No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow.  ~Proverb

bluebell field in England

Bluebell Field in England (photo used under Creative Commons license)

Happy March Equinox Everyone!

Humankind’s imagination is as vast as the solar system we live in! Out of our imagination comes tools for working, farming, and building. If we let our imaginations soar we become inventors. In fact, inventive thinking and problem solving is something we do everyday. We see a problem and come up with a solution. In the Oak Meadow 5th grade science curriculum, students study technology and design and work on their own inventions.  It’s so much fun to see what they imagine and bring into the world! They construct things that help with a job around the house, create toys for pets, and design many other practical and useful items. Humankind just seems to long for answers to questions!

Long ago astronomers sought answers to the many questions about the universe. When an answer wasn’t in sight, they imagined and created stories or guidelines for their lives. They imagined stories about the stars they saw in the night sky, imagined the sun went to sleep each night, and imagined the world was flat. In future years we have come to understand more about the universe through observation. In observing the rising and setting of the sun, astronomers imagined a great dome over the Earth’s sky and called it the celestial sphere. They imagined the celestial equator as being in the middle of the north and south poles and right above the Earth’s equator. 

During the March equinox, when we have twelve hours of daylight and twelve hours of darkness, “the sun crosses the celestial equator, to enter the sky’s Northern Hemisphere. No matter where you are on Earth (except the North and South Poles), you have a due east and due west point on your horizon. That point marks the intersection of your horizon with the celestial equator, the imaginary line above the true equator of the Earth. And that’s why the sun rises due east and sets due west, for all of us, at the equinox. The equinox sun is on the celestial equator. No matter where you are on Earth, the celestial equator crosses your horizon at due east or due west.”

Photo and quote reprinted from EarthSky, written by Bruce McClure in Tonight

So get outside on March 20th and find due east and due west in your environment! It’s the first day of spring!

Mud Season

Photo courtesy of Naomi Washer.

I’ve just walked down to the path by the river and through the woods near my house, which I haven’t walked since before the winter hit. It’s sunny today, and another snow storm is coming tomorrow. This is what late winter is famous for in New England – the drastic flip-flops back and forth between warm sun, more snowfall, more sun. But I love that about New England. I love that we have no control over nature’s actions, that we must work with what we’ve got. I love how, in late winter, we can’t tell yet what the outcome will be. Everything feels in-between.

Photo courtesy of Naomi Washer.

In New England, we call this time of year mud season (right around sugaring season!). I love mud season for all it represents–an uncovering, a messy digging, mucking through confusion and uncertainty. I love uncertainty because I love writing, and writing is about mucking through questions. It’s about walking the same old familiar path until you come to a clearing you don’t recognize, even though you’ve been there before. You suddenly feel lost, though you are standing still. You wonder how you got here. You wonder if you will ever find your way back.

Maybe it’s mud season that’s made me notice my students’ questions more lately–both the questions they ask over email, and the questions they include in their essays. Often over email, they will ask me direct questions that seek one clear, direct answer. But one correct answer is not typically what I send back. When the question relates to how they should approach a writing assignment, I can’t give them one correct answer because there is not one correct answer. I am looking for their own curiosities, their own questions, their own uncertainties. As a culture, we’re so uncomfortable with uncertainty that it has filtered into the way we teach writing–we’ve come to see essays as a space for demonstrating expert knowledge, instead of a place to write through one’s questions in order to discover truth.

Photo courtesy of Naomi Washer.

When I walk in the woods in New England in late winter, I think about the essays of Thoreau, and Emerson, and Diderot, and Rousseau. Their essays straddle autobiography, educational philosophy, and reflections on nature. They are firm in their opinions and beliefs, and express them strongly, but through writing and walking, and walking through writing, and writing through walking, they often found themselves on the next page believing the opposite of what they’d said before–expressing some new opinion they never imagined they would express.

Photo courtesy of Naomi Washer.

This is what I hope my writing classes can be for students–a late winter walk in New England, through snow and mud and sun, crunching through dried leaves and brittle twigs beside a frozen, yet melting, river. That in-between space. And so, it is this landscape that I try to conjure when my students ask me questions. Instead of telling them the one right way to write their essay, I try to conjure up the landscape that will help them come to find and see it on their own. Often, I don’t hear back from students after I have sent them my response. I wonder how they’re doing. Then, a few days letter, I receive their essay in my inbox. I open it and begin reading. In the essay, I see them walking, perhaps hesitantly at first, then more steadily, as their feet press into the leaves on the ground. A paragraph begins, and I see them standing in a familiar clearing, speaking to me. After a while, I see that we are somewhere new, somewhere I haven’t been before.

Where Have You Come From, Where Are You Going?

Yesterday was my mother’s birthday. When I woke up that morning, I decided I would call her to wish her happy birthday over the phone, then secretly make plans with my dad for a small surprise celebration we’ll have a few days later. But I had an email in my inbox from her, asking if … Continue reading "Where Have You Come From, Where Are You Going?"

Yesterday was my mother’s birthday. When I woke up that morning, I decided I would call her to wish her happy birthday over the phone, then secretly make plans with my dad for a small surprise celebration we’ll have a few days later. But I had an email in my inbox from her, asking if I could look over some materials she had written for a theatre workshop she was going to teach the next day. My mother is very talented – an expert in her field – and very humble. She is skilled at deflecting the conversation away from herself, even while she brings her whole self – her mind, her heart, her listening abilities, and her skills – to every conversation and interaction. This has always inspired me in my teaching. My mother and I love to connect over the fact that I have pursued teaching like her, in my own unique way, and that we bring a similar student-centered philosophy to our work. It’s exciting and humbling for me now, as an adult, to help her proofread her materials and share our thoughts and ideas about ways to bring student interest and engagement to the center of teaching and learning.

Photo courtesy of Naomi Washer: my mother blocking a scene with campers in her summer program for 3rd-6th graders where the kids collaborate with staff to write and perform an original play.

My mother’s area of expertise is Arts Integration – designing workshops and programs for classroom teachers to integrate the elements of drama with the subjects explored in history, math, science, language arts, etc. This approach keeps learning active for students and collaborative for teachers, building to a more meaningful and memorable learning experience for everyone involved.

I was first introduced to these methods as a young student in my mother’s drama programs, and the experiences have stayed with me (not only because my mother is around to remind me!). As someone raised by two teachers who became a teacher herself, I’ve always been interested in the ways our upbringing influences the decisions we make in our adult lives about our relationship to teaching and learning. While my area of focus is different than my mother’s, I see our process as essentially the same: provide a student-centered framework for learning, identify student interests, and scaffold a process for growth and creative and intellectual development.


Photo courtesy of Naomi Washer: me working with my campers on original choreography.

And so I wonder–what influences from family and education are shaping the worlds of our OM high schoolers? What experiences with teaching and learning gained through the family feel most important to you now – feel like the things you will take with you as you go off into the world and into your adult life?


Go Ahead and Doodle!

Photo: Lesley Arnold

Oak Meadow middle school students submit their lesson work to their teachers with such variety! Some students neatly type most of their assignments, others handwrite each page, while most submit a combination of both. As a teacher with Oak Meadow I love seeing the little extra bits on these pages of lesson work. I’m referring to the egg stain from breakfast, the rips from the new puppy, the notes that the student did the assignment but lost it somewhere, and the special little doodles (designs or scribbles) in the margins! These little extra bits can be clues for me as to how a student may be getting assignments done. I’m especially fond of the doodles.

Recently a doodle caught my eye on a student’s vocabulary page. It interested me, not because of the doodled design, but because I was interested to know what she may have been thinking about when doodling the design. What vocabulary word made her stop and doodle? Did the doodling help her to concentrate? Why did she choose to use this design?

I’m a fan of doodling so doodles on pages fascinate me! Through my research I’ve found that there are different types of doodlers and many are quite famous.  I’ve read that President Obama preferred to doodle faces, while Kennedy doodled words, and J.R.R. Tolkien doodled things from the natural world. Some doodlers just draw designs that are formed randomly as they doodle.

Very little research has been done on why people doodle as they are working or listening. There may be many reasons for doodling as you work, but I think that it helps us to concentrate. If you are looking for ways to concentrate, take a look at these 7.  (Number 7 is doodle!) So, I’m all in favor of doodling if it helps with the concentrating on an assignment! Doodle away and you may find that you can pay attention better to what you are doing.

What types of doodles do you do? Share some with us!



What font?

Helvetica font sample

Public domain photo

I had a student that submitted a research paper about the country of Japan. It was really well written, but I was especially taken by the font she used for typing her final paper. It was different from what she usually used. It made such an impression on me that I had to find out what font it was.

I was reminded of the 2005 commencement speech given by Steve Jobs at Stanford in which he spoke about how he came to learn about calligraphy and, inspired by that course, later developed fonts for the Mac. You can watch the speech here. 

So. I’ve been thinking how important it is to understand that each of the fonts one may use when typing actually COME from somewhere! They have a history! In my search for the history of one font I see all the time, every where I go, I discovered that there was actually a movie made about the font! You can view the trailer for Helvetica the movie here, and you can also purchase it.

How interesting to know that certain fonts are used to impress the reader! So if I use comic sans, I’m pretty much setting a certain mood. In fact, I may investigate further what font this blog is typed in. (It isn’t possible for me to change it to another font.) I think I’ll also find out which fonts the Oak Meadow curriculum uses.

By the way, the font the student used was Philosopher. Next time you type a paper, think about the font you are using and what impression it may leave on the reader!


Snowflake Photos by Wilson Bentley

Snowflake photos by Wilson Bentley

As I sit here this evening with a winter storm warning in effect for my area of New England, I am once again fascinated by how these tiny snow crystals can impact whole regions of the United States.

Some of you may have read The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder. That story is about an actual winter storm that raced across the prairie lands of the United States in the winter of 1880-1881. In his book The Children’s Blizzard David Laskin gives an account of the deadly prairie blizzard of 1888 and he also gives an excellent description of the different types of snowflakes there are and what the conditions are that create them. I highly recommend it if you are interested in the science of snow!

The Native American Indians had many ways to predict the weather by observing what was happening in the natural world around them for clues. In the 1880’s the weather news was sent via telegraph across the United States from Army base to Army base. The weather often arrived before the news of its coming. Today we have the National Weather Service and technology to help us predict storms and to warn us of storms.

If you are interested in learning more about snow crystals, go to your library and find the book  Snowflake Bentley. You may also want to visit

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

                                Dust of Snow by Robert Frost

Time Is Always Right

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

On October 14, 1964, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. won the Nobel Peace Prize. He was the youngest man to ever receive it. He was just 35 years old and so committed to his cause that he donated the prize money of over $50,000. to the Civil Rights Movement. His protests and his “I Have a Dream” speech are world famous, and his accomplishments are still celebrated today. You can learn more about the 1960s and the history of the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War, by watching the excellent video The Sixties from Annenberg Lerner. In Dr. King Jr.’s honor, the United States Congress designated a federal holiday in January each year to be a national day of service.

To take part in this day, plan what you and your family may do to promote King’s values on January 15, 2018. It is the Martin Luther King Day of Service.

Each year I plan to mentor students in my community that experience challenges in school. It’s a service that I enjoy very much! Share with us what you and your family plan to do in the comments.

Board Games = Fun!

Scrabble tiles

via Public Domain


After the holidays, the one memory that lingers the longest for me is the fun my family had playing a board game together. There is something about sitting together, watching each other smile, laugh, grimace, and pout!

I’m not talking about a video or online board game. I’m talking about an actual game that has a board that one unfolds from a real box. I like to play a real board game in which one can feel the pieces and move them with one’s own hand. I like a game with a lot of pieces that has to be set up before the game can begin. I also like a game in which I could choose to be two or three players, and I also like a game with a bit of intrigue! Catan is a front-runner, and the games of Clue and Monopoly happen to be favorites of my family because they can take so long to play. We start a game and take a break for a snack or lunch and go back to it when we’re ready. Sometimes we even finish a game the next day.

A board game is a lot more than fun. It’s imagining strategy, thinking through moves, and creating logical outcomes. It is also practice for some important skills that we all use in our daily lives. We practice cooperation, we learn how to compromise, we work together through collaboration. Playing a board game with family and friends also gives us time to practice sympathy, compassion, and empathy with our fellow players.

I’ve played so many fun games! I love Scattergories, Apples to Apples, and the new game Sagrada is quick and fun! What games are your favorites?

December 10 is Human Rights Day!

On December 10, 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It had taken the committee, led by Eleanor Roosevelt, over a year to complete their final draft. When the General Assembly gathered in Paris in 1948 to adopt the declaration, it was a remarkable event.  One member wrote: “I perceived … Continue reading "December 10 is Human Rights Day!"

On December 10, 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It had taken the committee, led by Eleanor Roosevelt, over a year to complete their final draft. When the General Assembly gathered in Paris in 1948 to adopt the declaration, it was a remarkable event.  One member wrote: “I perceived clearly that I was participating in a truly significant historic event in which a consensus had been reached as to the supreme value of the human person, a value that did not originate in the decision of a worldly power, but rather in the fact of existing—which gave rise to the inalienable right to live free from want and oppression and to fully develop one’s personality.  In the Great Hall…there was an atmosphere of genuine solidarity and brotherhood among men and women from all latitudes, the like of which I have not seen again in any international setting.” Hernán Santa Cruz of Chile

On the United Nations website it reads:

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 10 December 1948, was the result of the experience of the Second World War. With the end of that war, and the creation of the United Nations, the international community vowed never again to allow atrocities like those of that conflict happen again. 

So what does the Universal Declaration of Human Rights say?

This simplified version, from the Youth for Human Rights International (YHRI) website, of the 30 Articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been created especially for young people:

1. We Are All Born Free & Equal. We are all born free. We all have our own thoughts and ideas. We should all be treated in the same way.

2. Don’t Discriminate. These rights belong to everybody, whatever our differences.

3. The Right to Life. We all have the right to life, and to live in freedom and safety.

4. No Slavery. Nobody has any right to make us a slave. We cannot make anyone our slave.

5. No Torture. Nobody has any right to hurt us or to torture us.

6. You Have Rights No Matter Where You Go. I am a person just like you!

7. We’re All Equal Before the Law. The law is the same for everyone. It must treat us all fairly.

8. Your Human Rights Are Protected by Law. We can all ask for the law to help us when we are not treated fairly.

9. No Unfair Detainment. Nobody has the right to put us in prison without good reason and keep us there, or to send us away from our country.

10. The Right to Trial. If we are put on trial this should be in public. The people who try us should not let anyone tell them what to do.

11. We’re Always Innocent Till Proven Guilty. Nobody should be blamed for doing something until it is proven. When people say we did a bad thing we have the right to show it is not true.

12. The Right to Privacy. Nobody should try to harm our good name. Nobody has the right to come into our home, open our letters, or bother us or our family without a good reason.

13. Freedom to Move. We all have the right to go where we want in our own country and to travel as we wish.

14. The Right to Seek a Safe Place to Live. If we are frightened of being badly treated in our own country, we all have the right to run away to another country to be safe.

15. Right to a Nationality. We all have the right to belong to a country.

16. Marriage and Family. Every grown-up has the right to marry and have a family if they want to. Men and women have the same rights when they are married, and when they are separated.

17. The Right to Your Own Things. Everyone has the right to own things or share them. Nobody should take our things from us without a good reason.

18. Freedom of Thought. We all have the right to believe in what we want to believe, to have a religion, or to change it if we want.

19. Freedom of Expression. We all have the right to make up our own minds, to think what we like, to say what we think, and to share our ideas with other people.

20. The Right to Public Assembly. We all have the right to meet our friends and to work together in peace to defend our rights. Nobody can make us join a group if we don’t want to.

21. The Right to Democracy. We all have the right to take part in the government of our country. Every grown-up should be allowed to choose their own leaders.

22. Social Security. We all have the right to affordable housing, medicine, education, and childcare, enough money to live on and medical help if we are ill or old.

23. Workers’ Rights. Every grown-up has the right to do a job, to a fair wage for their work, and to join a trade union.

24. The Right to Play. We all have the right to rest from work and to relax.

25. Food and Shelter for All. We all have the right to a good life. Mothers and children, people who are old, unemployed or disabled, and all people have the right to be cared for.

26. The Right to Education. Education is a right. Primary school should be free. We should learn about the United Nations and how to get on with others. Our parents can choose what we learn.

27. Copyright. Copyright is a special law that protects one’s own artistic creations and writings; others cannot make copies without permission. We all have the right to our own way of life and to enjoy the good things that art, science and learning bring.

28. A Fair and Free World. There must be proper order so we can all enjoy rights and freedoms in our own country and all over the world.

29. Responsibility. We have a duty to other people, and we should protect their rights and freedoms.

30. No One Can Take Away Your Human Rights.

On December 10th I encourage you to read aloud and discuss the original Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Know your rights!




This time of year I start thinking about the birds in my area. The temperatures are dropping close to freezing. I see birds in great flocks swooping into the bird bath and landing on the feeder. Last week there were about 15 Common Grackles splashing and crowding into my bird bath. The winter is upon us here in New Hampshire. The birds need to eat quite a bit of food to keep up their energy for traveling south. Those that stay will need food all winter. I often look out the kitchen window in the winter to see a little black -capped chickadee at the feeder, and I wonder how it can keep warm. The tiny little feet and the skinny little legs look so vulnerable. They need high energy foods and lots of it! I know there are Oak Meadow students that enjoy watching and feeding the birds. If you do also, then you might like to join the Project FeederWatch that is a program of the Cornell University Lab of Orinthology.

Project FeederWatch is a winter-long survey of birds that visit feeders at backyards, nature centers, community areas, and other locales in North America. FeederWatchers periodically count the birds they see at their feeders from November through early April and send their counts to Project FeederWatch. FeederWatch data help scientists track broadscale movements of winter bird populations and long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance.

Project Overview,

Interesting bird facts can be found at:

Here’s one: The Common Grackle often allows ants to crawl over its body so that they may secrete formic acid, which is thought to kill parasites, a practice called anting. Besides formic acid from ants, the Common Grackle has been observed using various other substances, such as walnut juice, mothballs, lemons, limes, and choke cherries in similar ways.

Do you watch the birds? Do you keep a list of the birds you’ve seen? Let us know!