Saturday, April 30, 2011

World Religions: Animal Spirit Guide Collages

We had a treat this week in our World Religions class.  Our guest teacher was the Reverend Donna Belt, who is not only an ordained Interfaith minister, but is an art educator/art spiritual therapist through her work at Spirit Work Studio.  Miss Donna led a class based on discovering animal spirit guides through art.

First, Miss Donna discussed the role of animal spirit guides as teachers, mentor, supporters, guardians, etc. in many of the Earth-based religions.  She then led a guided meditation that was geared to having the students meet their animal spirit guides and hear what message that animal was bringing.  Then the students created a collage based on the animal picture that spoke to them (whether or not that was the same animal they discovered through the meditation).  Finally, everyone shared their collages and we discussed among ourselves the lessons we thought the collages contained.

Here are the artworks that were created and the names and messages that the artists assigned them (well, my version of them, based on my memories of the class, since I wasn't taking notes at the time):


























"This is Blacky.  He embodies love.  He is standing in front of mountains, that stand for obstacles that we must face.  The journey over the mountain may be tough, but we can make it if we keep our love and our faith and our perseverance."




















"The fawn's name is Spring.  Her message is that I am graceful and beautiful."




















"I have three animals--three walruses.  They are based on an old Beatles' song that my mom likes.  The walruses' names are Koo, Kooka, and Choo.  The wave is cut out of a photograph of a butterfly.  The walruses just ride the waves and enjoy life."




















"The fish's name is Crystal.  Her message is that we just glide through a world of beauty and color and wonder and life, and enjoy it as we go."




















"The leopard's name is Jerod.  His message is that it is good to sit back and observe and to focus on one thing, even one small thing.  Because we can always spring into action, but our action is more purposeful  if we have studied and figured it out first."

We always love our classes with Miss Donna--she makes them very special!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Curriculum Resource: Dimensions

Dimensions is a great web resource that I've discovered lately.  It is a website developed by the BBS that helps us actually visualize the size of events or sites in recent (the Twin Towers that were destroyed by terrorists), modern (the Gulf Oil Spill or the Exxon Valdez Spill), historic (the blast radius of a World War II bomb), or Ancient (the length of the Great Wall of China or the destructive range of Mount Vesuvius) by superimposing the distance over modern maps.  Even better, it allows you to put your zip code in the epicenter of these events.

This allows you to present the information to your children/students in a way that is extremely personal.  So, for example, when I was teaching about the Civil War, I could tell my students that the average size of a 19th Century slave plantation in Alabama was about 1,000 acres.  But do they know what that means?  I doubt it, since I don't know what that means (I'm not great at distances, so some of them may have been better than I am).  But with this website, I can tell them that the average slave plantation stretched from close to the intersection of High House Road and Chatham Street to Coronado Village off of Walnut Street on one side, and from almost Cary Elementary School to Wake Med Hospital in Cary along the other dimension.  THAT, I think, will mean something to them.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Curriculum Resource: Reconstruction

As I said earlier this week, teaching about the Civil War is tough for us.  It is also hard to teach about Reconstruction, which was another non-stellar point in our history.  However, in some ways Reconstruction is even harder because of the paucity of resources, especially compared to all the stuff that is available for the Civil War.

Here are some of the curriculum resources we found useful in covering the Reconstruction with our middle schoolers:

A History of US:  Reconstruction and Reform 1865-1870 by Joy Hakim is a great overview of the specific time of the Reconstruction.  This is a good book for middle schoolers.

Reconstruction and the Rise of Jim Crow  1864-1896 by Christopher Collier and James Lincoln Collier.  This one covers a longer time span and is at a bit higher level, so it would probably be appropriate for high school as well as middle schoolers.

They Called Themselves the K.K.K.:  The Birth of an American Terrorist Group by Susan Campbell Bartoletti.  This is an excellent book that I reviewed last year when it came out; you can read the full review here.  But the short version is that the book describes the evolution of the Ku Klux Klan from its earliest days as sort of a informal frat for ex-Confederates trying to feel better about their defeat to the powerful hate organization it was up through the 1960s, told mostly from first-hand reports.  It is appropriate to both middle and high schoolers.

Black Voices from Reconstruction 1865-1877 by John David Smith.  While not as engaging as the previous book, this one also contains personal and first-hand sources and covers some broader subjects of the time than were left out of the KKK book.  Again, this could be used by middle and higher schoolers.

Forty Acres and Maybe a Mule by Harriette Gillem Robinet.  A bit different from the previous titled, this is a fictionalized account of what life might have been like for a small group of freed African Americans, written by an author whose ancestors had been slaves of Robert E. Lee's.    This is a middle school level book.

The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow is the website for an award-winning educational documentary series that explores segregation from Reconstruction through the modern Civil Rights movement.  I haven't seen the videos themselves, but they sound like they would be really good to watch.  However, on the website, you can view a timeline of major events from Reconstruction up to the mid-20th Century, interact with maps and other online resources, read the stories of some significant black leaders from the Reconstruction on, and access lesson plans for both middle school and high school grades.

As always, if someone has some other good resources to add to this list, please put them in the comments below.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Curriculum Resource: MBTI Website for Teens/Tweens

One of my more popular posts of 2010 was the one I wrote about how I was teaching a class of middle schoolers and teens about the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), the leading personality assessment instrument being used today.  I used four experiential exercises to help them understand the four preference continuums on which the MBTI score is based, then had them place themselves where they thought they belonged on each of the scales.  We then tested their self-assessments by taking questionnaires that gave them their MBTI scores.  The students seemed to really enjoy the exercises, and the discussions they generated gave them some great insight not only into themselves, but into their families and friends.

I still advocate that kind of approach for teens and tweens--that is, having them get an experience of the dichotomies of the MBTI scores before getting into their scores and what those are supposed to mean.  That is why I like to teach MBTI in a group, because we are more like to have great examples of both ends of each continuum, which helps personalize it and have it make more sense to the kids (and, really, to most adults as well).

However, if you are working on MBTI with your children and/or students, I recently found a website that I think is helpful.  It is called Typecan, and it was developed by high school and college students (working with adult "mentors") under the auspices of the Center for the Application of Psychological Type, one of the premier organizations offering training and resources on Myers-Briggs.  It is geared to presenting MBTI information in a "teen-friendly" way and helping students to apply it to the situations that they are facing--school stress, teenage relationships, and trying to decide about colleges and careers.

It is really a little more geared to the high school or even college student than middle schoolers, but it could be used with the tween crowd as well.  It's not the best about explaining the 16 MBTI types, so I would cover that first by a class, assessment test, or other basic MBTI website.  But it is the best site I've found so far in showing how understanding MBTI can help students navigate the educational, relationship, and career challenges that occur at this age.

If anyone else has found good resources for working with Myers-Briggs with middle or high schoolers, please add them to the comments below.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Are We Still Fighting the Civil War? If So, What Do We Teach our Children?

One of my favorite quotes is William Faulkner's unforgettable statement that "The past is never dead.  It is not even the past."  Nowhere is this more evident lately than in the educational issues that arise with the Civil War Sesquicentennial--the marking of the fact that earlier this month was the 150th Anniversary of the Southern takeover of Fort Sumter, usually hailed as the official opening of the American Civil War.

Dealing with the Civil War is tough for us as a nation.  To use another iconic quote, I think the American Civil War was truly for us the period in our history where "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."  It was a time when our commitment to our founding ideals of freedom and equality were really put the test, and ultimately prevailed.  But it was also a time where we had to face how our country had ignored those ideals for the cause of economic profits, both in the North and in the South.  It was a horribly sad time, destructive of land and of a generation of young people, and still the bloodiest and most deadly war in which the US has ever engaged.  But it also laid the foundations for an American dream that was even broader and more inclusive than the founding fathers ever imagined...even if it has taken decades of continued struggles to achieve it.

I think probably all nations have a civic mythology of their historic greatness that endows them with power and respect (see Hugh Grant's wonderful "England may be a small nation, but we're a great one, too" speech from one of my favorite movies ever, Love Actually, as one example).   Maybe it is because we are such a relatively young nation, and one that was gifted with incredible natural resources, but I think this idea of our past as inherently blessed and outstanding--our historic belief in America as "the city on the hill" and our Manifest Destiny--has an even stronger hold on our civic identity than it does on most countries.

So that is why I think it is so hard for us as a country to deal with this time in our history honestly and openly and in an unvarnished way.  It exposes some of our ugliest truths, and few of us like to acknowledge those.  Therefore, both sides like to romanticize their cause.  For the North, it is presented as a fight for the liberation of African Americans.  Except, really, it wasn't.  As Lincoln wrote towards the beginning of the war, "If I could save the Union without freeing any slaves, I would do it," (although he personally was in favor of the abolitionist cause).  At least at the beginning, the fight for the North was keeping the country together, not securing rights for black people.  Eventually Lincoln, and at least some other Northern leaders, realized that slavery had to be abolished to secure a united nation, but even so, few Northerners envisioned African Americans being given political and economic benefits equal to white people.

For the South, the argument has grown that it was not really an issue of slavery per se, but rather of states' rights of self determination.  Except, again, really, it wasn't....at least according to almost all legitimate historians of our times.  The investment in slaves at the time of the Civil War has been estimated to be about $3.5 billion in 1860 dollars.  As a share of the Gross National Product at the time, that would compare to almost $10 TRILLION in modern money.  People had more money invested in slaves than they did in railroads, factories, banks, and ships combined.  The cotton produced by slave labor was the driving economic product for the entire nation, both from cotton-selling states in the South and textile-producing states in the North.  It was not something that South plantation owners, who were the political powerhouses in the South, could even conceive of giving up voluntarily.  And while it is true that the majority of Southerners, especially those who actually fought in the war, owned no slave themselves, most were fueled by their horror and fear of what would happen to their communities if African Americans, whom they believed to be an inferior species of humans, were not kept under control via the institution of slavery.

However, we don't like admitting that our greed and economic tunnel vision led us to go against our founding principles and to have treated people as inhumanly as we did.  So not long after the war came to an end, the South began to glorify its role in the Civil War as an advocate for states' rights, lovingly couched as the romantic "Lost Cause," rather than seeing their support for slavery for the morally indefensible position that it truly is.  An article in the April 18th edition of Time magazine entitled "The Civil War: 150 Years After Fort Sumter:  Why We're Still Fighting the Civil War" by David von Drehle does a great job  of explaining how the South sold this vision to the country; you can read the article as a PDF by clicking here.

But though the states' rights argument is largely a face-saving myth, it has been powerfully effective (largely, I believe, because we want to see our 19th century ancestors with the same aura of wisdom and moral vision that we ascribe to our 18th century founders).  A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that 48% of people believed that states' rights was the main cause of the Civil War compared to 38% who thought it was mostly about slavery (with 9% saying the two causes were equally important).  A Harris poll confirmed this finding, with 54% responding that states' rights was the primary motivation for the South's split from the US, compared to 46% attributing it to an attempt to preserve slavery.

So it is really interesting to see that the majority of Americans do not know what almost all professional historian agree was the root cause of the American Civil War.    Is that an indication that we are continuing to fight the Civil War--if not with each other, then with our ideals about how we would like our history to be?

A liberal (actually, he's a democratic socialist) columnist in the Washington Post recently wrote another interesting article about the Civil War still being waged in modern times.  In his April 12 column, "150 years later, we're still fighting," Harold Meyerson argues that the North and the South have continued the labor patterns of the pre-Civil War US, with the South's tradition of low-wage and few or no worker benefits or rights (epitomized by the Arkansas-based Wal-Mart) versus the North's support for organized, unionized, and better paid labor, battling for dominance out West (cough cough WISCONSIN cough) and in the nation at large.   I found his article to be interesting reading, and looking over only a few of the 270 comments to date shows that it has definitely generated some heated debate.

Another article I would recommend is a CNN post on April 11 by John Blake called "Four ways we're still fighting the Civil War."  Blake picks out four ways that today's politics are similar to those of the Civil War era:
  1. A lack of the political center (You agree with us or you are the evil enemy, with no room for compromise)
  2. Arguments over the role of the federal government (Some of the Tea Party leaders sound like antebellum Southerners)
  3. Underestimating the extent of war once begun (Both North and South were convinced the conflict would be over within a few weeks because they underestimated the strength of the opposition....sound familiar?)
  4. Presidents overstepping their bounds (I don't really agree that Obama's support of health care is comparable to Lincoln's suspension of Constitutional rights, but I guess there are some that are arguing that...)
So, like I said....it is not like the Civil War is really over.

But where does that leave us as parents and as educators?  What should we be teaching students when this event that they think of as ancient history is still so much in flux today?  Clearly, there must be mixed messages, if not outright errors, in what we are teaching students about the Civil War.  One of the most interesting data points in the Pew survey was the fact that the group that was most like to say that states' rights was the primary cause of the Civil War was people under 30, with 60% of that age cohort claiming that viewpoint.  The group that was least likely to choose the states' rights scenario were people who 65 or older--those who most likely to have experienced the turbulence of the racial civil rights battles of the 1960s.    That was the only group to select slavery over states' rights as the principle factor in the Civil War, which they did by a 50% to 34% margin.

Personally, I think it is a good thing that we are still unsettled as a nation about the meaning, the outcomes, and even the causes of the Civil War.  I think students will find history more interesting when they see it is not something cut and dried and in the past, but a study that is still being debated, still being questioned, still being fleshed, and DEFINITELY still relevant to the choices we are making about our future.  I believe it is wonderful for the students to consider that the Civil War is still not really "done," and that it may be their generation who will be the ones who "settle" it (or not....)

Other than that, I say that we need to tell them the truth.  I was raised in the "Great Man" presentation of history, where all these wonderful things happened thanks to our national demi-Gods like George Washington and company.  But I don't think that really serves our students.  First of all, it isn't true.    Not to disparage our Founding Fathers and other major figures of history, but sometimes....maybe a lot of the time...they were able to accomplish what they did because they were lucky, or happened to be in the right place at the right time, or were merely the manifestation of the mores of their times, rather than the causal agent.  Secondly, when we set up these figures on a pedestal, how can our children ever hope to emulate them?   Showing them as humans, flawed with strengths and weaknesses just like the rest of us, is, I believe, a more powerful place to develop our heroes and leaders of the future.  Third, we hate to look at our failings and our ugly parts and the times we didn't live up to our ideals.  But without truth, there can not be forgiveness and redemption and ultimately, reconciliation.

And if there is anything we need in our political sphere these days, I think reconciliation is way up there.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Vanished Science Game: An Update

Another family is playing the Vanished science game with us.  Vanished, as I described in an earlier post, is an online game developed by MIT and the Smithsonian Institute to engage middle schoolers in science investigations.  In the game, we are being contacted by someone from the future, who is trying to figure out what caused an environmental disaster in their time/place that also wiped out all written records.  Participants get various clues and assignments online, but also are requested to go out into the world to collect data about climate, animal and plant species, and other environmental factors, and to upload them onto the site.  There are a number of collaborating museum and science centers that are also sponsoring events to assist with this project.

We are fortunate, because one of the museums that is participating is the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in downtown Raleigh.  Last week we got a communication from our mysterious online leader telling us to visit the museum on Saturday, April 23, to get more clues about the situation.  So our team went down there, not knowing what to expect.

It took us a bit, but eventually we found our game contact in Miss Liz, who is one of the educators who works at the museum.  She did not tell us anything directly, but pointed us in the direction of a few exhibits that she thought would help answer the cryptic message we had received about visiting the museum.  She was also wonderful about helping us think through what we had noticed from the exhibit, and answering questions about the science of that situation, if not about the game per se, which she said she didn't know any more about than we did.  After we had displayed enough understanding of the exhibit, she awarded us with individual patches from the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, as well as what she called an "easter egg" (in the digital sense, even though ours happened to take place during the Easter weekend)--another clue about the mystery, this time in the form of a poem.

I will admit that I am very confused about what is going on with this game.  However, our students are interested and engaged, and they are enjoying it.  We can understand specific directions in the game, including the "missions" that include data collection and reporting, and events such as visiting the Museum on Saturday, and those activities are valuable, regardless of whether or not we ever figure out the overall mystery.   And I really appreciated the activity on Saturday because although we've probably visited that museum close to 100 times since it opened, and have walked by the exhibit involved most of those visits, I never took the time to piece together the story that part of the exhibit told until this Vanished visit on Saturday.  It just goes to show the depth of information in these science museums, and how even those of us who are members and frequent visitors still have lots to learn, no matter how many times we have been there.

So I would recommend this program to other middle schoolers who want to add a little science mystery to their end of the school year activities.  All the past activities are on the website, so you can still catch up if you are interested.  This is an interesting attempt to engage middle schoolers in science in a very non-traditional way.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter/Earth Week/Screen-Free Week

Well, there has been a lot going on for the past seven days.  We had a whole variety of activities to celebrate Earth Day, we had our week of Easter and local produce from the Farmers Market, and we foreswore our use of the Internet or computer games for purely entertainment purposes.  I don't remember when, if ever, these events have lined up together as they did this month.

So although it was busy, I have to say that it was a really great week.  And while the Earth Day activities and Easter Egg dying and hunts and fresh strawberries were all great, I really have to admit that I believe our reduced computer time was a big contributor to our appreciation of this week.

Part of it, I will also say, is due to the fact that our academic year is winding down.  Two of our activities ended last week, which is bittersweet--we've really enjoyed them, but we're looking forward to more unstructured free time.  (Let me say that I consider us to be homeschooling year round--however, during the summer, we are more laid back, because we don't have so many scheduled activities and I don't have many classes that I'm leading for groups of children.  This allows us to do our own thing on our own schedule, which is a nice break from all our classes and coops, as much as we do need and enjoy them in their time.)

But I also have to admit that not turning to our computer for entertainment meant that we turned to each other more--which is a good thing.  We spent a lot more time together playing board games or reading together.  And I have to commend my son, who really took this challenge on and didn't try to "cheat" by sneaking in his Wii or computer games.  I know he is looking forward to getting back "online," and I plan to catch up on some of my "time wasters" I've given up this week.  However, I think it has been a valuable lesson, and I think we'll have a discussion about how to keep our electronics more in check.  I already have one day a week when I don't drive as an environmental consciousness thing; perhaps we will add on an "non-essential electronics day."  We'll see.

I hope everyone else has been enjoying this week as well, and that your family life has been enriched by this holiday (at least here in North Carolina, classes have been cancelled all week for Spring Break).

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Earth Day Book Giveaway Winner!

I hope everyone has been enjoying all the Earth Day activities and blog posts.  It has been a busy couple of days for us.

The winner of the Energy book by Kathleen Reilly is JONI!  Joni, please contact me at ccross@mindspring.com with your contact information so that we can send you the book.

Thanks to everyone who entered, and hope you will enter one of our other upcoming giveaways.
Joni gets a free copy of this wonderful book!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Happy Earth Day!

Happy Earth Day to All!

Since this 41st celebration of Earth Day coincides with the opening of the Easter Weekend, it seemed appropriate to have a Blog Hop.  Follow the links to find ways to mark Earth Day through math, art, poetry, movie watching, and my particular favorite, FOOD!  And feel free to add additional posts if you've got an Earth Day post on your blog--the more hopping, the better!


Google's Earth Day 2011 Interactive Doodle

We love tracking the Google Doodle, and today's one in honor of Earth Day is one of our favorites!  It is interactive, so that you can actually make nine different animals move when you move your mouse over them.

