Sandwich Parenting

Sandwich Parenting… parenting your own children and parenting your parents. It isn’t easy. Maybe that’s why it’s called that, cause being caught inside both ends of the spectrum means that you end up smooshed like a piece of expired bologna.

Today was one of those days.

 

I don’t put this out there to get a woe is me. I am not a martyr. But I am very much the mom of three kids that need me and the daughter-in-law turned parent figure of a very vocal and needy mother-in-law. My husband takes the brunt of his mother’s ire, but man, oh man, parenting a parent while parenting your own children is difficult.

Below is a snapshot of two REAL CONVERSATIONS this morning…

with the 7 year old

Daughter: Can we go to the storage building?
Dad: Why?
Daughter: To get a dollhouse couch.
Dad: Not today. We are all sick and getting in the storage building would be bad for our allergies.
Daughter: (Tears) Why can’t I ever get what I want? Why don’t you understand me?…

 with the 77 year old

Mom: Can we go to the storage building?
Son: Why?
Mom: I want to look for some perfume.
Son: Not today. We are all sick and getting in the storage building would be bad for our allergies.
Mom: (Tears) Why can’t I ever get what I want? Why don’t you understand me?…

It’s the daily conversations like these that wear on your soul. You expect to have fights with your kids. That’s part of parenting. But having duplicate fights with a grown woman are hard to take on a daily basis.

What is truly frustrating to me is that I watched my father-in-law have these same conversations with his mother and Doug’s mom wasn’t happy with incredible stress that was placed on her husband because of it. By the time I joined the family Doug was a grown man and his parent’s were retired while caring for Doug’s dad’s parents.  But here I am watching the same situation, next generation, but our children are small enough to still need lots of parenting. I am trying my absolute best to not be bitter. Some days are harder than others.

So for those of you out there living in the land of sandwich parenting, let me say, you are not alone. It is tough and it feels like no matter the decision you make for your parent it isn’t the right one, but hold on and enjoy the very rare and brief moments when all the ingredients in the sandwich create a masterpiece.

 

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Teaching in a Problem/Project Based Learning Classroom

PROJECT BASED INSTRUCTION – #EDUBLOGSCLUB PROMPT 17

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Teaching in a project based learning environment is:

  • exciting
  • fun
  • loud
  • interesting
  • chaotic
  • engaging
  • different everyday

It is not however easy. If a teacher is looking for a simple and quiet environment, a project or problem based classroom is not for him or her…. for that teacher, my suggestion is to stick to the ole’ worksheets and sit back and be bored! A project based classroom is an incredible place to be, but it is work!

Case in point… my classroom. Yes, for the last 9 years I have taught art, but prior to that I taught Economics, Debate, Reading, Creative Writing, Career Investigations, Math, Speech and Theatre and in all of these courses, I used project based instruction. So from a veteran twenty year teacher, I feel like I am a perfect advocate for this type of instruction and learning environment!

So how does project based instruction work? Here is an example..

Over the last few months my art 2 – 4 students have been learning to create logos and to screen print their design on shirts. This project has been a huge undertaking and has lingered on and on!

One of the hardest parts of project/problem based instruction for the teacher is understanding that your schedule, your bundled curriculum, and your lesson plans might just have to be thrown out of the window for the good of the students!

EEK! Yes, I did just say that! But, what I have learned is that while I might have to adjust my plans to make problem based learning work, it is worth it. And, in order to give all of my students time to process and consider the problem or the process, I have students work through the project in stages or increments with breaks for other assignments built-in (this also catches me up on my bundle..) So for example, here is my logo design screen printing project timeline:

Early February: Create a logo for art using a custom graphic and just one color. Students created this by hand and/or digitally. The students that worked quickly set their design aside and moved to a different project. The students that worked slowly were given a couple more class days to work and then had time outside of class to continue working on their own time. Students were told at this point to bring a tshirt and a frame for their screen.

Late February: Students learned how to cut green screen film. This was time-consuming. As the students completed this they were able to adhere their film to their screen and print.. if they brought their supplies. However,  after a couple of class days, students were asked to move to a different assignment and finish cutting as they had time between other projects.

March: Students were expected to have frames and shirts at school. Some did. Some didn’t. As students would complete a different project they were given time to continue their screen printing project. This ebb and flow of the project worked to my advantage as students would get excited when they would see student’s completed work and then want to figure out how to finish their project. I would completely move on and not mention the project for days at a time.

April: Not much happening on the screening of shirts. We were busy with other projects and contests. If a student wanted to work on this project, I let them. But I pretty much ignored it until the late April when I gave a hard deadline that we would be finishing the project the first week of May.

This forced those that had been procrastinating or forgetful to get busy! This was a week of seeing months of on and off work completed.

And why now after all of this time? Because the second Tuesday of May is the day we take our big group picture where everyone wears their creation!

I can’t wait to show those off! I wore one shirt yesterday and am wearing a different design today!

So do all of my students have shirts to wear?

NOPE! And that is one of the real life lessons from project based instruction. I gave lots of opportunities to work, create, problem solve and get help, but in the end, the students had to complete the work for themselves. This week I had one of my oldest, most advanced students get left behind because she missed too many deadlines and never got her green film adhered to the screen. Sad, but that’s part of life and truly one of the best lessons learned with project based instruction.

Do I consider the project successful?

YES! The joy on student’s faces when they successfully created something that could be worn is worth the effort! Besides the fact that I cover a truckload of the required essential skills (TEKS) in this one project, I pride myself on the fact that these students leave with tangible job skills.

Do all of my project based lessons take so long?

YES and NO! Some project based instruction is fast, some is slow. After years and years of this type of teaching I have learned how to weave the projects and expectations of lessons in and out and have multiple things going on in my classroom at one time. This process works for me.. but it would drive some teachers crazy. I get that.

 Is project based learning or problem based learning?

Let me give you an example… I teach four sections of art 1. I really wanted to do a problem based instruction unit on ceramic molds. I knew that this would not work with all of my art 1 classes. So, three classes did a manageable PROJECT based ceramic project where they learned how to create a clay monster and a clay box.

This was PROJECT based… meaning I knew the exact outcome I wanted, but the students still had to experiment, learn and explore the entire process and create a product.

The remaining class whose class dynamics were right for the PROBLEM were given the option to do the project like the other classes or take on the problem. They of course, chose the problem which was to experiment, learn, explore and create using ceramic molds.

The outcome of their problem was not a given. I refused to be anything more than a facilitator and mentor. They loved the process and worked tirelessly for weeks!

For me, the difference between the project and the problem is the willingness for me to let go of the final product. In the world of art, students are constantly working with a project based instruction model.

But when I used problem based instruction, I have to take a step back and let the students drive the process. This happens less often as so much of what we do is for contests. However, when we do, magic happens!

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So in the end, whether you are interested in using Project Based Instruction or Problem Based Instruction, I challenge you to just do it. Giving students hands-on applicable work transforms classrooms, student’s attitudes about school and gives student’s a sense of pride and ownership. Yes, it is a lot of work, but it is SO WORTH IT!

Public Education meet Weight Watchers

Prompt number 16, … Tell a story.. is part of the #EdublogsClub where a group of educators and edtech enthusiasts that blog around a common theme each week.

I’m running behind on my blogging. It’s a sign of the crazy busy schedule. The downside of not being able to respond to the prompt immediately is that I miss out on posting weekly. The upside is that these prompts from #EdublogsClub marinate in my brain for days at a time and I am enjoying the thinking process prior to writing my response.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago, right about the time the tell a story prompt came out, I rejoined Weight Watchers. For those of you new to my story, I am constantly battling my weight and have a love/hate relationship with food. A few years ago I joined Weight Watchers and changed my life. Since that time, I have struggled continuously to maintain a healthy weight. Thank goodness I love to run, otherwise the struggle would be much more difficult. However, every so often I try something else.. some gimmick, some supplement, some quick fix.. but in the end, nothing has the staying power of Weight Watchers. Why? Because Weight Watchers doesn’t make me change the very nature of who I am. In order to be successful with Weight Watchers, I don’t have to give up the foods I love, I just have to plan and make better choices. The problem is, Weight Watchers  is boring. It’s not flashy. If you lose a ton of weight week after week, you are doing it wrong. It’s steady, consistent..boring. But it works.8535053-An-image-of-a-person-standing-on-a-scale--Stock-Vector-weight-loss-healthy

And that is the very nature of education.

Quality education is boring. I’m sorry, but if you think that teaching is glamorous, you have not lived in the trenches with teachers very long. Teaching students day after day is hard, it is tedious and to be successful, much of what we do is boring. There. I said it! After almost twenty years in education, I feel like I have earned the right to say it… quality education is boring.

Why? Because the very education that students need, the foundation of our content doesn’t change. Yes, education evolves and yes, new technology brings in new elements and new methods, but the lessons that need to be taught and the skills that must be mastered don’t change. And contrary to what so many talking heads would have us believe, the way we teach much of our information must remain the same. That sameness, that one on one, teacher to student, direct content distribution isn’t flashy, it isn’t cool and it isn’t trendy.  Quality education is like Weight Watchers. It is founded in principles that work, it gives teachers the flexibility to make choices that work for themselves and their students within the guidelines provided and just enough wiggle room each week to keep things interesting, but keep them accountable to the group. See?!school-295226_960_720

And what about the flashy, quick fix? It doesn’t stand the test of time. Over the years, I have seen so many state tests come and go. I’ve seen teaching strategies and classroom management techniques questioned and labeled differently so that the latest and greatest buzz words are being thrown around and used. But at the end of the day, quality teaching and learning is still pretty much the same with a few new additions to improve the process. Just like Weight Watchers… the point system has changed, the activity credits adapted, and the delivery options greater, but the methodology and the results are still based on the same research and continued results.

So as the world continues to watch the state of public education, I offer this… let’s help public education be like Weight Watchers! Sure, the no carb diet gets results, but a person can only live without carbs so long before they give up the will to live. Okay, maybe that is a bit extreme… but really, I’ve tried the no carb thing… it’s no fun. Take the “specials” out of education and leave only the basics and you get a no carb education. Sure you can can survive it, but do you want to?

 

I could go on.. like..

Extreme weight loss surgery that leaves people looking malnourished..yep, we have education systems like that too…

And how bout that crazy diet that some go on that put them in a constant bad mood… yep, we have education systems like that too…

Really. I could go on still, but you get it. From the 15 year old girl who lived on Slimfast to the 40 something woman still fighting the pudgy middle, I have learned that the flashy quick fix doesn’t work. Successful and healthy weight loss and maintenance is slow, it’s steady and it’s consistent daily choices.

And that is what I hope for education.. content that is built on a secure foundation that is capable of withstanding slow and steady growth and change not looking for the flashy quick fix, but strong and steady for future generations.

Fine Art Assessments

The Edublogs Club prompt #15 was over assessments… it was last week’s prompt and I was drowning in the teacher ocean so the prompt has had time to ruminate in my brain before trying to put my thoughts in print.

This morning, as I get ready for the “Parade of Champions” that our community is having for our school’s state champion girls soccer team and our theatre team, I wanted to reflect on the reality of assessments in the world of fine arts.

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While I might be tempted to say that assessments in fine arts aren’t necessary or accurate, the truth is that assessments are important in EVERY discipline. However, appropriate and authentic assessments are crucial. A rudimentary objective test completed on a scantron is never going to accurately students much less assess fine arts students or programs. Fine arts people don’t process the same way that math/science or english/history students primarily process. This is not to say that fine arts dominate students can’t do well on standardized tests…this is contrary to my experience.

But these tests don’t reflect the whole student. 

Therefore, I think that one of the best authentic assessments for fine arts programs (and all programs for that matter) is to evaluate the sum total of the year. While it’s fun to take a snapshot of success and boast about the quality of our programs based on one big win. If we are a one dimensional program, then the students suffer. The same goes for academics. If everything we have, all of our resources and our efforts are spent on getting students to do well on the state mandated test, but in the process student’s miss out on mastering the rest of the content, then we have failed… but who wants to acknowledge that.

That is one of the reasons why I am so proud that I can say I am part of a fantastic fine arts department at Stephenville ISD. Stephenville High School fine arts students are well rounded students within their disciplines, but are also strong academically and are leaders in the community!

My case in point.. the recent big win by the SHS Theatre Team. UIL (University Interscholastic League) is the governing body for Texas extracurricular events and last week, UIL hosted the state meet for One-Act Play and Theatrical Design. Advancing to the state competition is tough. At this competition, UIL crowned the State Champion Theatre Team. This team is made up of the school’s competitors in UIL Film, UIL One-Act Play and UIL Theatrical Design. SHS won State Champion because of the well-rounded team approach. In order to win, students had to show an amazing variety of skills and an incredible commitment to their work. Students began working on these contests in August of 2016! Film students created in the fall and turned in their work in January of 2017 and advanced to state in March. OAP students performances started in February with the state meet in April, but many students begin working on one-act play in August or earlier! Theatrical Design students started as soon as the topic was given in May 2016, really got to work in August, turned in their work in February and if they advanced, went to State in April. From start to finish, more than 300 SHS students participated in these contests… that is 30% of the student body at SHS.

But that isn’t all we do, it just happened to be the most public as this success came with a plaque, a parade and a pep rally.

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Don’t you just love the fact that we had three of our theatrical design students at the parade and peprally via giant head and facetime?! These three students were at the UIL State Academic meet for Literary Criticism. I tell you, we have well rounded kids!

But all of that while fun, isn’t exactly my point.

My point is that assessments need to define what they are really measuring. So many of the assessments that students are given, don’t measure content knowledge or content mastery, but test taking abilities and game play. I want assessments to measure mastery, not the ability of students to handle high stakes testing that capture a moment in time.  Yes, I am fully aware that these kinds of tests are necessary. I have a junior that is living in the land of ACT and SAT. But I don’t believe that school and student mastery should be assessed in this same manner. I want my students to be given the opportunity to prove their knowledge and ability based on a year’s worth of effort.

So am I pushing for portfolio assessments? Yes and no. As my advanced students are deep into AP Art Portfolio creation, I understand the value of such an undertaking. The portfolio is the best representation of what they can do within a time frame and within a set of guidelines. In art world, this means 24 to 29 of the best pieces that the student has created, 12 developed around and exploring one theme. The depth and complexity of this portfolio is not something that I can do with all of my students. But I could have students build and add to their portfolios each year to finish their high school career with a portfolio that they would be proud to show to a grandparent or even would-be employer.

As our district moves to a 1:1 digital environment, I have looked at having students create and curate their own digital portfolio. Our district has used BulbApp, our elementary students are using Seesaw, my advanced students have tried blogs.. the list is endless.

And that in and of itself becomes one of my negatives. As times change and new software becomes available, it is so hard to figure out what to keep, where to put it and who can access it. Usage agreements are ever changing. Parent policies and parent permissions are ever changing. So it’s hard. And I can’t store thousands of artifacts for my students. Not in real life or digital!

Because of that reality, I can’t support portfolio assessments completely.

So my suggestion is that we assess programs and schools on the sum total of the year, not individual kids, not a single test, not a single anything!

We get so caught up in individual student success and or failure and it shouldn’t be that way. I have students miss my class Thursday after Thursday for mandatory math tutorials because they haven’t passed the Math STAAR yet. It doesn’t matter that art is the only thing that is keeping some of the kids in school, they are yanked in mid-lesson, mid-project.. hopefully this approach pays off.. but at what cost to the student.

At the end of the day I am more than aware that there isn’t a perfect answer or a best case. Only a mixed bag of problems and no real solution. That is the world of education. However, the EdublogsClub prompt asked me to consider the role of assessments in education. So this is my wish.. authentic assessments that evaluate a year of effort.

And how would my program fair?

Here is my year end assessment (yes, I know it isn’t the end of the school year yet… I still have a state competition, a congressional competition, and a local competition to complete..):

  • SHS Art students have created work for numerous contests and have a great many awards locally, within the state and beyond.
  • SHS Art students have participated in numerous community service events and have given freely of their time and talents.
  • SHS Art students have created art work using at least 6 different media and have created more than 1000 pieces of art this school year.
  • SHS Art students are active within all student body organizations from Soy Importante to National Honor Society, from FCCLA to Robotics.
  • SHS Art students have been accepted to colleges and universities,  claim an art field as their degree path and begin with college equivalent hours from the AP Drawing and 2D Portfolios.

I’d consider that to be a satisfactory year end assessment for a program!

Super Teacher Giveaway

super teacher

It’s the time of year when we need a reminder.. we teachers are super human.

Right now, I am buried in deadlines and am drowning in the very real needs of students. I figure I’m not alone in this!

Well, it just so happens that the blog prompt on #Edublogsclub for this week is to do a giveaway. Perfect timing!

So I made up this Super Teacher graphic and thought I’d use it for a giveaway. Sure, you are all welcome to just right click and save as.. but I’m talking about a real giveaway.

Like a tshirt, or a clipboard, or a poster. What do you think?

Comment on this post with what you would like for your Super Teacher item and I’ll choose a couple of people to send gifts to!

Nope, it’s not teacher appreciation week… but man, we need to be appreciated every week!

Enjoy you Super Teachers!

 

 

The Pendulum in Education

The pendulum: used to describe to the tendency of a situation to oscillate between one extreme and another.

That is why the image of the pendulum works so well when talking about education “best practices” and trends.  After almost 20 years in the classroom, I have had the opportunity to learn and use a number of teaching methods. Some are worthwhile. Some are not. But every few years the new “great” thing comes out and all of us educators have to sit in professional development sessions and hear about how if we will use this new method our classrooms will be transformed. They never are.

Yes, I’m a bit cynical.  But after all of these years and reading and researching and actually doing the job, I realize that the catalyst for change, the red ball in my picture above is never a teacher in the trenches. The catalyst is a politician, a higher-education researcher, a group of specialists, a retired administrator.. someone that personally benefits from suggesting this new better thing. The catalyst of the pendulum shift is on the outside and only sees what happens from one point of view.

The best classroom instruction change agent.. a would be pendulum shifter… that I’ve ever heard was at our district’s convocation this past August.  His thoughts were radical! (well not really, but they might as well have been watching the response of the people in the audience..)

He asked teachers and administrators to think creatively and to be engaging in their instruction. He asked teachers to invest themselves personally in the process and not worry about the tests so much. (scary stuff for sure.)

Yes, he was selling his books and yes, he made a nice chunk of change for the presentation… but he was living in the trenches and doing what he was asking us to do. (You can find him at Teach Like A Pirate.)

Huge difference. His ideas came from seeing education from the center of the pendulum. While he was pushing for change, he was also being hit from the other side by the realities of his classroom.

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In the end, it was a nice presentation and we went on doing what we’ve been doing.. because there wasn’t an outside force that required change. There wasn’t any follow up, no required test, no paperwork followed.

hmmm. interesting. So I guess this reality becomes my question.

How do we in education become internal catalysts for change that we know is needed?

How do we, in essence, change the direction of the pendulum?

Do we have to wait for the hit to come back at us?

Do we have to absorb the changes in one direction before we can send change back in the other direction?

Lots of questions.

Processing this pendulum concept empowers me. Often I feel completely on the outside of the educational process and that my world doesn’t matter to anyone or anything beyond my students and my classroom.

But that is not the case.

All of us. Every. Single. Teacher is part of the the great pendulum and while we may not the be red ball catalyst, we do impact the structure of education.

With every hit (new law), we respond.

With every thud (new research), we react.

With every swing (new method), we learn.

Our ability or inability to absorb pendulum shifts with grace directly impacts our students. So instead of focusing on the bruising impact that some of these shifts in education policy leave on teachers, I’m going to remind myself that I’ve always loved to swing and that the pendulum and all of its back and forth is just a swing set and I’m going to hold on and swing high!

