Monday, June 28, 2010


“I have seen my students carefully scoop up an earthworm washed up by rain, and gently place it into one of the raised beds. These actions come from girls who last February would never have thought twice about squashing such a gross and slimy creature. It’s a small act, but it indicates a reconnection and responsibility to the surrounding environment.” —Rex Brooke, Teacher, Ramona High School

My last substituting day for 2009-10 was at Wedgewood Elementary School where I saw a true student-centered community garden under cultivation and already reaping a harvest. Kindergarten teacher Carolyn Murphy, and her husband Bob, a volunteer immersed in the project, are the forces behind this highly successful program.

Three years earlier a grant allowed the PTA to construct the hardscape for the garden. Mrs. Murphy's kindergarten students began planting the seeds and, over time, harvesting the crops. Mr. Murphy, newly retired, became a self-taught expert in gardening. As he learned he passed on his gardening expertise to the children, weeded the gardens, and worked with neighbors, to produce a school-community garden the likes of which I have not seen at any other elementary school. Now a school-wide project, Carolyn says you can teach a lot through gardening, but one of the main lessons is learning to care for and about something.

The gardens stretch along a perimeter fence and are visited by students, neighbors and interested people passing by. The landscape plan and maintenance is top notch, and the produce is beautiful to look at. Two UW grants help the current program continue and grow. Service learning is a focus, and produce is turned over to the food bank at the University Congregational Church.

The garden is home to an abundance of fruits, vegetables and flowers. Some unique features include rain barrels, a home for Mason bees which help with pollination, creation of a wildlife habitat, building birdhouses and feeders, and the addition this year of bat houses. Adding lady bugs and praying mantis insects help with the natural elimination of garden pests.

I ask myself what the difference is between Wedgewood's garden and those of most of the other schools. All of them certainly require teacher coordinators and other volunteers, but I think the level of commitment is what makes the difference here. Wedgewood is lucky to have Bob and Carolyn as part of its school family. Their love of the children and passion for this garden project is obvious when talking to them. They deserve a "golden apple" for their work. If you are in the neighborhood, drop by and see what a real community garden should look like. The address is 2720 NE 85th Street in Seattle, Washington.

If you would like to be a "Little Red Hen" at your school, check out the following web site to look for possible grant money:

Sunday, June 20, 2010


"Two of the greatest gifts we can give our children are roots and wings." - Walt Streightiff

School is out in Seattle on Tuesday. Farewell to the 2009-10 school year! Hello summer! What will your children be doing during the long, lazy summer days? Last week I talked about the video game craze and how many young people (adults as well) are hooked into computer and video games to the exclusion of almost everything else. What a waste of time and experiences. The question is, how can you make the summer meaningful and memorable for the kids in your life? How do you keep them motivated and in love with learning?

The following true story is one family's answer to those questions. I wish the story could have been mine. What a difference it would have made in my own children's lives.

In the l990s a grandmother I know, accompanied by an adult son, took her four grandchildren and two neighbor children on an educational odyssey lasting many weeks. The goal was to expose the children, second through fifth graders, to institutions of higher learning, particularly historical black colleges and universities. Crammed in a van they stopped at major landmarks along the way and explored cities like Atlanta, Washington, D.C. and New York City. If you have ever been with children in a car ride lasting more than a few hours you know what I mean when I say the mind boggles!

I learned about the trip upon their return when the new school year began. The youngest, a girl who had been a talkative, energetic, flighty second grader, bounded into my third grade classroom announcing that she was going to attend Grambling State University when she grew up. It was the most remarkable transformation in a child I had ever seen. She was still talkative and energetic, but now more focused and serious about her education. She ended up at NYU rather than Grambling, but she, along with all of the other children on that amazing adventure, went on to graduate from universities across the country and now lead productive lives. Hats off to that grandmother and father who truly sacrificed a summer for these children, but in the process gained a reward far greater than they could have imagined at the time.

We can all take a page from that book, even if we have limited resources. Here are some examples ranging from ambitious to more modest adventures:

1. Like the one above, take a cross-country tour of interesting campuses, while also seeing our own country with the eyes of foreign visitors.