First, try to find them yourself at Google (if you are reading this post on April 22):

Or, if you are too late or missed some, you can watch this video:




Finally, you can see the evolution of the Google Earth Day doodle over the past decade at this link.

Lesson Plan: 19th Century Romantic Poetry and Earth Day

We try to incorporate our latest areas of study into every holiday, and Earth Day is no exception.  We've been focusing on 19th Century history and literature this year, so yesterday we prepared for Earth Day by reading nature poems by such 19th Century Romantic Poets as Walt Whitman, Lord Byron, Shelley, Keats, and Wordsworth.

These writers actually go well with Earth Day because one of their favorite topics was the exaltation of Nature, along with comparing the pristine beauty and innocence of the natural world with the corruption of Man and human society.  So poems from that era do a great job of evoking visual images of a gorgeous natural scene, as well as sparking a sense of caring for protecting these lovely wild areas.

Next, my son tried his hand at writing some Romantic poetry.  Realizing that is something of a stretch for a 12 year old boy, it took a few attempts to get in the right mood.  But after his first poem about hallucinogenic mushrooms (rejected not for the topic, since many of the Romantic writers experimented with mind-altering substances, but because it was too comedic, and humor was NOT a feature of the Romantic poets) and his second one about two men arguing over a shark (too anthropomorphic--the Romantics wanted humans to become more like Nature, not for Nature to become more like Man), he came up with one that I thought set a more Romantic tone.  I told him to think about this task like he was writing a love poem to a tree or flower or other particular aspect of Nature, and I think he did just that with this poem:

The weeping willow has little grief
Serenity surrounds it in a wreath
Under its branches lies lovely peace
Its warmth is warmer than any fleece

So right now in North Carolina, we are renewing our Earth with some welcome rain, so it may not be the best day for traditional Earth Day activities like planting vegetables and such.  But if you find yourself housebound, don't worry--try reading and writing some Romantic poetry in honor of our Earth.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Reminder: Webinar Tonight on Teaching Hands-on Science

Just a reminder that tonight is our Earth Day webinar with author Kathleen Reilly about Teaching Science through Hands-on Projects.  For complete details, see the original post.  To participate, follow this link at: http://tinyurl.com/math20event to connect to the free Learn Central webinar room provided by Elluminate.  It starts at 7:30 PM Eastern Time (GMT -5:00), but it takes a while to connect to the webinar room, so I suggest trying to get on 10 or 15 minutes before the event.

Also, you have through tomorrow to enter to win Kate's book:
Win a free copy of Kathleen Reilly's book on Energy


























UPDATE:  The webinar is over, but you can access the recording at: https://sas.elluminate.com/site/external/jwsdetect/playback.jnlp?psid=2011-04-21.1635.M.B41FC4AB0A3565F8BCAE1B600D6595.vcr&sid=2008350

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Math Trek and Fib Poems

Yesterday was the last session of this academic year's version of the Math Treks, sponsored in the Triangle NC area by Natural Math.  The idea behind the Math Treks is to "grow math eyes" by trying to find math concepts, such as fractals and tessellations and golden ratios and such, in nature, or at least among the landscapes in which we live.  These concepts are captured in photography and shared via Flikr, and help students connect abstract math concepts with the concrete reality in which they live.  It's a really great program, and I'm so grateful that we were able to participate.

Since yesterday's session was the last one, it was a culmination of many of the treks that came before.  Find all of the items on the list, and you were designated as a "Super Treker."  We were looking for these items at the Arboretum at NC State, which was a rich place for both photography and natural math (and which I've written about before in this post).  Maria D. of Natural Math and I ended up working together, and eventually found all the items, winning ourselves the title of "Super Trekers."

One of the things we had to do was write a Fibonacci Poem, also called a Fib (which I've explained before in this post), which has syllables in the Fibonacci sequence.  So I wrote this Fib Poem:

Math
Trek
Super
Edition.
Find Nineteen Items.
Then You Are a Super Math Geek!

So here I am--a designated Super Math Geek!  Who would have thought it (especially given that Math is not my strongest discipline)?

My son did his own quest with other students of his age, so I didn't see his items until everything was over. However, as we were walking out, he did show me this thing that he had created:
Start of my son's Fib poem





















Not only was it a public declaration (at the very entrance of the Arboretum), but it was the opening syllables of his Fib poem.  Here is his Fib:

My
Mom
Is The
Best Mother
In the Universe.
I Think that She Is Really Great!

So we all had a great day playing with math and photography on a beautiful day in a gorgeous setting, with a little bit of sadness mixed in because we were ending something that we've really enjoyed.  But I think I was probably the happiest mom leaving, thanks to the poetic tribute from my son.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Celebrating Strawberries (and How that Relates to Earth Day)

I was so excited today when I went to our local Farmers Market and discovered the first local strawberries of the season!


Our first local strawberries of 2011!



















As someone who finds meaning in these things, it is actually perfect that these strawberries first appeared during the week of Earth Day, because they are a symbol for things our family is doing to try to reduce our carbon footprint on this planet.

Readers of this blog know that I love books, and there are many that I carry within me in my heart and thoughts.  However, there aren't nearly as many that I can say truly changed my life.  But one that did is The Omnivore's Dilemma:  A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan.  Of the many gems in this fabulous book, in which the author considers the financial, environmental, social, and even ethical costs of four types of meals in modern America (fast food meal, meal from "corporate" organic like Whole Foods, meal from local organic, and raising or hunting all your own food), probably the one that struck me the hardest is the fact that current American industrial agriculture actually consumes more calories in raising the food that we eat than we can actually get from eating it.  Obviously, that is about as non-sustainable as you can get!

My son and I had already eschewed fast food by the time I read the book several years ago.  When he was six, I had him watch the movie Supersize Me with me, and after 15 minutes, he told me, "I'm never eating at McDonald's again."  I told him that the other fast food places weren't any better, and that was it--in the six years since the, other than the RARE emergency (when we are out of town with no other alternative), he hasn't eaten a fast food meal since.

But I had never considered the energy costs of having all this food brought to us from all over the world, nor never new the energy costs that went into producing our industrialized food.  But after reading that book, I became a committed localvore...ish.  I'm certainly not 100%, especially over the winter when our local produce is limited.  But when our local market is open, I buy all the produce I can from them.  And I have adjusted our eating to try to eat most produce when I can get it locally, and just give it up until comes back in season next year.

Strawberries are perhaps the epitome of that attempt to eat seasonally.  We love strawberries, so at first it seemed really hard to give up fresh strawberries for all of those months of the year that they don't grow here (full disclosure:  I do buy frozen strawberries offseason, since I use them in my breakfast protein smoothie year round.  I'm thinking that is helping to consume food that might otherwise go to waste, and thus converting energy already invested into human use, but haven't actually researched it).   But really, it is a relief to stop buying these things that are called "strawberries" in the grocery home, but to get them home and find them to be hard and white inside and actually tasting more like "straw" than "berry."  Plus, my natural health doctor tells me that strawberries absorb more pesticides than any other fruit, and our local strawberries are raised without pesticides (although these small local farmers typically can't afford to jump through all the hoops the government requires to be certified "organic"), so I feel better about feeding them to my family.

So when strawberries come in, we've been missing them for 3/4th of the year.   So those first strawberries call for a real celebration!  This year, they happened to coincide with one of our Easter-related traditions.  On the day we color Easter eggs, I blow out the insides and use them to make quiche, which I serve with sausage (pork for my husband, turkey for me and my son) and buckwheat pancakes, for dinner.  This year, we got to top off our annual Easter "Breakfast for Dinner" meal with local strawberries, which made the event even more special!
Dying Easter Eggs



















Easter Eggs 2011




















PS--I have to add one story about supporting local farmers.  The strawberries today were a surprise--even last Saturday, our farmer wasn't sure he would have them.  And at this point, he didn't have many.  During the season, he has a sign that says "Fresh local strawberries" that he hangs by the road.  But he didn't do that today.  He told me that he knew if he had put up his sign, he would have sold the entire crop in half an hour.  But he wanted his regular customers to be the ones to get these first precious strawberries.

All the local farmers I've dealt with have been wonderful people.  They deserve our support, and they give us so much in return.  These are all lessons I'm trying to make sure that my middle schooler grows up with.  I don't want him to be my advanced age before realizing what a difference it makes where his food comes from.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Screen Free Week

This is such a busy week, since it is Passover and Easter and, of course, Earth Day, which we are celebrating through a book giveaway and webinar and blog hop...

But if that is not enough on your plate (because usually these things don't line up on the same week), April 18-24 is also Screen Free Week.  Screen Free Week, organized by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, and endorsed by a whole bunch of government agencies, public health organizations, and child development non-profits, urges families to unplug their digital and/or screen based electronic entertainment and spend the week in more personal and interactive pursuits, including spending time outside in nature, reading, playing board games, and, like, talking to each other.

For years, this was known as "Turn Off the TV" week, which we were virtuously able to ignore, because we haven't had TV in the house for over 20 years, and my son has never lived with a television.  I think it is one of the best things we've done for him for a whole bunch of reasons, but, of course, that is a personal family decision.

However, when it came around this year, I felt like maybe we ought to take notice of it.  While nobody is watching TV, we know have more computers in the house than there are people, and we all probably spend more time on our computers than we should.  Also, at Christmas, we bought our son a Wii--the first video game system he has ever had.  I don't think he goes overboard, but he is now spending a lot of his free time on either the computer or the Wii--time he used to spend reading or drawing or doing other things.

So I talked to my son, and he agreed not to use the Wii this week, and to cut back his entertainment use of the computer to a minimum.  I, too, am trying to cut my computer use to the bones.  We do a lot of our school work (we include doing our blogs as school work) on the computer, and most of my projects involve computer use, so I'm not willing to cut it off completely.  But we're doing our best to stick to using it just for essential needs this week, and actually turning it off for most of the day.  I figure that not only is it a good exercise in taming our digital addictions, but it is another way to reduce our carbon footprint during Earth Week.

We spent most of the day in activities outside the house.  Then tonight, after dinner, instead of retreating to our separate screens, we played a couple of board games--Roundabout (simple to play, but deceptively difficult to win) and Likewise.  It made it a nice evening--seemingly more laid back and personal.

But we'll see how we're doing as the week wears on....

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Combining Art and Poetry (and Dance and Music.....)

For the past several years, my son has been taking art lessons with a fabulous art educator, Jenny Eggleston of Egg in Nest Studio.
Jenny Eggsleton of Egg in Nest Studio


















Miss Jenny's classes are kind of different from most art classes.  Hers are multi-aged and multi-leveled, with each student working on different projects of his or her own creation.  The studio is filled with different art materials and art inspiration, and each child picks the medium--painting, colored pencils, pastels, collage, digital art, etc.--and the topic for the latest project.  Jenny them roams through the room, giving one-on-one assistance with each separate project.  She is kind of like an art coach, which is perfect for someone as independently minded as my son.

Each semester she sponsors an exhibition of all the students' artwork.   However, for the past two years, the spring exhibition has turned into a big event.  She has each student create a piece of art, and then write a poem about that art (or sometimes vice versa).  Then she not only has a public art display, but she organizes a public event where all the students get up and read their poems on stage, along with some poetry or other art from professional artists.
The Poet Artists of Egg in Nest Studio



















This year's event, which took place yesterday (Saturday, April 16, 2011), was called "Blurring the Line," because it was exploring what happens when you combine the visual arts with poetry, music, dance, and other art forms.

























For not only was Miss Jenny having the students present their poems and artworks, but she had professional artists create songs, poems, dances, etc., on the spot that reflected what they heard in the children's poetry!

























It was a wonderful event, made all the more dramatic by the fact that it was interrupted in the middle by a tornado warning, so everyone had to leave the performance stage and wait downstairs until the tornado that wreaked damage in much of Wake County had passed us by.

I feel very fortunate that we have such a gifted art teacher in our lives.  Miss Jenny not only continues to produce and display her own work, she attends workshops and finds other ways to grow in her own development as an artist--and, of course, passes that on to our children.  I'm glad he is exposed not only to her art instruction, but her encouragement for them to think more broadly and more deeply about what is art and how different artistic approaches complement each other.  We love Miss Jenny!

Here is my son's work for the show, which is on public display until April 24 at the Halle Cultural Arts Building in downtown Apex:
The Birds of Tackfar

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Geography Fair

One of the things that our homeschooling community does each year is sponsor a Geography Fair, in which each participating family puts up a table about a particular country, with a Science Fair-type board, display items, and our favorite item--FOOD!  This is a multi-age thing, rather than just a middle school age thing.  However, it is something that we have done for years, and which I think I still valuable.  It is one of those things that is interesting to do over time, because it does really demonstrate the evolution of our  children over time.






















I can't remember all the countries we've done, but I know the last two ones we did--Congo and Chile---were chosen by my son based on animals or environmental factors.  However, this year we did Ethiopia.  My son chose that country because he did a report on Ethiopia for his 19th Century History Coop, and discovered that among all the nations in Africa, Ethiopia was the only one that really was able to remain independent in the 19th Century after the Berlin Conference of 1884, when Europe decided to divide up Africa between them as European colonies (disregarding what the Africans might have thought about the idea, of course).  So I see that as a middle school development--no longer choosing his country on the basis of animals or rain forests, etc., but on the basis of a historical/political fact.

However, it did break the rule I had set after our experience with the Congo, which was NO MORE GEOGRAPHY FAIR PROJECTS FROM AFRICA!  Now, this is not because Africa is not interesting nor valuable, because it is.  But a big component of these displays is food for people to sample, and African food is....well, let's just call it challenging.  (For the Congo, it was not just challenging, it was the pits.   Believe me, we tried, but every Congo recipe we made that didn't have things in it that we were allergic to was pretty much inedible. )

Ethiopian food, however, is quite spicy and enjoyable.  Unfortunately, it is quite hard to fix at home, especially in the South.  The food is made in a barbare sauce, which requires about $50 to buy about 12 spices....which I reduced to $8 and two spices, especially because I didn't want to make it really spicy for all the children who would be attending.  It is served on a large sourdough and spongy flatbread called injera, which is made out of a type of wheat that is only grown in Africa,   So instead, I just used tortillas.

So, really, it wasn't anything like real Ethiopian food.  But I did explain about how the Ethiopians eat without utensils, but just tear off bits of their platter bread (the food is served on top of a piece of injera that can cover the entire table) and scoop up the stew-like food.  Thus, the students got to have an experience of eating kind of like the traditional Ethiopians.

Here is our dish, which is an Anglosized version of Doro Wat:




















Of course, much of the evening is spent going to the other tables and learning from the other displays (this year, each child had a "passport" where they wrote done relevent facts and got a stamp to demonstrate that they had visited).  Below is a selection of the wonderful table displays:
























It was a really fun and educational night.  We appreciate everyone who put so much time into their displays and their food.

Friday, April 15, 2011

World Religions: Shinto

Last week we looked at Shinto as another example of Earth-based Religions in our World Religions class.  Shinto is so entwined with the Japanese culture that there are very few native Japanese who don't practice some aspect of that ancient belief (one book I read said about 92%).  The flip side of that is the fact that it is so associated with Japanese culture that it is hardly practiced anywhere else in the world other than by Japanese people living in other lands.

Shinto, like many of the other Asian religions, is focused on living a good life--one of simplicity, beauty, purity, and gratitude, honor, and respect for others.   There is little or no focus on an afterlife or what happens after physical death, so modern Shinto often observe in combination with Buddhism, which deals with those questions.  This is another aspect of Asian religions; most of them are very accepting of other faiths, and allow, if not encourage, their followers to combine the beliefs and practices of that religion with others.

Perhaps an example of this is the fact that name "Shinto" actually comes from a Chinese phrase that means "the way of the kami."  Kami is the name given to any of the naturalistic deities or spirits that are thought to abide in outstanding natural features of Japan, in Shintu shrines, and in altars and other sacred spaces within properly Shinto homes.  These spirits are generally benevolent and bring blessings to those around them, but they are not to be taken for granted, or they will move on.  Therefore, much of the Shinto worship involves thanking, honoring, and respecting the kami through actions, pleasing words, proper observance of Shinto practices, and physical gifts left at shrines, altars, or places in nature.

We had several activities that we did with the students.  We had them envision where in their own environments they think their personal kami (sort of like a guardian angel) might live, and to draw that place and how they could develop a shrine that would be pleasing to that kami.  We went through the proper procedures for approaching a Shinto shrine, including cleansing, getting the kami's attention, respecting the kami, and, of course, leaving an appropriate gift.

Finally, we made our version of a Shinto prayer tree.  Most Shinto shrines have a sacred tree upon which worshipers tie their prayers or blessings.  While the real Shinto sacred trees are usually evergreens, we made ours a model of a Japanese cherry blossom, since it is around our national Cherry Blossom Festival, one of our greatest observations of our connections to the Japanese.  I followed the instructions for a Chinese Blossom Tree from one of the blogs I love, Fairy Dust Teaching , except that we added wishes and blessings to ours:



















All in all, I think it was an interesting and engaging class about a spiritual tradition that not a lot of people know much about, but which is really quite lovely.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Lesson Plan: National Poem in Your Pocket Day

There is so much to celebrate in April!  But I didn't want today to go by without recognizing that April 14, 2011 is National Poem in Your Pocket Day.
















The idea behind Poem in Your Pocket Day is to carry a short poem in your pocket and to pull it out of your pocket and read it to people you come in contact with during the day.  I usually don't organize a formal event for this, but I do encourage my son to participate (and I do as well, of course) by picking out a poem relating to what we are studying and sharing it with the people we see that day.  Most years we have some class or coop he can read it to, but I almost always make sure we visit a library or our local independent bookstore that day so we know we will have at least one receptive audience.

Right now, we have been studying the American Civil War and Reconstruction, so our poetry choices this year have come from the man who is probably the most famous American poet--Walt Whitman.  Here is the poem that my son chose for today:

I Celebrate (an excerpt from Song of Myself)
by Walt Whitman

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I loaf and invite my soul,
I lean and loaf at my ease observing a spear of summer grass

My tongue, every atom of my blood, formed from this soil, this air,
Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their parents the same,
I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin,
Hoping to cease not till death.

And my poem for the day is:
Miracles
by Walt Whitman 
WHY! who makes much of a miracle? 
As to me, I know of nothing else but miracles, 
Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan, 
Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky, 
Or wade with naked feet along the beach, just in the edge of the water, 
Or stand under trees in the woods, 
Or talk by day with any one I love--or sleep in the bed at night with any one I love, 
Or sit at table at dinner with my mother, 
Or look at strangers opposite me riding in the car, 
Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive, of a summer forenoon, 
Or animals feeding in the fields, 
Or birds--or the wonderfulness of insects in the air, 
Or the wonderfulness of the sun-down--or of stars shining so quiet and bright, 
Or the exquisite, delicate, thin curve of the new moon in spring; 
Or whether I go among those I like best, and that like me best--mechanics, boatmen,farmers, Or among the savans--or to the soiree--or to the opera,  
Or stand a long while looking at the movements of machinery,  
Or behold children at their sports,  
Or the admirable sight of the perfect old man, or the perfect old woman, 
Or the sick in hospitals, or the dead carried to burial,   
Or my own eyes and figure in the glass; 
These, with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles, 
The whole referring--yet each distinct, and in its place. 

To me, every hour of the light and dark is a miracle, 
Every cubic inch of space is a miracle, 
Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with the same, 
Every foot of the interior swarms with the same; 
Every spear of grass--the frames, limbs, organs, of men and women, and all that concerns    them, 
All these to me are unspeakably perfect miracles. 

