STEM for Preschool

The merging of all my posts into one feed has uncovered some old drafts that never got published. Here's one from last year.

Kidzone Discovery School - a place that is and people who are very very dear to our family - invited me to serve as a speaker for one of their professional development days last spring. In response to the administrators' research in best practices for young children, they asked that the focus be on STEM for Preschool. STEM, as some of you may know, is the emphasis on and intersection of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. STEAM is the newest version of this, incorporating Art into the mix.

STEM/STEAM-focused learning activities are pretty on trend right now for K-12 education. At the onset of planning, my approach was taking something complex and simplifying it for preschool purposes and I anticipated some challenges in that area. Would I be able to find enough "lower-level" activities to pull this off?

As it turned out, STEM is so perfectly aligned to instructional strategies appropriate for preschool that there was no shortage but rather an abundance of options for this workshop. Polling together my own personal children's STEM-type tools as well as some materials provided by the preschool made for a powerful, hands-on workshop that the teachers seemed to truly enjoy.

I started off with an interactive quiz to determine that audience's level of familiarity with STEM. We had some basic understanding but for most participants, this concept was entirely new. Then I gave a quick talk on the origin of the STEM movement and how this method of instruction helps nurture curiosity, initiative, and critical thinking skills in our kids. The next chunk of time we spent rotating through stations so that everyone had an opportunity to try out (and evaluate) some activities for appropriateness in relation to their specific age groups. Each station had a challenge/task card with just enough instructions to enable self-sufficiency in exploring the activity.

1. In this challenge, teachers were given rolls of tin foil and were asked to design a boat that would float. They experimented with design of their vessels, and even took on the extra challenge of adding cargo (pennies) to see how that would alter their boat's function.


2. The next station was simply a box of Magformers. These are magnetized geometric shapes that can be clipped together to build designs from the included idea book or users can branch off and design a structure according to their own specifications.


3. The next station was creating chemical reactions with baking soda, food coloring, and vinegar. The teachers could use droppers to pull out colored vinegar and create artistic chemical reactions by adding it to the pans of baking soda. Younger kids love this activity, and as long as you prep ahead of time with disposable trays and garbage bags, clean-up can be kept to a minimum.


4. This was the most advanced STEM activity of the session. The participants were challenged to use tin foil, pins/hot glue, and streamers/ribbon to create a comet. The emphasis on this station for actual use with preschoolers would be teacher assistance and instruction on the various terminology associated with the comet models. The fun part, of course, would be getting to throw their foil comets across the room afterward.


5. The next station involved using Legos and the Lego Movie Maker app to create short, stop-action videos. I have recently been devastated to discover that Lego Movie Maker has been discontinued, but there are other stop motion video apps out there that would accomplish the same goal.


6. This station was the simplest yet it yielded the most room for creativity. The challenge was to build Elsa's castle out of sugar cubes, and everyone had such a creatively different take on the best way to assemble a sturdy castle. One of the administrators suggested that we could also use a sugar water paste (similar to gingerbread house icing) to help the "bricks" stick together.


7. This station was also pretty simple, including just pipe cleaners and beads. Using those two materials only (plus duct tape, of course), the teachers were challenged to see which team could build the tallest structure.


We rotated everyone through the stations in five-minute increments. Some challenges required more time, others less, but this gave all the teachers a broad sweeping exposure to the STEM/maker concept. A follow up interactive quiz gave good feedback on the participants' understanding of the purpose and details of our STEM activities.

Whether you're a teacher or a parent looking for Spring Break/summer fun, you are welcome to check out the links below to set up your own kiddos' STEM challenges!

Link to STEM for Preschool presentation

Link to supplemental signs for STEM activities

When your kids throw a wrench in your plans to opt out of standardized testing

As an educator, I believe there are better ways to assess student learning than the system of standardized testing we currently have in place.

As a citizen, I believe that parents have the right to determine what is best for their children – including exercising the ability to opt out of standardized tests.

As a mother, I have long believed that the combination of my views as an educator and a citizen would combine in one outcome: that I would opt my children out of any and all standardized tests that came their way. 

From under CC0.

From under CC0.

Only, see what had happened was…my child did not actually want to be opted out.

Huh. In the words frequently mumbled by Sweet Love when she has made yet another mess…”I didn’t see that coming.”

I’ve written about this testing thing a few times here and there:

Sassafras is now in 4th grade, which means the next few weeks will hold her second round of standardized testing. Last year, I sat her down, told her my basic thoughts about testing, and asked what she thought. Her response was that she was curious about how the testing thing worked and she really wanted to take them. Okay, fine, I said. But there was absolutely no reason to get all stressed out or anxious about it and if at any point she changed her mind, I’d take care of it.

This year, I casually made the same offer: if you want to skip the test, I’ll make it happen. Her response was: Meh, I liked taking the test because I got a good score, so I’ll just go ahead and take it this year, too.

Ummmm…okay. I suppose she’s very behavioristic that way. Taking the test, and receiving positive feedback, makes her feel good about her school experience. I have to acknowledge that while also remembering that taking the test is not at all a positive occurrence for other kids out there.

I still believe there is a better way to evaluate the work done by educators and students, and will continue advocating for improvements to the overall system as well as parents’ rights to determine what, if any, testing experience is right for their children.

8 reasons you definitely shouldn't foster

Go on any social media network and you'll find a flood of people who constantly share op-eds, Scripture, quotes, and ultrasound memes touting their pro-life status. For hordes of those same people, the vigilant activism ends there. They are loud and proud on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, but when it comes to action, clicking the Share button is good enough for them. There really isn't much - if any - actual proof that they take action to value all life.

Some folks call that slacktivism. Slacker activism.

The term that many liberal-minded people are using to address this phenomenon is no longer pro-lifers, but pro-birthers, because their actions, concerns, and voting preferences are all wrapped up in the avoidance of abortion rather than the support of the actual child's life once he or she enters the world.

Pro-birth, not exactly pro-life.

Adoption and foster care are two authentically pro-life kinds of things, but humans are just so great at coming up with all the reasons not to dabble in that messy world. Here's looking at you, conservatives, because you are the loudest when it comes to abortion.

And it's true that foster care isn't for everyone. It's inconvenient and messy and distracting and hard, and some people struggle to make the leap to give it a try. And some folks simply aren't stable enough themselves to offer help to someone else. Drowning people will never save other drowning people. But the fact is, most people aren't drowning. Most people are somewhere in the middle class bracket and they have more to share than they want to admit. Is that you? Maybe you have been considering foster care but still on the fence. If so, here are eight ways you can know for sure that hey, foster care just really isn't for you.

1. You're much too busy to attend some weird classes designed to teach you this whole new way of parenting kids who have had a hard life. Your kids are fine, so who needs that hokey attachment voo-doo? Plus, you have more meaningful things to do with those binge another season of that show you just discovered on Netflix.

2. You believe your personal children deserve to stay in that bubble you've constructed to keep them from having to see how life works for less-stable people. Hey, man. You work way too hard to give your kids more food, clothes, and toys they could ever need or want. Keeping them comfortable is more important than anything or anyone else, and they should never have to share their nice things with some random poor kid whose parents make bad choices. Their fault, their problem...not yours.

3. You feel that your race is superior to others, and you would never permit a child of a different ethnicity to live under your roof. Allow some kids in your house to speak a language other than English? Please. 'Merica! And for some of those others, I mean, my gosh, what in THE world would you even do with their hair?!

4. You just could never get attached to a kid who might not be yours forever. That's just too hard. After all, your feelings and fears and need to avoid any emotional discomfort are vastly more important than an abuse victim's need for safety, a poor child's need to be fed, or a scared kid's need for comfort.

5. You cannot handle interruptions, and helping people is inconvenient. You can't stand having your family's afternoon walk interrupted by some desperate social worker calling to ask you to help with some kid who needs a place to stay for the week. Ugh.

6. Your life plan is far more valuable than helping children and families in crisis. I mean, you have ladders to climb. You are just too busy!

