Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Gardening With Native Plants

My son has suffered another seizure. So tiring and discouraging. However, we have some ideas to help him heal. We just have to pick ourselves up and regain our optimism.

One way I do this is gardening. I love being alone in the silence, the dirt, the growth. I found this book at the library and love it. I want to make our yard into a native plant garden. Yes, hostas are in there right now, but as time progresses, and I learn more, I want to focus more on native plants.

Here are some of my favourite quotations:

The more disturbed or the more simplified a site, the more susceptible it becomes to weed seeds.

Carol A. Smyser

Without complexity, populations rise wildly or crash completely--that is, species become weeds or pests they become extinct.

Sarah Stein

Here are some suggestions for native plantings:

wild geranium

Dutchman breeches

wild bergamot


evening primrose

bee balm

obedient plant

Canada lily

purple coneflower

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Happy Father's Day

Ten Reasons Why We Love the Daddy in Our House

1) He builds the best tree houses.

2) He always has an idea brewing.

3) He washed the cloth diapers and hung them on the line for two years.

4) He puts too much maple syrup on Kieran's waffles.

5) He takes Kieran on bike rides under echo bridge.

6) He tells crazy stories about the cars he's fixed and his pet pig.

7) He can fix ANYTHING!

8) He feeds the cat every evening.

9) He brings tea to my classroom everyday (almost).

10) He'll do anything for his boy--even wear bunny ears in public.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Exceptional Family Magazine

One of my columns is currently featured on Exceptional Family Magazine's new website. A shorter version of the same column appeared in The Brockville Voice back in March.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Less Gunk in Our Water is Good

Two years ago, I participated in a local movement to ban the use of cosmetic pesticides in Brockville. Then, on Earth Day in 2008, the province announced a ban on those chemicals--the very day I was to present to council. It was pretty cool.

Many residents of Brockville will recall the crazy letters to the editor about my lack of parenting skills (for wanting my child to play on grass...gasp!) or reliance on my "good looks" for political gain. It was hilarious and strange. I realized that people could really loose their marbles over something like this. I, however, was focused on what was best for my kid and all the other children in this town: NO PESTICIDES! Dandelions or neuro-developmental disorders? Hmmm...tough choice.

Anyhoo, I heard a fragment of a news report on the radio this morning about a recent study in Ontario revealing a dramatic decrease in pesticides found in local streams. Gideon Forman from The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment commented that this means levels will be lower in our drinking water. I spoke to Dr. Forman in the middle of the madness of the Spring of 2008 so it was wonderful to hear this sort of news.

It's nice when science confirms one's gut. If anyone hears more, let me know.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Puttin' on a Show!

In reference to the new television program Glee, Miley Cyrus was quoted as saying: "Honestly, musicals? I just can't. What if this was real life and I was just walking down the street on Rodeo Drive and all of a sudden I just burst into song about how much I love shoes?"

Not only has she insulted my favourite television program, but now that musical theatre is a part of my teaching assignment, she's insulted my profession too. I don't want to give the impression that I lie awake at night cursing sugar-coated, factory-produced child superstars with grotesque feelings of entitlement, but still...

I was a little miffed with this whipper-snapper--who is likely about to be turfed from the Disney machine for...gasp...growing up--but, I also cringe because this is how I once felt.

I must confess that I struggled with musicals. I also can be quoted by former students as saying that I didn't like when people broke into song randomly. Sound familiar?

But really, if I'm honest, it's because I didn't understand the art form and I didn't understand that whether a musical is dramatic or comedic, it's fun and actually quite meaningful to break into song.

And it's my students who've taught me this. Over the years, I've known students who's enthusiasm for musical theatre is, shall we say, profound. I watched these former students in St. Lawrence Musical Theatre Program productions and started to think there was something to this whole musical business.

I attended a high school that didn't put on musicals so I never had the High School Musical experience. Unless I count my role as Flower in an elementary production of Bambi, I've never been in a musical myself. Yes, you remember correctly. Flower was a skunk. So, essentially, my only musical theatre performance really stunk.

But this semester, I've had the honour of helping to direct a musical theatre production, along with two colleagues and several community volunteers. Now, I get it. I really get it.

Between June 2-5, the new Musical Theatre Program at St. Mary Catholic High School gave six performances of the full-length musical "Back to the 80s." We worked with forty-four students from grades nine to twelve towards a collective goal. We had a great time selecting costumes, re-discovering relics from that decade, and researching the nuances of the time. I can only imagine the dinner-table reminiscing that occurred in my students' homes.

When I watched their debut performance, I was choked most of the time. Yes, of course, my emotions are a little closer to the surface, but it was amazing to see the final result. I've said this before. I've been teaching for just over a decade now and as far as I'm concerned, multi-grade, cross-curricular collective projects are education at its best.

Never mind that pulling a performance together requires artistic, organizational, analytical, and technical skill, it builds community. When I see students, who might not otherwise know each other, bonding over a shared experience, I realize why people love this so much.

When I was asked to team-teach this course last year, I felt a little sceptical. I worried about my lack of experience. But I quickly learned that there's lots of people in the world with passion for theatre who are willing to help. I think I speak for my colleagues as well when I say we are grateful to them.

I can honestly say that now I'm hooked. I know this because I'm not fleeing the room when inundated by the same question over and over from excited students.

"What show are we doing next year?"

Dreaming of Sun

a sunny photo for a rainy Saturday morning

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Back to the 80s!

Since February, we've been hard at work and we're finally at performance week. These photos are from our dress rehearsal. We had a full house tonight. There's still two more nights. Friday and Saturday at 7:00pm at St. Mary Admission by donation.
I would walk 500 miles...

Get Outta My Dreams

Princess Leia goes to prom...

Video Killed the Radio Star

Nothin's Gonna Stop Us...

I've had the time of my life...


Girls Just Wanna Have Fun...

chorus curtain call

sleeping punks
Nightie Night.

Readin', Rightin', Rithmetic...and Self-Esteem?

Here's this week's column from The Observer...

Readin', Rightin', 'Rithmetic...and Self-Esteem?
By Andrea Cameron

The title of a recent column by Mindelle Jacobs, appearing in the May 25th Recorder and Times, startled me: "Focus on Self-Esteem Hurts Schools." The column goes on to discuss a new book called What's Wrong with Our Schools: And How We Can Fix Them by Michael Zwaagstra, Rodney Clifton, and John Long:

"Three upstart Canadian academics have dared to suggest what many parents already suspect--that North American public education has been so dumbed down that students are being seriously short-changed....because public school educators focus on enhancing kids' self-esteem instead of imparting core skills..."

Anyone who spends time with children and youth, whether parent or educator, knows that children cannot learn without self-esteem. Without self-esteem, perhaps they can memorize, circle letters on a multiple choice test, or check the right box, but can they really learn?

To truly learn something new requires us to take risks. People without self-esteem struggle to take healthy, world-by-the-tail risks.

A child must believe in herself to conduct a science experiment.

A youth must believe in himself to write an editorial.

So perhaps it's not the education system that's failing children and youth. Perhaps it's all the things in society that erode their self-esteem, causing them to arrive at school broken.

From birth, our society teaches children that it's not who you are, it's what you own. It's not how you feel, it's how you look. It's not what you give, it's what you can get.

In the midst of commercial jingle-jangle and perpetual text message palaver, we as parents and educators must salvage our children's sense of self.

Do we do this by teaching the three R's? Of course that's part of it. Whether a child is home-schooled, private-schooled, separate-schooled, public-schooled, or unschooled, skill and knowledge development are part of growing up. I believe that kids learn despite our curriculum and pedagogy. They learn intuitively. They watch us. Sometimes that's a good thing. Sometimes it's not.

But in order to learn, kids must believe in themselves. Testing examines a very limited skill set. Testing tells us what we don't know. What we need in our society...what we need to save our world...are people who can use what they do know well. We need people who can think creatively, who can take a problem, digest it, and come up with an innovative solution. Rote answers don't stop oil leaks.

I risk being labelled a "romantic progressive." Bring it. In order for society to progress, classrooms need to be more collaborative than competitive. Kids need to see each other as partners rather than as adversaries. They need to see their teachers as respected guides rather than as gate-keepers of knowledge. Because (shhhhh) we really don't know everything...

And as for self-esteem. Try learning your multiplication tables when you're terrified of what's going to happen at recess. Try reading Old Man and the Sea when you're worried what your old man is going to do to you when he finds out you failed English. Try learning the alphabet when you're hungry.

When kids arrive at educational institutions broken (or when their school experience is difficult), we need the staff to pick them up. We need the student support workers, educational assistants, chaplains and counsellors who can do the work of piecing lost souls back together. Can I emphasize how much we need support staff? We really, really do.

Perhaps there is some confusion about the true meaning of self-esteem. It's not getting a jellybean for reading a story. It's not getting a bike for attending school. I've taught in communities that rely heavily on a reward system for student achievement. Rewards don't increase self-esteem. Neither does praise. Sometimes we load on the "good jobs" and "you're specials" in an attempt to fabricate self-esteem.

In my opinion, there's a simple way to make kids believe in themselves. Create the space so they can actually do something. Whether they build a house in construction technology, put on a class play in drama, design a new product in business, or create a water filtration device in science, they need a sense of real accomplishment. They will feel far better and learn far more by contributing to the community than by hanging a high test score on the fridge.