How Do You Explain….

How do you explain to an introverted ninth grader that the best part of high school doesn’t happen in the classroom? That the school only really comes to life after the last bell rings.

Actors running lines for the fall play. The hammers of set-building. Click-click-click of cleats running through the hall to practice. Cheerleaders shouting. Choirs singing. Posters being illustrated for the next dance. Marching band trumpets blaring and that deep drumbeat echoing across the field in through the windows. Teams tinkering with robots, debating politics, inventing headlines for the school newspaper.

Just stay. Peek in the room. Pick something. Anything. Add to the noise.

Because after school, in those rooms or on that stage, they will be the first to know your name. To drag you to lunch tomorrow. To make this new school feel more like home.

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My Mom and the Maker Movement

The Maker Movement brings together technology fans and traditional artisans in a shared do-it-yourself, crafting culture that celebrates innovation. Schools across the country are investing in Maker Spaces, where students can invent or build with a diverse range of recycled products, traditional tools, and technology.

It’s new. It’s hip. It’s the best thing going on in education.

And my mom did it in her kindergarten class more than thirty years ago. She called it the Invention Center.

In the 1970s and 80s, there were always paper grocery bags in our kitchen at some stage of being filled with empty paper towel rolls, plastic tops, cans, bubble wrap, milk cartons, and more. We’d help her deliver them to her Invention Center and check out all the kindergarten “inventions” being built there. Occasionally, she’d send a letter home to her class asking for Invention Center donations, and the coffers would fill to overflowing, because 20 families across the DC metro area spent their kindergarten year collecting for it too.

The best though was watching those little kids walk down the carpool line barely able to carry structures bigger than they were to moms whose mouths were open in surprise. “Wow! That’s amazing!”

And the kindergarten “makers” beamed with pride as mom tried to fit it in the back of the car and they explained all the intricacies of what they’d created, how many times it had fallen apart, how they fixed it, and where they wanted to put it in their house.

I don’t know if my mom has heard of the Maker Movement, but I like to think of her as one of its pioneers.

 

Effort Grades and the Secret Seeker of Knowledge

I would have loved Effort Grades when I was in middle school, because I would have cleaned up.

In fact, I remember the first time I discovered how happy a teacher might be if you went beyond the assignment. It was fourth grade. We were supposed to write a two-page story, and I was so excited to have writing homework that I ended up handing in a 10-pager with illustrations. If Effort Grades had existed back then, I would have received a “1”.

Most girls in my class would have too. Almost every time.

Effort Grades are about neat handwriting, raising your hand, adding to the conversation, handing in homework, being respectful, and seizing the opportunity to share what you know with your classmates.

So easy!

So, it is a complete mystery to me that a child chooses not to let his teacher know that he loves what he is learning. It perplexes me that he might choose not to do the extra credit. Or do the homework.

But over the last two weeks, my son – whose teachers express frustration regarding his effort and focus and consistency –  has spent hours teaching himself German history.

A research paper for which he chose the WWI Battle of Cambrai (aiming for the minimum page recommendation) and a WWII simulation game in Social Studies inspired him to investigate further on his own. He has watched numerous documentaries and what seems to be hundreds of short videos online to fill out his knowledge. He has talked us through the dysfunctional alliances that led to WWI, mistakes they made in WWII, what their navy was like, their innovations, their showing in past Olympics, their impressive ability to bounce back.

Of course, none of it is captured in any assignment he turned in. He will get no credit for it.

“Was all that research part of the simulation game?”

“No.”

“Then does your teacher realize how much you know?”

He shrugged, “I don’t think so.”

“You should tell him!”

But apparently, that wasn’t the point. And no matter how much it drives me crazy, I’ve got to respect that, for him, the assignment and grades aren’t going to be what drive him. It’s just the knowing what he wants to know.

 

Terence, This is Stupid Stuff

Last night, my husband and I were sitting at our fire-pit drinking wine, talking about how people eventually get what’s coming to them. And he said, “That reminds me of a poem I memorized by A.E. Housman.”

Seriously?

He memorized it in high school without being assigned to do so. “I just liked the poem.”

Well, I too memorized poems and Shakespearean monologues when I was young. I got an A on the hardest exam I ever took – 10th grade English, when we had to identify a long list of obscure quotations and say what texts they came from, which author, and why important. I was in multiple plays. I only missed a line once, but in that play, I was actually Head of Costumes, and only because I had memorized most of the lines in Annie Get Your Gun, I was a last-minute understudy.

But I no longer remember any of it. That monologue by Puck in Midsummer Night’s Dream? Nope. My favorite quotes from F. Scott Fitzgerald? I’ll have to check the book that I used to keep by my bed. The really hard-to-memorize …ugh… what was the name of that poem… Canterbury Tales. Nope.

I only remember one line, “It’s like the ladies’ restroom at the Oriental Theater.” From Auntie Mame. I was the nanny.

Meanwhile, my husband, the science guy, sitting at the fire-pit at least thirty years later, recited – almost flawlessly and without pause – the second half of Housman’s Terence, This is Stupid Stuff.

And I felt stupid.

So, inspired by my husband with the memory of an elephant, I pulled out my – yes, I kept it –  10th grade Norton’s Anthology, and today, I’m going to re-memorize an old favorite.

Hopefully, it stays in my head long enough to recite it around the fire-pit.

Long Division

Dear third grader,

Long division is hard. Besides potty-training and reading, it might be the toughest challenge you have ever faced. It is especially awful when you imagine that Mom is doing it wrong.

Divide. Multiply. Carry down a zero. Subtract. Divide. Multiply. Carry down a zero. Subtract. Repeat until you hit a number smaller than your original divisor.

Because if you imagine that Mom is making stuff up, you’re going to invent a new way of doing division that gets you to the incorrect answer. And it is likely going to take you longer to get there. And then after all that effort and brain power and creativity that you just dedicated to dividing one number by another, you are going to freak out. Cry. Scream. Stomp your feet. Run out of the room.

“You think I’m stupid!” will be followed by “Then you think my teacher is stupid!”

And you will still have to come back later to finish your homework.

So while I will definitely slide off the “I know this” platform after a few more years of math, I promise I will admit it when the time comes. For now, though, stick with me. You will get this, because you are all about effort and brain power and creativity… and we make a great team.

Divide. Multiple. Carry down the zero. Subtract.

I love you, sweet man,

Mom

Serious, Seriously?

On Monday, my son’s Spanish teacher emailed me to let me know that he was upset. He had forgotten about a quiz scheduled for that day, even though it was posted on her website and announced in class.

On Tuesday, he went to Freshman Registration Night at the high school he plans to attend next year. His schedule is going to be really tough. So while his teacher had recommended Spanish III, I suggested taking Spanish II, so he isn’t slammed from all sides.

Nope. “I should take Spanish III.”

“I don’t know,” I shook my head, imagining another four years of nagging and checking up on him.

“Mom, it’s time I took school seriously.”

Well, you can’t argue with that… until an hour later when I received a late-night, bail-out email from his Social Studies teacher, saying that he “probably knows this, and has yet to start… but please remind him to…”

“Aw man, I forgot!”

He didn’t even remember that it was his turn to bring snack today. How can you be a serious student when you can’t even remember snack?!

First Day of Vacation

Last night, we got almost a foot of snow. The first day of Christmas vacation.

My kids are exhausted. The semester ended with a major poetry project for the seventh grader, high school applications and two tests for the eighth grader. And my third grader has more homework than is developmentally appropriate (not that I have an opinion on that).

They awoke on the first day of the Christmas break ready to chill. But Dad had something else in mind.

“Whoever can tell me the exact temperature when Celsius and Fahrenheit are the same, gets five dollars.”

Competition. Drama.

The seventh and eighth grader worked at the problem in their own ways with their own levels of mathematic learning… pre-breakfast, and they don’t drink coffee. There were tears. But eventually, there was triumph. Both figured it out and got their $5.

Vocabulary tomorrow?