life: magic and adventure

This is cross-posted HERE.

Last night I was fortunate enough, along with my husband, daughter, and father-in-law, able to see Dr. Jane Goodall speak on the opening night of her lecture series in my hometown of Omaha. The tickets were free to the community thanks to the sponsorship of Dr. Goodall’s good friend, Omahan and fellow conservationist, Tom Mangelsen.

My mini-takeaways from Dr. Goodall’s lecture:

  • Life is full of magic.
  • Don’t squander opportunity.
  • Books. Read them. Read, read read.
  • Social media can be used for good!
  • Risk leads to learning.
  • Learning is everything.
  • Love and compassion DO make a difference.
  • Dogs are great teachers.
  • Life is an adventure.

Press Conference by UN Messenger of Peace

United Nations Photo via Compfight

A mix of takeaway and reflection:

Apathy is a problem today–for adults, but of even more concern–for young people. (I am a teacher, so this is something I see everyday.) One thing that Dr. Goodall said that touches on this is: “When youth loses hope, there is no hope.” Something that I would love to be able to do is to tap into my students’ passions and ensure that apathy is not an option for them. I want them to care about something–anything–so much that they can’t be apathetic about the world. I have felt the sting of apathy in my own life. It is easy to become numb. It is easy to brush off the things that we care about because sometimes caring about things hurts. Apathy can be a form of self-preservation. When you know that there are people out there hurting animals, when you know that there are people out there raping the land, when you know that there are people out there who don’t care about other people, sometimes it’s easier to steel yourself to avoid the pain of awareness. The pain of awareness can force one to act. Action isn’t easy. Apathy is. This is exactly why apathy is so dangerous.

When youth loses hope, there is no hope.

~ Dr. Jane Goodall, March 11, 2016, Holland Performing Arts Center in Omaha, NE

It’s hard to be one person trying to make a difference, especially when it feels like, as an individual, you can’t make one. Last night, Dr. Goodall addressed that. She reminded us that there are people in this world who do care. The reason we have 500+ whooping cranes in the world right now, when not too long ago we only had 12, is because people cared about them (and what it would mean to lose them).

Dr. Goodall spoke of the children she worked with through Roots and Shoots. (Some from the Omaha group were in the audience last night.) She talked about how kids “get it”. She talked about a young person who made sure to turn off the tap to conserve water, instead of allowing the tap to run unnecessarily. That one young person might not make much of a dent in the water conservation movement, but if that young person and other individuals band together, it does make a difference. When there is a network of people working toward the same goal, a change will be made. Sometimes it’s hard to see the big picture when you’re just existing in your own little bubble. But that shouldn’t stop you from doing what is right. When you do the right thing it adds to the sum of all the other people doing the right thing. When you give up, it subtracts from the good of the cause.

There are so many things that we do every day that are detrimental to the world around us. When you go to the gas station and you buy a disposable beverage container, that’s a decision that is detrimental to the environment. That’s a decision that I make far too often. When you decide to drive somewhere when you could easily walk or ride a bike, that’s detrimental to the environment. When you give in to societal pressures on food choices, on the vehicle you drive, on how you spend your time and money, ask yourself if it’s something you need, or how it might affect the environment.

There are four things that give Dr. Goodall hope. 1. youth (As long as we have young people who care, we have a fighting chance.) 2. the human brain (The human brain can be used to think up all sorts of awful things, but it can also be used to think up amazingly wonderful things too. It’s the wonderful side of things that give us hope!) 3. the resilience of nature (Dr. Goodall’s discussion of Gombe National Park’s regeneration is good example of this.) 4. the indomitable human spirit (Dr. Goodall herself is this personified!).

She shared with us stories from her time on her grandparent’s farm. She grew up in London, so although she was able to interact with pigeons and earth worms, she didn’t have much face-to-face time with animals, until she spent some time on her grandparents’ farm. She says she was born loving animals, so this was nothing new, but this face-time awakened the young scientist in her. She recounted wondering from where an egg was issued, since she couldn’t observe a hole the size of an egg anywhere on any of the hens she’d encountered. No one in her family seemed to have a satisfying answer, which spurred her to seek the truth on her own. This led to her hiding out in the coop quietly, (much to the astonishment of her family, who had no idea where she was) long enough to find the answer to the question that no one seemed willing to give her.

She also had no problem naming some of the things that are harming our world in a scary way (in her word’s “Climate change is real. Science tells us so.”)–reckless burning of fossil fuels, cutting down trees (something that gets worse and worse each year in Nebraska–the supposed “Tree Planter’s State”), and the consumption of cattle. She said, “It’s strange that people believe in unlimited economic growth on a planet with finite resources.” She mentioned all of the similarities between chimpanzees and humans and noted that humans are the smarter of the two species. Our DNA is very similar, but humans are superior in intelligence. She noted sadly, “The creature with the most intellectual capability is destroying its own home.” The message here? Ask yourself, “How will what I do today–in this very moment–affect future generations?” It seems so lofty, but if we work toward a better future, we will have a better today.

Dr. Goodall’s lecture last night made me feel so much better about Truth Farms CSA. We started this business three years ago. We had fantasized about it for long enough. I finally told Caleb that if we weren’t going to do it, we could no longer talk about it, so we did it. He quit his job (big risk) and we shifted our focus to learning everything we could about responsible, sustainable farming. (He already had a background in horticulture, but there is always more to learn.) Then we put what we already knew and what we learned into practice as best as we could. We made our mission to treat our animals kindly and with compassion and to be stewards of our land. Even though we’re doing many things right, there are so many more things we could be doing. Dr. Goodall touched on the detrimental effects of agriculture, which is not a popular stance in Nebraska, understandably, considering how much our economy relies on the industry. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t think about how to make it better. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t act on making it better. We don’t make very much money running our CSA, but we believe in what we do. Our hope is that one day all of our customers will have gardens of their own and we can share and barter the way people used to.

Hearing Dr. Goodall speak of her hope for the future gives me hope and it also reminds me that apathy is not an option. Even though it hurts to build awareness of all of the ugly things going on in the world, it is up to us to confront it and to take small steps to add to the network of small steps that people are taking around the world.

Seeing one of the people that I’ve admired since childhood speak last night was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I don’t want to squander her message. Apathy is the enemy because apathy makes it easier to ignore the things that you can do better. I am happy to think of the things that my family and I do right, and I am overwhelmed to think of all of the things we do wrong or could do better. The hard part is keeping that fire alive so that we continue to care and continue to strive to do better.


I encourage you to learn more about the Jane Goodall Institute and consider supporting this worthy cause.

Also, if you live in southeast Nebraska, or are visiting, please stop and see Tom Mangelsen’s amazing art gallery too. Tom, if you’re “listening,” know that you gave Omaha a huge gift when you sponsored Dr. Goodall’s lecture. It’s easy to look at Dr. Goodall’s body of work and be inspired by it from afar, but it there’s no comparison to seeing her speak in person–the compassion in her voice and the kindness of her posture. A sincere thanks to Tom Mangelsen and anyone else who made it possible for the Omaha community to see her speak in person. My daughter, who is 13 will remember this for a lifetime.

The Truth Farms CSA crew: Steve, Caleb, Jodie, and Adeline

The Truth Farms CSA crew: Steve, Caleb, Jodie, and Adeline

Griffin’s electronic symphony

Griffin has been working on his electronic symphony. He took three old floppy drives and programmed them to play a variety of songs. He did this for fun!

He explained it better than I will, but the program controls the little motors’ rate of speed. The motor’s rate of speech controls the sound that comes out of it. If you alter the speed you alter the sound, thus allowing for different notes, thereby making music.


via Instagram http://ift.tt/1WAR8Nj

A little Adele …

The Relateable Prince Escalus

1984

Bill Lile via Compfight

During 6th hour today, I read the part of Prince Escalus in scene 1 Act I of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and I may have gotten into it a little too much.

It’s just that I relate to Prince E. He’s fed up with the shenanigans of his people, but when he speaks, he has trouble getting them to take him seriously, or even listen in the first place. Even with the threat of severe punishment hanging over the city, they are so wrapped up in their own affairs, they cannot be bothered to stop what they are doing to hear what he has to say. When he hears of yet another brawl stemming from the ridiculous ancient Veronian grudge, he enters the scene in a fury.

He addresses them, “Rebellious subjects!” (Everyone keeps fighting.) “Enemies to peace!” (A chicken flies past his head.) “Profaners of this neighbor-stained steel–!” (A friar gets stabbed in the eye and is wheeled out in an apple cart.) “Will they not hear?”

I mean what teacher CAN’T relate to Prince E? Maybe my students aren’t brawling in the aisles of the classroom, and so far I’ve never had a live chicken running around during class,  and the consequences I lay out are nowhere near as serious as the prince’s, but we have our moments when I want to start class and everyone else in the room has other concerns. That’s normal. Students have priorities. Teachers have priorities. Those priorities don’t always match.

As the day went on, my Prince Escalus performance became more and more passionate. By 6th period, I was really feeling it. I got louder and louder. And, now my vocal cords feel broken, but I had some fun playing the role of Prince Escalus today.

T’is (always) the season for the projection of perfection.

Hug

Hans-Jörg Aleff via Compfight

Social media paints the perfect picture of a life–all throughout the year–but especially during this holiday-heavy season.

I know that I only post things that I want my friends and family (Facebook, Instagram) and the world (Twitter) to see. I know I’m not alone in this.

Nothing is perfect though. Everyone is imperfect, but it’s easy to forget that when you’re staring into a screen.

I think social media is a great way to share the good things in our lives, and I’m not saying that anyone has to post uncomfortable, painful, or embarrassing things online–though if that’s what you want to do, that is fine by me.

We all use social media for different reasons. I mostly use it as a place to share fun light-hearted things. I probably give the impression that everything in my life is sunshine and fluffy bunnies.

Before I post a picture, I can (and do) edit it. I filter it. If I don’t like it, I don’t post it. If it cast me in a positive light, I’ll probably post it. Such is the way of a social media post. On Facebook, I don’t want to post anything that makes other pity me or feel sorry for me or bring them down, so I probably won’t share, “I just got in a fight with my kid” or “I’m feeling insecure about my finances” or “I’m scared that so many people I know have cancer.” I don’t know that I ever will share any of that because of the way I use social media. This might be damaging to others though–others who believe what they see on social media–or see what they want to see/believe (???–still working this out in my head …)

I’ll repeat what I’ve already said though: Nothing is perfect. Everyone struggles. Everyone. I experience struggles similar to everyone I know. I may not post about them, but they are there. 

I have a friend who is struggling more than most right now and one of the things that is really stinging her is that people around her appear to have perfect lives (on social media). She is comparing her reality to this limited view of who we all are.

The point I’m trying to make is that what we project on social media is just a distilled fraction of who anyone is. No one can live up to the image that people portray here (or other social media outlets).

If you are struggling and you feel like you are on an island, I assure you that you are not. If you are feeling that way, know that you are never alone. I’m here. Others are here. It’s okay to reach out. Whether I’ve known you for a lifetime or if we’ve never met at all, I will probably not be able to solve your problem for you, but in my own imperfect way, I will do what I can to help you.

the thing about creative projects …

The responses I receive when students find out we are doing a creative project are wide and varied.

PicMonkey Collage

Some (probably obvious) observations:
1. Some students, no matter how much time you give them, will always waste it and become enraged on the actual due date, when there is a consequence for not being done. That could speak to many things — engagement, learning difficulties, distractions that have nothing to do with your class, distractions that have everything to do with your class …
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2. Some students have no desire to tap into the creativity that I know resides in all people. Some just have no desire to do so in English class. These same students probably exhibit creativity in other areas of their lives or could if they tried. In fact, I’m certain of it. They might not even recognize their creativity as creativity at times.
3. Because some students don’t demonstrate creativity in an English class, many of them grow up believing that they are not creative. How can we change that? For example, my husband used to say he wasn’t creative, but after watching him repurpose thing after thing after thing that another person would probably throw out into something useful, I had to convince him that he was indeed creative. He might not write a poem, but he IS creative.
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4. Some students are project-ed out. Teachers today, overall do a good job of trying to mix things up for their students, so much in fact, that students are often bombarded by projects–sometimes all at once. This is one piece of evidence that may help in proving the value of co/intercurricular projects. Why not kill two (or more) projects with one stone?

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5. Sometimes I think teachers (myself included) are not as creative as we could be in offering different ways of allowing students to demonstrate creativity in learning. (Confusing! And ironic!)

Questions for other educators:

What are some ways you have allowed students to demonstrate their learning creatively?

Have you ever allowed your students to go “free-range” on how they demonstrate learning? If so, what were the results? 

What are some things that you’ve seen students do that might not be recognized as “creative” but are creative? 

How can we tap into EVERYONE’s creativity, or at least give them a fighting chance to do so? 

 

Instagram of the God/desses (a lesson plan, with handouts)

Gods @ Mount Olympus Ganymedes Costagravas via Compfight

To prep for our upcoming freshman English Odyssey unit, we are researching the gods, goddesses, and some other mythological friends. In order to avoid the boring Powerpoint/poster board format of the days of yore, my colleagues and I tapped into popular culture and asking the students to present their research in the form of a social media profile. I went the Instagram route.

