Sunday, December 27, 2009


Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words. - Robert Frost

An acrostic poem uses the letters in a topic word to begin each line. All lines of the poem relate to the topic word. It seems like an appropriate, timely and fun way to offer some resolutions educators could make regarding the teaching of our children. Finding the funding for them is a resolution we should all be making.

* The following Education Acrostic has contributors from many walks of life in Seattle – legislator, doctor, chef, community activist, community college consultant, glass blower, photographer, real estate broker, historian, special education assistant, career and vocational education administrator, and information technology manager.

E Empathy, civility, and other social skills should be taught in consecutive steps, and uniformly, throughout grades K-12. This includes mandatory classes on relationships, parenting and financial responsibility from middle school on. There should be “how to” classes in cooking, nutrition, finances, etc.

D Develop a ten-year plan guaranteeing that 90% of graduating high school students would be college ready regardless of whether or not they choose to go on to higher education.

U Understand that we are only one segment of a global society and that our students need to have classes with real world situations which help broaden their understanding of the people and cultures of the world in which we live.

C Career and technical education (vocational education) should be given more emphasis and respect in the high schools.

A Art, music and drama should be funded and in every school.
(See December 13 article about Drawing on art from the community)

T “Teaching to the test” is not fair to anyone. Re-evaluate standardized testing. Remember that kids come in with different skill levels and social experiences. The playing field is not level, and the “one test for all” is not a fair assessment of student academic growth, or school achievement.

I Integrate parents into the learning by phoning with positive messages as well as concerns. Arrange home visits when possible. Lessen school anxiety for parents who have had negative academic experiences by inviting them in as partners in their children’s education. Make it easy and fun with “pizza and pop” dinner meetings. Throw in on-site baby sitting for younger children by older students.

O Offer assistance to parents of challenging children with parenting classes, emotional, and non-judgemental support. So that parents can be better homework helpers, offer them tutoring in areas where they feel weak. So that all students can learn, as is their right, remove disruptive students from the room temporarily until they can return as cooperating class members.

N Never, ever give up on a child or let him/her think he/she is somehow lacking intellectually. Find the child’s strengths and expand on them. All children are special and have such strengths. This suggestion is for parents, teachers and administrators alike.



If you want to make your own acrostic poem or have your students or children make them, learn more by going to:

For wonderful, silly, and child savvy poems, read Lunch Box Mail and Other Poems. These clever, and unique peeks at how kids think are written and engagingly illustrated by Jenny Whitehead. ( Here is one example about a parent trying to pry herself away from a reluctant kindergartener on the first day of school:

My precious dear, my sweetie pie,
I know it’s hard to say bye-bye,
but please let go of Mommy’s thigh.
You’re just a little scared, I know…”

Sunday, December 20, 2009


This post was posted as a guest editorial in the Seattle Times on December 24, 2009. To view on the Seattle Times site, click here.

Christmas! 'Tis the season for kinding the fire of hospitality in the hall, the genial fire of charity in the heart. -Washington Irving-

Sixty years ago a little girl stood with her classmates in a formation, five across and seven deep, the front row holding lighted candles, waiting for a signal from the teacher to begin. The long hall was darkened as were the classrooms on either side. The pitch pipe sounded, the group drew breath and the haunting melody began. “Wind through the olive trees softly did blow. Round little Bethlehem long, long ago. Sheep on the hillside lay, whiter than snow. Shepherds were watching them, long, long ago.” Filled with joy and pride, they sang as they processed down the hall knowing that every child in the entire school was listening and waiting with excitement for their own turn to sing a joyful song.

Fast forward sixty years to a 21st century public elementary school. Gone are the beautiful old songs that many of us remember, gone also anything approaching a lighted candle. In its place are many school hallways devoid of holiday art as individual school leadership teams try not to offend one group or another. In interpreting guidelines for holiday art and music, educators often take an extreme approach – just don’t do it.

Holiday assembly planners work hard to show some holiday spirit without actually saying “Merry Christmas.” “Frosty the Snowman”, “Jingle Bells” and other secular songs take the place of “Silent Night” or “Away in a Manger” - victims of political correctness as we try to fit everything into the same inclusive mold. In many schools teachers carefully avoid any reference to Christmas even though once outside the school house door, the greater community is alive with Christmas trees, menorahs, flickering lights, holiday music and Santas in every mall. A big frustration is the notion that Santa, Christmas trees, wreaths, etc are considered religious. But of course we have the folks who say that these secular symbols may have been rooted in religion, therefore they really should go.

