 

 

 

 

Image:  http://unvegan.com/reviews/a-nightcap-at-smokes-poutinerie/

 

An Education Spring “Why Not?”

Your students take forever to settle down and start the Do Now. Or you wish there was something new to add to that unit on European history. Maybe there’s a certain dullness today that needs a spark.

Try an Education Spring Why Not?—a semi-serendipitous drop of shine in your students’ day. They learn something new. It activates energy. And you all have fun.

Here’s Francois Couperin’s (1688-1733) Le Tic-Toc-Choc ou les Maillotins, a three minute piece of joy: