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4 H and an FFA
On a field trip to the farm
Me and friend sneek off behind
This big ol' barn
Where we uncovered a covered up
Moonshine still
And we thought we'd drink our fill
I swallered it with a smile
Brr, I run ten miles

Chug-a-lug chug-a-lug
Make you wanna holler hi-de-ho,
Burns your tummy don't you know
Chug-a-lug chug-a-lug

Monday, November 14, 2011

F.F.A. for All

For those of us past a certain age, any mention of the F.F.A. may bring to mind lyrics from the late Roger Miller classic, Chug-A-Lug, and of students rebuilding farm tractors in ag class. But Motoko Rich's Future Farmers Look Ahead tells of a growing F.F.A. organization that is reaching out in new directions beyond its traditional farm related roots.

Rich writes from the annual F.F.A. Convention held last week in Indianapolis:

Gamaliel Rizzo grew up in a brownstone apartment in Brooklyn and is studying to become a doctor. Still, he spent his high school years learning how to raise chinchillas, goats and alpaca and growing radishes, sunflowers and cilantro. He even worked on a dairy farm in the summer, all as a member of the Future Farmers of America.

Rich notes that "although farm employment accounts for less than 1 percent of all jobs in the United States," farm "workers have actually fared better than most" during our nation's economic downturn, giving "the F.F.A. a calling card as an organization that actually prepares students for viable careers." While most of the organization's members still live in rural areas, the fastest growing segment of that membership is now in urban and suburban areas. The addition of fields well beyond agricultural science, including genetics, logistics, landscape gardening and alternative fuels, has helped push non-farm membership. He adds, "Now, the group’s chapters aim to teach students leadership and job readiness as much as the finer points of cattle care or corn fertilization."

Having farmed a bit and also taught in a classroom that looked out on the ag/industrial arts building where the world's largest yo-yo and guitar were built along with lots of rebuilt old tractors, Rich's story obviously caught my interest. But something from a news story about the world's largest yo-yo brings back some of the relevance of such classes. After the successful launch of the yo-yo, one of the students involved told a reporter, "It took about three weeks to complete all the necessary calculations to begin the actual building process." And I can attest that those projects had kids who wouldn't carry a book home or do homework (at least for me in elementary school), totally involved in the planning and calculations necessary to complete the projects.

New Play Curriculum in D.C.

Bill Turque had an interesting article in Friday's Washington Post, D.C. school reform targets early lessons, about a promising early childhood curriculum the District schools are trying call Tools of the Mind. The program focuses on students' ability to self-regulate their social, emotional, and cognitive behaviors. Based on the work of Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky who believed play was the key to learning, the program "uses play to build the capacity to 'self-regulate,' or resist the impulses and distractions that can hinder academic growth."

Online Latin Game/Curriculum

Nathan Maton tells of an interesting approach to teaching Latin in Can an Online Game Crack the Code to Language Learning? He writes about Latin teacher Kevin Ballestrini's efforts to create a roll playing game that includes a two year Latin curriculum for his students. In the game, "students play the role of Romans in a reconstruction of ancient Pompeii (or ancient Rome) and have to learn to think, act, create and write like a Roman in order to win the game."

The program in now in its second year with approximately 30 classrooms involved. Maton reports that students love the class and game. And a comment from one of Ballestrini's co-creators in The Pericles Group relate that the group is working on "several other subject areas...including one for high school life science/biology called Operation BIOME." The underlying principle of matching learning and game objectives is what makes it possible to do this with with any content, and we're very excited to share those materials with kids and educators very soon.

Republican Presidential Candidates on Education

AP writer Kimberly Hefling has a good summary of the positions of the candidates vying for the Republican presidential nomination in Candidates seek to limit federal role in education. She notes:

While polls show that voters clearly care about education, it hasn't been a driving issue in the race. Instead, it percolates at times. When it does, the dialogue — like many other issues in the race — has been primarily focused on the general theme of limiting the federal role more than on specific education policies.

"Evidence" for School "Reform"?

Carol Corbett Burris, principal of South Side High School in New York, has an excellent guest blog today on Valerie Strauss's The Answer Sheet blog, Proof there is no proof for education reforms. Burris starts near the top, showing how Secretary Arne Duncan ducked the issue when he "was asked by an Education Week reporter about the evidence base for the policies of his department," and continues on through many of the unproven favorites of the reform crowd.

Odds 'n' Ends

Just a few links here today.