Winterguard, bruised knees and a powerful performance

I love watching Maddie perform. So much of our life is defined by the limitations that are put on her, that when she is able to participate in LIFE with her peers, we celebrate!

One of Maddie’s passions is colorguard/ winterguard. Participating in an event that is so hard on her body is costly to her. The exhaustion, sore muscles and constant bruising is a high price to pay, but worth it because she loves the sport.

Maddie is on Stephenville High School’s winterguard team and they have their championship competition on Saturday. On Tuesday, they were able to perform for the student body. They performed beautifully and it is always wonderful for their peers to see the amazing things that they are able to do!

Enjoy.

Are you willing to “Crucify your Baby?”

Hang around V21 and you will here…

“Are you ready to crucify your baby?”

“I’m ready to crucify my baby.”

Visitors and new students whip their heads around with a look of shock and horror on their faces. Then they turn and look at me incredulously. I just smile and say “Good!”

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Yep, that’s how we do feedback in my art room. We acknowledge the fact that it is going to feel like someone is tearing your baby apart. And by giving it a name, we can laugh a little as we struggle to improve.

If you want to be a better artist,  you have to be willing to take hard criticism of your artwork. No one wants to find out that other people don’t like their creation.. their masterpiece! So in my art class, we have a saying for this difficult, but very necessary process. It’s called “crucifying your baby.”

New people to my world are horrified. Outsiders are uncomfortable. Students in other disciplines that find their way into my world for an extracurricular event are unnerved. But that’s okay. My students understand, and after the first encounter enjoy being part of the “club.”

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With that said, the crucifying comes with parameters, strict expectations and modeled behavior. I have learned over the years that the absolute best way to teach students how to take criticism of their work is to first require them to criticize mine!

For example, this painting of my daughter Lexi has lived in my classroom as a work in progress for over a year. As I work on it in class, I use the progression and development as an opportunity to teach students to discuss and comment critically about a piece. Just from glancing at it, I see every flaw and every incomplete area. But my goal is to teach students to look for those areas and to be able to communicate their thoughts and how they would fix the problem.

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Early in the year, I start off by choosing a student to come up to my easel while the rest of the class watches. I tell the student about the piece and that I know there are problems. I point out a few areas that I don’t like that I need to fix and then I ask him/her what areas he/she saw that needed work.

My conversation starter is deliberate. In order to get students to see that I want the criticism, because I want to improve, I  have to show the student that I could see the problems and voice them as well.  By doing so, I model the example of how to state problem areas. If I get in a hurry and forgo this vulnerability with the students, then their criticism is superficial and their ability to take criticism often suffers.

In the end, while the “crucifying your baby” process sounds scary and is a memorable moment in the art room, students that want to improve get daily opportunities for feedback and quality criticism. On the flip side, students that don’t want to improve,  don’t. I used to force student to go around the room and take turns giving feedback, but I have learned that a student that doesn’t want to improve isn’t willing to take criticism and always has an excuse for why or what they did. So instead of forcing criticism, we now have a code phrase and students that are willing to embrace the opportunity thrive.

As an educator and an artist, I am always looking for ways to improve. I am always looking for ways to reach further and climb higher. I am willing to crucify my baby.

The question is, are you?

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This blog post was part of the #Edublogsclub Prompt #11 on Giving Feedback.

College Planning for Your Chronically Ill Child

Parenting is hard. Parenting a chronically ill child is even harder. Add a rare disease or two to the mix and well, it’s tough. There are so many unanswered questions, so many scary decisions that have to be made, so many what if’s. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about parenting a chronically ill child. We have made a lot of mistakes and by the grace of God, a lot of good decisions.

One of the best books I read very early was Love and Logic’s  Parenting Children with Health Issues. The real life stories and scenarios were parallel to our world, especially when no one around us understood our struggles, had heard of her diagnosis and couldn’t fathom our heartache.

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But now Maddie is a teenager, a junior in high school and we are looking at colleges. It feels like we are in unchartered territory.

Do a google search  that includes chronically ill and college planning and the results are limited at best. So, like everything else in Maddie’s life, it feels like we are once again on an island of the unknown trying to figure out what to do and where to go while we are already lost.

But, if the last 16 years have taught me anything, it is to research, research and research some more and keep a spreadsheet of my findings! So that’s what I did. Maddie, Doug and I have talked many times about what she wants to pursue as a career and we used her ideas as a starting point.

We came up with a set of criteria to measure the universities that we were interested in and added colleges as we found them. Besides the requirement of having a music degree, Maddie didn’t want to be too far from her doctors (or us), didn’t want a university that had a sprawling campus, she wanted small degree classes, options for her limited diet, and cost was a factor.

Below you can see a portion of the spreadsheet.

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Then last fall we started visiting schools and Maddie took the ACT. People were surprised that we were already so serious about college planning, but when your child is medically fragile, you don’t have the luxury of winging things.IMG_8230

On our first round of visits, we learned that the size of the campus was going to be a crucial factor in the ultimate decision of where Maddie would go to school. One campus was sprawling, one campus a little smaller but the classes would be back and forth and back and forth in different buildings all day, and one campus was incredibly beautiful.. but tons of stairs.

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The ability to get around the campus easily knocked off some good contenders, but in order for Maddie to be the healthiest and most successful, she can’t put her body in a position to climb hills and stairs all day everyday.

During this time Maddie also was researching career options in music and came across Music Therapy. This was a light bulb moment for her. Music Therapy would use all of Maddie’s skills and talents AND life experiences! In choosing to narrow her career path even more, the college options changed and focused in again.

Instead of looking a dozens of universities, we were now looking at four that had music therapy degrees knowing that if none of these fit she could just major in music and get her master’s degree later.

In February, we scheduled a visit and met with an admissions representative at the university that is her first choice. (Texas Woman’s University)

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It was a cold and rainy day, but the university felt right. Hallelujah! Everyone we met was so helpful and nice and encouraging!

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Will Maddie go to this university? I don’t know. I think it is a definite probable. We still have to figure out some of the logistics like the need for a private room and things like that, but based on the criteria we came up with and the good vibes we got on campus, I’m hopeful.

So what have we learned so far?

  1. Create a criteria sheet (like a rubric used in school, creating criteria keeps the emotion in check).
  2. Start early. Schedule a college visit the fall of your Junior year if not before. Maddie had spent time on two different campuses during the summer at camps, so that gave us a head start.
  3. Take the ACT and/or SAT by the fall of your Junior year. By having test scores available when talking to the admissions representatives, we were able to have initial conversations about possible scholarships.
  4. Know your class rank and class size. GPA is good too, but it is the class rank that was important for our conversations about automatic acceptance into the different universities.
  5. Go on the tour!! I’m not a big fan of scheduled tours of any kind, but the walking tours with the campus representatives have been incredibly enlightening. At one university we walked the entire campus, but we only went inside a few of the buildings. Disappointing! At another university we met the university president while on the tour. Very cool! At the third university, we got to go in the buildings where Maddie’s classes would be and random students offered to help answer questions when the tour guide didn’t know much about the music program.
  6. Establish a contact with an admissions representative. Maddie contacted the admissions rep prior to the visit with some dual credit questions. The admissions rep remembered her and was very complementary about Maddie’s initiative and willingness to work hard to be ready for college.

Finally, my most important lesson is to look at the degree program and classes NOW.

Maddie’s chosen degree has her taking 18 or 19 hours each semester of college. There is absolutely no way that her body can handle that. When we discussed this with the admissions rep, it was suggested that Maddie take ALL of her core classes outside of the normal fall/spring class cycle and were encouraged to get as much of them done via dual credit and/or community college before arriving on campus her freshman year. With this in mind, prior to scheduling Maddie’s senior year of high school, we talked classes and put together scenarios over and over.

It was weeks of work. But we were able to rearrange her course load so that she will be able to take 12 hours each semester. This means that this summer, yes, the summer between her junior and senior year of high school, she will take 9 hours at the local community college. All 3 classes will go towards her college core and 2 will be used as dual credit for high school.  She will then take another 6 hours in the fall and 6 in the spring. So essentially, we are taking a 4 year program and backing it up into high school and making it a 6 year program. Given the availability of in-person and online dual credit classes, there is no reason to wait and retake a course later.

Getting your child ready for college and making decisions about careers is hard. But unlike the tests that Maddie is facing this week that required 9 vials of blood, these decisions are pretty basic in the grand scheme of things.

One of the lessons we have learned from having a fragile child
and having to fight for her everyday
is that we know that choosing the
“wrong” university or “wrong” degree path
isn’t life and death.

If all of our research, planning and preparation end up with her at a university that isn’t a good fit,then no worries, she can transfer elsewhere.

If only she could transfer away from her rare diseases and chronic illness.

Pop Culture Mystique

Popular Culture- #Edublogsclub Prompt 9

This post is part of the #edublogsclub- a group of educators and edtech enthusiasts that blog around a common theme each week. Prompt 9 is to write a post about using popular culture in the classroom. The prompt also offered some questions that I could use to jumpstart my thinking. They were:

  • What kind of popular culture do you bring into the classroom? How do you use it?
  • Do you have any comic books or graphic novel favorites that you use for reading and textual analysis? Why do you choose those?
  • What are your favorite television shows or movies in your classes? Why do you find these helpful tools?
  • Do you have any favorite songs that you bring into your classroom? How have students responded to your music? Why do you bring in these pieces?

My initial response was rather sad. I wasn’t even sure what I was supposed to be referring to! So I did what everyone does.. I googled it.

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And I got:

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Now armed with a good definition, I can be part of conversation. While I may not personally be conversant in the current elements of “modern popular culture that is transmitted via mass media and aimed particularly at younger people, ” I do live and work with younger people every day. More than that, I talk with younger people.

So here is what I have to say about using pop culture to reach students. Yep, I know a lot of people who are really good at that. I’m not one of them. But unlike other areas where I have lots of teacher and mom guilt, this is NOT one of those areas.

  • I don’t watch movies.
  • I watch very little television. (Big Bang Theory and Fixer Upper)
  • I read a lot, but only occasionally books that young adults read.
  • I listen to music, but again, not music that teenagers listen to.. unless they listen to broadway show tunes!
  • I facebook, instagram, use twitter occasionally and have but don’t use snapchat. But my student’s are not my friends or contacts on these social media platforms. And they shouldn’t be. Boundaries are necessary.

And you know what? I am very happy living in the land of the uncool and “out of touch.” My students are desperate for real conversations and meaningful relationships. My lack of understanding of pop culture doesn’t hinder our bond. My students don’t love me or hate me because of my relating to them about a movie or song. They love me or hate me as a direct result of my  words, actions and daily response to their real needs be it educational or emotional. I know for a fact that for some of my students, I am the only adult that listens to them. I am the only adult that talks WITH them. I am the only adult that speaks wisdom into their lives.

So, no. I’m not a cool teacher. But that’s okay. I remember having a few teachers as a teenager that were just cool. They had a beat on pop culture and could authentically talk to us and with us about the things we enjoyed. But I didn’t learn more about the subject matter because of their ability to engage with students about the latest movie. I learned the subject matter when it was taught well.

On the flip side, I also had teachers that were the very definition of uncool. My chemistry and physics teacher didn’t watch television and could not relate to students at all in terms of pop culture. But he was incredible. He knew me and what I was capable of. He pushed me to work harder and do more. He was the first math/science teacher that made me see that I was smart and could do the work.  He new his role of mentor could not be replaced and valued his work too much to focus on things that were fleeting.

In the end, I have to say that yes, there are times when I’d like to be the cool teacher or cool mom. But I’m not and if I were to suddenly use the slang that is used by students, start snapchating and talking in class about the current trends, it wouldn’t be authentic and my students (and children) would see right through the effort. So instead of trying to figure out how to fit in, I don’t. I don’t need to be. That’s not my role.
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