2. Take a trip down the coast (Atlantic or Pacific) visiting major colleges and tourist sites along the way.

3. Take your own state and visit major universities and tourist locations there.

4. Take your own city and visit one campus a week during the summer.

The latter may be more doable for most of us. Take the Seattle area, for example. Here are a few of the four-year colleges and universities available, each with their own unique campus and atmosphere. Going during summer school provides more excitement with many buildings open. Packing a picnic lunch and touring each campus is a wonderful, free outing which will surely raise your child's awareness to an exciting life beyond high school. You will generate even more excitement If you do your internet homework on what each school offers. Most colleges and universities have areas where you can picnic or cafeterias where you can enjoy reasonably priced lunches.

· University of Washington
· Seattle Pacific University
· Seattle University
· Cornish College of the Arts
· The Art Institute
· Bastyr University

An easy day trip from Seattle to Bellingham, Tacoma or Olympia would give you other possibilities.

· Western Washington University in Bellingham
· University of Puget Sound in Tacoma
· Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma
· Evergreen State College in Olympia

There are over seventy universities, four-year colleges and community colleges on the list I am providing. Many students wish to start their post secondary educations at a community college. These institutions are abundant in Washington State, many of them with unique programs and beautiful campus settings.

Another list citing other vocational and trade schools is also worth checking out.

If you are living in another state, just look up colleges and universities in your state and you will find many useful entries.

The point I am trying to make is this: Don't wait until high school to inform your child about educational options. And even more important, don't depend on the high school guidance counselors to do a job that you can do better. They simply don't have the time. Consider making it your summer mission to enhance your life and the lives of your children by visiting college campuses starting as early as elementary school. If a picture is indeed worth a thousand words, then it also follows that campus visits will be more meaningful than just talking about them. Start now. Enjoy exploring the possibilities. The payoff will far outweigh the price.


"No More Pencils, No More Books, No More Teacher's Dirty Looks" By Diane deGroat

Using various unusual animals as characters, Diane deGroat creates a whimsical story about the end of first grade for Gilbert, a possum, and his classmates. Children can surely relate to the mixed feelings of excitement and loss at leaving friends and a beloved teacher behind. Awarding of medals or certificates can be a time of joy or angst on any occasion for young children depending on how it's handled. In this instance the medals are given out at the class party on the last day of school. Mrs. Byrd, the teacher, makes sure everyone gets an appropriate "just right" ribbon so that everyone leaves happy. I also love the author's book Brand-New Pencils, Brand-New Books. It's a great read-aloud for the first day of school in the primary grades.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


"Video games are bad for you? That's what they said about rock and roll." by Sjogeri Miyamoto

Video games are a waste of time for men with nothing else to do. by Ray Bradbury

And the controversy rages on!

Only a few more days until Seattle kids clean out their desks and lockers signaling the end of the 2009-10 school year. I remember two things from that glorious time. First, I would check my report card to make sure that I was advancing to the next grade. There was never a doubt, but somehow I felt a shiver of anticipation at seeing the next grade listed.

More important, however, was looking forward to endless days full of "Kick the Can", our neighborhood's Bird Club, playing Sardine, climbing favorite trees where I could perch for hours engrossed in a favorite book, roaming the woods on our property where I would "walk logs", and just plain live life in the moment. I also had many responsibilities: Milking cows, picking berries to earn money, mowing the lawn, weeding the garden, and helping out when asked. I don't remember chafing at these jobs. They were part of life and had to be done, and, actually, except for the weeding, I enjoyed the work.

Now, as an older person who sees what goes on with kids today, especially in the classroom, I find myself feeling sad and worried. Sad because most urban kids will never have these kinds of life experiences. Worried because it seems like many of them, particularly boys, spend too much time playing video games and watching TV - becoming observers rather than participants in life.
Here is something that happened last week when I was subbing that adds to my concern. My job on this day was to help third graders continue writing their autobiographical stories by telling something they had done that made them proud. After a lot of brainstorming, a UW tutor and I worked with small groups to generate ideas and get the creative juices flowing. A handful of kids buckled down immediately, but many sat stumped, victims of writer's block. A pattern emerged.
Girls seemed to have a better handle on the assignment than boys. Their proud moments included helping mom clean house, cutting vegetables, or taking care of younger siblings. One stood out. She was proud of helping a friend in swimming class overcome the fear of putting her face in the water. Apparently her little swim mate had nearly drowned in the past and was deathly afraid of the water.

Most of the boys, on the other hand, sat blank-faced and silent. The one activity they all agreed on was playing video games. They were proud of their skill at playing video games. That was it! One, at least, carried it a step further by saying he was proud of being the "go to" person for video game advice. This is absolutely shocking to me!

I went on line to see if there were any articles to support or dispute my concerns. I found several. All you have to do is key in "Are video games bad for kids?" OR Are video games good for kids? There is even an article for children: Are video games bad for me?

Most articles seem to be pro games. But one interesting article by Steve Olson caught my eye. He was concerned about his 4-year-old's obsession with a game called Sypro 2: Ripto's Revenge. After four days he removed the game, then questioned whether he should have done it, remembering how his son had been equally obsessed with learning about Africa, Dr. Seuss's dictionary, and the ABCs. I think he was right to have been concerned. Here is an opportunity for him to parent his child by monitoring and directing what he is doing.

I think it's o.k. to give kids time in the day to play video games, but they should also have time devoted to things like playing ball, drawing, making things, cooking, dictating stories, reading and being read to, and best of all, having meaningful conversations with adults. This is also a great time for children to become interested in things a parent enjoys, perhaps learning to like those things as well, i.e. fishing, golfing, shooting baskets, cooking, etc. In other words, for Steve and other parents who struggle with how to handle video games, and TV watching for that matter, consider doing this: Structure a balanced life for your children so that their main goal for the day is not seeing how many video game levels they can achieve.

In today's world I find myself wondering if there is a happy medium between an idyllic summer like the ones I remember, and those of children who are enthralled with their DS, X-Box, PSP or PC games. If a neighborhood kid knocks on the door and wants to ride bikes, or build a fort, does your child drop the joy stick and have some real play time outside, or does he grunt "hey" and keep wiggling the stick to kill that last ninja? Sadly, I'd bet on the latter if the kid's a boy. Here is some unscientific support for my belief.

I asked my grand-daughters what they liked to do at various places they routinely go. At our beach place they cited beach combing, looking for agates, playing cards and doing arts and crafts. At their other grandparents' place they love playing in the yard, swings, and Grandpa Clayton's "pig's delight." Note: If you are on a diet, you don't even want to go there. At their aunt's house, they loved playing with their cousins, riding bikes and watching HGTV. At their house they love making forts down by the creek, inventing things and playing with their toys. I asked them about video games, and neither admitted to an interest. I asked them about how boys felt about them. They both rolled their eyes and agreed that aside from a couple of cousins, most boys they knew spent most of their time on video games. Hmmmmmm. What does this say about our young people's future? What does it say about emotional growth gender wise?

Kids aren't the only ones who spend too much time gaming. I know of a man who along with his wife, is raising three young children. I understand that playing video games is so important to him it's the first thing he does when arriving home. He plays until dinner, then continues playing after dinner, until bedtime. He even plays while holding the baby - an interesting message for the growing child. If this is not addiction, at a minimum it does not bode well for family relationships.

I don't know this family well, but I do know about "families" in general, all members of which have roles to play resulting in learning about cooperation, caring, compassion, meeting each others' needs, and values, etc. There is a domino effect when family members are not participating fully which can lead to resentment, anger, and dysfunction. As teachers we see many products of seriously dysfunctional families making the teaching day hard on everyone, particularly the hapless child.

The video game controversy with its pros and cons has been going on for years. In a l983 speech Ronald Reagan said "I recently learned something quite interesting about video games. Many young people have developed incredible hand, eye, and brain coordination in playing these games. The air force believes these kids will be our outstanding pilots should they fly our jets" This prediction has proven to be true.

