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.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Benefits of nature: Factsheet

I found a great downloadable fact sheet on the benefits of nature.  Click here to download it.  Much of what I am reading about nature-deficit disorder is on this fact sheet.

Chawla, L., & Cushing, D. F. (2007). Benefits of nature for children's health, Fact Sheet #1, April 2007. Children, Youth and Environments Center for Resarch and Design. Retrieved January 18, 2012 from

Click here for much more research on place-based education.

Notes on Wiscasset session of Science Dine and Discuss regarding the National Academies Report entitled A Framework for K-12 Science Education

How's that for the longest title ever?

Last night I attended a Dine and Discuss session to unpack the current state of science standards in my fair state of Maine.  The session was led by a science specialist from Wiscasset, Shari Templeton, who kept us laughing as she explained, in part, the lengthy document known as "A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas".  (Want to download a free copy?  Find it here.) Let's call it "the Framework" to keep things simple. And kudos to Shari for running an informative meeting while maintaining a sense of humor and making us feel at ease.  Information and feeling informed is empowering, and I appreciate the state's effort to help keep science teachers and those interested in science in the loop while these changes are being implemented.

Some background: Maine has been chosen as a lead state in the development of new science standards.  The Framework is a guiding document, not the standards.  The standards are in process by an organization called Achieve, Inc.  (Side note: I had the opportunity to get on board with them when I was knee-deep in OER stuff--but declined due to content/time commitment--I could have been right on the pulse of this stuff if only I had jumped on that train!) The idea is that the folks at Achieve will use the Framework to guide them as they develop new standards that will be less "wide" and more "deep".  Maine adopted the Common Core standards for math and English language arts in 2011, and these new standards developed by Achieve (called the Next Generation Science Standards) will be ready by the end of 2012 for adoption.  For all intents and purposes, these Next Generation standards will become the Common Core for science.  Maine is definitely going to adopt them.

So, what is this Framework all about?  As Shari led us through the practices and crosscutting concepts, she assured us (a crowd of mostly practicing science teachers) that the information presented is not really new, it has definitely been covered in previous standards.  However the way that it is presented is much more integrated, includes engineering practices, and has some new vocabulary.  It is designed to get kids thinking deeply about science across the k-12 continuum. From the foreword: "The framework highlights the power of integrating understanding the ideas of science with engagement in the practices of science and is designed to build students' proficiency and appreciation for science over multiple years of school."

We looked at the 8 Science and Engineering practices and the Crosscutting concepts in the session. Shari started our session by saying it was no secret that Engineering is now front and center along with Science in terms of the standards.  In the state of Maine, we have more engineering jobs than engineering grads.  Simply put we need more people to think of engineering as a viable course of study, and it will now be part of the curriculum.

Here are the 8 Science and Engineering practices:
1.  Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering)
2.  Developing and using models
3.  Planning and carrying out investigations
4.  Analyzing and interpreting data
5.  Using mathematics and computational thinking
6.  Constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering)
7.  Engaging in argument from evidence
8.  Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

Here are the Crosscutting concepts:
1.  Patterns
2.  Cause and effect; Mechanism and explanation
3.  Scale, proportion, and quantity
4.  Systems and system models
5.  Energy and matter: Flows, cycles, and conservation
6.  Structure and function
7.  Stability and change

We touched on the Disciplinary Core Ideas in the four areas of Physical Sciences, Life Sciences, Earth and Space Sciences, and Engineering, Technology, and the Applications of Sciences.  We looked at grade bands--the Framework is set up to say "by the end  of grade 2 students the end of grade 5 students the end of grade 8 students will...." meaning that these core ideas are presented over time in an integrated way.

One teacher present asked for exemplars or models of how this integration over time will occur.  She, like many good teachers, makes a lot of her own lessons and units, and exemplars will certainly help with that. She made the point that inquiry based learning, while the richest, takes the longest, and that working with other content areas that have different expectations can also take a long time--science teachers and English teachers really want different kinds of writing from their students. Since the standards are not ready to look at yet (Spring 2012 is the expected date to put eyes on them) there is no clear answer to the exemplar question yet.  Textbook companies, when the standards go live, will certainly be re-tooling their work to re-align. Shari also informed us that there will be a lot of overlap with math and ELA Common Core standards.   Maine assessments, assuming everything goes smoothly, will transition by 2015.

There are several guiding assumptions of the Framework which are worth sharing.  Children are born investigators and are able to build progressively more sophisticated explanations over time.  The Framework focuses on a limited set of core ideas in order to avoid the coverage of multiple disconnected topics.  Another assumption is that understanding develops over time and students need sustained opportunities to work with and develop the underlying ideas and to appreciate those ideas' interconnectedness over a period of years rather than weeks or months.  Also, science and engineering require both knowledge and practice -- "the theories, models, instruments, and methods for collecting and displaying data, as well as the norms for building arguments through evidence, are developed collectively in a vast network of scientists working together over extended periods".  It is important to connect to students' interests and experience, as research suggests this is critical to learning.  And finally, the idea of promoting equity is so that all students have high-quality opportunities combined with rigorous standards to engage in significant science and engineering learning.

Shari led us through an experiment designed to illustrate how implementation might occur with new standards.  We divided into groups and were asked to make a claim, show evidence, and then show reasoning for our claim.  This was a water based experiment and it was messy, hands-on, and everyone in the room became engaged with the experiment. (We filled a glass with water and put an index card over it.  We flipped the glass upside down and the water did not come out, it was capped by the card).

Our group made a claim, shared our evidence, and presented our reasoning--however we were not correct in our claim as to how the card and water stayed intact with the glass.  In fact, no one got it right--someone eventually Googled it which made us all laugh because we all know that is what the kids would do.  The point was, we were all involved.  We were all engaged.  And by the end, we all wanted to know WHY.  It opened up a different way of looking at the experiment--instead of a cookbook approach (step one, two, three--) it was more of a sandbox approach with lots of questions why and lots of experimentation.  I found I did not have the vocabulary to make sense of it--the ultimate answer had to do with molecular attraction, a concept I was not familiar with (I am a Spanish teacher, remember)--but that I was deeply curious after playing with the experiment.  The claim, evidence, reasoning piece made a lot of sense.  Teaching students to "argue" or defend their claim is central to the Framework.  Engaging them is also central--there is the idea that kids are naturally curious and we have to tap into that to engage them.

Long story short--the new standards are not ready yet, but the Framework is what will guide their creation, and the changes are designed to help Maine students reach their science and engineering potential over time.  As a non-science teacher I found the approach to creating new standards via this long report done by several professionals and research institutions an adequate/appropriate method.  I am excited at the prospect of creating integrated curriculum that engages students and helps them discover their world.


National Research Council. A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2011.

Saturday, January 14, 2012


Being out of the classroom is -- well, it takes getting used to.  I have a lot of time to think about how I teach, excuse me, taught.  It's given me the room to step back and see things differently.  I feel very much on the right track with the amount of oral, face-to-face, person-to-person, laugh-out-loud, social interactions I require of my students.  I also know the ease with which I can grade oral work is thanks in whole to the 1 to 1 computer program at my school--kids can use Garageband and email to send me work.  The video components required for assessment are so easy to make and grade with Vimeo and Keynote.  Zambombazo, the world's best Spanish culture website, is still free.  And the access it gives my students to pop culture is non pareil.

I feel less satisfied with the grammar.

My mission to go to DR to improve my grammar was a complete failure.  The environment I was in demanded English.  The Spanish I heard was a delightful mix of many foreigners trying to speak Spanish.  The high point was the absolute delight expressed by the kids when I used my "teacher voice" in Spanish.  Kids marveled at that--their eyes lit up with understanding.  But they also ignored my mistakes because my accent was correct.

Stateside, when I returned from the DR and visited my old students and old classroom, I received feedback.  My top student in Spanish 4 told me that I focused more on culture than on grammar.  He said having a grammar-oriented teacher (my sub) was the perfect complement to my style.  He said this very diplomatically and generously. 

I realize he is right.  For me, Spanish is a means of telling a story.  I love a cultural lens to lessons because I love the stories.  For me, the rules are important but vague.  My strictest teacher, Luisana, from days of old in the city of sun, Valencia--her strict reprimands and my host brothers who laughed at me outright and fixed my grammar with a smile--those days are gone.  Far behind.  My best education in Spanish grammar is...19 years old.

venezuela 1993

I know I need to focus on grammar.  Testing myself with the many free online placement tests puts me at B2/C1 or advanced mid/advanced high.  How can I get to that elusive superior rating without some serious grammar work?  How do I fix the foundation?  There seems to be no other choice but to go back to school and really try to fix this thing.  It will make my teaching a lot better.  I still want to focus on the stories, but I want to do it with perfect grammar.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Notes on "Last Child in the Woods" Part III

Louv, Richard (2005, 2008).  Last Child in the Woods: Saving our children from nature-deficit disorder. New York, NY: Workman Publishing Company.

Part III The Best of Intentions: Why Johnnie and Jeannie Don’t Play Outside Anymore

Time and Fear
p. 111 “Our lives may be more productive, but less inventive.  In an effort to value and structure time, some of us unintentionally may be killing dreamtime.”
p. 112 “It takes time--loose, unstructured dreamtime--to experience nature in a meaningful way.”
p. 120 “We can now look at at this way: Time in nature is not  leisure time; it’s an essential investment in our children’s health.”
p. 121 “By taking nature experience out of the leisure column and placing it in the health column, we are more likely to take our children on that hike--more likely to, well, have fun.”

The Bogeyman Syndrome Redux
p. 123 “Fear is the emotion that separates a developing child from the full, essential benefits of nature.  Fear of traffic, of crime, of stranger-danger, and of nature itself.”
p. 124 “Stephen Kellert, professor of social ecology at Yale, and a leading thinker on biophilia, describes how experience in the surrounding home territory, especially in nearby nature, helps shape children's cognitive maturation, including the developed abilities of analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.”

Don’t Know Much About Natural History: Education as a Barrier to Nature
p. 133 “Practitioners in the new fields of conservation psychology (focused on how people become environmentalists) and ecopsychology (the study of how ecology interacts with the human psyche) not that, as Americans become increasingly urbanized, their attitudes towards animals change in paradoxical ways.”
p. 133 “To urbanized people, the source of food and the reality of nature are becoming more abstract. At the same time, urban folks are more likely to feel protective of animals--or to fear them.”
p. 135 “If educators are to help heal the broken bond between the young and the natural world, they and the rest of us must confront the unintended educational consequences of an overly-abstract science education: ecophobia and the death of natural history studies.”
p. 137 “Public education is enamored of, even mesmerized by, what might be called silicon faith: a myopic focus on high technology as salvation.”

Where Will the Future Stewards of Nature Come From?
p. 148. “Pergams and Zaradic warn of what they call “videophilia”--a shift from loving streams (biophilia) to loving screens.”
p. 159 “”If children do not attach to the land, they will not reap the psychological and spiritual benefits they can glean from nature, nor will they feel a long-term commitment to the environment, to the place.”
p. 159 “Passion does not arrive on a videotape or a CD; passion is personal.  Passion is lifted from the earth itself by the muddy hands of the young; it travels along the grass-stained sleeves to the heart.  If we are going to save environmentalism and the environment, we must also save an endangered indicator species: the child in nature.”


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