Friday, November 30, 2012

An Old Tradition with a Local Twist

Instead of the traditional gingerbread house we create log cabins, complete with sod roofs (frosted mini wheats), and outhouses! I've been doing this for years in my classroom and with my family, thanks to the idea from a great teacher and mentor. It is a great way to celebrate community. In the classroom, right after Thanksgiving,  I would send out a letter asking for parents to donate the materials and to save the date. Parents were invited in to come in and build these with us. In the past we've invited our buddy class and their families or we've extended a welcome to one of the special education classes and their families. We'd always have Charlie Brown Christmas music playing softly in the background and cocoa. Now that my oldest is almost 4, we've begun the tradition at home. My mom and niece recently visited us, from Rhode Island, for the week of Turkey Day. This is what we created.

List of Materials:
  • Rod Pretzels
  • Frosting - we found an egg free royal icing recipe off the web - basically confectionery sugar, water & cream of tartar.
  • Graham crackers
  • Frosted Mini-wheats
  • Writing Icing
  • Cardboard wrapped w/ tin foil
  • Assorted candies and cake decorations
  • Small milk carton - used to provide interior structure for the cabin
Content Areas: Science - Structures, Social Studies - dwellings, Art - architecture, design, Literacy - so many great books to tie this in with at all reading levels from Call of the Wild to the Cabin that Moose Built.

Live outside of Alaska? How could you put a local twist on the gingerbread house tradition? We discussed what a Rhode Island version would look like with our guests. We thought the shape of the house would be the traditional Cape, with things like a lobster pot in the yard.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sunday Morning Science

A few plastic links borrowed from the baby, some twine, a loft and a pair of boots provided today's science experiment.

This is a snippet of our experiments with pulley systems today. My husband and son experimented with creating different pulleys, measuring the ratio between the amount of string it takes to pull a pair of boots and some other items 1 foot, discussing and playing with the weight to string(s) ratio.

Content Areas & Standards:
      Science - simple machines, physics, leverage, scientific process
      Math - measurement, ratios
      Language Arts - vocabulary

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Tree Journals and ONE place

The turn around point on my regular running trail in Kodiak.
When I had my 3rd and 4th grade multi-age classroom in Fairbanks. I was in teacher paradise. I was in a Title 1 school, but was given a lot of freedom and autonomy to do what I felt best for my students. Part of that was an amazing administrator who knew I had a different situation teaching two grades, but also one who believed in multi-age and allowed me to make the decisions I needed to to make it truly work. I learned so much about my students having them for two years. I came to understand the breadth of the learning process. I also was challenged with creating new projects and approaches. You can not get in a rut when you teach multi-age like you can with a straight grade. Things have to be new and fresh each year because a large portion of your class you had the year before. One thing you can do is take a format that the kids know from one year and apply it to the next to allow them comfort and the ability to go deeper with their curiosity and study.

The first year I had my multi-age we did Moon Journals. The second year, the plant life cycle was part of our curriculum. We did Tree Journals. Students adopted a tree and observed it over the course of  the school year. They drew about it, wrote about their observations, documented what they learned about trees and plants in general. One of my favorite things that came out of the year long study of trees was "Tree Movies." We had great big beautiful windows in our classroom that looked out to the trees lining the Noyes Slough that ran by the school. When students noticed the trees dancing in the wind, or the alpenglow on the frost of the trees at sunrise (late morning in the winter in Fairbanks) they would ask me to shut of the lights and we would quietly watch the "Tree Movie." A wonderful break in our busy routine and a communal experience of appreciation for the beauty of nature, remembering there was more to life than what remained inside the four walls of the classroom or the math problem in the workbook.

Study one tree, one place or one trail is important. We live in a culture where conquering is so important. Even people who spend much of their lives outdoors like to have conquests in the form of Peak Bagging or seeing as much of the world as they can. This is important, but just as important is getting to know one place well. My husband thinks it's funny that I like to run the same trail all the time. The only change is adding distance. I do this for many reasons... running the same course I know my body better and how much faster I can go, how much more I can push myself each time, but also I love noticing the weather patterns by seeing the sky from the same place over and over. I love seeing the same trail at different times of the day and noticing the subtle changes of the season from run to run. I enjoy walking the same trail and seeing things I totally missed when running by. I've known many places in my life by the trails I frequented. I mark milestones in my life by the way those trails looked as I traveled down them, processing the information from the day. One of the important things we owe our children is how to relate to spaces. Giving them the opportunity to get to know them intimately, deeply with out pushing them to keep moving on. At the same time we need to let them find that space. Plopping them down and telling them to love a place won't work. They need to choose the tree, trail, land, and..... decide when to move on... if they need to.

I think of a man I heard about once who climbs Mt. Monadnock in Southern New Hampshire every day for years. I wonder how much he understands about the world because he understands that one place. How much he has seen the landscape change and remain the same. Here's an article from Yankee Magazine about him.