To me the sea is a continual miracle;  
The fishes that swim--the rocks--the motion of the waves--the ships, with men in them, 
What stranger miracles are there?
So mine is a recognition of the everyday miracles all around us, while my son chose his because he sees it as a paean to goofing off...which, if you read his blog, he claims to be inordinately fond of (although he exaggerates the extent to which he actually does that).  That actually tell you more about us than about Whitman, though...  Especially with the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, you hear more lately about his war poems ("Beat! Beat! Drum!",  "Ashes of Soldiers") or his Lincoln poems ("Oh Captain!  My Captain!"), but we are drawn to his earlier, more exuberant ones.

Anyway, today is our monthly trip for an activity with the elderly at an assisted living place we have been visiting for 11 years now, so we'll get to read our poems there.  He also has a book club at an area library, so that will be an excellent opportunity to share poems.  Another local library is having a Poem in the Pocket event, so we'll probably stop by there, and perhaps a third library to pick up a book we have on hold--and to read more poetry!

So grab a poem, stick it in your pocket, and start sharing it with people today.  Any excuse to get middle schoolers reading poetry aloud is a good thing, I think.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Why Wake School Board Redistricting Matters in Regards to Our Accreditation

If you have been following this blog or the education news in Wake County, NC, you will know that the Wake County School System recently received an "Accredited Warned" review by the AdvancED independent accrediting agency, which gives the system a year to address shortcomings or risk losing its accreditation (which has implications for college admissions, scholarships, etc.).  The AdvancED report had little to say about any perceived failings on the part of the school system's instructional or even administrative staff; instead, they threatened to withdraw the accreditation because of inappropriate actions on the part of the elected school board.

I think the AdvancED report is pretty clear when it says:
Since December 1, 2009 the actions and decisions of the Wake County Board of Education
have resulted in creating a climate of uncertainty, suspicion, and mistrust throughout the
community.  ... (T)he Board of Education and Superintendent must work to gain the community’s trust and confidence in the school system and its ability to meet
the needs of all students.    
However, judging by how the Board is approaching the critical issue of legally-mandated redrawing of the School Board election districts, the Board members STILL haven't gotten the message.

Drawing up the boundaries for the nine different districts that elect the School Board members is legally required every 10 years after the national census, which provides the latest population data.  The point behind this is to give each citizen equal representation by having election districts of basically even populations.  The 2010 census shows that this is not currently the case in fast-growing Wake County, where some of the School Board election districts in the booming suburbs or outlying towns (like Wake Forest and Holly Springs) now have double the population of slower-growing urban centers (such as inside-the-Beltway Raleigh).  So the redistricting process requires that some voting precincts be moved out of the overpopulated districts and joined to the underpopulated districts in a way that makes sense.

This is not just an issue for the School Board; the same process is going on in all levels of government.  It is a process that should be nonpartisan and should be dedicated primarily to ensuring equal representation for all voters.  However, it is hard to keep the process from becoming politicized, although it can be done.  But the particular problem for the Wake County School Board is that if the redistricting is closed and politicized, not only will we end up with suspect voting districts (along with probably even MORE lawsuits), but it could actually threaten the accreditation of our schools.

However, the School Board does not seem concerned about keeping the redistricting open and transparent.  It began by awarding a contract for $10,000 for assistance with the redistricting, not to the regular WCPSS attorney, but to an openly partisan Republican lawyer, Kieran Shanahan, who was a four-term Republican member of the Raleigh City Council (you can read his bio here.)  It has not held any public meetings on the redistricting, nor published a timeline for when the proposed redistricting will be announced and approved.  Furthermore, sources say that Shanahan has been meeting with the board members either one-on-one or in groups of three or less in order to skirt the state's Open Meeting laws (the Board's attempts to avoid that law was one of the issues mentioned in the AdvancED report).

Contrast that with the approach taken by the city I live in, the Town of Cary.  On January 14, 2011, the town published a redistricting plan on its website, including the numbers in the Council Districts that need to be balanced, a timeline for action on the plan that is open to the public, and an intention to arrive at a final plan before the end of May in order to give potential candidates plenty of time to know where they might be campaigning before the candidate filing opens in July (you can read their announcement here).  They have been maintaining a redistricting website that not only explains the process, but has links to reports of the open working sessions and maps of the redistricting options under consideration.

Had the Board adopted such an approach to redistricting, it might have been a great thing to show AdvancED of the Board's commitment to regain the trust of the Wake County public.  To be fair, they hired Shanahan shortly before receiving the AdvancED recommendations (although I doubt they came as a great shock to the Board).

But I think there is still time to rectify the situation.  Recently, the Wake County chapter of the League of Women Voters, one of the oldest and most respected nonpartisan organizations that works for the improvement of government and the unbiased education of voters, has entered the fray.  (Full Disclosure note:  In my previous life, my first job out of college was working on energy and environmental education programs for the national staff of the League of Women Voters.  It was a great job and I believe them to be a great organization, full of integrity and dedicated to fairness, good government, and citizen education and empowerment.)  Volunteers from the League and from the Great Schools in Wake Coalition have developed a proposed redistricting map.  League volunteer Saroj Primlani took all the census data and entered it into a Wake County database, outlining the population and racial composition of every School Board voting precinct.  A group then developed a balanced redistricting plan that follows most of the common principles, including not dividing towns, keeping the districts contiguous, not diluting racial minorities, etc.  According to Primlani, the effort took about 10 hours of time to input and manipulate the data and come up with the new proposed districts.

The League and GSWC have shared their data and proposed plan with the School Board and with the public through a series of open houses around Wake County  I attended the one yesterday at Eva Perry library, which is where I got this data;  there is another one on Tuesday, April 19, from 4:00-7:00 PM at Cameron Village Library.  You can also access their plan online.  Here is an overview of the current districts.  Click here to see the existing School Board District detailed maps, and then here to see the LWV/GSWC proposed districts.

The League does not claim that their plan is necessarily the best or final solution.  However, they are putting it out to try to get the ball rolling in terms of public involvement with the redistricting.  They are urging the Board to put out its plan as soon as possible to allow time for public comment and to settle the matter in enough time to give candidates plenty of notice before the July filing season.  Since the data is now all available and categorized, and it took their committee only about 10 hours and no money to develop their plan, they are questioning why the lawyer who was awarded $10,000 in February to come up with a plan is taking so long.

Board Chair Ron Margiotta has claimed the Board wants the process to be transparent, but that their primary concern is coming up with a plan that will withstand court challenges.  But surely the best way to avoid lawsuits is to announce the plan as soon as possible with a maximum amount of public input and involvement in order to address issues before the deadline for a final decision, isn't it?  If the Board would work with the League of Women Voters, a renowned advocate for nonpartisanship and equity, that would only strengthen its case should it go to court.  It would also give us, the non-expert voters, a vote of confidence that the plan was fair and unbiased.  And it would have to look good to AdvancED as a major step in repairing the School Board's relationship with the public it is supposed to be serving.

So this has turned into a long and complicated post about something most people may not care about.  But my point is that if you live in Wake County, you should.   The way the redistricting process is handled may not only determine who gets elected to the School Board in the fall (which will, in turn, determine future school policy), it may also contribute to whether or not AdvancED decides to continue the accreditation of our school system.





Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Appreciate Your Local Libraries During National Library Week

I don't know about you, but especially as a homeschooler, I would be lost without my libraries.  One of the local librarians looked up my account last year, and found I had checked out more than 4,000 books in the past 10 years--that's more than one book a day for every day for a decade!  But that is just part of it.  My son participates in three different book clubs sponsored by the libraries.  We go to lots of talks, exhibits, and special programs put on by our libraries.  We use the library computers to check our email when we're out, or sometimes hang out there for a half hour or so when we have time to kill between activities.  And with BOTH of our local Borders closing (WAAAAA!), the library is becoming even more important as a place to hold our homeschooling and other community-based meetings.

So I don't want to let National Library Week (April 10-16) go by without letting our library system know how much we appreciate them.  Librarians are the cutting edge of the information age, and constantly need to update their skills to include new media sources.  Plus, like most government workers in these times of budget cutting, they are constantly being asked to serve more with few resources--less money, less staff, etc.

Today (April 12) is the day, National Library Workers Day, during National Library Week that is dedicated to recognize the people behind the books at our libraries.  The American Library Association has set up an easy way for you to show your appreciation for your local librarians.  They are creating a Galaxy of Stars--librarians who have been nominated by their local community for the outstanding service they provide.  All you have to do is to submit a short form online to recognize your favorite librarian(s).

So I urge everyone to take 5 minutes to create a special recognition for your library.  I was horrified to check the North Carolina listing to see that not one librarian in the entire state had been nominated!  So we've added our favorites (which isn't shown, because it is only updated once a week), and hope that you will join us.

My son and I also got up early this morning and baked a fresh batch of our specialty--vegan (but they taste like regular) coconut chocolate chip cookies.  He is now downstairs making a Thank You card for our local library while I write this post.  We're going to drop off the cookies and the card this morning before we head out for our day of activity--history coop, science coop, errands, etc.

It doesn't have to be today, but I hope everyone takes an opportunity this week to show their librarians some love!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Earth Day Blog Hop

In addition to the book giveaway and webinar on teaching hands-on science that I am holding in honor of Earth Day 2011, I've decided to extend our celebration of Earth Day by hosting my first blog hop.  If you aren't familiar with a blog hop, it is a group blogging event in which a number of different blogs all agree to do posts on the same theme or topic.  Each blog posts not only its blog post on the subject, but also the list of the other blogs who are participating as well.  The idea is that each blog's set of readers can check out the posts of the other blogs as well, getting different perspectives on the theme as well as being introduced to some new blogs.

If you are a blogger and would like to participate, here is what you need to do:

1.  Between now and Earth Day 2011, which is April 22, create a post relating to Earth Day on your blog.  It should be a post that discusses Earth Day from the regular perspective of your blog.  So, for example, if you have an artistic blog, it could be an Earth Day art piece; if you write a current events or political blog, it could be news about Earth Day; and if you work or parent preschoolers, it could be about how your little ones are celebrating Earth Day.

2.  Once you have created your post, add it to the Linky Tools list at the bottom of this page.  Linky Tools is a great piece of software that makes your link appear not only on my page, but it will also update the list on any other blog that has copied the code onto their site.

3.  So, after you have added your link, you need to copy the list to your blog so that your readers can see all the other Earth Day posts.  The following are the instructions about how to do that.

To add the links to your blog, copy this code for Blogger blogs:

<script src="http://www.linkytools.com/basic_linky_include.aspx?id=84371" type="text/javascript"></script>

Or this one for free WordPress blogs:

<script src="http://www.linkytools.com/basic_linky_include.aspx?id=84371" type="text/javascript"></script>

and paste into your blog, using the Edit HTML tool.

4. Finally, you get to add this lovely button to your blog to indicate you are participating in the Earth Day Blog Hop.


Copy and paste the following code into your HTML editor in order to have the button appear on your website:

<a href="http://teachingyourmiddleschooler.blogspot.com/2011/04/earth-day-blog-hop.html"> <img src="http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-rKOrcqiRoZ0/TaMTYDmRnDI/AAAAAAAAAOc/9TOslO818q8/s1600/EarthDayButton.jpg" />
</a>

And that's it!  You will be an official member of the Earth Day Blog Hop.

We have a few people already lined up for this blog hop, including Maria of Natural Math and Michelle of Homeschool Literature and Pandahoneybee's Homeschooling Adventure.  But we would love to have lots more bloggers join us!  Let's focus some blogging attention on Earth Day to remind us all of ways we can do more to appreciate and protect our planet.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Curriculum Resource: The 150th Anniversary of the US Civil War

This weeks begins the official start of the American Civil War Sesquicentennial (150th Anniversary).  While academics debate when the war became inevitable, all agree that it definitely began with the Confederate takeover of the federal forces in command of Fort Sumter in South Carolina, which took place on April 12-13, 1861.

This is a sad, often touchy, but critical event in American history.  Fortunately, because of the sesquicentennial, there are even more resources to help you explain this pivotal time in US history to your middle schooler.

The following are some resources to add to your Civil War education:

The official website for the Civil War Sesquicentennial has a daily calendar, articles on major themes, and a compilation of sesquicentennial events in 20 eastern states.

The New York Times is running a blog entitled Disunion, which recounts the events leading up to and during the Civil War on a day by day basis.

The Washington Post is also running a great series on the Civil War, including an article about Five Myths About Why the South Seceded.

And, of course, I've already written in a previous post about the many Civil War re-enactments and special events taking place in our National Parks and Historical Places.

This week, however, the focus is on Fort Sumter.  If you can't make it there in person, get an idea about the place with this video by the National Park Service.

As I said earlier, this is a tough subject to cover with your children or students.  But I think it is a good time to take advantage of the extra activities being run by many federal and state organizations to help give our middle schoolers a better appreciation of this critical time in our national history.

UPDATE (4/11/11):
Today's Washington Post has an interesting article about how differently the Civil War is taught across the country.