7. No one has ever done anything for you so why should you do anything for anybody else? You got where you are by working hard, and if anybody else is poor it's because of one thing: they're lazy.

8. You aren't really Pro-Life. You're just Pro-Birth. You can't stand the thought of a mother killing her unborn baby, but after that baby is born? Eh, that's her problem.

Any of this feel right to you? Are you nodding your head in agreement? Then yeah, foster care is absolutely not for you.

Let's say it doesn't feel right to you. Maybe you realize - and care - that every time you say no, every time you list a "But I/my/our...", every time you put your needs before a foster kid's, another victimized child sinks into an even darker situation.

Maybe you don't believe it's Biblical to be just a Pro-Birther. You want to be a Pro-Lifer. Was Jesus a Pro-Lifer? You bet He was. It drips from every recorded word He uttered. Go and read them and you'll see. I love Him for always siding with the person with the least amount of power in any situation.

So, what now? Will you take an action step and look for a way to serve some of the most powerless, vulnerable people in our society? You have options! You can adopt domestically or internationally. You can become a full time foster parent or you can try serving as a respite-only foster parent. You can seek to understand and advocate for legislation that supports families in crisis. You can volunteer in crisis pregnancy centers or other charities that exist to help families in poverty.

If you're in my state, one of these is the best place to start.

*All images from CC0 sources: Unsplash, Pexels, and Pixabay.

The good kind of dizzy

I just submitted my last four assignments for my first semester of PhD level coursework and I am so unbelievably relieved to have it all behind me that I am literally just sitting here breathing in and out and feeling the tension drain from my body. I'm so overwhelmed to be done with it that I am actually dizzy.

In August I started these classes that have been really enjoyable in many ways, but demanding nonetheless. Starting your first semester as a doctoral student is, I'm told, kind of a big deal and you should probably take it easy in other areas of your life to make the transition to this level of academic rigor as smooth as possible.

That would have been peachy.

Instead, I started a new (and fabulous) job that's kind of a big freaking deal for my family. This is the fourth "new school" I've transferred to in my 15 years as an educator, and I know how the process goes with orienting to a new school. It has gone well, as it always has in my previous "lives" but it also requires an awful lot of intentional effort to build relationships with kids and colleagues. None of that has been hard, but it has been busy.

Also, we moved, and that was kind of a big huge freaking deal for my people, too. This was the third time we had listed our old home in the past few years, and we did get an offer pretty quickly but the closing process got extended a few times and that caused quite a bit of stress for us as well as the sweet folks we were buying from. By the time closing came around, The Captain was in Kenya and we decided that as his girls, we could not only handle signing papers, we could also handle moving our whole house to surprise him when he got home. That was a fun kind of stress, but still not easy. 

The new job and new house meant new schools for all three of my sweet honeybuns. We were so overwhelmingly sad to move them from their old schools because everyone loved our girls so well in our former schools. Sassafras struggled a bit at first but is now settled in nicely to her new school. Pearl took to her new place pretty quickly, and for that we are abundantly thankful. Even Sweet Love has done pretty well, though a frequent complaint is that she won't eat the food at her new school. "Eh, she'll eat when she's hungry," I say...and then whisper a silent prayer of thanks that she isn't trying to moon her class.

So, so much new. There have been a few points, at my most desperate and exhausted places, when I looked at my calendar and list of things to do, projects to complete, places we had to travel...and I thought Fall of 2016 is actually trying to murder me.

So many things that we should have taken one at a time, but that just isn't how life has rolled for us - this semester...or, who am I kidding, any semester!

We're already looking forward into the second term and making plans for more classes, more activities, more goals to achieve. For now, though, we'll just be right here breathing and feeling the good kind of dizzy and realizing that Fall of 2016 didn't kill us after all. It only made us stronger.

Merry Christmas, everybody!

Queen of Katwe

One of the ways we celebrated Pearl's Adoption Day this year was to go see Disney's new Queen of Katwe. I'm just skeptic enough to be concerned when Disney gets hold of history, and we had worried just a smidge that the film might not be true to the Ugandan people and culture. It was still a Disney movie about Uganda, however, and that was enough to draw us all to the theatre.