It feels like we have lost something special as we strive to be all things to all people. Who started the movement to take Christmas out of the schools? Atheists and agnostics? People of other religious beliefs? People willing to sacrifice past traditions in the name of cultural awareness? Newcomers to the country who do not relate to our cultural norms? Overly zealous interpreters of the constitution?

I surfed the net looking for answers and happened upon Austin Cline and his atheism blog (November, 2003). I found what he said about Christmas in the schools very interesting and somewhat surprising. He said, among other things that “The solution is for the school to plan programs in December that include sacred music, but aren’t dominated by it . . . and . . . to make sure that a variety of traditions and cultures are represented – not just in December, but throughout the school year.” He goes on to say that an important principle is balance. “It makes little sense to completely ignore all religious connections to the holiday season, but it would also be wrong to assume that those religious connections are all that matter or that everyone shares the same religious beliefs about the season. Public schools are, after all, supposed to be there for everyone in the community.” I like what he says.

I surfed further and found good archived information from the time of President Clinton and Education Secretary Richard Riley where guidelines were explained and sources for more information cited. The gist was basically the same, although it took three times as many pages and words to say it. (

In talking to a Seattle colleague I was pleased to hear that in one South Seattle Elementary school with a large ESL population, the month of December was devoted to stories about religious celebrations around the world. She spoke of one kindergartener from Somalia who sat rapt, as a tradition about his own country was shared. I’m touched by that.

So, let's give back to teachers the freedom to teach songs like "Wind Through the Olive Trees" for holiday assemblies. It should be their right to do so. People should be aware that singing such songs does not make a religious experience. Singing "Silent Night" does not make me a Christian. Singing "I Have a Little Dredyl does not make me Jewish. They are cultural songs that children enjoy singing. The same can be said for putting up pictures of Christmas trees or Menorahs. Neither singing nor making holiday arts and crafts is promoting religion. Let’s add the wonders of international celebrations to our schools so that our children gain an appreciation of all the world’s people. Let’s take some time away from “meeting the standards” to celebrate with each other during a traditional time of giving. Let’s do this so that in sixty years today’s children can also reflect on childhood school memories filled with warmth, love and candle glow.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
"Wind Through The Olive Trees " words and music:

My book choice for the week is Christmas Cookies by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. It is a wonderful vocabulary builder with a high interest theme. Who can resist holiday cookies? Each page has an important word and definition with amazing illustrations by Jane Dyer. A few words include anticipation, prosperity, charitable, reciprocate, perseverance, plus many, many more. Along with the definitions and drawings is a call to think about altruism and manners.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.
- Pablo Picasso -

I was substituting in a kindergarten class in Seattle’s Schmitz Park Elementary on Friday and two things struck me:

1. Fortunate indeed is the school that can have an “artist in residence” or “art mentor” since art instruction is often one of the first curriculum areas on the budget chopping block.

2. I also learned something new that day – how to make smooth versus rough lines – which put me in mind of Robert Fulglhum’s famous essay: All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten. (

Beverly Harding Buehler is the artist mentor at this school in a three-year program funded entirely by the P.T.A. and called Arts Teach. Based on a teacher training model of concept-based art education piloted by Arts Impact, ( each involved teacher becomes competent in the teaching of visual arts by observing and partnering with the visiting artist. All K-5 students participate and learn, in a prescribed sequence, various art techniques that give each child a tool box of skills. Students work with such things as charcoal, sumi ink, water color, oil pastels and chalk. As Beverly confidently said, “No kid at this West Seattle school will ever say that they can’t draw.”

One of the reasons Schmitz Park embarked on this ambitious path was the realization that when asked to create a scientific 3-D drawing of a plant on the 4th grade WASL, it became clear that most kids did not have the skills to do so.

The original idea was to link art to science and math – a natural progression when you think of geometric lines, forms and shapes. But then teachers began taking what was learned and using it as a writing prompt. For example, in 3rd grade students used different marks to do two drawings. Using charcoal and white or toned paper, students might show a tornado with thick, bold curving lines. Another drawing might be made using a white conte crayon to portray a misty day. The next step would be to describe their perfect storm in a creative writing exercise.

