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A Coming-of-Digital-Age Story

13 Mar

A Coming-of-Digital Age Story
By Nancye Blair Black
Performed by Laney Blair

Used to be, learning at school was a bore.
Textbooks and textbooks and textbooks. Snore!
In class, teachers would talk, students would hear.
It was the same old story year after year.

Until one day, our principal suddenly appeared
With a class set of computers. The students all cheered!
Our teacher showed us what these new tools could do.
We played fraction games. We Skyped with the zoo!

And then it was our turn. She turned us all loose
To research and learn about a topic we choose.
I tried simulations. Collected data, too.
I emailed an expert. Read cutting-edge news.

Next, it was time to share what we’d learned,
To demonstrate knowledge and mastery earned.
In front of my classmates, I started to doubt,
But then all of a sudden, the words just poured out.

I showed them my slideshow with media galore.
My friends clapped and asked questions and begged me for more!
My teacher joined with them. Could this really be?
That along with my teacher, now a teacher was me?

It was hard to believe, but the message seemed clear;
My work mattered enough to see, read and hear.
And if sharing my ideas could matter to you,
All this work would actually be worth it to do!

So, I darted online to blog on my day.
Would the rest of the world really care what I say?
I posted my project as my global debut.
Other teachers and students were soon commenting, too!

And now, I can’t count all things I can share;
I’m an author, filmmaker and scientist extraordinaire.
My voice makes a difference. I now know it’s true….
And technology helped me to share it with you.

Growing School Gardens: An Eco-lutionary Move

10 Sep

Something “eco-lutionary” is cropping up at schools across the country.  While some students might be experiencing the start of the new academic year from behind a desk, others are embracing an expansive sense of classroom that reaches far beyond the schoolhouse walls and into the green.

At our public charter school, Lakeland Montessori Middle School, teachers and administration plan the year with explorations into green space in mind.  P.E. sometimes takes place running around a lake, field trips include environmental clean-ups and snorkeling, and studying biology means much more than just looking at pictures in textbooks.  In fact, during the last school year, the students at LMMS struck up an interesting partnership with one local restaurant, the Red Door Wine Market.  Synthesizing their learning of biology, weather, collaborative design, math, business and even presentation skills, the students designed, proposed and executed the implementation of a “farm-to-table” concept on the restaurant’s grounds.

The result of this entrepreneurial project is a flourishing garden that provides organic lettuces, peppers, herbs and other produce to be served to patrons at the Red Door.  Students were extremely proud to see the literal fruits of their labor… and ecstatic when they first saw “Montessori grown greens” appear on the menu.  Several of the students happened to be on site the last time I ate on the outdoor patio at Red Door.  When asked about the garden, they were eager to share about their project, detailing the various plants sprouting up around the grounds.  In addition to their pride, the depth of learning and retention from the project was also clearly evident.

According to Angeline Stoll Lillard’s book, Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius, working with plants, nature and environmental elements is an integral part of the Montessori educational model.  Maria Montessori went as far as suggesting that elementary classrooms should include ornamental plants, which the children could tend… and that middle grades education should include running both a farm and a local store at which to sell their produce.   Instead of preparing students for the “real world,” this type of project-based Montessori education provides students the present-day opportunity to be valuable contributors to their local community and economy.

Yet the school gardening movement is not limited simply to Montessori schools or even high school agriculture classes.  In fact, many communities and schools across the country are discovering the benefits of empowering students to plant and grow foods.  In his TED Talk, “A Teacher Growing Green in the South Bronx,” educator Stephen Ritz passionately talks about how growing vegetables, fruits, and flowers has transformed his community, starting inside the classroom and spreading throughout the city.  School gardening in the Bronx is improving both academic achievement and their standard of living.  The students in Ritz’ first cohort of classroom farmers were previously struggling in school with only a 40% attendance rate; with the impact of this program, attendance increased to 93% and all of those students are now in college and earning a living wage.  Ritz says he’s “growing organic citizens, engaged kids.”

Other TED Talkers also see student gardening as a means to economic prosperity.  Ron Finley, A Guerilla Gardner in South Central LA, says that “growing your own food is like printing your own money.”  With little exposure to green space and whole foods, inner city students in South Central LA suffer physically and economically.  A movement to garden in public spaces is changing this for kids in Finley’s neighborhood.  Finley continues, “You’d be surprised how kids are affected by this.  Gardening is the most therapeutic and defiant act you can do, especially in the inner city.  Plus, you get strawberries… If kids grow kale, they eat kale.  When kids grow tomatoes, they eat tomatoes.  But when none of this is presented to them, if they’re not shown how food affects the mind and the body, they blindly eat whatever the hell you put in front of them… I see young people and they want to work, but they’re in this thing where they’re caught up – I see kids of color and they’re just on this track that’s designed for them, that leads to nowhere.  So with gardening, I see an opportunity where we can train these kids to take over their communities, to have a sustainable life.  And when we do this, who knows?  We might produce the next George Washington Carver.”

