Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Create, Make, and Learn ... Oh My!

Reflecting upon the intense, but exciting, week of learning at Create, Make, and Learn in July, coupled with both a busy month constructing a physical “maker space” classroom in our school in addition with an interdisciplinary curriculum and schedule involving five educators and three grade levels is making my head swim.  In a good way.  But, swimming and swirling nevertheless.  Much like the fabled Mad River that runs through the heart of Moretown, as is the inspiration for our “creating and making”.


We ask our students to take risks everyday.  We cajole them to step outside their comfort zones.  We nudge them to explore new ways of learning.  We guide them toward deep inquiry.  We try to light the sparks of curiosity and to nurture the stamina and perseverance it takes to keep going.  In a sense, this foray into collaboratively building a “maker space” at the Moretown School is a lot like being a student.  I’m being asked to stretch, to think about new possibilities, to step outside my library “silo” to co-plan, co-teach, co-create, and co-make a model of innovative learning for our students. It’s messy and unwieldy and grows larger by the addition of many cooks in the kitchen, but boy is it exciting and full of possibilities.  Thank goodness for laughter, smart colleagues, innovative administrators, and a shared vision to “raise the roof”, literally.  (Yes, literally.  We removed the ceiling tiles from our space!).





So, back to the essential question.  What is at the heart of creating and making?  Let’s look closer at their definitions:


Create: bring (something) into existence.
synonyms: produce, generate, bring into being, make, fabricate, fashion, build, construct


Make: form (something) by putting parts together or combining substances; construct; create.
synonyms: construct, build, assemble, put together, manufacture, produce, fabricate, create, form, fashion, model


My first impressions are that these are powerful verbs.  “To bring (something) into existence”.  Who doesn’t think about birth?  Powerful stuff, indeed.  To be more metaphoric, creating in a school is about the birth of ideas, of bringing ideas to fruition. We do this with students by creating learning environments for them that allow them to produce good questions, to generate  ideas, and to make/build/fabricate/construct meaning, be it concrete or mental.  The learning environment that is best for these germinations is a constructivist (a la John Dewey), hands-on, student-centered, and project-based environment.  Messy and unwieldy, too.  But, rich with possibilities, risk-taking, and growth.  

Which brings me full circle.  Innovative approaches to student learning require innovative approaches to teaching. Being a singular teacher-librarian in my bricks-and-mortar library does not lend itself to this kind of teaching, nor learning, for my students.  I am inspired by my colleagues, and validated by my administrator who sees my role as an educator who can help guide our students toward authentic creating and learning.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Why Fairy Tales Still Matter

Re-printed from Bear Pond Books Resources for Educators (K-12) and written by Helen Labun Jordan.
Why Fairy Tales Still Matter 
Why do fairy tales still matter? Lots of reasons. They've traveled around the world and across many generations. Some of them have been around for over a thousand years (an early form of Cinderella appeared in China in the 900's). They still spark imagination and address universal themes: good, bad, parents, children, love, jealousy, bravery, being eaten by wolves, being stolen by a witch, etc. They're foundational texts referenced throughout our current culture.

Do you need more reasons?

Meg Allison, librarian at Moretown Elementary School, joined us on Saturday, April 12th, to share her thoughts about fairy tales and what she learned on a summer trip to France and Italy supported by the Rural Trust Global Teacher Fellowship. You can read the background information on her talk here.

Early Interest in Fairy Tales

Meg remembers how fairy tales spoke to her sense of imagination and wonder as a child. These tales are often children's first introduction to creating new worlds through simple stories. Meg read books around her house that anthologized traditional fairy tales and her toys often had fairy tale themes. She was also fascinated by a handmade fairy tale picture book, The Magic Dollmaker, that her parents created when they were students in college.

As an educator (and parent) Meg can also see how fairy tales offer a symbolic way for kids to work through basic anxieties, like the tension between wanting to be good and occasionally straying off that path (like Goldilocks sneaking into the Three Bears' house). Or, the reality that we need to work through challenges that can seem overwhelming to get to our final goal (St. George and the Dragon, where he slays the dragon after 3 attempts). Or, children showing agency to find their way out of a difficult situation (Gretel pushing the witch into the oven in Hansel & Gretel).

Fairy tales have also been a common reference point across generations, kids hear the same tales their parents did, and see references to those stories in more contemporary work. The Dorothy Canfield Fisher list has two fairy tale related books this year (Frogged and Far, Far Away) and the Red Clover List has one too (Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs). But recognition of fairy tales is also fading. Meg asked one class to name their favorite fairy tales and their first answers were Frozen and Tangled (from the Disney movies). After a lot of prompting they thought of Cinderella. 

Why the fading fairy tale knowledge? Some of the answer may be the number of other stories competing for children's attention. Fairy tales have also fallen out of favor with some schools and parents because of their violence. Meg notes that the violence serves a symbolic function - the protagonists working their way through difficulty to reach the happy ending. It is often not realistic (the wolf eats Red Riding Hood then gets cut open and she's fine?). Meg agrees that some children are particularly sensitive-- in general, though, she sees the violent parts of fairy tales as a device to acknowledge the basic truth that sometimes bad things happen. 

Traveling to France and Italy

One of the first questions Meg gets is - why start a fairy tale study in France and Italy? We associate fairy tales with Germany and the Brothers Grimm who recorded the oral storytelling traditions there. We know that Grimm Brothers were recording stories already commonly told in Germany in their lifetime. In fact, the written tales also predated the Grimm brothers by several generations and came from outside of Germany. The Pentamerone, written in the early 1600's in Italy, provided the basis for many Grimm tales, including Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty and even Hansel & Gretel. Charles Perrault, in France, then adapted the Italian tales, plus added some new ones, to create Mother Goose tales. He used these tales to entertain the court of Louis XIV. Perrault's work eventually made its way to England where new variations became what we most commonly know as Mother Goose stories today. The Grimm brothers followed both Perrault and The Pentamerone by more than a century.

Fairy tales changed again in America, and in recent generations. From anthologies that often weren't visually appealing, American authors and illustrators created beautiful picture books. Some of Meg's favorites are pictured in this Pinterest Board.

Some of these picture books reflect the French and Italian roots of fairy tales. We looked at Ruth Sanderson's French-style Cinderella and at Paul O. Zelinsky's Rapunzel, with artwork inspired by the Italian Renaissance and Petrosinella, the Neapolitan telling of the Rapunzel story.

Fairy Tales in the Classroom & Library

Fairy tales present many possibilities for the classroom. First is simply learning the stories that have been told for so many generations. Fairy tales often are for slightly older children, but there are books like Yummy (recommended by Meg) designed for a pre-K or Kindergarten audience.

In older grades, teachers and librarians can get into more details about the story and also the history of the stories. In picture books there's an opportunity to discuss how the story and pictures connect with each other and with this history, for example with Zelinsky's interpretation of Rapunzel. You can also find fairy tale retellings in different cultures to compare - for example Cinderella (France),Cinderella (Korea), Cendrillon (Caribbean), The Rough-Face Girl (Native American).

Meg leads an activity with her students looking at the elements common across fairy tales: recurring patterns or numbers, magical happenings, royalty, special beginning, special ending, good characters, bad characters. Once they are anchored in these elements, students can move on to looking at how they appear in variations on the fairy tale form - for example Jon Sciezka's Fairly Stupid Tales.

Meg is starting on a project inspired by the doorways she saw touring the castles and other fairy tale settings of France and Italy. Using the figurative understanding of portals into the world of stories, plus the actual doorways of Moretown, students will be writing about their town's stories and history. You can see a longer article about classroom projects to explore town histories from our 2013 Exploring Family and Place talk.



The Rural Trust Global Teacher Fellowship

The Rural Trust Global Teacher Fellowship provides funding for summer studies designed by teachers in rural school districts. They award $10,000 for two teacher trips, $5,000 for single teachers. The goal is for teachers to travel and bring back travel experiences that enrich the classroom. You can read the blog from Meg's trip here.

Meg and another Moretown teacher, Pamela Dow, used the funds to travel through the settings of fairy tales in France and Italy. You can bring traveling companions (who pay their own flights, but can stay with you) so both Meg and Pam brought their daughters. Afterwards, the foundation brings together all Fellows from that year to share their experiences. Previous Fellows become reviewers for the next year's applications, and Meg notes that they give feedback on all applications so that teachers who don't get in one year can improve their application for the next year.

The Rural Trust Global Teacher Fellowship was made possible with funds from The Rural School and Community Trust, helping rural schools and communities grow better together. Read more about the program at the website for the Rural School and Community Trust.

And that is the end of our 2013-2014 educator events! Later this summer, we'll be asking about topics of interest for 2014-2015 - if you have any feedback to give right now e-mail helen@bearpondbooks.com or see Jane in the Children's Room. Thank you for joining us and for your support of Bear Pond Books.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Bear Pond Books Resources for Educators (k-12): Fairy Tales with Yours Truly

(This post originally appears in Bear Pond Books Resources for Educators (K-12) blog, written by Helen Labun Jordan.  I've changed some of it to fit my blog, but otherwise, credit goes to Helen and 
Bear Pond Books for the original post). 

The last installment of Bear Pond Books 2013-2014 Author-Educators talk series is happening Saturday, April 12th at 11:00 am in the Children's Room. I'm delighted to have been invited to talk about fairy tales.

Last summer, my colleague Pam Dow and I received a Global Teacher Fellowship through the Rural School and Community Trust to travel to France and Italy and study the homes of fairy tales like Rapunzel, Rumpelstiltskin, and Sleeping Beauty. You can read an article about the Fellowship here

I returned with many ideas for the elementary school classroom. This February, WCAX-TV in Burlington, VT covered our school's day-long immersion in traveling to Paris, France (just like Pam and I did)  in their exceptionally produced story Welcome to Paris. 

Join me on the 12th in beautiful downtown Montpelier, VT to find out more about France, Italy, fairy tales and using them in schools. This talk is free and open to the public. Bear Pond will have discounts on books and certificates available for teachers who are able to use this workshop for continuing education credits.

Want to learn more before the talk? Here are some resources to check out:

This will be the final event of the school year - but Bear Pond Books will have a few more articles posted before the summer, and events will start up again in the fall. Want to be informed of services, events, and other educator-related stuff at Bear Pond Books? Sign up for our educators' newsletter (be sure to click the educators' option - default is our general newsletter) and be the first to know about upcoming educator events.  

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Moretown School Visits Paris!

Why can't we have fun anymore in school?  That's a lament heard up and down the hallways of schools, not just across Vermont, but across the country.  With so much attention on assessing, testing, budgets, scores, reading, writing, and 'rithmatic, there isn't much room left for a whimsical, let's say, flight of fancy. Or is there?

For a quick taste of our experience, please watch this fabulous news clip from our local WCAX station. Julie Kelley created an extraordinary story for us.  It pays to have friends in high places!  The Montpelier-Barre Times Argus made us the front page picture in the next day news.  More pictures can be found here. It pays to get some PR.  All you have to do is ask: it makes the entire community feel good to see their kids in the newspapers and on the nightly news.  They are our shining stars, after all. 

Our principal, Captain Pierson, checking passports.


My colleague, Pam Dow, and I were awarded a Rural Trust's Global Teacher Fellowship grant last summer to travel to France and Italy on a 15 day cultural extravaganza for the senses.  (You can read more about it on our When You Wish Upon a Star page). As recipients of this generous (and privately funded for all you public school naysayers) teacher travel grant, we came back bursting with ideas of enlivening our teaching with our experience.  Then, it dawned on us.  Why not make a literal connection for our rural, Vermont schoolchildren.  Why not simulate an actual flight, on an actual plane, landing (actually, just play along here) in Paris, France. While some of our students have traveled, and a few quite extensively, many more have never boarded a plane and quite a few have never left Vermont.  We wanted to re-create the sense of excitement and adventure that traveling brings, along with the anticipation and preparation.

Serving mid-flight snacks on our AirFrance plane. 


In order to pull this off in the finely-tuned machine that is an elementary-school schedule, we first got the support from our superbly supportive principal, Duane Pierson.  Then, we talked with our French teacher, Erika Lindberg, who not only has a passion for the French language, but who has traveled to Paris and shared in our love of the City of Lights.  She was thrilled with the idea of a French immersion that involved the entire school. Then, with some weeks notice (but not too much advanced notice), we let teachers and staff know of our idea. They too were generous in their enthusiasm and support.

Mrs.Washburn, in addition to being our school secretary, got to play TSA official.
Here she is tagging a cartful of luggage on it's way to Paris. 

As with any travel to new places, learning about your destination is paramount to the enjoyment of the sights, sounds, and tastes.  For weeks leading up to take-off, students learned about the monuments, the history, and the culture of Paris both in French class, but also in Art, Library, and their own classrooms.  In addition, our entire school prepared for the trip by spending a day traveling in multi-aged groups to different workshops arranged by teachers.  In one class, students built marshmallow & toothpick Eiffel Towers, in another they explored mime a la Marcel Morceau, in yet another they explored French games.

The Cafe with baguettes donated by Red Hen Baking Company
 and "Le Cheddar" donated by Cabot Creamery.

By the Wednesday right before our extended winter break, students were prepared to board their flight to Paris. With passports and individually assigned tickets in hand, they eagerly boarded their AirFrance international flight from the comfort of their school library.  And what an incredible day it was!  The feedback from parents, staff, community members, and most importantly, our students affirmed our hunch: play is fun and fun is learning.  One woman in her 20s told me, "We never did anything fun like this when I went to Moretown".  Without a doubt, this extraordinary learning experience - disguised as fun - will be something I bet our students will remember for the rest of their lives.  And did they learn anything from this?  I bet your bottom Euro that they did. 

A student visiting the Notre Dame

Preschoolers take French too.  Bonjour mes amies! 

Look at this Mona Lisa smile!

Or this one .... c'est magnificent!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Remember that Life's One Big Balancing Act

All I need to know about life, I learned from Dr.Seuss.

Oh, the Places You'll Go seems an apt book to center my professional ponderings.  The school year has been in session for less than a month, and yet - and yet - oh, all the places (the meetings! the deadlines! the committees!) you'll go, indeed.  So, this post is going to be about balance - so that "you'll start happening too".


Balance on a professional level and balance on a personal scale.  As teacher librarians - and more broadly - as educators, there is a tendency to fully throw ourselves into our profession, is there not? 

We are the working professionals who take work home with us, not occasionally, but daily.  We go into our schools on weekends, stay late on weekdays, and cultivate our professional learning networks on Twitter, Pinterest, nings, what have you, at all hours of the day.

But, is this really sustainable?  


I'd like to posit a new way of teaching and working and living: Sustainable Teaching. Sustainable teaching's motto is inspired by Dr.Seuss: life is one big balancing act.  When the school year starts, how many of us get on the see-saw and immediately sink to the ground?  Or fly up to the sky? How better would it be to teeter between our work and our personal lives, in a harmonious back and forth that ebbs and flows in a natural, organic way.

How many of us get back a little of our mojo during the summer months, only to abandon ship come mid-September?  Those after school runs?  Too many meetings.  That after-school yoga class?  Well, can't I do savasana on my couch instead?  That resolve to eat healthy snacks?  When I'm under stress, just give me chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate.


I'm going to try my best this school year to find that balance.  My new motto is: What the world doesn't need is one more stressed out teacher librarian.  For some reason, just saying that aloud makes me laugh.  And laughter, as Dr.Seuss knows, is the best medicine of all.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Global Teacher Fellowship

I have just wrapped up an extraordinary experience traveling to France and Italy for 15 days as a Global Teacher Fellow.  My colleague, Pam Dow, and I applied for and received monies to travel to the lands of fairy tales, to soak up the rich medieval and Renaissance cultures that produced such classic stories such as Charles Perrault's Sleeping Beauty and Puss in Boots, plus Italian treasures such as Carlos Collodi's Pinocchio. 

We documented our travels on our blog, Global Teacher Fellowship.   We will continue to use this space as we explore and bring to life the wonderful adventures we've had as we share them with our students.  We came back from Europe with pages of ideas to integrate what we discovered from our travels.  

Traveling to new and exciting places stretches us as human beings.  Being able to navigate new ways of transportation, new languages, new tastes and new ways of doing things always makes me more confident.  Traveling is like a big puzzle: most of the time, the pieces all fall into place and the reward is an experience that elevate our spirits and opens us to new worlds.  And when a piece doesn't fit in the puzzle where it is supposed to go, we learned that there is always a plan B.  And sometimes, that plan B leds to a richer experience.  Flexibility mixed with purpose, plus a dose of patience, lots of laughter, and a gift from home for the people we meet along the way (for us, a little glass bottle of maple syrup was our gift for our new friends) is the right attitude.  The best part of this is that we had the opportunity to model this for our own daughters, Josie (my soon to be 10th grader) and Emily (Pam's soon to be 9th grader).  We squeezed them into our suitcases for this adventure of a lifetime.

I will be forever grateful for the Rural School and Community Trust for selecting Pam and I as 2013 Global Teacher Fellows from a national pool of applicants.  This experience will forever change me and ensures that my students will know that: the world is their oyster;  being a global citizen is their birthright; sometimes you just have to toss your hat into the ring and see what happens; and to never stop dreaming.