Much of the angst in my life has been leaving places I've come to know well and some of my greatest joys have been finding new ones.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

On the Road Again

Alaska Highway - scale of the immensity & extremes the builders of this road had to face
Recently the newspaper the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner did a story on the celebration of the 70th birthday of the Alaska Highway. Our last post was about road tripping and had my gears greased about how many direction you could go with a road theme. Here's a few more to add to the list...
How was the road system started where you live? 
Did it follow old dog mushing trails, old native hunting trails? 
How was it built? 
Who built it? 
Was there controversy over putting some roads in your community in?  
Comparing road systems is also interesting - do the roads follow the contour of the land or are they in a rigid grid formation? 
The history of trails and roads is actually quite fascinating and will prove to teach a lot of concepts from history, physics to economics, and in an integrated way!
In preparation for our next trip I came across this great little find. We'll be exploring the art of navigation further with our 3 year old as we make our way around Florida doing the great-grandparent tour with the new baby. He's already has a great functioning knowledge... it helps that his dad has a degree in geography and cartography!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Road Trips & Summer's End

As summer dwindles down and you're trying to squeeze in that last road trip before the buses start rolling, there are some great lessons to learn that only being in the backseat of the family's vehicle can provide.

Content Areas:
  • Geography - employ your child as the navigator... or at least the assistant navigator, involve and engage them with the map
  • Science - meteorology - notice the weather in your different locations. Is that weather typical for that region? Why?
  • Economy - stop by the local Chamber of Commerce in each town you visit. Discus what drives the economy in each area - coal? fishing? corn? car manufacturing?
  • Writing - have your child keep a journal during the travel. If you have small children model the journal process for them - or let them dictate what they want to record and remember from the adventure.
  • Literacy - collect books based or written by authors from the area you are visiting. Complement your Local Library with a Travel Library. This is a great way to connect learners with books and deepen their comprehension. These books are favorite bed time stories and are a great way to spark fond memories and conversations.
  • Math - figure out your average travel stats... how many miles are you driving or hiking or biking a day? What's your average speed.
  • Astronomy - one of my favorite games as a child was to pick a celestial landmark on our car rides at night and try to follow it with my eyes for as long as I could. Have a discussion about why the stars move.
  • Art - have your child document the trip with drawings or photography

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Centers at the Beach

Whether you are a homeschooling parent or a classroom teacher, centers are something you are probably familiar with. At home or in the classroom you might already set up stations for your children to rotate through. Typically stations are hands on activities that are short and sweet ways to allow your learners to experience a concept in a tactile way. Centers or stations also typically follow a theme. Today at the beach I noticed a whole gamut of mini lessons and examples of fundamental earth science principals. Our motto "Teach Locally, Learn Globally" exemplifies the broader microcosm, macrocosm relationship. The beach at low tide provides a mecca of microcosms to study to gain knowledge of bigger happenings in the world.

Tide Pools: 

Let's start with tide pools, they are a very simple contained ecosystem at low tide, that at high tide become part of the larger ecosystem - the cove, or even broader, the ocean. Studying a tide pool is like putting a microscope on the bigger happenings of the ocean. Focusing on how each of the organisms interact with one another illustrates how concepts such as food chains, symbiotic and parasitic relationships work.

River Formation:

Looking to runoff on beaches or even after a storm on the side of the road one can see the life story of a river. What takes thousands of years can happen in hours, even minutes. Learners can watch streams of rainwater begin to meander and braid themselves. Watching what glacier melt has taken so long to do and which can only be seen from an airplane on the larger scale. Simply taking bucket of water and releasing at the top of the beach allowing the water to head downhill toward the ocean can usually reenact the phenomena. Taking a video camera and creating a movie back at home or school would be a great way to integrate media into the lesson, by creating a documentary about the life cycle of a river.

A braided river from the air.

Rain run off on the beach

While at the beach for the day take measurements of the waterline to determine how much the tide changes. This is easier to mention when the tide is receding than when it is coming in because you can make lines in the sand that don't get washed away. Have the students use a tide chart before hand to figure out when the best day for the field trip should be.


Some of the materials you may need for a day of centers at the beach are:
  • tide chart
  • field journals to record data/observations, draw diagrams and take notes etc...
  • color pencils to sketch observations 
  • measuring tape for measuring tide change
  • buckets & scoops to collect specimens and samples
  • magnifying glasses
  • portable microscopes if available or you can take samples back home or to school
  • marine life field guides for identifying species 
  • camera with video
  • clip boards 
  • towels

What other activities or centers could you do during a field trip to the beach?

Monday, August 6, 2012

Cut Flowers

I found this gem of a quote by J.W. Gardner recently

Much education today is monumentally ineffective. All too often we are giving young people cut flowers when we should be teaching them to grow their own plants.

According to Wikipedia - John William Gardner, (October 8, 1912–February 16, 2002) was Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare under President Lyndon Johnson. Many of his quotes and writings I've discovered are very much in accordance with Dewey and the fundamental beliefs of place-based education. I wonder what he would think of No Child Left Behind? His passing came as it was just really starting to take root and begin to transform the nations schools into what they have become today.

