Innovative Learning for Youth..Check out 4-H at the Fair

Distant from the office, the cafeteria, and the gym, back in the far north-west corner of my high school, there was a room. I was in this room once. I remember a bulletin board with some information that had to do with 4-H and county fairs. I thought, probably to myself, “How there could possibly be something going on in this building that I know nothing about? Did the farm kids really get their own room? I can’t believe my mother never signed me up for any of this stuff – she signed me up for everything.”

That was it. Pretty much all I knew about 4-H in a nutshell – a quiet room in the back of the high school that provided a mystery to my imagination. Oh, I also figured the booths at the county fair, filled with all kinds of projects, had something to do with that room. The 4-H clover thing was a big clue.

I was no city girl in small town Wisconsin, but I grew up on the east side of town near the lake. While we did have cows, a horse, and a cornfield all within walking distance, somehow the 4-H experience missed my circle of experiences.

Years later, with an inherited passion for “signing my kids up,” I finally figured out what 4-H is all about. Their mission is to engaging youth to reach their fullest potential while advancing the field of youth development. The name and the clover represent four personal development areas of focus for the organization: head, heart, hands, and health. The goal of 4-H is to develop citizenship, leadership, responsibility and life skills of youth through experiential learning and a positive youth development.

At the start of the fall season, my kids sign up for projects that they will work on under the guidance of trained volunteer leaders. They have done leather-crafting, book clubs, arts and crafts, air rifles, Lego building, horseback riding, bee keeping and I don’t even think we have scratched the surface of what’s available. They also attend a monthly meeting run by youth leaders. They are learning how to run a meeting, how to organize volunteer projects, and how to speak in public. The season peeks with the county fair where they show their work and have it evaluated by a certified judge. Finally, they are required to reflect on the experience with a record book that tracks their years of participation in the organization.

Along with being a mother, I am a classroom teacher who is excited to find an organization that brings together the skills and experiences that the most innovative education leaders are writing and preaching about daily. 4-H provides an opportunity for hands on learning, goal making, creating, presentation, leadership, and reflection – 21st century learning at its best.

If you’re at a county or state fair this summer – I encourage you to check it out. That dusty, hidden room in the back of the high school might be the most exciting place to be.


Anna Mae and Truman at the fair this week.



A Template for Responding to Non-Fiction Articles

I’m preparing to teach a mini class on study skills this year. There’s lots of great things to cover. I’m having a blast reading and learning and being the student so that I can model great things in the fall. I know this makes me especially nerdy – but that’s okay.

As I define the topics I want to cover, I realize that many of the articles I’ve been reading would be perfectly appropriate for my middle school students to read. Doing so would provide an opportunity:

  • to respond to non-fiction in their journals and blogs,
  • do their own investigating, and
  • provide an authentic opportunity to teach web site evaluation.

This all seems so obvious, but I am enjoying my “ahhh moment” so much that I thought I’d share the template I just created:

Reading Response Journals – Responding to Non-fiction Articles

After reading the article, use the following template to respond in your journal:

  • URL: _________________________________________________________________
  • Is the author’s contact information included? YES_____ NO_____
  • Author’s Name ____________________________________________
  • Are the author’s credentials given?  (education, position) YES_____ NO_____
  • Is there a known organization or institution associated with or sponsoring the site?  YES_____ NO_____
  • Name of organization or institution:________________________________
  • Is the Web site designed to teach you something?  YES_____ NO_____
  • Is the website an .edu, .org, .gov, or .com? _________
  • What is the purpose of the Web site? (Is it to entertain, persuade, educate, or sell?)
  • Does the author try to persuade you in any way? How?
  • Quickly try to identify the facts from the opinions. Make a list.
  • What new information did you learn?
  • Were there any photographs, charts, graphs, or diagrams that were important?
  • After reading, what unanswered questions do you have? What are you curious about?
  • What connections did you make with the information provided?
  • What is your opinion of the author’s (or interviewee’s thesis)? Do agree or disagree with the point of the article?

Okay – feedback, ideas, advise?

Traits of an ideal student – can you make a list of seven?

I’ve been thinking about what traits are important for people (students) to develop.

I wanted to keep it to seven to see if there was one for each day of the week.

I’m sharing my list  in hopes that you will share one as well.
Did I miss something? What would you add, combine, take away? (They are not in any order… just a brain storm).
  1. Creative
  2. Trustworthy / Trusting (Responsible, Obedient)
  3. Curious
  4. Reflective (Prayerful, thoughtful)
  5. Driven
  6. Positive
  7. Cooperative

It’s vacation reading Monday!


It’s Monday and I’m enjoying some beach reading at a beach on the Baltic Sea. Mix in some site seeing and this should be a great day!

I finished Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer by John Grisham. It was a fun, fast read- especially if you like mystery Grisham style. The only problem I see is that it ended in a cliff hanger that takes you right to the next book. If you are looking for a tidy ending you won’t find it… If you want to get kids reading a book and then immediately picking up the next I think it’s great.

Happy vacation reading to all- enjoy your week! Here is what I’m reading now…




An iPad for my Great Uncle – Technology Tuesday

Last week amongst a funeral, a family reunion, and an out-of-town anniversary party, I was mandated, by my great-uncle, to pick him up an iPad. He knew I used them with my students and decided I must be the family expert. The request felt like a mandate, I’m sure, because there was just too much going on. Thank goodness another family member, who does not have four kids in tow, offered to pick it up for me. My job became simply to set it up.

A manageable task, I began to have fun. My eleven-year-old son Cole and I worked together starting with a list of things we thought an 80-year-old person would want an iPad to do. Uncle Dan has never owned a personal computer. The contrast between what Cole takes for granted and what we were introducing to my uncle was significant. Email, Facebook, Pandora, internet – were things he knew about, but had never used. We also thought he might be interested in weather, games, and book reading apps.  We had to set up his accounts and started him out with an iTunes gift card.

Passwords were equally interesting because we were creating them. I pulled out genealogy information and we made them up based on things like his birthday, his late wife’s name and anniversary, and his parent’s street name. It was interesting to think in terms of what he would remember and find significant.

We turned the iPad over to Uncle Dan and encouraged him to push all the buttons. He wanted an instruction book and we insisted he see what he could figure out by just doing it. His daughter-in-law, who has a computer, but not an iPad, offered to coach him and learn a little herself.

At the anniversary party Saturday night I found myself telling the tale of my “way to busy week.” As I mentioned the iPad mandate, three interesting ideas struck us:

First, Uncle Dan was born in the 1920s – the start of automobiles, radio, and airplanes. Imagine his perspective for the evolving technology of today.

Second, isn’t it cool that he has made-up his mind to be a life-long learner and try something new?

Finally, can anyone imagine what Cole’s great grandkids will bring him to try out? Will they tell him to push all the buttons, and find out what he can still learn how to do?

I’m happy now to have the time to find it all truly amazing…


Monday Reading: Mindset by Carol Dweck

I spent the weekend with Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck. It was a wonderful journey. My husband and I had a quick – child free – road trip to visit friends and I found myself reading and talking to him about the ideas in this book. There are chapters about  parenting, leadership, coaching and even how to reach that shy student in the back of the classroom. The book was recommended by within Angela Maiers’ book The Passion Driven Classroom and provides evidence for having a growth rather than a fixed mind-set.

I feel much more able to handle the students who say, “That’s too hard,” “I’m not one of those smart students,” or “Why do you want us to work so hard?” I am also ready to take on teachers who refer to certain students as “losers” and that coach who judges kids more than he inspires them! Watch out world!

On a more humble note, I have to work on how I talk to my kids to get them excited about working hard – and this book provides many useful ideas for just where to start.

Reading Logs Kept and Shared – Inspiration

This s20120702-080559.jpgummer I began keeping a reading log. Inspired by a pretty notebook, I began writing all the thoughts that come up as I read. It’s not formal. There are doodles and notes, quotes and questions. In addition to books, when checking out a blog or in a discussion that seems relevant to my reading life I’ve found myself pulling out my notebook to record that too.

So today when I happened upon Jessica Johnson’s Sharing my Reading Life blog I just had to smile. In her blog she shares a batch of ideas on how her reading log has inspired her students and teachers to read.

Isn’t it cool when you happen upon the next stepping-stone in a journey? It’s like stopping at the gas station and receiving directions to your next destination before you even get a chance to ask.

Similar to Johnson, when I talk about books other readers and soon-to-be readers share what they are reading or what they want to read. I do talk a lot about books. My fellow teachers pass books around, I’m in a book club with my girlfriends, and I love seeking out books that my husband and I will both enjoy reading. I also know that the more I get my students reading the better they do in all their classes.

Johnson has taken my inspiration to the next level. In addition to a notebook of reading inspired thoughts – I think it’s a great ideas to keep a record of what I am reading, when, and what kind of book it is. Like Johnson I believe this will help me see and understand my own reading habits and be better able to share and model them with my kids and my students.

In fact, the kids and their cousins just spent a weekend together. Between swimming and firefly catching, there was lots of reading. My sister and I are both teachers, but we didn’t have to do anything to inspire them except load them up with books and time. The questions and ideas they shared sounded just like the book group discussion I enjoy with my friends. Now I wonder what would happen if I handed them each a journal for writing and doodling and remembering…?

I think I’ll do that right after I finish Forged by Laurie Halse Anderson as I promised it to a student who saw me reading and writing about it at the pool last week. Happy reading!

If you want to visit Jessica Johnson you’ll find her @PrincipalJ on Twitter and at Reflections from an Elementary School Principal on blogger.