By the way, we are more than a little irritated that there is only ONE movie theatre in all of Birmingham that is currently featuring Queen of Katwe, and even in that one theatre the viewings were rather limited. 

So after we found the one place showing the movie and got fleeced at the ticket counter/concession stand, we moseyed on to the theatre and settled in for the previews. Approximately 30 seconds later we were all looking at each other like Oh, crap. We've gone into the wrong theatre. For that trailer was a rather highly tense and scary preview for some new Halle Berry movie that is all about human trafficking and a little boy getting kidnapped from an amusement park. I mean, what in the actual what?! I was flanked by a very freaked out Sassafras and Pearl, and spent most of that 30 seconds murmuring back and forth to them to close their eyes and just ignore it, it would end soon...almost over...please God let it be over.

After it finally, mercifully ended, Sweet Love stated loudly what everybody in the theatre was thinking: Hey, 'dat was skewwy. The next few were less intense but still not exactly on par with the ratings and target audience for Queen of Katwe so we still wonder if there wasn't some mistake. 

Previews aside, Queen of Katwe is a beautiful film. It tells the story of Phiona Mutesi, a very poor girl from the slums of Katwe (outside Kampala, the capital city of Uganda), who becomes a chess champion despite tremendously difficult circumstances. That story of triumph over adversity is a common theme in both modern and classic screenplays, but there are two specific and unique points found within Katwe: one is the painstaking precision in capturing so many of the nuances of the Ugandan culture and the other is the focus on the quiet strength of women in Uganda. 

As early in as the opening frame, Queen of Katwe felt and sounded exactly like the Uganda within which we have spent so much time. The markets, the red clay, the boda bodas, the wooden and metal shanties, the pop-up stalls, the street vendors, the achingly familiar dialect and vocal inflections of the actors, even the cups and bowls from which the children bathe as well as take their meals. The jackfruit, Lake Victoria, whole fried fish, chapati cooking on a rusty grease table, one government official promising to get back to one of the characters "right away," which actually meant 2-3 years later, the way the women cluck and hum in expression, the way they say "clothes" (clo-thez) and "died" (di-ehd)... It is all just so...Uganda. And I loved how authentic the movie was in that regard. 

I also value how much Queen of Katwe takes the viewer into every part of Ugandan culture for women, including the normality within which a woman loses her husband, home, and even children. That's a tragedy, but in many parts of Uganda (Katwe included), tragedy isn't really anything all that special. Tragedy is just a regular Tuesday for many Ugandans.

This film also refuses to shy away from the escapism that tempts many women into following what often turns out to be a path that perpetuates their situational poverty and continues the cycle for their children. Lupita Nyong'o, who plays the role of Phiona's mother, does so masterfully and with spot-on perfection to communicating the ongoing plight of many mothers in Uganda who work unbelievably hard to feed their children and retain their integrity. Almost every scene with Lupita felt intense in some way, and every scene that brought me to tears was hers. I have met these women - the moms of kids like Phiona. I've met them in a Ugandan prison. I've met them in orphanages. And in guest houses and hotels. I've met them in remote villages and within government houses and church services. I've met them in hospitals. Women like Phiona's mother are many, and I loved that Disney allowed such a refreshingly honest look at strong females - although the fact that the movie was directed by a strong female likely plays the biggest part in that - without sugarcoating the difficulty of their life. 

There are several other details I am eager to cover but for the sake of being concise, I'll end with this: One of the most right things Disney took in Queen of Katwe was to cast so many Ugandan actors. Their natural talent and easy replication of reality for Phiona and her family/friends is the pixie dust that made this movie work.

As for Pearl? She loved Queen of Katwe, though it did dredge up all kinds of Big Feelings for her. She needed some cuddle time after we got home and wanted to talk about the two most intense scenes in the movie as well as how she felt about seeing and hearing some very real parts of this special nation. It's another tool she can use to relate to her story, and if for no other reason, for that we are eternally grateful that Disney did such a thorough job on this film

For more information about Queen of Katwe, check out these resources: