Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Growing Plants, Hearts, and Minds

It's the last week of school, and honestly I didn't think I'd be writing a blog post this week. Since I will be teaching science to 3rd-5th graders next year, I have been packing up the classroom I've been teaching in for the past 16 years in preparation for my move to the science room downstairs. Monday I did a presentation for our school board on the global service learning activities through which our students have been learning and how they connected to my recent trip to Kenya. I have 3 presentations that I need to prepare for ISTE next week, and a presentation at the University of London next month that needs to be finished before I leave for Philadelphia.  It's been a crazy end of the school year, but after what I experienced this afternoon, I knew that I had to take a few minutes to share.

One of our kindergarten teachers, Lizabeth Conklin, has been working this year to create a community garden at our school. The premise of her project is to have students at the school learn through gardening, and to use the school gardens to grow fresh produce for our local food pantry. Her hard work has resulted in national recognition and grant money which will allow the project to expand next year.

Since learning that I will be teaching science next year, I have agreed to partner with Liz to teach science concepts through gardening. In addition, we have found partners in Kenya, the Dominican Republic, Maine, New Hampshire, Luxembourg, and Nepal for a global garden project next year that will have each group of students sharing their learning through gardening with the others. As a teacher who believes that learning through service projects should be the backbone of what we do in school, I am very excited about the possibilities for this project.

Next to our school is a small building owned by our local Fair Association.  For most of the year it is rented out by the Devereux Foundation as an adult day care center for individuals with disabilities.

As part of the garden project, Liz had contacted the directors of the program and asked if we could put a small garden behind their building so that those in the program could help with the gardening.  Today, I went with her and a group of 5th grade students to help plant a few tomato plants in that garden.

As the students finished getting the plants in the soil, we saw that there was no water source available outside the building. Liz went inside to ask if anyone would like to bring water outside and help water the garden. The response was amazing.

Soon, the men and women from the Devereux were taking turns watering and chatting with our students. both groups were sharing their knowledge of gardening with each other, introducing themselves, and having a great time. It was such a wonderful experience for everyone. As I walked back to the school with the kids I could hear them telling each other how happy they were to be a part of building this garden and collaboration.

Over the next few years, our students are going to learn a lot of math, science, language arts, and other content through gardening.  And, that's wonderful.

But, they are also going to learn a whole lot more about topics that are a whole lot more important.

This is what school should be.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Teachers - Shaping Tomorrow(land)

This weekend we went to see Tomorrowland. As a family of Disney fans, we've been looking forward to seeing it for a while.

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I walked away from the theater with tears in my eyes.  As far as plot, character development, special effects, etc. - the movie was good, but nothing special.  But it still took me a few minutes after the movie ended to be able to talk without getting choked up because of the message at the end of the movie. I'll do my best to not write anything here that will spoil the plot for you. If you haven't seen the movie yet, and you count yourself among the dreamers of the world who see the possibilities ahead instead of the doom and gloom, it'll be well worth your two hours.

I got choked up because I have made this my life's work - to develop the dreamers who will create a better tomorrow for the world. 

To pass on to the next generation the belief that each of us holds within ourselves the power to make the world a little better. 

To show students the power of wondering "what if...", and then helping them do what they have to do to find out.

To inspire other teachers to choose learning over content.

To connect those outside the sphere of formal education who are passionate about making the world better with students and teachers, and to allow those do-gooders to pass that passion to the world changers of the future.

Because passion is contagious. And, we need more of it.  Like "The black thing" in L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, negative emotions like hopelessness, despair, and inevitability are constantly trying to make us feel as though our passions are unworthy of our time. There is a lot to be afraid of in the future, and the world has a lot of problems.  

As teachers, we face this battle as well. We've been marginalized, suppressed, and disrespected. Many within our ranks have forgotten why they chose to teach and have started to believe that their job is to prepare children for a test at the end of the year. Yet, there is plenty of light pushing back against the darkness.

I get constant inspiration from other Skype Master Teachers who are using videoconferencing to inspire their students to make real, positive change in the world. 

Every day I see new messages on my phone from the Varkey Teacher Ambassadors sharing the amazing ways that they are developing the unique talents and passions of their students.

On Twitter and Facebook I see the way the other Microsoft Innovative Educator Experts from around the world are leveraging technology to bring amazing learning experiences to their students.

Posts from countless other educators on social media sharing the stories of their classrooms, teachers and students who are experiencing the joy of learning so that they can make a difference, give me hope that we are starting to move in the right direction.

And, I see the teachers in my school doing incredible things that are inspiring my own children and the others in the community to grow to love learning.

There is a bright future ahead of us.  Yes, there are big problems.  But there are also big solutions waiting to be found.

At the end of the movie, there is an implication that these solutions will come from dreamers who are scientists, artists, mathematicians, gardeners, dancers, social change agents, and a host of other passionate people.  And, they will. 

But, it will continue to be the teachers of the world who are leading the fight to develop those dreamers and to allow each student to find the spark within themselves that makes him/her want to leave a positive impact. That's what we do. That's what real teaching is.

Teachers are the window that allows dreamers to see the possibilities in their futures. The world's teachers are living Tomorrowland pins.

I feel lucky to count myself among them.