Lessons I Learned from My Summer Vacation

Over the years, life has taught me much: Don’t talk to strangers, eat your vegetables, don’t swallow gum, don’t mix Pop Rocks candy with Coke, don’t get into white vans, and don’t use temporary tattoos with strange symbols on them.  Each new experience, brings with it new lessons and morals.  The older I get, the more life seems to throw repeats at me.  Sometimes it feels like I’m watching Nick at Night and that same episode of Full House is playing.  Or maybe, I’ve just grown so accustomed to life teaching me something that I ignore the lessons.  Whatever the reason, over the past few years, I feel as though I’ve learned less than ever before from life.  Everything seems to be bleeding together, like the cup of water used to rinse a paintbrush creating a brilliant picture of flowers using water colors.  However, this summer seemed different.  While I don’t feel as though I learned too many new lessons, I do feel as though my experiences from this summer changed me.  I feel a bit different, like that time I got new glasses after having the same glasses for five years.  The colors are more vivid and things seem four-dimensional.  It’s pretty sweet.

In no particular order, I will recount the summer experiences that helped make my life a bit more vivid.

  1. Experience: Taking my son to a football camp.  In mid-June, my family travelled south a bit to Connecticut, for my son to participate in a Football University Camp.  It was intense, for both him and us.  The weather was hot and sunny, which may be why I dropped some weight that weekend.  I sweat off what felt like 20 pounds.  I hate being hot.  At the camp, my wife and I learned all about football recruiting for our son.  It’s crazy!  He needs to have video footage and a profile online in order for college coaches to see him and thus recruit him.  First off, I didn’t even know my son was that committed to football.  I knew he liked playing it, but him wanting to attend this camp made me realize how serious he is about the sport.  He seems to want to focus on football, moving forward.  While I’m not a huge fan of him doing so because of all of the health and safety risks associated with playing football, I do like that he has found a passion and is setting some goals for himself.  That’s great, I just wish it was with a sport that is a bit less aggressive.  Oh well, since I can’t force him to go pro in ping pong, I guess football is okay.  Life Lesson: Setting life goals and finding one’s passion is crucial to make progress and bring about change in one’s life.  I am now constantly thinking about how I can change and grow as an educator, which perhaps is one of the reasons why I did accomplish so much professional work this summer.  Sometimes I wonder who is teaching whom, me or my son son?
  2. Experience: Helping family friends move from Florida to New Hampshire.  In early July, a friend and I, flew down to Florida, which was hotter than my armpit after a trip to the sauna, to help his in-laws move their belongings back to New Hampshire.  After arriving, we loaded the moving truck with as much of their stuff as possible.  The next morning, we loaded the remainder of their things into the truck and made our long journey north.  We had decided to make a few stops along the way, for fun.  Our first adventure included going to an alligator farm.  Alligators raised in a farm, controlled setting seem very docile and not scary at all.  I almost felt like cuddling up to one as they sat in their tank of water, but then I realized it was way too hot to cuddle.  Our next stop was Hilton Head, South Carolina.  I heard so many cool stories about people vacationing there.  So, I figured, let’s check it out.  What a hot waste of time that was.  There was not much there except a beach and some stores.  Whoopie doo!  We then traveled to Atlantic City, New Jersey.  Now that was awesome.  Well, it was a bit scary being caught in a torrential downpour, but walking around the city and casinos was so neat.  It’s amazing.  Stores in the casinos are open all day and night.  So, if you have a hankering for a cookie at two in the morning, Mrs. Fields is open.  How cool is that?  Atlantic City was definitely the highlight of the trip for me.  Our last stop before heading back to New Hampshire was the Pocono Mountain range in Pennsylvania.  I wanted to go to some epic flea markets.  Who doesn’t love a good bargain.  We went to two amazing flea markets.  The last one was by far the best.  It had a huge inside part with a store that sold old Nintendo games.  For a few moments, I was thrust back into my childhood playing Super Mario Brothers for hours on end.  Ahh, the good ol’ days.  While the trip only lasted five days, we accomplished a lot.  Life Lesson: Take risks and try new things.  Even though we arrived to Atlantic City tired and wet from rain, we decided to walk around the boardwalk a bit.  It was awesome.  So many sounds and bright lights.  It was like that rave I never went to.  As a teacher, I’m going to try new things in the classroom this year, even if they scare me a bit.
  3. Experience: My son having a cardiac event at a football camp in South Carolina.  There we were, my son and I, in hot and steamy South Carolina, for another football camp.  Things started off swimmingly.  The drive down was long but good.  The first meetings at the camp went well.  Then came the first practice.  My son looked really good.  He made some epic catches.  I was a proud dad.  Then, I didn’t see for a while.  I wondered where he had gone.  As I made my way to the water tent to see if he was there, a medic called my name.  “Mark Holt!”  My son was down on the ground, clutching his chest.  It was one of every parent’s nightmares.  What was wrong?  Would he be okay?  He complained of pain in his heart and couldn’t move or really talk.  We were rushed to a strange hospital in a strange place via an ambulance.  Luckily, he soon felt better and it seemed as though we would be discharged after only a few hours at the hospital.  Then, the doctor came in and closed the door.  Now, we all know that nothing good is ever said behind closed doors.  I started to get nervous.  What was going on with my son?  One of the blood tests came back positive for a cardiac enzyme that tells doctors that some sort of cardiac event had occurred.  The doctor in the ER wanted us to see a specialist before going home, and since they didn’t have a pediatric cardiologist at that hospital, they needed to transfer us to another hospital in North Carolina, about 45 minutes away.  What?  My wife was back in New Hampshire and I was alone with my son in South Carolina.  Fortunately, my son had no real idea what was happening because he felt fine.  He said, “Why can’t we just leave the hospital?”  Once we got transferred to the larger Children’s Hospital in Charlotte, they did more tests and found out that whatever cardiac event had happened to him, it was minor and didn’t seem to cause any noticeable issues.  So, they discharged him later that afternoon.  While my wife and I were relieved that he was being dismissed from the hospital, we were still anxious about what had caused the event.  A few weeks later, once we saw a specialist back home, our fears were quelled when a stress test revealed that whatever happened to him probably wasn’t heart-related.  That was great news.  Life Lesson: Fake it ’till you make it.  In the hospital, I appeared to my son and the hospital staff as calm, cool, and collected, while inside I was a complete mess.  I just rolled with it externally while my insides felt like a fish out of water.  I was so scared for my son.  As a teacher, I’m really good at faking it and letting personal stresses stay personal, but, every once in awhile, I do allow my emotions to get the better of me.  This year, I’m going to work on keeping everything in check, all the time.  If I can come across as serene while my son is being rushed to the hospital, then I’m sure I can remain in control in the classroom.
  4. Experience: Family trip to Maine.  My wife’s family rented two cabins on Highland Lake in Bridgton, Maine for a week in August.  My wife, son, and I, along with my wife’s parents, her sister, and her two kids, spent the week together.  The weather was beautiful, sunny and warm every day.  It was only really hot one day, but got really cool one night.  There was so much to do right there at the lake.  My son and his cousins went fishing, kayaking, and swimming.  We played horseshoes and had a campfire every night.  It was so peaceful and relaxing.  It was just what my family needed before school starts back up for me and before we drop my son off at his new school.  Life Lesson: Take YOU time.  Having time to oneself is so beneficial for recharging the emotional battery.  We all need some down time on a regular basis.  Whether you read a book, listen to music, fish, or something else, it’s vital to your sanity and the sanity of those you live and work with to take a break every once in awhile.  As our schedule at my school is so hectic, I do need to remember to take me time more frequently than I have in the past.  Perhaps I should take up a new hobby or just play some of the old school video games I recently purchased.  Anybody up for a game of NBA Jam on the Sega?

Together, these experiences helped shape my summer, and changed me.  I feel a little different.  With faculty meetings for my school beginning tomorrow morning, I’m feeling energized, excited, and ready to go.  Bring on the new students, new ideas, new teachers, and new experiences.  I can’t wait to see how this new year will bring about more changes within me.

Summer Reflections Part VI: My Final Thoughts

Thinking back on my first few years as a teacher, my definition of curriculum was very different than it is today.  I used to think a curriculum had to be organized in a certain way and based on a series of standards that were then transformed into grade-able objectives.  I thought the standards needed to be aligned with the state standards and include every grade-level standard listed.  Now, if I were teaching to a standardized test that the students had to take yearly, then perhaps my definition of curriculum would have been accurate and still relevant now.  Luckily, I don’t teach to a test or work at a school that utilizes high-stakes testing as a way of assessing students and teachers.  

My goal as a teacher today, is to inspire students to be creative and independent problem solvers.  Therefore, I view curriculum very differently today than I once did.  A curriculum is a skeletal framework for teachers to use to guide their teaching.  It is very basic and simplistic.  It leaves plenty of room for creativity in its implementation.  A curriculum is based upon a meaningful and purposeful set of standards used by my school or other, cutting-edge educational institutions.  For example, my STEM curriculum is based upon the Next Generation Science Standards.  From those standards, I craft objectives in student-friendly language that are easily assessed and understood by the students.  My current understanding on curriculum is a far cry from what it once was, which, like life in general is perfect.  Change is necessary and inevitable to bring about growth.

This summer, I revamped my first STEM and Humanities units.  I employed ideas learned from the professional development texts I read this summer.  I wanted to leave room for the students to solve problems, do the thinking themselves, and generate questions.  I wanted to create team-based projects that allowed for the development of real-world skills they will need to be successful later in life.  It was a lot of fun, fine-tuning my previous ideas.  I felt like a movie editor, cutting, pasting, adding, deleting, and splicing together a masterpiece.

During the last two years in our Humanities class, we started the year with a unit on Community.  We wanted the students to understand what it means to be a part of a community as well as to gain a better understanding of the school community as well as the town in which the school is located.  We provided the students with several field experiences, as we discussed the history of Canaan.  The students completed group activities and writing exercises as they learned more about the town’s rich and diverse history.  I bet you didn’t know that the first integrated school in America was located in Canaan, NH.  It was the Noyes Academy.  That’s a pretty cool knowledge nugget if you ask me.  In years past, the Community unit lasted ten weeks or more.  It almost felt too long, like any book by Stephen King.  So, for this coming year, I tweaked it a bit.  I cut some field experiences out, while trying to keep the valuable and meaningful ones in tact.  I feel very good about the changes made.  I’m also very excited because it will provide us the ample opportunity to create a unit on the up coming presidential election.  That is sure to be a blast.

As for my STEM class, I went back in time a bit.  I found that over the last two years, the students have struggled effectively understanding the scientific method as well as how to write a purposeful lab report.  As we began the last two years with an astronomy unit, I never had a chance to introduce the scientific method or the proper lab report protocol until later in the year.  This made experimentation challenging and actually took longer than necessary as I had to over-explain the processes involved.  So, I switched things up a little and went back to the way things used to be.  Our first STEM unit for this coming academic year will be focused on chemistry.  The students will learn and practice utilizing the scientific method before they generate a self-chosen experiment of their own, which they will complete with a partner.  The culmination of the unit will be a class science fair during Parents’ Weekend in October.  Not only will the students learn the valuable testing methods needed to be a successful science student in their future science courses, but it also will allow the boys to be creative, create their own testable problems, and showcase their work in a creative manner.  In my mind, it doesn’t get much more perfect than that.  

While I didn’t bring about major changes in my curriculum for this next academic year, I did employ new ideas and data from past experiences.  I refuse to be stagnant like a dirty, bacteria-infested pond.  I feel the need to change how and what I teach yearly so that I can grow and develop as an educator and enjoy what I am doing in the classroom.  

Wait a minute, I know I shouldn’t be doing this in this particular blog entry as it is focused on how I revised my curriculum, but I feel the need to mention it now for fear of forgetting it.  I think I figured out why I accomplished so much this summer.  It was about my need to change and grow.  The older I get, the more nervous I become by not having a Master’s Degree.  I’m worried that I will lose my job or not be able to get another teaching job because of that.  So, I find that I am constantly reinventing myself as a teacher.  I’m always reading new books, blogging, taking courses, talking to other teachers, and trying to be sure that I am the most effective teacher my students need me to be.  So, it was my need to change as well as my fear of not having a more advanced degree that brought about the work I accomplished this summer.  Wow, that took me six entries to figure out.  Perhaps I didn’t want to admit it to myself or others.  It feels good to write it down for the world to see.  I’m scared and far from perfect like almost every other human on this planet.  And you know what, it feels pretty darn awesome.

Summer Reflections Part V: At Home in the Classroom

When I was a teenager and started to develop my own identity and personality, one of the first things I wanted to do was to make my bedroom my own.  I found cool posters of rock bands to put on the walls, organized my book shelf, and put all of the furniture where I wanted it.  It became my space because I made it that way.  It showcased a little bit of who I was becoming.  I felt safe and supported when I was in my room because it contained my essence.

As a teacher, my goal every summer is to make my classroom feel the same way to both my students and my co-teacher and I.  I want the classroom to be a safe haven from all of the craziness that exists beyond its walls.  I want the students to feel at home when they are in our sixth grade classroom.  Each summer I find new ways to tweak it just a bit for the next year.  In the past several years, not too much has changed other than the new furniture I purchased for my room last year.  The posters have mostly been in the same place and the organization of the space has stayed the same.  I liked it that way.  It felt welcoming and safe.  Because I knew that I would be working with a new co-teacher this year, I wanted to mix things up a bit.  So, I removed the posters from the walls at the end of the year so that I could start from scratch when setting it up.

When I set things up last week, I tried some new things.  As my co-teacher wanted to get settled in when she moved to campus, she allowed me to set the classroom up.  I tried to keep her in mind when putting everything together.  I had ordered some new posters to freshen up the walls a bit and placed the old posters in new places.  I wanted to bring the space back to life a bit.  The new posters fit in great and really help to make the classroom feel like a learning space.  I absolutely love what I was able to do in terms of the wall coverings.

As for the furniture, I kept things about the same.  The reading nook is in the back left corner of the classroom, the work space table is in the back right corner, and the student desks are up front in the middle of the room.  I like that set up and feel it is conducive to creativity, freedom, and safety.  It allows for students to choose where to work.  

The one new addition to the room that I am so excited about is the Maker Space I added in the front right corner of the classroom.  I painted four of the glass panes surrounding the space with blackboard paint to allow for ideas to be chalked upon them.  I placed a special whiteboard covering on the other four glass panes so that the students could blueprint ideas upon them when working in the space.  The small table allows for plenty of building space while the drawers underneath it contain a multitude of building materials from craft supplies to wood and screws.  I’m hopeful that this space will be used by the boys when they finish work, have some down time, or need to reenergize.  I can’t wait for the students to enter the room and explore.

While not much changed in my classroom from last year, some minor changes, I feel, will make a huge difference this year.  I’m hopeful that the students will feel even more supported, cared for, and challenged this year.  Although it still contains much of my essence, my hope is that I was also able to capture the personality of my co-teacher as well as my new students in the process.  

To check out the space for yourself, please feel free to enjoy this video I created for my new students and their families.

Summer Reflections Part IV: Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks is Easy, Sort of

Learning to play the guitar was an interesting adventure.  It all started because I wanted to be a famous guitarist like Slash from Guns’n’Roses.  I used to love their first album Appetite for Destruction.  Sweet Child of Mine is still one of my favorite songs from them.  Anyway, before I digress too much and tell the story of how my parents forbade me from listening to Guns’n’Roses and so I had to sneak their double album into my room when I was a teenager.  That’s a completely different story, yet great none the less.  So, I wanted to be like Slash and I decided that I wanted to learn how to play the guitar.  Since my school didn’t offer guitar lessons, my parents found a local music shop that did.  Things were great when I first started taking lessons.  The instructor was nice and I was a quick learner.  Then, things went south.  First, the lessons and skills covered became increasingly difficult and I didn’t want to put in the time and energy needed to practice and hone my craft. Second, my instructor became very aggressive and distracting.  During lessons, he would whack my hand with a pointing stick whenever I did something wrong, which was frequently.  That hurt even though it was only a metal coated, plastic rod.  When he would put the pointer down, he would pick up a banana and eat while I played.  As he gave me instructions, pieces of chewed banana flew onto my guitar, hands, and sometimes, my face.  If you’ve never had chewed food spat upon you, let me just say, it’s nasty.  So, within four months, my rock and roll dreams died faster than Milli Vanili’s career.  I just didn’t have the patience or drive needed.  While it didn’t help that my instructor was a bit strange, it was mostly my fault.  I didn’t really want to become a guitarist that badly.  To this day, I wish I had stuck with it.  Oh well.

Unlike my guitar catastrophe, I didn’t want two of my summer goals that involved learning new things to fall to the wayside.  I wanted to feel some success.  So, when I decided to learn how to knit and solve the Rubik’s Cube, I persevered despite the many hardships I faced.  I never gave up until I had succeeded and boy did that feel good.

