Tag Archives: sol14

Making Biscuits

I’m a bit behind in my participation in the Learning Creative Learning MOOC, put on by the MIT Media Lab, P2PU and sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation.  So I am going back to last week’s activity, which involves reading Seymore Papert’s essay Gears of My Childhood and then using that essay as an invitation to reflect and write about my own childhood experience with object-based learning.

Unlike Papert, I don’t have an immediate memory of a particular object that influenced my view of the world from a very early age.  (It’s probably more of a memory problem than of a lack of interest in an object!)  But as I continued to think about influences on my outlook toward learning and curiosity, I found myself thinking of many different influences–most of them including important people in my life: my mom, my dad, and my Grandma Millie come immediately to mind.  And then I thought about my experiences making biscuits with my Uncle Bob.

Uncle Bob (actually my dad’s uncle–so my great uncle) lived in a trailer somewhere in the same county where we lived and we would visit on Sunday mornings (I think).  He would make biscuits and always invited me and my little sister to help him.  (He seemed old from the time I knew him and we were very little girls at the time)  We would climb up on a chair of the trailer table and watch closely as he kneaded and smoothed the floury dough.  Then he would roll it out and hand each of us a drinking glass, the same kind we would drink 7-up in a bit later, and we would carefully cut the biscuits using the glass.  He would then take the biscuits, place them on the pan, and put them in the oven.  I still love biscuits, especially when they are made from scratch like that!

And I think the important lesson I learned from that drinking glass/biscuit cutter is that the right tool for the job is often the tool you have access to.  Uncle Bob didn’t need fancy biscuit cutters that were just the right size, he just pulled a glass out of the cupboard.  And better yet, my sister and I each had one to work on cutting those tasty biscuits from the dough.  We all worked together and, in spite of our age, were trusted to do this important work.

And to this day, so many years later, I know that using what you have access to is an important truth to experimenting, to figuring things out, to designing, and to feeling like making is within your grasp.  I still don’t have to go out and buy the perfect kit or have the just right materials to get started with exploring…I just have to be interested, and it really helps to have someone like Uncle Bob (or my mom, dad, and Grandma Millie) around to support you as you’re getting started.

Uncle Bob

Reflecting on Weeds

I’ve been pretty obsessed with weeds over the last few weeks.  These much maligned plants are resilient, tenacious, and often quite beautiful…traits I admire.

On my way home from work today I noticed that the greenhouses I passed were ablaze with color, so I pulled off the road, parked and walked to take a closer look and a few pictures.  And on my way I noticed this weed growing along the cement wall in a crack between the sidewalk and the wall.

urban weeds

When I got home I noticed that today’s Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge was reflection…and instead of thinking about the many photos I take of literal reflections (mostly involving water), my mind immediately went to this photo of a dandelion weed growing in the crack of a sidewalk.

I’ve reflected on many aspects of weeds in the last couple of weeks: their beauty, the role of a negative label, and about things that we see as expendable. Every time I see a weed I find myself thinking about its positive qualities…and wondering if a particular plant is seen as a weed depending on the context.  After I photographed the dandelion weed I also noticed the salty susans growing wild in the dirt where the sidewalk stopped.  I wondered…are these weeds or are they native plants?  And really, what is the difference?  If these yellow blossoms were in the crack of the sidewalk would that make them a weed?

salty susan

And as I finished my parent-student-teacher conferences today I was thinking about the qualities the educational establishment values in learners.  What about the students who don’t quite fit the profile of the ideal learner?

I heard a piece on the radio this morning about the rate of suspension and expulsion in schools of students of color…and know that there is no reasonable explanation for these statistics. These children are being seen as “weeds” in the system, intentionally or unintentionally, and this has to change.  How we talk about kids and how we define success plays a huge role in the ways kids are treated in schools and other contexts.  Plucking them out is not a viable solution…and there’s plenty of research to support that premise.

I think the answer lies in broadening our definitions of school success.  I also think we need to consider what we expect of students.  Do we want them to sit quietly or do we want them to learn?  Is reading from a textbook or listening to lectures the best pathway to learning?  How do we support students in finding their own experiences in the content we teach?  What environments do we cultivate to encourage the growth of students who are quite different from each other?  How do we engage families and learn from them and with them about their children?

For me, weeds are an object of reflection…and of fascination.  And they generate question after question for me to consider as I strive to improve my teaching practice.

And watch out…I might just have an entire garden full of weeds one of these days!

Learning From Weeds

My students seem to be falling in love with weeds.  After reading Weeds Find a Way yesterday, we invited students to be on the lookout for weeds.  And this morning while kids were out running laps for Cardio Club, I was presented with more than one dandelion puff–those magical seed pods of childhood.  I guess they wanted to make sure I knew how much they loved them!

And I love it when different classroom activities intersect and overlap, creating a deeper learning experience for all of us.  Today when students headed out to the garden with our gardening teacher, they went in search of weeds.  And while they had weeded the garden beds before, after our reading yesterday and with the gardening teacher knowing that we were learning about weeds, this time they were looking more closely.  One student came in from recess with a weed clutched in her fist.  She showed me the plant, pointing out what she was as interesting features.  She also let me know that she had sketched this plant in her gardening journal.

Student brought a basket full of weeds back to the classroom…and we’ll use them later this week in a science lab about weeds.  As I peered into the basket, I was immediately interested in the stickers on the plants that I remember as a child.  I have vivid memories of pulling those stickers out of my socks.  And of course, I had to grab my phone and take a few shots.

sticker weed

In some ways the topic of weeds has stuck to me like those stickers I used to pull out of my socks.  I’m noticing a lot of variety in weeds and find myself wishing I knew more about them. I’m also still thinking about labels and how that influences the way we view and treat those labeled as nuisance or disposable or disgusting or not worth time or energy.  This goes well beyond plants.  It seems to apply to both living things and inanimate items.

Think about those one-time use plastic bags that many people (me included) use to carry groceries home from the market.  We find them everywhere they don’t belong…on the ground, at the beach, on park benches and half buried in the sand.  They are seen as expendable, cheap, replaceable–so people are not taking care to keep track of them or even to dispose of them properly.

My city is contemplating banning these bags because of the environmental dangers they pose. How will the ban change the way people see them and use them?

And how does this apply to students?  Which are seen as expendable, easy to replace, just a number in the system? Does that change the way they are treated?

I’m glad we are learning about weeds.  They are helping me learn a lot about myself.