School gardening combines learning from all curricular areas into a real world application with multi-faceted benefits to students.  I have personally seen these academic and affective benefits first-hand in the students at Lakeland Montessori Middle.

So, how do you get started with gardening in your school?  Fortunately, there are several ways to learn more – starting today!

The School Gardens Community on edWeb.net is an active group of educators sharing free resources and discussions on growing school gardens.  You can join this community edweb.net/schoolgardens and gain access to their upcoming webinars on growing schools gardening, such as:

–  Inquiry in the Garden: Facilitating Student-Led Investigations for Grades K-8 in an Outdoor, Living Laboratory     Tuesday, September 10, 2013- 4pm / Eastern Time
Presenter: Whitney Cohen, Education Director at Life Lab

–   From School Garden to Cafeteria Table: How to Plan, Grow, and Use Garden Produce in a School Cafeteria Lunch Program    Tuesday, October 1, 2013- 4pm / Eastern Time
Presenter: Matthew Doris, Food Service Director & Chef, Tuckahoe Common School District, Southampton, NY.

The School Gardens Community also shares an e-guide about school garden planning and lesson integration by New Jersey educator, Dorothy Mullen, which definitely deserves a look.

One other way to introduce gardening to your students is with a new book by Jacqueline Briggs Martin.  Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table is a beautiful picture book telling the biography of a former basketball star turned gardener turned MacArthur Foundation Fellow.  In her review of the book, Elizabeth Bird praises Martin for masterfully portraying the connection between economic stratification and access to healthy foods “without getting anywhere near a soapbox.”  More than that, students learn how, with dedication and hard work, someone can turn a big idea into a meaningful reality.  The best part?  The book officially releases today.  And if one book isn’t enough, look for other books that with potential to introduce your deep classroom conversations about gardening, food, health, and economics on the International Reading Association’s list of leveled reading books on the subject.

By making gardening an integral part of project- and inquiry-based learning, we have a unique opportunity to provide our students with more than just academic knowledge.  Instead, we can empower them by developing practical skills for success, not only in math and science, but also in collaboration, problem solving and iterative design; we can raise them with a profound sense of capacity to create, to grow, and to succeed.  Plus, as Ron Finley would say, “you get strawberries.”

 

Nancye Black

Nancye Blair Black is an award-winning educator, author and educational consultant.  She also proudly serves on the Board of Directors for Lakeland Montessori Middle School, a free public charter school in Lakeland, FL.

More information about the LMMS gardening project can be found on The Ledger and WFLA News.

Transforming Students to Authors: National Novel Writing Month (#nanowrimo) starts today!

1 Nov

In my eight years of teaching, rarely had I encountered a project that gave students as much ownership and motivation as the Young Writers Program for National Novel Writing Month…  Or as lovingly referred to by its participants, NaNoWriMoYWP.

Today commences the 2012 month of novel writing.  Students around the world are choosing a personal word count goal and launching on an adventure to tell a long narrative tale by November 30th.

Not only does this project significantly boost the quality of student writing through hours of deliberate practice and give amazing opportunities for powerful writing mini-lessons that students can immediately put into practice, but NaNoWriMoYWP also provides an appropriate learning environment for demonstrating  to students the power of setting and working toward a challenging goal.  Completing one’s first novel at the age of 8, 12 or 16 is something that belongs wholly to that student and can never be taken away.  It represents a lifelong transformation from writing student to author.   The message of empowerment is undeniable.

NaNoWriMoYWP Planning Sheet

Click to download .pdf version.

So, I encourage you to take join my students, colleagues, friends, writers around the globe and me in taking the NaNoWriMo challenge in 2012.  Just because it is November 1, doesn’t mean it is too late to jump in. In fact, I am attaching a .pdf adapted from NaNoWriMo materials that can help you shortcut your planning time, turn your ideas into a true story concept and even connect with other NaNoWriMo-ers.  Plus, this month, I will be continuing to share writing resources, tips and student stories to keep your writers engaged and motivated along the way.