In 1999, following the Columbine shootings, President Bill Clinton said this:“As Hillary pointed out in her book, the more children see of violence, the more numb they are to the deadly consequences of violence. Now, video games like ‘Mortal Kombat,’ ‘Killer Instinct,’ and ‘Doom,’ the very game played obsessively by the two young men who ended so many lives in Littleton, make our children more active participants in simulated violence.”

In June, 2006 Joseph Pitts, MEd said “I think it is safe to say that a wealthy kid from the suburbs can play [the video game] Grand Theft Auto or similar games without turning to a life of crime, but a poor kid who lives in a neighborhood where people really do steal cars or deal drugs or shoot cops might not be so fortunate. And I should add that this isn’t a hypothetical question: Grand Theft Auto is one of the best-selling video games in America. There is almost certainly a child somewhere in America who is going to be hurt by this game. Maybe his dad is in jail, or his big brother is already down on the corner dealing drugs. Maybe he has just fallen in with the wrong crowd. But this game could be all it takes to nudge him on to the wrong side of the fence."

For my part, I spend many hours on the computer every week playing bridge, Hoyle games, and Free Cell. It IS addictive, and sometimes I have to pull myself away to do other things that are very important. BUT, I have the will power to do so, even if guilt plays a role. I also have a strong belief in doing no harm and loving my fellow man. I'd never be swayed into hurting people by playing a video game. Kids, however, are still learning such concepts and may not yet have these kinds of control mechanisms. If I were a parent of young children today I wouldn't take chances. I'd restrict such activities as video games, TV watching, and Facebook. I'd find some trees to climb, bring out some recipes for making popcorn balls and homemade ice cream, teach the kids to play card games like King's Corners and definitely get up a neighborhood game of Kick the Can. No kid should leave childhood behind without these kinds of experiences!

Sunday, June 6, 2010


Tell me and I'll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I'll understand. [Chinese Proverb]

A colleague invited me to check out Lowell Elementary School’s Egyptian extravaganza last Thursday night. It was put on by the third graders in that school and was a seemingly accurate portrayal of life in ancient Egypt. The event took place in the multi purpose room with long tables set up to hold dozens of displays depicting everything from life on the Nile to a replica of the grand pyramid designed so that one could see inside. Some exhibits were more lavish than others, probably with some parental assistance. A simple display that I particularly liked showed two dinner tables. One was for wealthy Egyptian families, loaded with every kind of food supposedly available in those days. The other showed what might be available for a poor family. One could see at a glance a stark contrast between rich and poor when it came to eating.

Proud students milled about to show their parents and guests what they had learned. Proud teachers, no doubt relieved that everything was going well, stood by to field questions and enjoy accolades. Proud parents spent time checking out what their children and others had accomplished, probably also making some inner comparisons. All of us had to be impressed with the level of learning that obviously had taken place for those involved. The celebration included a complete dining experience of foods which might have been available in that time and location. A myriad of tasty dishes and beverages added authenticity to this “bite of Egypt.” It was quite a night!

My friend knew that I would be particularly interested in seeing what the Lowell third graders had accomplished because I too had twice taught a unit on Ancient Egypt at Martin Luther King Elementary School before I retired. However my focus and presentation was far different. While at first I felt a little envious at the intricacy and complexity of some of the projects presented at Lowell, I remembered all the learning that took place in my own room and school in 2006.

Taking a trip to Egypt in 1998 was the motivation to teach what I had learned to my first grade students. Believing in the merits of multiple intelligences I kicked off my unit by having the children make passports for their trip abroad. Over the next few weeks we “visited” Egypt – a country in Africa. We learned what it was like to boat on the Nile River, felt some real sand from the Sahara Desert, viewed the pyramids, went on an archeological dig, made Scarab jewelry and jeweled collars, learned about the mummy process, made mummies using gauze and clothespins, placed them in sarcophaguses, converted our names into hieroglyphics and also made cartouche replicas. We even learned about making perfume and rugs. Authentic Egyptian music played softly in the background, satisfying the musical intelligence. After weeks of exciting learning experiences we were ready to share information with others. Students chose their favorite activities, learning centers were formed, and all K-2 students in the school were invited to go on a trip to Africa in Room 103. The new junior archeologists taught what they had learned to their elementary school peers. It was truly an amazing day!