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Be No. 1... Give to Public Schools in Need! - Go to Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Vote for Childhood Obesity

Ron Nixon reports in Congress Blocks New Rules on School Lunches that "A slice of pizza still counts as a vegetable." Lawmakers working on a House and Senate compromise for an agriculture spending bill blocked implementation of the new school lunch rules proposed by the USDA last January. The proposed changes were aimed at reducing childhood obesity by adding more fruit and green vegetables to lunch menus. Nixon quotes Margo G. Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, as saying of the defeat:

It's a shame that Congress seems more interested in protecting industry than protecting children's health. At a time when child nutrition and childhood obesity are national health concerns, Congress should be supporting U.S.D.A. and school efforts to serve healthier school meals, not undermining them.

On the Blogs

It was just a few weeks ago that I complained in this section that I "must have chosen poorly in selecting blogs to follow this year on Educators' News," complete with a reference and link to the "He chose poorly" scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. But I did add then that the bloggers I'm following just might be too busy doing their jobs, teaching, to get anything of interest online. I guess the long Veterans Day weekend gave them time, because today's section contains links to a gold mine of good postings.

Mrs. Chili presented a great little song in last week's Grammar Wednesday posting for remembering the 23 helping verbs. Set to the tune of Jingle Bells, it goes:

OH, helping verbs, helping verbs, there are twenty-three!
Am, is, are, was and were, being, been, and be-EE!
Have, has, had, do, does, did, may, might, shall and should;
there are five more helping verbs, may, might, must, can and could!

Her next posting, Wishing Time Away, on her A Teacher's Education blog is a riot. Here's just a part of what she wrote:

My Local U freshman writing class is KILLING me this year.  This is, without exaggeration, the sorriest group of kids I've ever encountered.

I mean it; it's like a room of dead fish in there Monday and Wednesday nights.  I'm energetic, I'm excited, I'm performing for them, and they're sitting there, mouths slightly ajar, staring at me with vacant eyes and listless expressions. 

And we all grin and say, "Been there, done that, got the headache to prove it."

History is ElementaryEHT pokes a hole in the story about the Liberty Bell breaking while being rung announcing the Declaration on her History is Elementary blog. But in Polking....Yes, Polking the Liberty Bell, she also takes one on an engaging trip through the history of the Liberty Bell, and other bells, during the American Revolution.

Deven Black's We Need to Teach So that Kids Will Care on his Education On The Plate blog is a great read. The title sorta gives it away, but Black presents his thoughts in an intriguing way:

We have to teach kids things they don't care about for all kinds of reasons.

The first reason is because we don't have to teach them the things they do care about. They learn those things with or without us.

You know this if you have spent any time at all with boys between the ages of three and six and wondered how they know all they know about dinosaurs. You know this if you have ever talked to a teenager about their music.

We have to teach kids things they don't care about so that they will care about things they don't know about yet. Like genocides, or famines, or global warming.

Or how to use a chain saw.

Pipe Insulation Roller CoastersBen Wildeboer writes in Pipe Insulation Roller Coasters on his /Re:thinking/ blog, "The pipe insulation roller coaster project is one of the most enjoyable projects I've ever used in class." He gives complete directions.

Larry Ferlazzo's The Best Web 2.0 Applications For Education In 2011 presents a nearly overwhelming bunch of great web apps that you'll probably want to bookmark for future reference.

Mrs. Bluebird's How To Make Friends - By Walking a Kid to the Nurse is just a good, heartwarming read.

Paul Hamilton is busy exploring assistive apps and devices on his Free Resources for Every Learner blog. See:

Wright Brothers Crumpled GliderJohnathan Abreu, guest blogging on the Teaching with the Library of Congress blog, writes about a failure that preceded Kitty Hawk in The Wright Brothers' Crumpled Glider. He writes in part, "We tend to think of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, as the birthplace of manned flight, but it was also a graveyard for various aircraft test models developed by the Wright brothers."