As the farm program started to solidify in mid-June, I started to realize that I needed to learn how to knit so that I could help my students as they took on hand work projects of their own.  Luckily, I am blessed to have a crafty wife who is a skilled knitter.  So, one evening, I had her show me how to knit.  She began by showing me how to cast on.  This was tricky and took multiple tries.  But, I did eventually do it.  Then she worked in the knit stitch.  That was much easier.  I spent about an hour practicing and honing my new skill.  I felt very comfortable in the end.  Then came day two.  I wanted to practice casting on and knitting again, by myself as my wife was at work.  I quickly realized that I had forgotten everything.  But, I didn’t give up or stop.  I found some informative YouTube videos that covered the same skills; however, most of the videos either went too fast or were so confusing that I just couldn’t follow them.  When I finally found, the right video, I watched it a few times until I mastered casting on and knitting.  I practiced several times that day.  Then I practiced even more the next few days until I felt at ease casting on and knitting.  Before moving onto the purl stitch and casting off, I wanted to wait for my wife’s help.   Unfortunately, June and July were busy times in the Holt Household and so it wasn’t until mid-July that we finally had a free moment together.  She then showed me how to purl and cast off.  Since I had learned the basic stitch already, these two new skills came quite easily.  After practicing several more times over the preceding days, I felt as though I had mastered the basics of knitting.  I made a few small doilies to showcase my new skill.  I finally felt confident in the art of knitting.  I had learned a new skill despite struggling at first.  My fingers were not meant to knit.  The yarn is so thin and the needles so small.  I had a heck of a time getting one needle to go under another to make the stitches.  But, I did it.  I used a growth mindset and persevered.  I wanted to encounter the same types of problems my students would so that I would be able to empathize with them.  Knitting is no easy skill, but it is not an impossible skill.  I’m hopeful that it will help some of my sixth graders with their fine motor skills and handwriting.  We’ll find out in November and December when we get into fiber work as part of our farm program.

While knitting did prove challenging, it was more of a physical one than a mental challenge.  Learning to solve the Rubik’s Cube was purely a mental challenge, and boy was it challenging.  First, I watched several different YouTube videos until I found one that worked for me.  Then, I watched it many times.  I paused, practiced on the cube, rewound the video, rewatched the video, and repeated this series several hundred times until I mastered the first few steps.   Then, I went onto the final few steps that involved a series of algorithms performed in a certain manner.  This took a few tries, but was much easier since I had learned the basics of solving the cube already.  I was so excited when I had first solved the cube, I jumped up from my seat and yelled.  I had done it!  I practiced the first few steps several time more until I had them mastered.  Then, I just needed to look at my cheat sheet to solve the final three steps.  There are just far too many algorithms for me to memorize.  I had it.  My fastest time was 5 minutes and 46 seconds.  That was impressive.  However, not clearly as impressive as those kids who can solve a cube in five seconds.  I’m not sure how that is possible.  I have even seen a former student of mine do it and I still didn’t believe it.  Was he a robot?   That’s amazing.  I’m nowhere near that, but I feel quite good with my basic ability.  My goal in learning how to solve the cube is to be able to help my students troubleshoot problems they encounter as they learn how to solve the Rubik’s Cube in STEM class this year.  I now feel as though I am capable of that.

Of the two new skills I learned this summer, solving the Rubik’s Cube was definitely the most difficult.  It required much focus and concentration.  I had to translate what I saw in the videos to my three-dimensional cube.  I messed up a lot at first because of that.  But I never gave up, I just kept at it until I had it.   Everything I hope for my students this year, I accomplished this summer.  I hope that is enough to be the teacher my students need me to be come September.  I certainly don’t want them to give up on their dreams of knitting and solving the Rubik’s Cube like I did regarding the guitar.  So, note to self, no bananas in the sixth grade classroom this year.

Summer Reflections Part III: Home on the Farm

“Ahh, look at the sheep.  They’re so cute,” my mother used to say whenever we passed a farm on one of our many road trips.  That was it though.  We never stopped to see the sheep up close.  We never saw the lice or bugs jumping around in their fleece.  We never got to feel how soft the sheep were.  We never learned what type of sheep they were or what they were being used for.  I just always knew sheep as being cute, but there is so much more to know than that.  

Many schools today teach in this same manner.  “Ohh, science is cool.  When you mix two substances, an explosion occurs.  Isn’t that cool?” teachers might say.  They don’t ever let the students explore or test the substances.  They probably never even allow the students to conduct an investigation.  They move onto notes and a lecture to cover more content.  What about depth?  What about play time and exploration time?  What about letting students ask the questions and make the comments?  In this day of educational testing and a set of curriculum standards longer than Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, students don’t have a chance to get curious, be creative, or explore.

Like Ken Robinson’s Book Creative Schools preaches, we need students to do the thinking, questioning, and learning.  Students need time to play and explore so that they have the opportunity to really delve into the curriculum and content in a relevant and meaningful manner.  So, as I thought about how I could reshape the sixth grade curriculum at my school, a few ideas came to me.

  1. I read a blog post in May that mentioned all different types of technology, one being knitting.  Then it dawned on me, handwork.  So many of our students struggle with handwriting and fine motor skills, which means they were never provided opportunities to develop those skills.  Let’s teach our sixth graders how to knit.
  2. I then took that idea a step further when I let my original idea percolate a bit.  What if we had the students go to an actual sheep farm and learn how sheep are sheared?  Then, we could use that fleece to turn into yarn that the students could use when learning to knit.  What a brilliant idea, I thought.  Now, how do I find a farm that would allow us to do this?
  3. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks, a member of Cardigan’s staff runs a farm.  What if I contact her?  She is also our community outreach contact and so she may have an idea if she can’t directly help us.  So, I reached out to her.  She was thrilled that I contacted her and said she would love to host our class on her farm.  Nice.  It all seemed to be coming together even quicker than I imagined.
  4. When we met, my original idea became only a tiny nugget of what Mary Ledoux and I put together.  My first idea became so built upon, that I almost didn’t recognize it anymore.  I was amazed at how one simple idea lead to an entire program for the sixth grade at my school.  
  5. Each Friday during STEM class, the students will travel to Mary’s farm, which is about a mile from campus.  We will spend two hours there working through various activities:
  • Week 1: Farm Tour and Overview of Everything. Students would make observations in a Farm Journal they maintain throughout the year.
  • Week 2: Newborn bunny time. Learn bunny basics. Calculate data such as size, weight, color, etc in Farm Journal. Learn about bunny care.
  • Week 3: Hay Basics. Learn about baling process, implements, etc.
  • Week 4: Bunny Observation Time. Pick grapes, learn about grapes and how they grow. Make grape jelly.
  • Week 5: Bunny Observation Time. Learn how sheep are sheared and participate in process.
  • Week 6: Bunny Observation Time. Skirt sheep fleeces.
  • Week 7: Bunny Observation Time. Wash sheep fiber. Introduction to Felting.
  • Week 8: Bunny Observation Time. Felting exploration time.
  • Week 9: Bunny Observation Time. Work on felting projects.
  • Week 10: Bunny Observation Time. Spinning wool introduction. Explore spinning techniques.
  • Week 11: Bunny Observation Time. Make a drop spindle and spin their own yarn.

We mapped out the first half of the year and created a Unit Plan to provide data for what we are doing and how we are doing it:
Essential Questions

  • How are human and natural systems interrelated?
  • How do we depend on natural systems?
  • How do natural systems depend on us?

Habits of Learning

Growth Mindset 

The students will learn to be open to new ideas and methods of learning as this farm experience will be new to many of them. The farm is an extension of our classroom and so the same expectations will apply. We will challenge the students to take risks and try new things on the farm. The students will be provided with new and unique opportunities that we will help them embrace and take on with courage and compassion.


The students will learn to be self-aware of their physical bodies when on the farm. As multiple tasks will be taking place at once, sometimes in small spaces, it will be important for the students to understand how to move carefully while also appropriately handling and caring for the animals, equipment, and land on the farm.


The students will learn to effectively work with their peers, animals, and other adults on the farm. The students will need to actively listen and process information with which they are provided in order to solve problems or complete tasks. They will need to be thoughtful and compassionate when interacting with peers, adults, and animals on the farm.

Critical Thinking

The students will learn how to solve various agricultural problems while on the farm. They will need to think critically about the natural world around them and how everything is interrelated in order to solve problems encountered in appropriate ways.


The students will learn how to effectively communicate their ideas, thoughts, and questions with peers, adults, and animals on the farm. They will need to be patient, at times, as the farm facilitator may be busy assisting other students. They will also need to be sure they are using appropriate language when communicating with others on the farm. The students will need to be mindful of their body language when interacting with the animals on the farm.


The students will learn to take ownership of their work on the farm as they will be learning to take on new tasks and responsibilities. As these experiences will be new for many of the students, they will need to put forth their best effort in accomplishing tasks. They will also learn to understand that failure is part of the learning process. They will make mistakes and need to try things again and again. Ownership during these times will be crucial for the students.


The students will learn to see how everything in the world is interrelated. This will require a change of perspective for many of the students as they learn to solve agricultural problems in new and innovative ways when on the farm. The students will also be expected to take risks and learn new skills, which could include knitting, crocheting, felting, fiber dying, animal care, and food preparation.

Student Objectives, Skills, and Outcomes

Students will:

  • Understand how the natural and human worlds are interrelated.
  • Understand the farm as a whole system rather than as discrete human, biological or physical components.
  • Care for, appropriately, based on information provided by the farm facilitator, an angora rabbit.
  • Prepare and make grape jelly utilizing grapes picked on the farm and specific instructions from the farm facilitator.
  • Know the source of various fiber types and the processes involved in obtaining them.
  • Know how to felt various fiber types using appropriate materials.
  • Understand how to spin wool using various instruments including a drop spindle and spinning wheel.
  • Create and make a self-chosen project utilizing the skill of felting.

Cross Curricular Connections


Ecology and Life Science Components

  • The students will learn how natural and human systems are interrelated.
  • The students will learn about the life cycles of various farm animals.
  • The students will learn how grass is used to create food for animals on the farm.
  • The students will learn how to care for a rabbit and document its growth over the course of the year.
  • The students will learn about various flora types growing on the farm and how they can be utilized to help humans.
  • The students will learn about patterns through the completion of knitting and crocheting projects.



  • The students will periodically journal and document their learning in creative ways.


  • To assess students’ ability to understand how the natural and human worlds are interrelated and understand the farm as a whole system rather than as discrete human, biological or physical components, the students will participate in various class discussions on and off the farm as well as various writing activities throughout the unit.
  • To assess students’ ability to care for, appropriately, based on information provided by the farm facilitator, an angora rabbit, the students will take care of an angora bunny and document its growth, in writing, throughout the unit.
  • To assess students’ ability to prepare and make grape jelly utilizing grapes picked on the farm and specific instructions from the farm facilitator, the students will participate in the making of grape jelly on the farm using verbal instructions and a recipe.
  • To assess students’ ability to know the source of various fiber types and the processes involved in obtaining them, the students will participate in various class discussions on the farm.
  • To assess students’ ability to know how to felt various fiber types using appropriate materials, understand how to spin wool using various instruments including a drop spindle and spinning wheel, and create and make a self-chosen project utilizing the skill of felting, the students will design and complete a self-chosen fiber project that utilizes felting in some way.

To think that this whole program came out of an idea I had to teach my students how to knit.  It’s crazy how ideas can grow, multiply, divide, and become something almost unreconizable.  While I am so excited to begin this program, I’m most definitly looking forward to the fiber aspect.  Having the students raise and take care of a bunny that they will then use the fabric from to create an original and unique hand work design is simply phenomenal.   The students will be engaged in hands-on, real-world learning. What is better than that?

Summer Reflections Part II: Summer Reading Recap

When I was in high school, I was forced to read some awful novels.  Because of this, to this day, the thought of William Shakespeare makes me want to gouge out my eyes.  When I was younger, I felt as though there were many books that should never have been written.  They were a waste of resources, time, and energy.  And, I had to read them.  So, being the rebel I was, I raised my middle finger in the air and didn’t read many of the books I was assigned.  I took shortcuts.  I read the Cliff Notes version of many books back then.  In retrospect, I wish I had just read the books.  I feel now as though I missed out on a lot because of my too-cool-for-school attitude.  But, at this point, I want to leave the past in the past while still learning from it.  So, I now have a rule when reading a new book: I must finish every book I begin no matter how boring or horrible it may be.  That’s the only reason I finished any book by Suzanne Collins.

This summer my reading list was short on purpose.  I wanted this summer to be different.  I wanted to dig into curriculum development a bit more this summer and so I knew I needed time for this.  With that as my guiding focus, I read only two professional development texts this summer.  As I already spent several blog posts earlier in the summer debriefing these two novels, I will not labor over them individually.  I will say that they were great reminders of why we as teachers do what we do.  We are innovators and engineers of the future because we see the problems that exist in our world and desperately want to fix them.  The two books I read this summer beat the same very drum I use as a teacher.  That was reassuring and nice to see.  They also taught me some new things.  I revamped my grading scale a bit because of the book Grading Smarter Not Harder.

