Tag Archives: Dignity-driven

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.

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.

 

Sept 11 Reflections: Democracy, Citizenship and Education

11 Sep

CC License: Photo by Flickr @North Charleston

What should a good citizen do?

The question of “what a good citizen should do” in a democratic society begins with an assumption of a universal ethical imperative within democracy.  Perhaps this follows from the concept of democracy itself.  At the onset of American independence, the writers of the Declaration stated that it was self-evident that “all men are created equal” and that with that equality of nature comes unalienable Rights, such as Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.  A democratic society could secure these rights through a government that derives its just power from the “consent of the governed.” 

Consent of the governed.  Perhaps, too often we overlook this essential democratic freedom, the Freedom of Consent.  The idea that democracy requires consent of the governed supports an imperative for the people of the democracy, the good citizens, to actively give a say, to give a consent or descent – through speech, voting, the practice of beliefs or religions, exercising their other freedoms – on the positions and actions of the government.

More than ever, it is vital that American citizens actively exercise their own rights and freedoms, while also working to promote the rights and freedoms of others.  Through both speech and actions, we must declare our consent or descent and encourage the equal participation of other citizens to do the same.  Howard Budin stated that “the heart of democratic action is collaborative decision making,” making “decisions with their fellow citizens to improve their lives and the life of the community or nation.”  In this way, all democratic citizens are benefited by the increased voice and involvement of others, even of those with whom we disagree.  To asymptotically approximate the ideals of democracy, citizens must have equitable opportunities, freedoms and rights to participate… and must actively exercise these opportunities, freedoms and rights within the collaborative society.

Too often in education, we speak of citizenship simply in terms of being honest, neighborly or kind.  Joel Westheimer and Joseph Kahane call this the “personally responsible citizen,” though they warn that this concept of citizenship alone does not necessarily foster equality, justice and democracy.  “Indeed, government leaders in a totalitarian regime would be as delighted as leaders in a democracy if their young citizens… don’t do drugs; show up at school; show up at work; give blood; help others during a flood; recycle; pick up litter; clean up a park; [and] treat old people with respect,” they write in “What Kind of Citizen? The Politics of Educating for Democracy.”

Somehow, the concepts of participation and activism are missing from much of today’s education on citizenship. In fact, when I asked, “What should a good citizen do?” to my twelve year old daughter at the dinner table yesterday, she responded with “don’t kill people,” even though she is active in community service and often engages discussions about social justice at her Montessori middle school.  She did not automatically associate those participatory practices with her responsibilities as a “citizen.”  Perhaps this is because what is often considered “good” behavior or citizenship at schools is not always aligned with the promotion of justice.  Frequently, the “good” child in class is the one who follows the rules, even when those rules are enforced in unjust ways.  It is important, especially in education, not to confuse the promotion of personal responsibility with that of standardization, compliance and obedience.

Instead, the good citizen needs to have the ability to transfer the qualities of personal responsibility to critical reflection, active participation (participatory citizen) and the promotion of social justice (justice-oriented citizen).  The good citizen must go beyond personal responsibility to participate in giving consent or descent, in effecting change and in encouraging equity.  In this way, the rights and freedoms of all citizens can be maintained and expanded in order to improve the quality of life for citizens and the collective life of the community or nation.

As educators, there are many opportunities to exercise our roles as citizens and to promote participation and social action in our students:

  • Register to vote, vote, and encourage others to vote, too!
  • Investigate educational issues being discussed in politics, not just in the Presidential race, but also at the local and state level.
  • Call, email and write letters to your School Board or Congressmen, supporting funding for education.
  • Provide community service learning opportunities to your students – serve meals at a homeless shelter; coordinate a canned food drive; raise funds to support cancer research or the creation of a local park.
  • Engage your classes in student-driven action projects and competitions that focus on solving real world problems, like Heifer International Education Programs or the Siemens We Can Change the World Challenge.

Today is September 11th.  Yes, we mourn and remember the lives lost and the bravery of so many Americans eleven years ago, but we also celebrate the freedoms we enjoy in this democratic society.  Freedoms that we shouldn’t take for granted.  Freedoms that were earned with blood, sweat and tears.  Freedoms that we should exercise and should harness to advocate for equal rights for all people… here in the United States and around the world.

Happy Birthday, Maria Montessori — from Google and the rest of us!

31 Aug

Google's Montessori Tribute

Google's Montessori TributeAugust 31, 2012. Today would be 142nd birthday of revolutionary Italian physician and educator, Maria Montessori.

To celebrate, Montessori alums at Google displayed a Google doodle of traditional Montessori learning manipulatives on their homepage.  That’s right -  both Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the founders of Google, grew up as Montessori kids.  What’s more, it is this very Montessori heritage that they attribute to their success.

In a 2004 interview with ABC (embedded below), both Page and Brin spoke about the power of self-directed learning in the Montessori learning environment.  “I think it was part of that training of not following rules and orders -  and being self-motivated, questioning what’s going on in the world, doing things a bit different,” Page said of Montessori school’s role in his success.  Maria Montessori believed that children had an innate drive to learn and that the educator’s role was to remove obstacles and provide opportunities for the student’s educational growth.  The self-directed Montessori student is then able to concentrate on acquiring knowledge through experimentation with hands-on, personalized activities, according to their own interests and at their own pace.

In fact, Google’s infamous 20% rule – where employees spend 20% of their work week on something company-related that they are personally interested in, something not in their job description – is grounded in this idea of self-directed learning.  And success in the form of Gmail, Google Talk,  Google Maps, Reader and other innovations has been the result.  As is often the case, powerful things happen as the result of empowering people to follow their own dreams instead the dreams of someone else.

So, in Maria Montessori’s honor, I want to take a moment to celebrate her legacy – a legacy of respecting the dignity of every child and empowering children to be masters of their own learning.  Raise a glass, give a cheer… and let’s all spend a few minutes reflecting on our own educational practice, a few minutes dreaming up at least one practical way to give our students more voice in their learning this next week and, in doing so, continuing her amazing legacy.

Happy birthday, Maria Montessori.