Norm Scott's Further Cracks in Ed Deform No Excuses Mantra yesterday started me on an illuminating jaunt that first led to Anna M. Phillips' Calming Schools by Focusing on Well-Being of Troubled Students on the New York Times and finally to the Turnaround for Children site. Both Scott and Phillips quote Turnaround founder, Dr. Pamela Cantor, as saying of schools in high poverty areas, "A teacher who works in a community like this and thinks that these children can leave their issues at the door and come in and perform is dreaming." Cantor's non-profit organization focuses "on students' psychological and emotional well-being, in addition to academics," occupying "a middle ground between the educators and politicians who believe schools should be more like community centers, and the education-reform movement, with its no-excuses mantra." Phillips writes of Turnaround:

It's approach is on the premise that teaching can be made easier if schools confront the 5 percent of students who behave the worst. When they do not, Dr. Cantor said, those 5 percent often pull down the next 10 percent to 15 percent of troublesome students in an academic riptide.

Phillips concludes her piece with an apt quote from James Shelton, the federal Education Department's assistant deputy secretary for innovation and improvement, who said programs like Turnaround were often overlooked as "so much kumbaya." He then remarked:

The research for what Pam is doing is significant and growing, and for us to ignore that is not only at our peril, it's just stupid.

Tom Hoffman continues to chronicle the turnaround craziness in Rhode Island in This is No Way to Run a Manufactured Crisis on his Tuttle SVC blog.

NYC Educator unloads about the attempted privatization of public schools in Why the Push for Teacher Evaluation? He begins:

There is a crisis in this country. A crisis of unprecedented proportions. Apparently, there are billions of dollars being poured into this education thing, and many hedge fund managers are not getting even a fraction of this cash. What to do? Most importantly, we have to get rid of this whole union thing so we can stop frittering away vital resources on salaries for teachers. Of course, that message would not sell well enough to accomplish the goals of redirecting the cash.

Walt Gardner's Walking in Teachers' Shoes on the Reality Check blog is a good discussion of some of the realities that must be faced in improving education in America. While I don't want to steal his thunder, I will list the three biggies Walt expands upon in the posting.

    1. First, public schools have to enroll virtually all who show up at the schoolhouse door, regardless of motivation, interest or ability.
    2. Second, childhood poverty affects learning in ways that lay people cannot possibly grasp.
    3. Third, inspired teaching doesn't happen unless teachers care deeply about their students.

And as always, Diane Ravitch's latest posting on the Bridging Differences blog, Billionaires for Education Reform, is an excellent read. A related posting on Education Week, KIPP Charter Network Receives $25.5 Million From Walton Family Foundation, just helps make Diane's point.

Second Jobs

Teachers, facing low salaries, opt to moonlight on eSchool News does a good job of telling why teachers moonlight. The surprising thing to me is that anyone still is surprised it's going on.

Odds 'n' Ends

Grin The Borowitz Report: Startled Deer Becomes New Republican Frontrunner: Inability to Speak Considered a Plus by Andy Borowitz Grin

Seed Catalogs

Seed catalogs - 2011Ordering garden seedFor those of you who do a bit of gardening while not planning, creating materials, writing IEPs, grading papers, calling parents, etc. in your "off hours," I published our annual list of Recommended Seed Suppliers yesterday on our Senior Gardening site. In the past, our recommendations have been based on our experience and that of Senior Gardening readers with various seed houses. This year I included links to the ratings of individual seed companies on Dave's Garden Watchdog. While those ratings aren't scientific, as they're simply totals of site members' postings of positive, neutral, and negative feedback, they are a good indicator of who is getting the job done well and who isn't. I ended up dropping several big name seed companies we'd stopped using years ago after researching the ratings.

It may seem a bit premature to be talking about ordering seed in late fall, especially when we're still harvesting lettuce, spinach, and broccoli from our gardens. But this is the time of year when seed houses begin sending out their catalogs. It's also important for us to order some of our seed before the end of the year, as we start planting our seed geraniums in December and our onions in early January! And it's really nice to sit at ones desk on a snowy winter day, browsing through beautifully illustrated catalogs of vegetables and flowers.

Charity Banners

In mid-September, I started running charity banners on Wednesdays in this site's advertising slots. I haven't gotten any feedback or suggestions from readers on this practice as yet, and it certainly hasn't affected our site income from advertising. (It still covers a bag of Tootsie Roll Pops each quarter.) And you never know, something good could come out of what I now think will be a regular practice on this site. While following the link from the DonorsChoose ad at the top of this page, I found a teacher in a nearby school who needs headsets for her computers. I still have a box of headsets left over from my teaching days that I dug out of storage last night. Hmm...

I'm still irregularly updating the list of charity banner sources I ran in a recent Odds 'n' Ends column. My hope is that other education writers and bloggers might begin using some of the charity banners on their sites.

