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Virtual Field Trip: Wild Biomes

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

I am supremely disappointed in my inability to grow things in a sustainable manner. It's not entirely my fault, though, because I grew up learning how to fix things and cook so that's my wheelhouse. When I first became a homeowner I envied the manicured lawns and flowers my neighbors kept but instead of trying to grow anything, I bought potted plants that lasted only as long as I remembered to water them.

This house, though, the one that I share with The Cuban, is laid out in such a way that makes it possible for sunlight to hit it just right for a nice garden. You'd think I would have a nice one, but weeding is truly a pain and one that I grumble through as a chore each summer. We've tried growing some food but with the woods so close to our house the bunnies ate everything or the bugs got it and the weeds OH MY GOD ALL THE WEEDS. 

I freely admit that I fail at such things.

However, this year we're trying hydroponics and we're not doing it outside at all. The Cuban is spearheading this and building things and he made a bell siphon to keep the water flowing. It's all very complicated and I'd explain it but I do best just eating the tomatoes and cilantro and rosemary he's growing. It's our own little biome but not really, you know? (See? I told you I shouldn't explain those things.)


But, do you know what time it is? It's time for another VIRTUAL field trip.

I truly enjoy sharing these because you can do it at home or in your classroom. You don't even have to pack a bag for this.

The Nature Conservancy's Nature Works Everywhere's is planning a live Google Hangout for grade 3-8 classrooms focusing on comparing and contrasting the role of water and how it works in two dramatically different biomes – the rainforests Washington State and the desert in Arizona. Students can learn how water affects and is affected by the people, animals and plants in these two distinctive ecosystems. (So, a bit different than our homemade hydroponics.)



The Virtual Field Trip - Wild Biomes: From America’s Rainforest to America’s Desert

If you're a classroom teacher, here are the bare bones details:

  • On April 8, 2015 at 12 pm ET, The Nature Conservancy is putting on a virtual field trip they've titled Wild Biomes: From America’s Rainforest to America’s Desert. The Nature Conservancy’s senior hydrologist on The Nature Conservancy’s Global Water team will be teaching the science behind how people and nature can work together.


  • Teachers and parents can sign up to take part in the virtual field trip here: 


  • Why sign up? The aim of this virtual field trip is to build students’ knowledge of and emotional connection to environmental issues that are at the heart of The Nature Conservancy’s mission. 



  • For teachers: The Nature Conservancy and NatureWorksEverywhere are excellent classroom resources for science and geography.

Tomorrow, my own 6th grade students are participating in our culminating project on sustainable and clean water. We do this every year in order to learn how water affects people and how clean water is a problem in many developing countries. In fact, this field trip is a natural extension of what my own students are doing because it also looks at how people affect water. They've learned where their water comes from already and that globally we have a water crisis. 

On the field trip, students will get to hear from Kari Vigerstol, the senior hydrologist on The Nature Conservancy’s Global Water team from Seattle. It's hosted by Tyler DeWitt who will introduce the field trip, interview Kari, and take questions from students. Since it's virtual, we'll travel to the lush, rain-soaked splendor of the Olympic Peninsula and explore the urban watershed of Seattle. While they get a lot of water, the challenge is keeping it safe and clean. Next, we’ll head to Arizona’s dry, desert landscape and take a tour down the Verde River, one source of water that nourishes this parched land. Here, people and other living things must adapt to a limited water supply, yet sudden and violent storms can dump seven inches of rain in a single night.

Teachers may want to pre-teach some vocabulary that's necessary to understanding just how nature and water work with people. During the chat, there will be a couple of students asking questions of the experts. These Key Concepts and Terms will get students started:


Tune in for our live Google hangout at 12:00 pm (EST) on April 8, 2015, to find out how geography, people, and water interact in two of America’s “wildly” unique biomes. It's 40 minutes long, and my students and I will be there. Join us! Maybe sometime in the near future, I'll show you how those tomatoes and cilantro and rosemary turn out.

Supplementary materials:

How Natural Areas Filter Water  

Managing Salmon to Support Healthy Forests  

Gardens Activity Guide: Water  

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


Eden Project 09-10-2007 via photopin (license) Rainforest Dome via photopin (license)


Before the Good Guys Were Liked: Dr. King’s Untold Stories

This is part three of a sponsored post series with Wells Fargo.

In my lifetime everyone has always referred to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a hero. He has, to my knowledge, always been revered, there’s always been a holiday honoring him, and there’s always been a monument dedicated to his legacy. When I got the whole story, however, I was shocked that I didn’t know all the untold stories.

By the time I got to college I learned about the FBI spying on him, his reported infidelities, and how much he was hated during his lifetime.

In case you don’t know about any of those things in my previous paragraph, feel free to watch the brilliant film SELMA by director Ava DuVernay that was released last month. Due to her vision and the way she directed it, you won’t be able to leave the theatre and forget that Dr. King was a watched man by the FBI.

In 2011, Gallup Poll did a survey looking at the popular opinion of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the time when the marches and protests were taking place. At the time, Dr. King was considered radical for his ideas and his pushback on people he should have expected support from but didn’t get. In May of 1963 37% of those polled found him to be “unfavorable” and 25% of those polled found him to be “highly unfavorable”. Naturally, there’s been a shift in the public opinion about Dr. King with many hailing him as a Civil Rights “hero” with a national holiday and monument dedicated to him. 

Yet, what about the polls throughout the 1960s questioning his popularity? Were the marches and protests and speeches he made successful or did he hit popularity low? Are the stories we tell our children a fair representation or should we discuss the radical, disastrous parts as well?

Looking back on American history, it’s easy to see how the narratives of Black men and women have been shaped, but we’ve done an unfair job of showing the North as more ‘progressive’ than the South. While Selma became a famous march and his I Have a Dream became his most famous speech, Dr. King encountered plenty of wrath in his time.

Some of the untold history of Dr. King’s work rests on failed protests and counter-protests. Beginning in 1965, Dr. King began to focus on housing issues in Chicago, an issue that many found more unpalatable than simply riding an integrated bus. While marching through Marquette Park with other protestors about the unfair housing laws, King said this became the most ugly encounter with counter-protestors that he’d even seen. 


There was massive resistance from Whites in the North, thousands of whom came out to scream and hurl objects at the non-violent group that included Dr. King as they marched throughout the Southwest and Northwest sides of Chicago. The protests were to oppose discriminatory ordinances barring rental or purchasing property, something systemic racism has perpetuated for so long that the legacy of that cycle continues to be a struggle. 

About his time in Chicago, King said, “I’ve been in many demonstrations all across the South, but I can say that I have never seen – even in Mississippi and Alabama – mobs as hostile and hate-filled as I’ve seen in Chicago. I think the people from Mississippi ought to come to Chicago to learn how to hate.”

While the Chicago Freedom Movement wasn’t as successful as the marches in Birmingham and Selma, they weren’t total failures. The Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities came out of this movement, which put the focus on housing discrimination, something that long needed to be corrected as it was systemic policy.

Dr. King was vehemently disliked over his anti-war sentiments as well, but the prevailing thought at the time was that his work should be singular in nature and focus on singular issues. However, he was fighting for a variety of aspects of the marginalized lives of Blacks. Workers’ rights, unions, anti-war, housing discrimination, voting rights. These were complicated issues that were built into the layered system of discrimination that the Civil Rights fought and continues to fight.

One would think that his colleagues of the cloth would be supportive of the Reverend King, but many clergymen penned open letters to Dr. King criticizing his work with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. They considered him an outside agitator who was a part of the “them” against their “us”. Though some ministers were affiliated with the SCLC, they still practiced xenophobic beliefs about his work. Responding to them in his famous Letter From Birmingham Jail, Dr. King supplied them with not only a moral impetus for his appearance at protests, but he pushed back on their privileged status. 

The way we’ve created narratives to justify and shape the way we look at the legacy of people who worked for the fight for Civil Rights isn’t as clear-cut as it should be. These untold, or not-told-as-much, stories are still a part of our history. The radical thing to do would be for us to look at it directly and keep peeling apart the privileged systems that favor some and punish others. The radical thing to do would be to continue to fight, even as unpopular as that is, because it’s still the right thing to do.

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Wells Fargo and The Untold Stories Collection. You can find their story gallery here, and share your own story. Make sure to use the hashtag #MyUntold when sharing on social media, and tag me so I can see it!


I Gotchu

Last night, Mason came over and, since he has the impeccable timing of a 23-year-old-about-to-live-on-his-own, he knew exactly when we were cooking dinner so that he could cop a free meal out of us. It's awesome and bizarre how his timing works, but he also knew that I baked cookies over the weekend so he went searching for them. 

I'm so much better at hiding things in my own house now that they're older. 

I used to keep everything I didn't want them to see with all the cleaning supplies. They never seemed to look there. WHY WOULD THEY EVER NEED TO CLEAN?

He's still going to school but it's taken him longer than his sisters because he's worked full time as a Youth Group leader. He's wanted to go into the ministry but it's fascinating watching him figure out that ministry comes in many forms. Right now, he's learning to work with a younger group of kids in elementary and when he told me about that job I tried to give him some advice.

You know how uncomfortable it is to get advice from your mom, right? When you add to that the fact that I've worked in education for 2 decades you get quite a know-it-all. 

I'm nothing if not entirely self-reflective in my work. 

And humble. I got that in spades.

I teased him, "Why do you need my advice?"

His response shocked me. "Because I had a moment today when I turned into Kelly Wickham. Something came out of my mouth and I thought, hmmmm. I'm my mother."

