Flag Day, Vexillology, and You

Did you celebrate Flag Day when you attended school? Perhaps classes gathered at a special assembly, or around the flagpole outside.  The program was short and centered on patriotic songs and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, often led by a scout or a local official.

Flag Day rarely requires an elaborate celebration and it is more powerful, I think, because of its simple sentiment: we remain loyal to our country, symbolized by its flag. The youngest of us understand this, too, especially when they see older children carrying out a Flag Day ceremony.

One person who collects United States flags and knows a lot of their history is John Andringa of North Carolina. Watch this short video with children and see what you learn from this vexillophile!




After Memorial Day

Memorial Day has its roots in the years following the Civil War. In the nineteenth century, on Decoration Day*, people honored their loved ones who died serving our country in war, by decorating their graves. In 1971, it was designated Memorial Day, a federal holiday.

Sarah Orne Jewett, author of short story "Decoration Day" (1892).
Sarah Orne Jewett, author of short story “Decoration Day” (1892).

I prefer the old name, though, because it conveys so much more. While some still decorate graves on Memorial Day, it has the feel of a day that is celebrated at-arm’s-length, like something that we watch on TV. That lulls us into forgetting that death—and great suffering—is part of war.

Perhaps you remember the controversial, reauthorized ban by President George W. Bush, on the media publishing photographs of our returning dead from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I believe that when we see the awful results of war conveyed by flag-draped coffins, we cannot hide from our responsibility to make peace.

What’s a parent or teacher to do with that huge agenda? After Memorial Day, teach toward peace. Teach children to write letters to representatives, senators,to the secretary of defense, and to the president, and express their opinions. Hang your American flag every day.

Photo by K.Nollet, 2015
Photo by K.Nollet, 2015

Most importantly, teach children how to make peace with neighbors, friends, and family, and then set the example.  Our world has never needed this practice more than it does today.

*Click here to read “Decoration Day” by Sarah Orne Jewett

Buried Treasure: X Marks the Spot

Before students write a story, ask them to draw an illustrated map.  Visualizing, creating, drawing, painting, coloring, and discussing a map stimulates the imagination in ways that words sometimes cannot.

It worked for Robert Louis Stevenson (1854-1894), who spent a rainy day with his son drawing this map, which inspired his masterpiece Treasure Island:

This marvelous text in Treasure Island came to Stevenson after he drew the map:

“The paper had been sealed in several places with a thimble…The doctor opened the seals with great care, and there fell out the map of an island…shaped…like a fat dragon standing up…three crosses of red ink…”Bulk of treasure here  (Stevenson,  p.47).



Stevenson, R.L., (1911). Treasure Island. Illustrations by N.C. Wyeth. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. (Original work published 1883).

Source for map:

Source for text: OpenLibrary.org: https://archive.org/stream/treasureisland00stev#page/46/mode/2up


Our Boston Marathon

Our Boston Marathon is a glorious celebration every Patriot’s Day in Massachusetts.

Four time Boston  winner and famed American runner  Bill Rodgers (K. Nollet, 2014)
Four time Boston winner and famed American runner Bill Rodgers (K. Nollet, 2014)

Although I’m not a runner, the Boston Marathon has always been a rite of spring. In childhood, my father and I watched runners on Rt. 135, across the street from Tasty Treat in Ashland. I played the national anthem at the start as a member of the Hopkinton High School marching band. My family has hosted runners. Last year my father, a 90-year-old World War II vet, was honored at the starting line.

The Boston Marathon offers a spectacular teaching and learning opportunity for every teacher. You can practically invent a unit on the spot, both high interest and Common Core compliant.

The Boston Marathon includes every runner. (K.Nollet, 2014)
The Boston Marathon includes every runner. (K.Nollet, 2014)

Length, time, world and course records are just the beginning of the mathematics embedded in it. Runners’ compelling stories make excellent writing topics; an entire section of The Boston Globe pulls a unit together with reading articles, graphs, maps, and charts.

Runners arrive from all over the world, an excellent geography lesson. The Marathon’s history is rich in tradition, both Olympic and Boston. However, when we teach history to students, the darker stories are part of an honest picture.

What makes people cheat? In 1980, Rosie Ruiz  jumped in near the finish and was initially claimed the winner.

Why were women excluded from Boston Marathon until 1972? Jock Semple tried to physically push Katherine Switzer out of the race.

Elite runners have a separate start. (K. Nollet, 2014)
Elite runners have a separate start. (K. Nollet, 2014)

Why did the Tsarnaev brothers plant two bombs that killed 3 and injured over 260? This event still feels acutely fresh to us Bostonians, who have been watching the current trial.

A moment of silence occurs at 2:49 p.m. today, “One Boston Day,” observing the second anniversary of that event.

On Globes: Get The Whole World in Their Hands

When held in the hands of a student, globes are terrific teaching tools. That’s because globes are meant to be touched, turned, examined, read, and best of all, played with.IMG_3666

If you gave a student a globe to hold for fifteen minutes and asked him to write a list of ten new things he learned about the globe while playing with it, he’d learn more than you ever dreamed.

That’s why if I were in charge of high school graduation, I’d give out diplomas in exchange for a student-made globe. Here’s why.

IMG_3667When I taught at a community college, I discovered a huge gap in my students’ knowledge. In the middle of a discussion about Jean Piaget (the Swiss developmental psychologist about whom every teacher learns) a hand went up and a student asked, “Where is Switzerland?”

“Who can find it?” I asked, pointing to a globe.  No one could. The closest anyone came was Norway.

