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Saturday
Jan312015

New Family Dinners

Things are changing in my family dynamics right now and it has nothing to do with our upcoming nuptials or the fact that my 2 youngest are ferrying between another residence and mine. It's mostly to do with the fact that my father lives with us now. 

Last summer when my sisters and I sat down with our father to discuss living arrangements, I knew going into the conversation that I would be happy to live with him again. The last time we were under the same roof I was 13 years old and did my own ferrying between residences, but I was mostly with my mother. There are a few things that concerned me about him living here: we have a lot of stairs in this 2-story house, but he gets around just fine if not a tad bit slower than usual. 

 

I recently shared this with a student who took it home to insist they eat at the dinner table. 

Another concern of mine was whether we'd be able to spend time with him and get him involved in a new community in which he wasn't used to living. My father is a part of the Great Migration of Southern Blacks who went North and he's living in Chicago for more than 40 years of his life. He also spent time in New Jersey before marrying my mother. 

I needn't have been concerned about either of those things. Dad is getting plenty of exercise at the YMCA where he swims to stay moving while I take a yoga class or do circuit training. He's also taken to exploring his new surroundings and takes off for a local senior center or other places he likes to visit. We're all good on this front.

What I hadn't expected to change was family dinner. 

Sure, we have some hard and fast rules about eating together at the table. But, most nights it's just me and dad before The Cuban gets home. Sometimes, the kids drop by (with, I might add, impeccable dinner timing) and we add a few more plates or they reach into the fridge for something else when we sit down to eat a meal.

  

Don't let this grumpy looking picture of The Cuban fool you. He's happily making chicken noodle soup.

I also hadn't expected to change our music listening tastes when dad moved in with us. Normally, we played more modern music but we've taken to LOVING what dad is sharing with us about music he likes. In the past 6 months, I've gotten to intimately know and enjoy the music of John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderly and Ella Fitzgerald and something called "Gypsy Jazz". 

The thing that's changing right now is that Dad does most of the cooking now. As a New Orleans native, he does a fine job of that. (Hooray for shrimp etoufee and andouille sausage!) It could have been easy for us to move him in here and not change anything, but we're embracing the changes to make room for not just his presence, but his wisdom and his stories and his connections to his past whether that comes from listening to "Pennies From Heaven" or when we watch sports together. There are proven benefits of family dinners and this is our own magic we make.

But not the kind of magic that would come from a bubbling caldron of mystery spices. Our magic is simply from learning about each other in new ways when we sit down at the table together. 

That's magic enough for our new family dinners.

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The Family Dinner Project hopes to inspire families to enjoy food, fun, and conversation together. We're certainly inspired by our new family dinners. You can learn more about The Family Dinner Project on Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #familydinnerforward.

Thank you to The Family Dinner Project for the opportunity to participate in this compensated editorial partnership. To learn more about the project, click here.  

As always, the stories, words, and opinions presented here are my own.

Thursday
Jan292015

Virtual Field Trip: The Nature Conservancy

This is a sponsored post. However, my passion for education and global concerns are, as always, my own.

This has been a week filled with nasty science-y type stuff but without going into too much detail I will say that the word "phlegm" has passed my contagious lips more often than I'd like. Suffice to say that I've spent enough time in bed that I miss my students. 

THAT'S HOW SICK I AM. I MISS WORK.

I knew it would hit me eventually and I've done enough traveling to schools (22 by my last count and that's just for this month) that it was inevitable that I would catch something the little petri dishes, err, students would eventually pass on to me. With technology, however, I'm staying on top of things and got to Skype with a teacher friend of mine where we did a brainstorm session for Black History Month. When I heard about this virtual field trip and The Nature Conservancy in conjunction with Nature Works I was reminded of the great times in which we live.

There's a virtual field trip to Burkina Faso that students can experience. A virtual field trip.

I'm a big fan of field trips. Taking students out of school or giving them new adventures is an enjoyable part of my job. You can only learn so much inside the 4 walls of a classroom with textbooks. I've read Diary of a Young Girl with my students in the past but watching them experience it as a play was something special. Each year we take our 7th grade students to St. Louis for a weather-related field trip at Busch Stadium after they've spent time studying weather in science. But, we stay for a baseball game and seeing the faces of some students who have never been to a professional stadium or sports event is where the real thrill is. I'll fight this tooth and nail with anyone who disagrees.

Virtual Field Trip

Here are the details of a science and geography field trip you can take with grades 3 and up next Thursday, February 5 at noon (EST) on YouTube:

Where: The Deserts and Grasslands of Africa

 What: During the 40 minute field trip, students will meet an African farmer in Burkina Faso who has invented a method of restoring forestlands that had been lost to desertification. After that, they'll go to Kenya to see how ecotourism has been a benefit to both the people and the wildlife there. 

Hosted by: The Nature Conservancy, PBS LearningMedia, and The Nature Conservancy’s Director of Field Programs in Africa, field scientist Charles Oluchina 

Key Concepts and Terms for Teachers and Classes (vocabulary pre-teaching):

  • Working with nature so nature works with us
  • People and Conservation
  • Desertification
  • Smart Development
  • Ecotourism
  • Habitat
  • Grasslands
  • Reforestation
  • Land preservation

 

The Value of Grasslands from The Nature Conservancy on Vimeo.

 

The virtual field trip acts as most field trips do: students get to see their learning in action and will see how theories and concepts are applied in real life. Science, for me, wasn't any fun until I could see how it actually worked in real life. I suspect most people who are visual learners feel that same way. 

Another part of the field trip are the resources from PBS LearningMedia which are a collection of videos, digital games and educational resources from the new PBS series EARTH A New Wild.

 

Nature Works Everywhere

The Nature Conservancy is comprised of 550 scientists who helped create Nature Works Everywhere to help students learn the science behind how nature works for us—and how we can help keep it running strong. This is nature around the globe that my own school values. I know I talk about it all the time, but I'm really proud of the 6th grade research project we do on the Global Water Crisis. It takes something that many of us take for granted and puts the water crisis into perspective for 11 and 12 year olds. At first, they assume there is not water crisis because when they turned on the faucet this morning there was, magically, water coming out of it. What they learn, throughout the unit, is invaluable and helps them to see the world from a global perspective. 

Why do adults march and protest? Why do they rally for places that don't have access to clean water? Why do adults sign Change.org petitions? 

Because we see things globally. 

That's why I'm happy to share a virtual field trip like this.

This is the first in a series aimed at building students’ knowledge of and emotional connection to environmental issues that are at the heart of The Nature Conservancy’s mission. 

Who Are Your Hosts?

Host: Tyler DeWitt, science teacher

The host will serve as the emcee of the Google Hangout on Air. High energy and comfortable in front of the camera, the host will introduce the field trip, set up the context, interview the expert, manage transitions between video and live event, introduce schools, etc. 

Learn more about Tyler by watching his TED talk on making science fun and visiting his YouTube Channel

Expert: Charles Oluchina, Director of Africa Field Programs, Kenya 

Born in Nairobi, Charles grew up in Kenya. His physician father’s work took the family from the Western Rift Valley to coastal Mombasa. After earning a degree in natural resources management, Charles gained extensive conservation experience with USAID before joining The Nature Conservancy.

What Should You Do Next?

Sign up for the virtual field trip here. It's a simple registration form with 4 questions.

Bookmark the Google hangout for the field trip here. This is especially helpful for schools like ours where YouTube is blocked. We use Google hangout for a lot of our learning. It will be livestreamed on YouTube here. If neither of those options work or you can't make it, it will be on the Nature Works Everywhere channel here

Some Related Resources for teachers:

Photo credit to IAmNotUnique

Friday
Jan232015

Telling the Truth: Getting to Know Kathryn Harris

Tracking Pixel

 

This is a sponsored series with Wells Fargo.  I was invited to reflect on, and share, my Untold story. This is part one of a two-part post.

Kathryn Harris deals in untold stories but her job is in making sure they see the light of day. The stories are with her every day. Literally. Kathryn is a librarian.

  

I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned before that I wanted to become a librarian. I have an immense amount of respect for them or how they’ve shaped my life, but the truth is that they have. My first library card was a stolen one from my mother at the Chicago Public Library. She used to hand me her card to use and check out children’s books, but it didn’t have my name on it so it didn’t feel like mine.

 

Chicago Public Library, courtesy of Serge Melki

When I finally secured one for myself we had moved to a small, diverse suburb south of Chicago and it wasn’t as impressive or foreboding as the architectural beauty of the columns and old school feel of the Chicago Public Library. That didn’t matter. In fact, the card was more important to me than the building.

The building, however, must be explained. Instead of the classic look of our old library, it was in an abandoned house at the end of a long street across from the country club where we used to go for dinner as a family to Taco Night or sometimes for brunch on the weekends. Someone must have donated it to the village (as our suburb was known) and it housed all the Nancy Drew and Trixie Beldon I would ever want to read.

During the summer of my 5th grade school year, I was in charge of putting my younger sister in the red wagon along with my books to be returned (or albums that I borrowed like Annie or Really Rosie) and haul her up the hill to the library.

I, personally, didn’t just fall in love with books or the worlds they opened for me. I fell in love with the librarian. She knew everything and everybody who entered the front door which looked similar to the one on our house.

Beverly Simpson's Untold Story

As I spent time finding an untold story on my own, I was inspired by Beverly's story because, as you'll see if you watch this video and then read on about Kathryn Harris, these women share some commonalities. When Beverly says, "I've been proud and I let no one take that from me" I think of Kathryn.

It was a no-brainer, then, for me to find my own favorite librarians in every town I’ve lived in since that time. Kathryn was an easy find. I’ve known her, or, rather, her reputation, for the last 20 years. These days, she works at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, a research library connected to the museum, in Springfield, Illinois.

 

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum, courtesy of Winonave

Each year our school visits the presidential library to do research for the history fair our students enter. Thehead research librarian works with our students and I watched her move swiftly and deftly between the tables to ask students what they needed. She’s the kind of person who, when you meet her, you know she’s got stories. Kathryn knows her books, she knows history, and she knows what fuses need to be lit.

In Your Untold Story, What Did You Want to Become?

When she allowed me to interview her to learn what makes her tick, she dropped a little bomb on me right away when it comes to her own story. I asked, “Did you always want to be a librarian?” and she said that no, she wanted to become a teacher.

Why didn’t you then?

I could not become a teacher because I did not posses the moral character.

What? That’s ridiculous! You’re the most refined, honorable person and people can see that as soon as they meet you. Who would say that and why?

Kathryn told me that she applied for her first job and the principal really liked her and wanted to hire her to teach French to high school students. But, because she had a year-and-a-half old daughter but no husband, she wasn’t hired for the job.

Why did you divulge that you were a single mother?

Because my mother told me to always tell the truth.

Unfortunately, her story spiraled from there. She lost her beloved mother and decided to return home to help care for younger siblings. One of her sorority sisters suggested she apply to the University of Illinois to earn a master’s degree in Library Science just before her mother’s passing and suddenly Kathryn was faced with a decision: attend school or stay at home. She passed on it and called them to say so.

Her story took a turn again when the department director contacted her to say that her credentials were impeccable and that they wanted her to attend school. When she told her story to them they counter-offered: take one semester off and when you come next semester we will hold a job for you, your scholarship, and we’ll find a way to help you with childcare for your daughter.

Stories have a way of taking a turn but Kathryn’s storytelling has a certain fidelity to it: she tells the truth. It’s her story and she owns it and only by being a reliable narrator does she find a certain amount of strength in how she lives.

When I went in to interview her I hadn’t expected finding such a common theme of single motherhood with her but when she shared her story with me I became aware of how powerful truth-telling and storytelling really are. They go hand-in-hand and she got to re-write her own and not be subjected to one that labeled her a woman of “poor moral character”.

In fact, she decided to become another character later in life: Harriet Tubman.

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Please take a read and watch the other “Wells Fargo Presents – The Untold Stories Collection” in the series to read more about the #MyUntold Stories!

What about you? What stories have been left untold by you or your family members? Have you ever asked a stranger to tell you about their life and were surprised by it? You need to go talk to your local librarian. I'll bet they have amazing untold stories.

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Wells Fargo Bank.

 


By Serge Melki from Indianapolis, USA (Chicago public libraryUploaded by russavia) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

By User talk:Winonave [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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