Heifer International

Friday, November 18, 2011

Trekking the Planet

A short Site of the Week posting on eSchool News led me to Darren and Sandy Van Soye's Trekking the Planet site this week. They plan to begin a 14 month around-the-world trip in January and share their trip with schoolchildren via their web site, newsletters, and downloadable educational materials.

Trekking the PlanetThe idea for such an endeavour came from a previous trip the Van Soyes took with their children in 2003. They shared experiences and photos of their adventure with their children's classes via email, only to discover that the whole school was avidly following their adventures. So, this time around, they plan to share their experiences on the web to foster greater interest and understanding of world geography. The video at right tells the story. There's also a great article about the Van Soyes available in the mid-November Fullerton Observer. You'll have to work a bit to read Diane Nielen's excellent article, Trekking the Planet (3.5 MB PDF document), as it's only available in the free, downloadable PDF issue (page 20). But it's a great read, and following the trip online should prove to be a great experience for classrooms around the world.

From the Trekking the Planet YouTube video page:

Our mission is to instill a greater awareness and curiosity about the world -- its people, culture and our fragile planet -- to as many kids as possible. To this end, we are planning a 400-day around-the-world journey to six continents, visiting approximately 50 counties. During this time, we will be trekking to some of the most remote and unspoiled places in the world. The journey begins on 28 January 2012.

We plan to engage students by providing enrichment materials: sixty (60) four-page weekly overviews (that correspond to where we will be) that use the framework of the Geography Standards of 1994 developed by the US National Council for Geographic Education.

We plan to send out weekly supplemental emails with our impressions during our journey, as well as images and video from the road.

Our materials are totally FREE to schools, administrators, kids and parents.

DCPS Still a Mess

Bill Turque has a couple of disturbing articles about the Washington, D.C. Schools that really aren't directly related to K-12 instruction. He relates in D.C. says there’s no money for contract early retirement provision that the District is trying to renege on early retirement provisions for teachers. Far more disturbing is his article, Court orders District to expand preschool special education, that tells of a federal judge lambasting the system for failing "to provide special education services to hundreds of eligible preschool-age children." Considering that the system was under a 2005 court order to do so, U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth's blast from the bench is probably well deserved. Turque writes:

Lamberth said Wednesday that District officials' "persistent failure to live up to their statutory obligations, a failure that works a severe and lasting harm on one of society's most vulnerable populations - disabled preschool children - is deeply troubling to the court."

He added that because of officials' "historic inability to keep their promises to the District's disabled preschool children, this court hereby makes it crystal clear that failing to abide by the court's order will earn defendants far more significant court involvement and oversight than is ordered this day."

Black Friday Looms

In a week, we'll once again hit Black Friday, with Cyber Monday shortly thereafter. As a new wrinkle, some stores will be open on Thanksgiving Day, getting a few hours head start on Black Friday, while denying their employees a major family holiday. Other stores in our area are waiting until 9 P.M. or midnight to open on Thanksgiving, which means their employees will either have to nap during the day or show up at work a bit bleary eyed. I received a email this week requesting that I sign their petition to Target Stores to not make their employees come in at 11 P.M. on Thanksgiving Day. I didn't sign it, but I also won't be shopping on Thanksgiving.

The Huffington Post reports that "Walmart Supercenter stores will be open 24 hours on Thanksgiving this year, with most regular Walmart stores opening midnight Thanksgiving night." I can only hope those stores are paying their employees overtime for working on a holiday, but I know better. I shopped in our local Walmart on Labor Day. When I asked a checker I know if she volunteered to work the holiday, she hissed, "No, and they're not even paying us overtime!"

My inbox has been awash with Black/Pink Friday/Cyber Monday messages from affiliate advertisers for weeks. You can probably guess why you haven't seen any of those ads here on Educators' News as yet, and probably won't. Black Friday is still a week away, and I'm sick of hearing and reading about it already. I'm also really disgusted with some of our national retail chains.

Odds 'n' Ends

Since I'm already up on my soapbox, I'll just continue to rant today.

In the wee hours this morning as I was getting ready to post today's edition of Educators' News, I happened upon one of the more biased and inaccurate articles I've read recently about education "reform." Seattle Times editorial columnist Lynne K. Varner must live in an alternate reality from what she wrote in Diane Ravitch: putting education reform to the test. It's late, so I'm not even going to rebut her half truths. I'll wait for Valerie Strauss or Anthony Cody to take her on.

Have a great weekend!

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