Who came to witness our learning? Though well attended by students, only a handful of parents were able to participate because it was during the school day. However, the air of excitement and sense of pride was just as apparent as that felt by the Lowell students and adults. Both experiences taught children about another culture and another time. I like to think that we carried our learning one step further. Like the opening quotation states: Tell me and I'll forget; show we and I may remember; involve me and I'll understand. Let's add this: Teach someone else and you'll never forget!

A more complete lesson plan follows:

LESSON PLAN: Taking An Ancient Egyptian Holiday

Objective: The students will learn about an ancient culture through “hands on” experiences relating to that culture. These experiences will expose the learners to a deep understanding of the concepts taught and a rich vocabulary pertaining to the concepts.

Method used: Teaching and Learning Through Multiple Intelligences, Room 103 first graders (junior archeologists) will pass on their own learning and understanding of an ancient Egyptian culture to MLK kindergarten through second graders (junior archeologists-in-training) via classroom centers. Egyptian music will be played. Student teachers (junior archeologists) will be wearing appropriate costumes.

Vocabulary: Africa, Egypt, Nile River, Nile River Delta, Sahara Desert, archeologist, a dig, map, Pharaoh, pyramid, tomb, cartouche, papyrus, picture writing, hieroglyphics, scarab, mummy, sarcophagus, burial jar, sun god, tomb, Tutankhamen, Valley of the Queens, Valley of the Kings, Cairo, Memphis, Luxor, Aswan, alabaster, mosque, camels, donkeys

When finished with their learning the MLK first graders will take all of the school’s K-2 children on a holiday to Egypt by arranging for each classroom (K-2) to visit our room and experience what it was like to live in ancient Egypt. There will be centers covering every one of Howard Gardner’s seven intelligences, with each child picking the center they want to man for the day. They will wear name tags stating who they are and that they are junior archeologists. At the end of the day visitors, who also will wear badges proclaiming their status as junior archeologists-in-training, will receive certificates of completion.


1. Archeological Dig (kinesthetic) Find artifacts, such as jewels (available at craft stores) and broken dishes or pottery, buried in boxes of sand placed on a tarp. Understand their importance, and attempt to reconstruct them.

2. Map Work and Pyramid Making (logical-mathematical) Find Egypt on a map of Africa. Locate and trace the Nile River. Build a paper pyramid to place on the map.

3. Make a cartouche with hieroglyphics (Verbal-Linguistic, Visual Spatial, and Intrapersonal) out of paper or clay. If clay is used, let the kids fashion a ball of clay into a tablet shape and etch their hieroglyphic name onto it. Students will learn how to make their own names in hieroglyphics and find out how to check for accuracy on a special computer site. ( or

4. Make a Scarab Necklace (visual-spatial) Learn what a scarab is and its significance. Be able to make a necklace with a scarab bead and several other beads to show artistic balance. Also make beautiful jeweled collars. Craft store beads can be used. For the collar students can also dab different colors of paint on the collar and sprinke glitter on them or add glitter glue.

5. Learn about the ancient belief that for a pharaoh to pass to his next life he wants the same body and his belongings. Learn the importance of the mummy process. Learn about the ornate coffin called a sarcophacus. (Interpersonal) Learn about burial jars. Small wooden boxes, purchased at a craft store, can be painted and decorated. Stickers can be added. Old fashioned wooden clothespins, also available at craft stores, can be wrapped in gauze.

6. Authentic Egyptian music (Musical) will play in the background.


One interesting book, Mummy Math, by Cindy Neuschwander and illustrated by Bryan Langdo, is a geometry based adventure inside a pyramid.

Egyptology, by Salima Ikram gives a complete guide to how Egyptology began, how sites are found, what goes on in a dig, and how items end up in museums.

Type in Egypt for children, and you will find great numbers of exciting sites from which to take information.

Mummies Made in Egypt, by Aliki is a wonderful resource about the who, what, where and why of Mummies. The text is easy to understand as is the step-by-step process of mummy making.