Salmonberries - Field Notes from Kodiak

My family and I have been thoroughly enjoying our extended stay in Kodiak this summer! We've explored mountains, beaches, rivers and the ocean. I was worried about not being able to go berry picking this year in my favorite spot back home outside of Anchorage. Kodiak has proved to be even better! I may not be able to move back!

My favorite part of the year is always berry picking season! It's in my blood, literally. My father is half Finnish, making me a quarter and the Finns are avid berry pickers as their climate is very similar to Alaska. Even those who immigrated to the US, kept up this tradition. My great grandmother owned a blueberry farm in southern New Hampshire. My grandfather made sure to have a bounty of blueberry bushes on his own property. My dad grew up picking berries at my Great Grandma Liimatainen's farm.

Alaska is a land where people take the utmost pride in their ability to subsist of the land. So be careful when you ask someone where their favorite blueberry spot is... they may lead you astray. Like favorite hunting grounds and fishing holes, we guard our berry picking spots with great secrecy, only to be shared with family or close friends.

My little forager.
This year was a new first for me in my long line of years picking the wild fruit... Salmonberries! What is a salmonberry you might ask. Well it is a beefed up close relative to the raspberry. The leaves and stems are very reminiscent of the raspberry, but the flower is big and bright pink. You can take the flower off the stem and suck the sweet fragrant nectar from it, much like you would with honeysuckle. The berries themselves are again much like the raspberry, with the same fruit structure, but much larger. They change in color from green, to orange to a deep blood red when ripe and are called salmonberries because they look strikingly like salmon roe (eggs). Not quite as sweet as their cousins, they make for the best pie I've ever had! They are great for making jam, sauces, wine and ice cream too.

Due to the cold, very snowy winter, they were a little later in their ripening this year. While my family was on one of our almost nightly walks on the docks, checking out the fishing boats and more importantly the new sailboats in from all over the world, I overheard a funny conversation between two burly fishermen getting their nets ready for their next run. They were cursing up a storm, when one stops and says "Hey what's up with the salmonberries this year? But this f*&%$ing time last year I was f#%^@ing making jam!" It seemed so comical to me that such a rough and tumble guy would be swearing and talking about one of the most historically domestic tasks. Even cussing, giant, weathered men have a soft side.

While the fisherman like salmonberries, so too do many of the birds. It is amusing to watch them after they've gorged themselves on the fruit, then try to take off and fly, markedly larger than when they had first landed. Flying much lower to the ground they take a while to gain altitude.

While at storytime at the local library, the children's librarian read a great story about berries, harnessing the many connections and experiences the children have with them this time of year. The craft to go along with the story was to make a berry bucket, complete with bells, so you can easily locate your child and in Kodiak hopefully warn the bears of your presence, as they love berries too. If only Sal in Blueberries for Sal had a berry bucket with bells... ah but then there wouldn't have been a good story to tell.

Here are the materials needed for the bucket:
  • a yogurt container with lid
  • hole puncher
  • yarn
  • pipecleaners
  • bells
  • stickers to decorate
Here's a link to my berry season post last year with a variety of lesson ideas, activities and books that focus on berry picking: Blueberry Buddies and Lessons from the Land.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

On Maternity Leave

It has been quite a while since my last post. I'm will be back but am busy staring at the new addition to our family - baby "Cubby." I don't even know if we've called him by his official name yet. We also have made the town of Kodiak, Alaska our home for the summer while my husband finishes up his construction project here.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Green Kid Crafts Parent Advisory Committee

This craft made a sick day a whole lot better!
Taiga Teacher (aka Harmony) is proud to have been asked to serve on the Parent Advisory Committee for Green Kid Crafts. This is an amazing company led by two mamas dedicated to environmental efficacy, while at the same time providing a product that is educational and just down right fun for children. Their business issues subscriptions of 3 developmentally appropriate green craft kits a month.

We absolutely love receiving ours in the mail every month. My Little Bear (age 3) recognizes the package when we go out to the mailbox and is excited to immediately get to work on a craft. We've found we always keep one of the kits on hand as an activity for the babysitter to do with him. They both love presenting the finished product to us when we arrive home! The end result is always thrilling for my son to share with others and they often turn into wonderful presents for the grandparents. The windchimes he made last fall were a perfect housewarming present for Pepe's new abode. They are also great diversions on rainy and sick days.

This creation proudly sits in Bop's office.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Microcosm that Tells a Much Bigger Story

So I was talking with a neighbor the other night and between who we know there are about 20 teachers who live in our neighborhood. An average of about 3 per street! That maybe the highest per capita percentage in the country, well at least the municipality. Yet most of the people in our working class, community & environmentally minded neighborhood, do not send their kids to the public school they can all walk to. They send them to charter schools. The majority of the kids that go to that school are bused from a nearby trailer park and those who walk from "the other side of the neighborhood." Might this say something about the state of education and the class discrepancy in this school system, a microcosm of the broader picture?