But, I found that the second text I read this summer served as the catalyst for everything else I accomplished over the past few months.  Creative Schools by Sir Ken Robinson motivated me to rethink my curriculum and classroom.  Rather than viewing myself as a test-prep guide in the classroom, I need to think of my role as a creative, inspirational Guru.  I’m a guide for the students and not the giver of knowledge.  My role as a teacher should be about inspiring students to want to learn more on their own.  I want to inspire students to ask questions.  I want my students to fail and then figure out a new way to solve a problem.  Robinson’s book did just that.  It inspired me to reshape my role as teacher.  After reading this amazing text, I went on a journey myself.  I explored unchartered skills and discovered new ways to make the education my students will be receiving this year more tangible and real.  

I created a Farm Program for my class because I wanted to not just teach my students how to knit, but I wanted them to see where the yarn they would be using came from.  This then lead into a whole new world of awesomeness for me, which I’ll explore in a future entry.  But if it wasn’t for Robinson’s book, I’m not sure I would have even bothered to go down that path.  I probably would have taken the road most travelled and that would have been sad.  Luckily for me, my school, my new co-teacher, and my students, I took the road less travelled like Robert Frost suggested and I’m ready to get creative and inspire my students as they learn how to apply the skills we learn in the classroom in fun and unique ways.

Summer Reflections Part I: My Olympic Journey

“Unbelievable!  Amazing!”  Yes, that’s right, I watched the Summer Olympics.  For the past two weeks, when my television was on, the Olympic Games were on.  I watched in awe as the athletes did their thing with such precision and poise.  Watching the runners in the track and field events was almost surreal.  The looks on their faces made it seem as though they were just going for a stroll in the park while they ran faster than gazelles.  How do they do that?  Then, right after the run, they were usually rudely interviewed by some media outlet and could easily answer the reporter’s questions while breathing normally.  After I go for a run, the only thing I want to do is throw up.  If someone tries to talk to me, I grunt and breathe heavily.  Again, these athletes appear extra-normal like superheroes or Gods.  It was so much fun to watch them all perform in Rio.  

However, the biggest take-away for me was the fact that these athletes are just normal humans like you and me who put forth great effort and dedication.  They practice, practice, and practice their sport day and night.  They hone their craft until they are good enough to make the Olympics.  They aren’t born being able to swim faster than a dolphin or whack a volleyball as if it’s a missile.  They have to practice again and again.  The reporters reminded the viewers time and time again that this was the case.  These Olympians sacrificed so much to get where they were.  As a teacher, that was my big take-away.  It’s the growth-mindset principal in practice, in the real-world.  Despite telling our students over and over again the importance of being open to the idea that they can do anything they put their mind to, they ignore us.  Now we have proof of concept.  We have real-life examples of what happens when someone utilizes a growth mindset– they can become an Olympic athlete.  How cool is that?

As the summer vacation winds to a close and I find myself getting prepared for my big dance, my Olympic-style competition– the academic year–I can’t help but reflect on my practice, all of the hard work I’ve put in over the last three months to prepare for my 1,000-hour event.  I spent my summer vacation revising my curriculum, creating a new academic program, learning some new skills, setting up my classroom, and reading some new books.  I’m feeling renewed and recharged.  I feel as though I’m ready for my big race.  I’ve put in the hours and hours of practice.  Heck, I even drew blood at one point as I learned how to knit.  That needle was sharp.  So, while I may not be going to Rio anytime soon, I am going to enter my classroom in a few short weeks, ready to inspire and excite my new sixth graders.

The next several blog posts will delve deeply into the work I did do over the summer.  This was my most productive summer vacation ever and I want to reflect on it so as to capture the essence of what created these momentous series of events.  I never thought I would learn how to solve the Rubik’s Cube, but I did.  So, as I reflect on my summer work, I’m hoping to glean some understanding of the genius that led to all of the greatness I encountered this summer.  Seriously though, I just want to understand why my 39th year on Earth as a human provided me with the pallette on which I created my brilliant canvas of work this summer.  I’m not usually this motivated or excited about farm animals, but I can’t wait to hold a newborn bunny in about 30 days.  So, thus begins my journey into self-discovery.