So, take the challenge yourself, integrate the program into your reading and writing instruction over the next month, or at least send a Twitter message to the many students on their way to becoming authors!

Let the novel writing begin!

“NaNoWriMo – I am an Author” – Video
NaNoWriMo - _I am an Author_ - YouTube

 

 

 

 

 

Click here to read more about our 2011 NaNoWriMo experience!

Remembering Steve Jobs: Education and the Empowerment of “Black-Collar Workers”

5 Oct

CC License – Jon Snyder/Wired.com

“There’s an old Wayne Gretzy quote that I love.  ‘I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.’ And we’ve always tried to do that at Apple.” – Steve Jobs

Today, one year after the loss of Steve Jobs, people still remember, celebrate and live according to his bold entrepreneurial lifestyle.  And I think that the education reform movement can gleam a lot from his example.

In his new book World Class Learners, Yong Zhao proclaims, “Everyone needs to be entrepreneurial in the 21st century.”

Zhao continues, “Entrepreneurs today are the “black-collar workers,” a term coined by Auerswald with inspiration from Steve Jobs’ black turtleneck (Auerswald, 2012b). A teacher who does not believe we need all to be entrepreneurs asked me the same question that Auerswald answers:

From where we sit now, it seems improbable that an entire economy could be built of such workers. Where are the drones in this picture? Where are the undifferentiated masses of the unfulfilled? Try asking yourself this question instead: from the standpoint of a 15th-century peasant, how likely is the reality of the present day? . . . Just as former farmers were compelled to convert themselves into blue-collar workers to realize their potential in the economy of the 20th century, so will former factory workers (and retooling economic drones of all types) convert themselves into black-collar workers to realize their potential in the economy of the 21st century.‘ (Auerswald, 2012a)

The future success of our students is dependent on their ability to be self-directed, to create, to be entrepreneurial.  It is not enough to teach the content of reading, writing and arithmetic, or even the literacies of the 21st century information economy, without also giving intentional thought to how the pedagogy, the processes behind that teaching, is affecting the student-ownership of that very education.

Education, pedagogy, the learning process itself, must belong to the students.  We can no longer treat students merely as the customers of the current educational system, but instead must empower them as vital participants in developing the information economy of the future.

As Alan November states (in this video interview), “[Students] need to be self directed. They need to be life long learners, which means they need to be empowered to manage more and more and more of their own learning.”  Though a systemic shift of control from “the teacher managing learning” to “interdependent, globally connected students” may take the five to ten years November predicts, as educators, there are so many things we can do in the present to usher in this change and to prepare our students for the 21st century “black-collar” culture.

It is my goal to continue passionately pursuing educational practices that directly address strategies for empowerment and the development of student-driven learning.  I look forward to having you join me for the journey!

In remembrance of Steve Jobs for his unapologetic creativity and innovation
February 24, 1955 – October 5, 2011

Auerswald, P. (2012a, March 11). Bliss is on the way: Black-collar workers and the case for economic optimism. Good. Retrieved April 5, 2012, from http://m.good.is/post/bliss-is-on-the-way-the-case-for-economic-optimism
Auerswald, P. (2012b). The coming prosperity: How entrepreneurs are transforming the global economy. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
November, Alan. (2010). “Alan November on Curriculum21.” Video retrieved on October 5, 2012 from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ivq3TZ6Bfic&feature=player_embedded.
Zhao, Yong. (2012). “Introduction.” World Class Learners: . Retrieved on October 5, 2012 from http://zhaolearning.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Introduction.pdf.

New Article in Creative Educator: Authentic Audiences

17 Sep

“Beyond waiting “To Grow Up”

For too long, our students have worked tirelessly for an audience of one: their teacher. When class assignments assume that work is simply preparation for some future “real world,” this singular audience makes sense. But in the course of a 21st century school year, if a class of students never produces anything worthy of being showcased for a real audience, the students’ potential has been both overlooked and under-realized.

Brilliant solutions to problems, insightful compositions, and entertaining performances are not unique to grown-ups. I have watched a fourth grader write a short novel that hit number seventy-five on an Amazon bestseller list, and a kindergartener execute a talent show performance that moved an audience to tears. In 2012, people across the nation marveled as 15-year old, Jack Andraka won the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair with research likely to revolutionize pancreatic cancer detection.

Each of these examples is the result of quality 21st century educational experiences… the result of experiences that allowed students to set personal goals, take ownership of their own progress, engage a real-world situation, and make an impact on a community significantly larger than an audience of one….”

Read the rest of my article and contribute to the conversation on the Creative Educator website.