Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Thoughts had while doing evaluation

Nature is found in abundance in Maine, and it makes an excellent source of learning. (I would say duh, but I realize that this needs to be stated up front,because we find ourselves in a culture of attaining knowledge from secondary sources, when primary sources are right outside the door).

To experience nature, you simply must go outside. I refrain from a second "duh".  Many of my friends are from Washington County, Maine, a place where outside is much bigger and more exciting than inside.

As kids, we didn't spend time building worlds in Minecraft, we built them outside.  From this play we learned about the natural world.

Raise your hand if you also worked outside in Washington County.  Nature for people from there is both companion and sustenance. So, I refrain from "duh".  Not everyone had that experience, I call it the book of Maine experience.  Four seasons, seasonal labor, seasonal abundance, seasonal slow down, you learn the rhythms of life that way, and you pay attention to the signs.

As my project comes to a close, I am sorting data, identifying excellence, tracing back to the root.   My top plant scientists, defined as the ones who had the most robust and diverse plant collection, can be traced back to one teacher, who wrote: "I am just a humble teacher from rural Maine!" on the original application that she submitted, three years ago now.

Twice I visited her classroom, driving past Katahdin coming and going, finding myself surrounded by rolling fields that folded into hills and blue sky.  Both visits she chose to bring her students outside, and we visited the Nordic Heritage Sport Club and the Aroostook Wildlife Refuge.

The second trip, that bus ride after lunch with seventh graders going to the refuge was INSANE. To every chaperones' credit we grinned and bore it, because soon we were released into the wild, and the kids had a purpose and a plan and a wide expanse to roam. Some ran.  Some skipped rocks.  Many found sticks.  All stopped and collected data.  Many parents were involved and so was the bus driver.  We were all looking for signs, signs of things we didn't know much about yet.

The ride home was the reverse: it was almost reverent. 

She taught the book of Maine.  It worked its magic.

Get outside today with your students.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Lunder New Naturalists

Year 2 in schools with the Lunder New Naturalists has been intense! There are now 19 schools, over 600 students, and 38 teachers.  I am visiting, observing, clarifying--enjoying the process of building, refining, reiterating! The pilot will be officially over June 2015.  Here's a few things that have changed for this year.

1.  Primary source research is a focus.  We were able to collaborate with the folks at Houghton Library to connect kids directly to Roosevelt's diaries.  From there we asked kids to decode his writing and identify his interactions with nature. They are asked to support or challenge the statement that time spent outside influence Roosevelt's conservation achievements.

2.  Visiting land in conservation is now a lesson, not a suggestion. This year we asked all schools to identify local resources and then visit them!  The power of primary experiences.

3.  Challenges are local.  Last year we asked students to work together around the state and come up with universal challenges.  This year, it's all place-based stuff.  Kids are teamed from around the state, but they not doing work for each other, instead they consult with each other on their local work.  So far, so good. Examples: conserving piping plover habitat.  Reducing colony collapse of bees.  Reducing invasive species.  Dune grass restoration.  One school I visited has a very special population of butterflies that only live in cedar swamps.  They want to make sure these guys live on.

4.  Our website is less confusing.  Overall far less reports of misunderstanding.

5.  Rugged deadlines.  Unlike last year, this year I have the whole project aligned to a timeline that is rugged but doable.  Last year we made it about halfway through the project with the kids.  I predict this year several schools will do it all.

I'm actually on the road right now, between school visits, and marveling at the great state of Maine.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Teaching Strategies for Middle School Students

As a part of the pilot project's first year, site visits were made to as many schools involved as possible.  I managed to visit eight schools, and seven of the visits were when class was in session.  Watching veteran teachers integrate a new program was exciting. Here are some take-aways from my observations.

1.  Technology that is engaging can be as simple as a pencil and paper, or marker and desktop. One school I visited had a protocol for observing plants in nature, and it involved keeping an observation notebook on paper.  iPads were used to take pictures and use the app to identify the plant, although there were many real books used as well.   A two hour hike in a large recreational area  was extremely productive because the students had a role and they knew what to do.  Guess what happens when you use pencil and paper?  It's portable and fail-proof (unless you're in the rain).  This strategy kept each student engaged with their time out-of-doors.

Another school I visited had a brainstorming session using dry erase markers and the plastic tops of desks to quickly jot down group ideas.  This isn't feasible everywhere but it was a quick and easy way to enter data.

2.  Get kids moving. The kids who brainstormed on their desks had a second phase to the brainstorm.  In the second phase they had to put their list on the board, one kid at a time going up to the board and adding an idea.  The only catch was you weren't allowed to write something on the board that had been written already.  This got the students reading the board and engaging with the ideas presented. It was quick, messy, loud.  At the end of the time, students looked for doubles one more time and removed them, then took a picture of the final brainstorm with their iPads, and loaded the picture onto a shared Google doc which they used as a starting point for their conservation projects.

3.  Give a vehicle for emotions with call and response.  At another school that I visited, the teacher had a series of calls and responses she worked through with her students.  Some were obviously old favorites and hearing the kids shout back "Yes, teach!" to her call was a fun way to get them back on task.  But she did something else that I loved.  She said things like, "That was hard! Give a sigh!" and the kids all sighed.  "It was really hard! Sigh louder!"  And they would.  "You did a good job, say hooray!"  and they did. And so on.  It was like she intuited their emotional responses to some of the activities and gave them a chance to express themselves in a chorus.  Was it kind of loud sometimes? Yes.  Did it visibly reduce pressure? Yes. 

4.  Let them be the experts.  In most of the schools I visited this seemed to be a theme.  A student would report a problem, and the teacher would ask who knew how to solve it, and then let the kid be the expert.  With the advent of Airdrop and iPads, it was as easy as projecting the device of the kid with the solution.  Airdrop made sharing fast and dead simple.


Monday, January 6, 2014

Why, hello!

The past year wooshed by! In January I began working on a pilot program for middle school students in Maine. After recruiting teachers, developing curriculum, building a website, and launching in the fall...I have some perspective on what just happened! 

Also, let me just say... this is my dream scenario. For years, collaboration and creation have been a part of my learning approach--as a connectivist, I want to connect people, build a strong network, grow knowledge! This project allowed me to grow a small network of teachers and learners, and connect them. It was exciting! It was awesome. You can't see much beyond the front page of the website, because it's private. However, the ideas driving the program, biodiversity and conservation in Maine, and the lens of Theodore Roosevelt's time in Maine and how he wound up being a conservation hero, and yes, a sport, were what got kids talking. (RE: sport.This is Maine, sports are a part of the fabric of Maine. They are those who come here to hunt, fish, rusticate, camp, etc. Some pay for guides--Roosevelt did.) 

 Here are my informal thoughts on this project.

  1. Boys were engaged. This is based on observation in the field, the quality of videos produced by boys, and anecdotal evidence from teachers--one particular group didn't buy-in until they learned about Roosevelt's time spent hunting and fishing in Maine. Ever since my first graduate literacy course, and "Reading Don't Fix No Chevies", this has been a topic that intrigues me (boys, engagement, literacy.) 

  2. Students enjoy working with other students, and this increased engagement. This is based on two feedback surveys I gave the students. They enjoyed seeing each other's work, interacting, and commenting. Students began to help each other using comments and provide feedback based on the rubrics given for the products. This is also based on Google analytics. I have around 400 users of the site and over 100k pageviews since the start, when I checked 8 weeks ago mid-project.

  3. Students in middle school aren't always aware the Internet is real life. This was based on my observations in the field (which includes site visits, and web master views of content and interaction). Sometimes they shared inappropriate things (their peers called them on it, and flagged). In my site visits I showed them what I saw as a web master--all of their content, activity, etc. The kids were wild about this! They began to understand the bigger picture of interaction and ethics and that this was real.

  4. Students want to follow directions, but not if they are too hard. Or meaningless. Developing curriculum for this age group is new to me and I was told repeatedly that my instructions were too hard. This caused shame for some students, based on teacher feedback. I don't want kids to feel stupid, so I need to adjust the language and input fields, and streamline as much as possible.

  5. We made something beautiful. The positive feedback on how the site looks, and functions in parts, was positive. This was based on feedback from students and teachers online and in person. I am so glad, because my boss and I worked our butts off. The great thing is, we made a framework, but the content is all from the students. So really, they made something beautiful.

  6. We made something confusing. Teaming of students was confusing because it was difficult to know who was on what team and our collaborative space had glitches. Based on feedback, this was the most confusing part of the experience. The second most confusing part was some of the language of the instructions.  I came out of this year with renewed respect for middle level curriculum design and developmental markers.

  7. Kids can produce quality content and humorous content even at this level. Based on some of the videos, and some of the timeline entries, and some of the plant collection photos, I would say content creation is something kids really enjoy, and is a winning strategy for collaboration and growing knowledge on a network.

  8. Without teachers, there would be no pilot.  The teachers involved did a really good job of being flexible and making the project accessible to their kids.  Their role was to facilitate.  I observed this during site visits and through communication with the teachers.  I also observed humor and many excellent teaching strategies.

Next time I will write about some of the teaching strategies I observed in the pilot. Thanks for bearing with me as I transitioned from a classroom teacher and graduate student to a program coordinator for a state wide middle level program.  

Thursday, November 29, 2012

New program!

Here is the slideshow that I used to tell my current board about the statewide initiative that was recently funded. Notes are not included. However I'll be writing more about it as it gets going! Very excited in anticipation of the launch!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Rachel Carson. Fifty years of Silent Spring.

Rachel Carson has been on my mind a lot lately. CMBG has a wonderful exhibit going on, it's visually lovely and has very interesting artifacts.  I created the Sense of Wonder walk for k-6 graders that goes through a fairly wild little hillside that drops down to the river with a flourish of cedar and pine.

Rachel is central to my work at the moment. She wanted people to be in a relationship with their environment. She wanted things to remain fresh and lovely.

I kind of want a bracelet that says WWRCD. What would Rachel Carson do.

Click in to see information on a great contest!

  Attention seventh graders in Maine: Silent Spring Essay Contest

The year 2012 marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of Rachel
Carson's revolutionary work, Silent Spring. In celebration of this momentous
occasion, the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve (Wells Reserve at
Laudholm) and Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) are partnering to
offer a statewide environmental essay contest for seventh grade students in

Seventh grade student essay contest applicants, please choose one of these
three quotes from Rachel Carson's Silent Spring and explain what it means to

Quote 1: "By acquiescing in an act that can cause such suffering to a living
creature, who among us is not diminished as a human being?"

Quote 2: "Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of
strength that will endure as long as life lasts."

Quote 3: "In nature, nothing exists alone."

Requirements: Times New Roman 12 pt font, 400-600 words, double-spaced, with
name and page number on each page. On the title page, please include your
name, address, phone number, email, school name, and school phone number, in
addition to your essay title. Please specify which quote you are responding
to. Wells Reserve at Laudholm and Rachel Carson NWR reserve the right to
publicize submissions on their websites and other outreach materials.

Scoring: Essays will be judged by the Wells Reserve at Laudholm Education
Advisory Committee, using a point scale based on the following criteria:
creativity, heart, style, punctuation/spelling, and clarity. Remember, your
essay must consist of your own thoughts and words.


Grand prize: iPad

First place: Digital camera

Second place: Binoculars

Third place: Gift certificate to a local bookstore

All winning students will also receive a hard cover copy of Silent Spring.
Prizes will be presented to the winners at their schools by the Wells
Reserve at Laudholm and Rachel Carson NWR education staff members.

Deadline: December 1, 2012. Winners will be notified by December 14, 2012.

Submission: Please email essays to Suzanne Kahn Eder at

Suzanne Kahn Eder

Education Director

Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve

(207) 646-1555 x 116

Saturday, May 5, 2012


First, note the new dynamic view of the blog!
Second, I changed the title to "Garden Learning"--there's a story behind that title which will be shared!
Third, I am no longer a public school teacher of World Languages.  I am a curriculum and school resource coordinator at a 250-acre botanical garden in Maine, on a short term contract.

So many changes!

It's good, though.  All very good.  I'm loving the gardens!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Notes on Education Evolving: Maine's Plan for Putting Learners First

Maine Department of Education. (2012). Education Evolving: Maine's Plan for Putting Learners First. Augusta, Maine.

This strategic plan, released on January 17 by Commissioner Stephen Bowen, outlines five core priority areas with detailed goals, objectives, and action plans to implement change in these areas. 

The five core priority areas are:
  • Effective, Learner Centered Instruction
  • Great Teachers and Leaders
  • Multiple Pathways for Learner Achievement
  • Comprehensive School and Community Supports
  • Coordinated and Effective State Support
In Commissioner Bowen's opening essay, he outlines several challenges that Maine education faces and how these drive the report.

The first challenge Bowen identifies is that our schools are struggling to accomplish what they need to accomplish.  On page 3, he states: "The state's higher education institutions report that a shockingly high percentage of incoming students require remedial coursework."  He emphasizes on page 4 that "our schools are not struggling due to a lack of effort."

The second challenge is that recent efforts to improve schools have come up short.  Since high-stakes testing has driven assessment, other content areas have suffered.  A telling statistic from a University of Indiana study revealed that "67% of students report being bored in school every day" and over half reported that they do not see how the material was relevant to them (p. 4).  The intensive work done to raise test scores have made  "little discernable impact" and "a narrowing of the school curricula at a time when the job creators of the 21st century are calling for more emphasis on creative and innovative thinking and skills" (p. 4).

The third challenge is that our traditional approach to education is standing in the way of success.  I found this challenge to be a real eye-opener, as it explained how a committee of ten people sat down over a hundred years ago and wrote our current blueprint for a school day.  The blueprint was not designed for students who would pursue college but who would get a full, well-rounded education in high school.   It was not designed to meet the needs of the learner, but to cover subjects.  Bowen ends the write-up of this challenge with: "We have to address the basic architecture of the industrial-era model of schooling built more than a century ago" (p. 5).  Everything we know to be true about a traditional school day, a traditional learner, and "factory-style bell schedules" must be addressed.

Challenge four is that change must be achieved within existing resources.  Our budgets are decreasing, not increasing.  We need to maximize what resources we have available (and in my own opinion that means to leverage the incredible brain power of the great teachers in the system).

How will this plan be able to accomplish its goals for the five core priority areas while facing these challenges?  According to Bowen's introductory essay, change will come through instructional practices, effective teachers and school leaders, multiple pathways to student achievement, a comprehensive network of school and community supports, and careful alignment of the entire educational system.

The document then goes into detail of each core priority area with goals, objectives, and action steps for each area.

Here are the core goals.  There is a lot more information in the report--take the time to read it--find it here.  It's 36 pages long, so not really lunch-break reading, but definitely worth the time to sit and digest the proposed goals.  I think in a few years it will be interesting to see where we are at with them.

Effective, Learner Centered Instruction

Goal: A variety of instructional materials aligned with the Maine Learning Results, which include the Common Core standards, are readily available and support the instructional practice of Maine educators.

Goal: Learner-centered instructional strategies are in place in all Maine classrooms.   

Goal: All Maine teachers have access to modern, 21st-century assessment systems and use assessment information to inform instruction. 

Goal: Maine's educators have ready access to helpful data and regularly use it to tailor instruction and improve student outcomes.

Great Teachers and Learners

Goal: Educator preparation, training and evaluation are informed by a common understanding of effective teaching and leadership/

Goal: Maine educators are consistently supported through high-quality training and professional development.

Goal: Highly effective teacher evaluation systems are in place in every Maine school district.

Goal: Maine's educators participate easily and often in statewide sharing of instructional best practices and professional development opportunities.

Multiple Pathways for Learner Achievement

Goal: All Maine students learn in a proficiency-based model that allows them to move at their own pace and advance when they have mastered learning outcomes.

Goal: Learner-designed assessments are used in schools across Maine, making students active participants in setting and meeting expectations.

Goal: A wide variety of learning opportunities and settings gives all students access to educational options that work for them.

Goal: All Maine learners actively participate in digital learning opportunities that engage them and allow self-directed, self-paced learning.

Comprehensive School and Community Supports

Goal:  All students with special learning needs have access to efficient, effective and appropriate services that help them succeed.

Goal: Coordinated health and wellness programs contribute to a healthy school environment that helps learners make the most out of school.

Goal: Schools and districts are engaged in unprecedented partnerships with families and the broader community as a way to expand learning opportunities for students.

Goal: Students commonly access internships, apprenticeships, and other opportunities to learn in workplace settings, apply academic lessons, and explore potential career fields.

Coordinated and Effective State Support

Goal: Maine students are able to move easily through a learner-centered educational system fully integrated from early childhood to adulthood.

Goal: Maine's students are supported through adequate and effective state resources.

Goal: Information and instructional technologies are supporting instructional practice and efficient school system operations.

Goal: An effective school and district accountability and improvement system helps Maine's schools meet the needs of all learners.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

new goals

When I completed my master's program, it took months to sink in that School was Over.  Full time school is intense.  I had a semester off once... (and did things like DR2010--some break), but for the most part I was in school continuously for three years.

It's done and over with.  I am at the next level.  I am doing something absolutely stimulating with my brain and it's not for a grade but a paycheck.

I don't think I am done with school, however.

In order of priority:
1.Spanish (not a master's, but something to bring me to Superior according to ACTFL-I think two or three grammar and conversation courses will help me get there)
2. Certificate of Advanced Studies in Curriculum (found here)

Writing it down helps me focus.


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