This exciting concept of teaching teachers to be visual arts instructors can answer the budget problems mentioned above. So far only a few schools in Seattle have had the benefit of such a program. It would be great if your school planning team could log on to Arts Impact, and begin to make a financial plan for getting art in your classrooms in this creative and comprehensive way. Ms. Buehler also talked to me about author Daniel Pink's Book, A Whole New Mind. She says he makes the case that our children need the skills they get from art to be competitive in what is called the conceptual age.

By the way, kindergarteners in Room 4 learned to make rough lines by brushing black ink on rice paper using only a damp brush. To get a smooth line the brush had to be very wet and heavy with ink. Guess what! It works. All children felt successful as each work of art was displayed. Later I thought about Robert Fulghum and his essay. It was one more thing I needed to know, and I learned it in kindergarten!

Sunday, December 6, 2009


Intercultural dialogue is the best guarantee of a more peaceful, just and sustainable world. - Robert Alan

They filed, barefoot and silent down the long hall, boys first followed by girls, to a room where a woman in red pants and a beautifully embroidered red tunic stood silently awaiting them. She pointed to one side of a tape line for the boys to sit down, while the girls went to the other side, facing her. They sat "criss cross applesauce" in the darkened room, their eyes drawn to a large map of Afghanistan and surrounding countries projected on the wall. On this December day the entire fourth grade of Coe Elementary School was about to take an "armchair adventure" to North Central Afghanistan to see what life was really like there, and to make some sobering comparisons. Their guide's name was Julia Bolz, a former Seattle business immigration attorney turned international activist. I was lucky enough to be a substitute teacher in one of the fourth grade classes, and to feel the impact of a very special presentation.

During the next forty-five minutes they learned that schools are in short supply, and often attended only by boys. Never are boys and girls allowed to be together, playing, or socializing. They learned that Afghan families often live on $1.00 a day, and have no electricity, running water or indoor plumbing. Families live in structures made of mud. With no money for furniture, people sit on dirt floors with their feet under them. They learned that the family hierarchy goes from adult male, to male child, to adult female, to female child in that order, with adult males receiving the first and most of any portion or possession. Children daily get up as early as 5:00 a.m. to fetch water, often walking more than l5 minutes to get a substance almost as precious as gold. Each person in the family is entitled to a bucket a day, and depending on the family size, this could mean many trips back and forth to the well for the young water-carriers. To bring this message home several Coe students had the chance to try lifting heavy buckets of water, and hoisting them with help upon their heads. During this eye-opening adventure, hats with various meanings (celebratory, everyday, mosque, different ethnic groups, etc.) were given to random students - boys first, of course. The hats were varied and often colorful. Girls were shown burkas, and two were able to try them on. They covered every inch of the female body, with only a small slatted area for looking out. The girls reported they were hot, heavy, and uncomfortable. Coe students sat enraptured as their "armchair field trip" unfolded.

In addition to showing what life is like for most Afghan children, Ms. Bolz was bringing thanks from students at a girls' school constructed with funds donated by school communities like Coe. Books, pencils and paper had been sent to Afghan girls, and cards of appreciation were returned. A new roof is now needed at this school for girls and a drive is on to raise money for that. I was sold on the idea and will definitely make a contribution. This happened on Friday and it has been on my mind ever since. Changing weapons for textbooks is one of the goals. Bringing about understanding of each others' cultures is another. To me, Julia Bolz, and others like her, are true heros as they make a difference one day, one donation, and one dream at a time.

I encourage each of you to log on to to see some short videos by Julia about her work. The book, Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, will bring further enlightenment and inspiration about another man's effort to change the world one school at a time. Check out this website as well:

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

FLASH, CRASH, RUMBLE AND ROLL - December Book Review and Lesson Plan

"My heart is singing for joy this morning. A miracle has happened! The light of understanding has shone upon my little pupil's mind, and behold, all things are changed." - Anne Sullivan
Dear Readers,
My blog is evolving into a "one-stop shop" for educators, parents, and people interested in education. My goal is to have:
1. A weekly blog commentary
2. A monthly review of a book I have found useful, with a lesson plan that has worked for me.
3. A blog list that is filled with resources for the following:
  • Teachers on all levels including special education.
  • Washington State Teaching and Learning Standards
  • A really neat set of lists for the 220 Dolch words.
  • Homeschooling.
  • Information about charter schools.
  • Tips on classroom management.
  • Information about multiple intelligences and how to determine your own learning style.
  • What's going on in the U.S. Department of Education.
  • What's going on This Week in Education.
  • Several cool sites for printables, ideas and additional lesson plans for every grade level.
  • How and where to get post secondary scholarships.
  • Tips on writing and starting your own blog.
  • Some of my favorite blogs that are full of good information
  • Access to top N.Y. Times columnists. (Check out Opinionator)
  • And finally, a link to my website for enrichment ideas for your class and your school.
I love motivating kids to learn and making lesson plans to that end. So I would also be willing to design lessons around your favorite books for a small fee. Please feel free to e-mail me if that would interest you.
Finally, I hope you will share some of your classroom experiences with the rest of us. If you have a pesky problem and want ideas, perhaps this would be a good venue. So, teachers, log on and let's learn together.

Flash, Crash, Rumble, And Roll by Franklyn Mansfield Branley
With a lesson plan by Jan Lind-Sherman
When lightning flashes in the distance we wonder how close it is and whether it presents danger to us and our surroundings. In a book published nearly fifty years ago, Franklyn Branley explains this amazing, sometimes deadly phenomenon in a way children can clearly understand. They learn how and where it occurs, how to be safe, and to not be afraid of these powerful and beautiful acts of nature. I highly recommend adding this book to your science library and to explore other similar "read and find out" books by the now deceased Dr. Branley.

1. Do KWL Chart. (Know, Want to know, Learned)
2. Read Story. Children can watch pictures on document camera or overhead projector and take written or picture notes, depending on age of children.
3. Talk about what students have learned.
4. Show art project and go over multiple intelligences center options.
5. Start writing about lightning and thunder
6. Share information


Verbal-linguistic – I love words
Hearing and discussing the story. Making the Chart.

Intrapersonal – I love working alone
Writing assignment – either facts or feelings about storms.

Logical-Mathematical – I love math and science
Count how far the lightning is – l-1000, 2-1000, 3-1000, 4-1000, 5-1000 and/or find a way of teaching the concept of “billions”. Experiment with the concept of how thunder happens by blowing up and popping bags. (See experiment below.)

Bodily-Kinesthetic – I love moving around
Role play or make skits of what to do to be safe during an electric storm.

Interpersonal – I love working with others
Read your story to another person/partner in the room.

Musical-Rhythmic - I love music
Sing a song based on information from the book to the tune of Brother John. You can make up a song yourself or the class can make one up together.

Visual-Spatial – I love art
Make a diagram of the water cycle and/or do a creative picture of a stormy night. On a dark blue construction paper background paste cutouts of black paper trees, houses, mountains, water, boats, clouds, etc. Have yellow construction paper flashes of lightning coming from the clouds. Put student stories with their pictures and post them in the hall.
1. Be aware of dark clouds
2. Airplanes stay out of these clouds
3. Billions of droplets are in the clouds
4. The clouds are charged with electricity
5. The charge jumps from top to bottom of cloud or from one cloud to another which makes a flash.
6. It may flash to the ground and be very dangerous.
7. You then hear a loud sound called thunder.
8. Lightning pushes air into air which makes a sound.

Experiment: Blow up a paper bag, and hold it closed. With the other hand hit the bag and it will pop with a loud sound. What happened? Lightning splits the air, and when it rushes back together you hear the sound of thunder

9. Count 5 seconds for every mile from you to the lightning.
10. Animals do not like thunder. Dogs will hide, for example.
11. Lightning can kill people and other animals, knock over trees, and start fires.
12. We must respect lightning but we do not have to be afraid of it if we know what to do.

  • Get out of any water – lakes, pools, bathtubs, showers.
  • Stay inside.
  • Stay away from the stove, phone or windows.
  • If you are in a car, stay inside. It is safe.
  • If you are outdoors get down low. Do not be the tallest thing.
  • Get out from under trees.
  • Keep away from metal fences or metal pipes.
clouds / dark / air
earth / storm / droplet
electricity / particle / ion
charge / billions / flash
lightning / thunder / loud
crash / noise / sound
seconds / outdoors / rain
danger / downpour / safe