My intention was to let them choose between Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter, but as the day turned into night and the night turned into morning as I worked on the Instagram template, I decided to go to bed and so #Insta it was. (I toyed with the idea of a Snapchat template, but I just couldn’t pull that one out this time. By the next time I teach The Odyssey, there will be some other social media outlet for which I will need to devise a template.) The students had the option of printing off their template and drawing “photos” by hand, or creating a digital document using Pages.

Some things that went well:
1. The students who enjoy creative projects went to town and engagement was overall high.
2. Giving high and low-tech options met almost everyone’s needs. (With some minor tweaks, accommodations, modifications, everyone was able to meet the goals of the project.)
3. The students were focused and (for the most part everyone) used class time to its full potential, which also speaks to the engagement level. (There will always be exceptions to this rule.)
4. The research portion of the activity was effective. Every student could tell you something about the god/dess or mythical figure s/he selected. Most could tell you many things. Everyone learned something.
Some things I’ll do differently next time:
1. I apparently have no idea how to instruct students on where to save their documents so that they “travel” with the student. I thought I did, but I definitely did not. When we moved to a new computer lab, the students either had to walk down to the lab we worked on the first day and retrieve documents from the exact computer where they sat the day before or start over. This lead to many lost documents and lots of wasted time.  (This is my first year at the school, so I am still learning processes. I’m STILL not sure I know how to do this. I instructed several students to email themselves the most current version of their assignment. That worked, but it is not ideal.)
2. The template is a Pages document and it needs to be tweaked so that the objects/tables are not “wrapped”. Otherwise, when you move one object it moves the rest of the objects/tables around. The other thing I may do is create a template in Google Drawing, so that the students’ can keep their document in their Google Drive.
3. I should’ve front-loaded with how to edit a Pages document … masking, tables, etc. because most of them had never used Pages in that capacity, which lead to frustration for the students (and consequently me. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard that much whining … Ugh. My bad.)
4. Those who wanted to work at home could only do so if they have a Mac. Most do not. I sent them a PDF, but they could only print it off and do it by hand, since PDFs are not digitally alterable.
5. Some of the students, today (the third day of what was supposed to be a 1 1/2 day project) asked if they could just create a REAL Instagram account. This thought had occurred to me when I was making the template, but I didn’t think they would want to go through that process. I told them YES. Those who chose the option said that it would be so much easier than using that god-(or goddess??)-forsaken template. I will most likely make that an option in the future, if I can sort out some copyright issues. I made an assumption about their willingness to open a new Instagram account, and you know what they say about assumptions.
Aside: It cracks me up when a student wants to cite him/herself as a source! (This is not to discount the idea that some students are experts at some things–like a student who has grown up taking care of horses, or a student who has honed in on a passion for vacuum cleaners at age four–but usually, until you’ve published a book or received payment as an invited speaker on the subject, you have to cite your sources.) I suppose this would be a good time to teach or model humility …?
Questions I have for other educators: 
1. Copyright is a big deal to me. I want to make sure students are citing their information sources, but I also want them to cite their image sources, which is something I’ve noticed is overlooked.  With the template, this was easy. With the actual Instagram accounts, what is the best method for attribution, or is it even okay to post images that don’t belong to you in a parody Instagram account? This is something I didn’t think of prior to giving the greenlight to the students’ spontaneous proposal.
2. Do you have any ideas for creating a FAKE Snapchat template? Other social media outlets other than Twitter and Facebook?
In all, I think this went well. It’s, just like everything we do in education (and in life), a work in progress, but next year it will be better, and the year after that, even better.
You can find the documents I used for this project #BELOW.

REQUIREMENT: InstagramREQUIREMENTS
BLANK PAGES TEMPLATE: (Pages) INSTAGRAM-blankTEMPLATE (PDF) INSTAGRAM-blankTEMPLATE
SCORE SHEET: INSTAGRAMscoresheet

We need to take care of our people.

Hug

Creative Commons License Benjamin Chun via Compfight

This past summer some of my drama students and I took part in an active shooter scenario training. Some students played the role of those who were terrorized by a gunman but survived with no physical harm. Other students played the roles of those who were injured or–even more horrifically–dead, complete with realistic wounds applied by moulage make-up artists. I played the role of a teacher who went into cardiac arrest after witnessing one of my students being shot to death. Other teachers and school employees took on the roles of classroom teachers and office personnel in the given situation. Administrators were also present to essentially play themselves in the scenario.