Upon further questioning, I discovered it’s not that my students had forgotten where Switzerland was, it was that they’d never learned.

There was no way I could let my students, on my watch, go on with this scary lack of knowledge. Their final exam that semester included a world map:

Label the 7 continents, the 5 oceans, North Pole, South Pole, Arctic Circle, Antarctic Circle, Tropic of Cancer, Equator, and the Tropic of Capricorn

Try this with anyone in middle school on up.IMG_3669 Grab an orange and a black marker. Ask them to draw the continents on the orange as if it were the globe and label as much as possible from the list above.

Each of us is responsible for making sure that every student understands fundamental knowledge. Whether you’re a mechanic, a physical education teacher, or a retiree, the world is in your hands.


Bicycle Emancipation

susan b anthony

“I think bicycling has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world…Women feel freedom and self-reliance…the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.”

Susan B. Anthony spoke these words to famed journalist Nellie Bly in 1896.  She added she was delighted whenever she saw women bicycling.

More than horses ever could, bicycles gave women the freedom to go where they wanted, when they wanted.  Changes in women’s clothing took place, too.Bloomers Out with layers of starched petticoats and confinement by laced-up corsets, which damaged women’s anatomy.  In with shorter skirts, looser undergarments, bloomers, and culottes.

How are you helping to emancipate your daughters today?  Moms and Dads have an equal responsibility to open the world to women of all ages.  Even if your corner of the world seems equal, it really won’t be until women make more than $.77 cents for every $1.00 men make.

As an interesting side note, Susan B Anthony was the first woman whose image was struck on a circulating coin:  the $1.00 coin.


Women at 3%? Amelia Boynton Robinson

Amelia Boynton Robinson did not make it into Time’s 2013 list of the most significant people in history.

You saw an image of Amelia Boynton Robinson, aged 103, in the recent coverage of the 50th anniversary of the civil rights march in Selma, Alabama. Now using a wheelchair, she wore blue and held President Obama’s left hand:

The photo of Mrs. Boynton Robinson beaten unconscious, with a blast of tear gas shoved down her throat, sent a shock wave around our nation–and the world– in 1965.

Teachers and families, watch this interview of Amelia. Boynton Robinson and talk about it with your students.

 Everyone must know the contributions of this valiant woman.

We must do nothing less as partners in education and democracy.

Women in History at Three Percent

In December, 2013, Time published a list of the 100 most significant figures in history. Number one is Jesus, number thirty-six is George W. Bush, and number 100 is John Locke.

And the women? Only three names place among the hundred.6iyXjaBin Number 13 is Elizabeth I. Queen Victoria ranks 16. Joan of Arc comes in at 95. No American women made this list, which the authors (two men) acknowledge is primarily white and Eurocentric.

At school and home, are we doing any better than 3%? Are we ensuring that our girls and boys learn about the significance of Elizabeth Blackwell, Frances Perkins, Marian Anderson, Maya Lin, Sally Ride, and Sonja Sotomayor (and these are just from the last one hundred seventy years)? We can’t ignore half of humanity any longer.

Change begins by noticing even the smallest things and then collecting data, so here’s a challenge to try throughout March. Count the number of male and female pictures you see on the front page of the daily newspaper. At the end of the week (or month), look at your results.

Do your results reflect your beliefs about the world in which you hope your students will thrive?

Or do you see that the world needs your help? If so, how will you effect change?

A Letter, Victory, and Peace

Peg’s arm reached into the mailbox and pulled out this letter.


The return address reads:

Headquarters                                                                                                          Far East Air Forces                                                                                                  Office of the Commanding General

Her 21-year-old son Morgan was in the U.S. Army Air Corps and was not allowed to reveal his location. The letter could only mean that he had been killed. In the image above, you can see that Peg tore it open.

“November 20, 1945

“Dear Mrs. Molloy:

“Recently your son, Staff Sergeant Morgan P. Molloy, was decorated with the   Air Medal…[for] courageous service…meritorious achievement…hostile contact…combat operations…bombing missions.

“His has been a very real contribution to victory and peace.

“How proud I am to have your son in my command…young Americans of such courage and resourcefulness…the deciding factor in our country’s overwhelming victory…

“You, Mrs. Molloy, have every reason to share that pride and gratification.”

George C. Kenney                                                                                                                  General, United States Army                                                                                  Commanding

Fifty years later, my mother took it out of his drawer, framed it and hung it on the family room wall.  I asked my father, now 90, if he felt courageous as a B-25 tail gunner, especially during the ferocious Battle of Okinawa.

[Before every mission] I was scared. But you did what you were told, no matter what. Maybe you felt courage afterwards.

Courage and resourcefulness in the face of danger or death.  In this way, my father and other  war veterans have made “a very real contribution to victory and peace.”  That’s why we  celebrate Veteran’s Day–for the gifts of victory and peace.

Talk with your children about how to honor our veterans in 2014.

Why We Can Vote

It was parade of about eight thousand marchers. Onlookers, several hundred thousand of them, jammed the sidewalks.

Soon the marchers were mobbed, shoved, tripped, beaten, even burned by cigars by some onlookers. Police refused to interfere. Army troops were summoned to help. Hundreds of marchers were injured. One hundred of them ended up in the hospital.

Could you tolerate this treatment in order to vote?

The marchers, who were suffragettes, did. This 1913 parade in Washington, D.C. was another event in the fight for women’s right to vote. They won the fight in 1920, after over sixty years of struggle.

On Election Day this year, please exercise your right to vote. Teachers, parents, and grandparents, tell your children why you vote and why voting is important.

Our foremothers and forefathers fought long and hard so we could do so.