Much of the advice I gave him was to forge relationships with the children and to make sure he knew their play time was really their serious work time. When it seems like they're just playing tetherball or 4-square outside, join in with them. That builds a trust on another level than when you're sitting next to them in a classroom. He mentioned a kid that drives other adults crazy but said he just got right in his face and knelt down on his level.

"You got knee-to-knee-eye-to-eye with him." I told him.

"What is that?" he asked.

I took longer to explain it to him.

"Just a term in education about connecting with kids but not making them look up to you for it. Sit down next to them. Kneel. Get all the way on the floor if you have to. With middle schoolers, I just do what they do. If they flop onto my bean bag to chat, I get down there, too. Whey they want to stare at the ceiling because they don't want to make eye contact, then I crawl on the floor and look up, too. Make sure you're always knee-to-knee, Mason."


Mason, celebrating his 23rd birthday. My son-in-law looks blurry, but it ended up being such a great picture of Mason that I love it.

My knee-to-knee takes on other forms as well. For the better part of a week I've been debating on talking to a student about something I've been noticing at lunchtime. Part of my supervision duty requires that I attend all 3 lunch shifts daily and, while it's a giant chunk of my day where I can't take phone calls or drop-ins from students needing to talk to me, it's where I do my best Margaret Mead anthropological work. In their natural habitat, kids are best viewed by a prowling administrator walking from table to table and checking in with them. I take notes in my head and learn which friendships are struggling, who is going out with whom, and which students might be on the verge of a breakthrough. Or, worse, a breakdown.

Lunch time supervision is my jam. It's how I connect with kids in an unstructured environment. When they see me visiting classrooms they're far more academic-based. The cafeteria is where that guard comes down.

I stand near the cashier and check their trays out when they pass by, commenting one every third one or so.

All your lunch is one color: brown. Get an apple or some broccoli or a salad, would ya?

Did you remember to get a fruit?

Oooohhhh, somebody likes tacos. GUESS WHO ELSE LIKES TACOS?

Aren't you getting milk? Or would you rather have a juice or water?

When they were passing by, I told one of them, henceforth known as Cool Kid, to come see me when he was done eating. He asked if he was in trouble and I made my You-Talking-Crazy face. "Nah, you're good. Just see me before you head outside."

He couldn't wait so when he was halfway done he made eye contact with me from his table and mouthed, "Now?" and I didn't want to torture him so I yanked my head towards the door and sat on the Ball Box (where I am Queen of the Basketballs/Footballs) to chat.

Cool Kid: You wanted to talk to me?

Me: Yes. You know how (name redacted) has been sitting at your table for lunch? Well, I was talking to his dad and (name redacted) is really excited about being able to sit there. Right now he's working on making friends and the other night he was saying his son couldn't stop talking about all his "new cool friends". He believes he's sitting at the Cool Kids table. He thinks you're all the best athletes and very smart, but it's hard for him to make friends.

Cool Kid: Ok. So?

Me: So, is it the Cool Kids table? Are you boys popular?

Cool Kid: (laughing) Well. Yeah.

Me: So I don't want you to mess this up. I want you to take this responsibility seriously and I want you to treat him well. There will be no laughing at him, but you may laugh with him. Can you read between the lines here?

I had to pause for a moment here with him because we got interrupted by a student looking for a cough drop. Since I was sitting down and couldn't see her coming, I listened to his body language say that I should crane my neck to see who was coming down the stairway. I listened to his facial language say, Stop. Pause. I know this is important but someone is here so please don't say this in front of her.

After I answered her question and she trotted off, he continued, not letting me speak first. I took it to mean that he knew where this was going and didn't need my overkill on it.

Cool Kid: I don't want to disappoint you or nothing, but I gotchu.

Me: (starting to tear up because he was getting this) You be nice to him, okay? You are a leader at that table and with your friends. This is a chance for you to show me your character. More importantly, it's a chance for you to show him what it means to be a kid like you.

Cool Kid: Yeah. I see what you're saying.

Me: Now, go back and sit down. Don't be telling nobody I cry. (Getting my thug cred back.)

Cool Kid: I gotchu.


How much more can we pour into children when we expect the best from them and how much return does that give? Adolescent-age kids are in desperate need of higher expectations with a dose of reality when they mess up. Even if children do make mistakes, this is where they want to make them and learn from them. A lot of my own Office Advice sounds like this:

You want to mess up here and learn from it. It's much harder when you're older. Old people are stubborn. You get to make mistakes in life, you know that?

I guess lunchtime supervision is my jam. Knee-to-knee is my jam. Letting kids be leaders and allowing them to be flawed and amazing people is my jam. 

And giving my son advice in writing like this is the luckiest jam of all. I hope you got something out of this, Mason. I gotchu.

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