There are some feelings that arose during the training that I will never be able to properly articulate. There are thing about the training that I won’t share in fear of someone reading about it and using what I learned to their advantage should that person “snap” and attempt to carry out a loathsome plan of his/her own. I haven’t written about it until now–not for lack of trying– because it was a very difficult experience–one that I’ve reflected upon daily since I participated in it–one that has changed the way I do business in my classroom–one that has inserted an element of fear into my everyday life, not just for me, but more so for my students and my own children. I know that statistics are in our favor for the likelihood of something like the tragedies our country has experienced happening to my loved ones or me, but the statistics are changing with every mass shooting. Even though the training was completely simulated, by the time the scenario ended, I felt like crying. I felt like I could have an actual heart attack. Some of the students who participated had real panic attacks and needed real medical attention. Afterward, I wanted to place a protective shield around every school in America–around every child in the world. It was too real, which was hard, but also good because it gave administrators, first-responders, EMTs and law enforcement the chance to practice in case something like this ever happened in our community.

Got that? We offered them an opportunity to practice in case this ever happens to us. In our community. We had to practice. Because it could happen to anyone. It could happen to us. It used to be rare. Yesterday’s college campus shooting in Oregon is one more reminder that it is becoming more common. In the Omaha area alone there have been two mass shootings of recent date–one at Von Maur department store at Westroads shopping mall, and one at my alma mater, Millard South High School. And now yesterday, and before that, Charleston, Fort Hood, Newtown,  Aurora, Oakland, Columbine … Sadly, I know I’m leaving many out.

The fact that we have to train for something so unthinkable demonstrates how serious this possibility is. The fact that something like this is a possibility–a very real possibility–terrifies me. The fact that I don’t want to describe what we did that day or how we did it in fear that some depraved individual will read it and be able to better plan an attack, speaks to the culture of fear Americans live in.

Of course I want you to go home and hug your babies. Of course I want you to be vigilant. Of course I want everyone in education to go through the training I went through. Of course it makes me sad that I want that. But what I really want to examine is why this happens. There are many theories–most of them quite controversial in nature, but I favor one theory. We don’t take care of ourselves or each other.

We tend to our physical ailments without giving it a second thought, but for some reason taking care of our people’s mental ailments is still a secretive, taboo practice. It’s still something we are ashamed of. This causes people to NOT seek the help they need. It causes people to NOT seek the help that their children need. Mental illness makes us ashamed of something we cannot control. We are so damned concerned about how others perceive us that we are not taking care of basic health or doing so in secret. Think about this: Why do we call it “mental health”? Why do we separate it out? Health is health. Our minds are part of our bodies, so, while the mind is a specialized area, it’s still contributes to the health of the whole person.

And, I’m not talking about slapping drugs on the problem either, though I realize there is a time and place for medication. I’m talking about making talk, cognitive, or behavior therapy available without the stigma. I’m talking about making it okay to talk about what ails us, both mentally and physically. When someone has diabetes or cancer, we get upset with them when they don’t take care of themselves. When someone reaches out for assistance because they hear voices, or can’t control their own moods, we slap them with an ugly label and ostracize them. It’s a wonder that anyone seeks help. Without a support system in place, it’s unlikely that a person will.

No matter what diagnosis any one of the shooters in any of the recent or past situations may or may not have received, I feel confident in my untrained opinion that they all have some sort of untreated OR mistreated condition–that if they had sought and received the help they needed somewhere along the way–sometime before they made the decision on the 360 degree wheel of decisions to attack unarmed individuals–there would’ve been a chance that they would’ve chosen another way to deal with their problems. Without help, there was no chance to avert these tragedies. I am not saying that these shooters are blameless–they ARE responsible for the depravity of their acts. I cannot even speak or write any of their names because I don’t want to glorify their actions. But, we need to get to the root of the problem. We cannot ignore it anymore. Let’s get over ourselves and admit it when we need help. When others need help, let’s make sure they get it. Let’s remove the shame attached to seeking help for legitimate, treatable problems.

It seems that we are all on the verge of a nervous breakdown. We need a refresh-reset for our society. There is no pat, simple answer for how to prevent this sort of tragedy. There is a web of interconnected problems in our society today. I do know one thing for certain though: We need to take care of our people.