We have the billy goat buck, and as I sit here typing, his billy smell wafts from my hands as they move over the keyboard. It has been a great adventure so far. We had planned for him to spend time with only two of our does, but of course, he had his own plan which involved getting under the fence of his smaller pen. Seen here, chasing after the one goat we had not planned for him to get to know. Our donkey was not happy to have him come uninvited under the fence and she had him in a grip with her teeth, hauling him around to show him who is the boss of the farm. Today they seem to have made peace and he is still in one piece.
Having been warned that billy goats can be nasty mean, we are very happy to have the perfect gentle goat for our campus. He is quite friendly if you are not trying to get him to go where he doesn't want to go.
Today, the primary students harvested lavender and then taught the older students how to do it. Lavender sorbet and lavender chocoloate are two of my favorite plans for our first harvest. We planted these last spring. Good things come to those who can wait.
At snack time, several intermediate students made up a new batch of hummingbird feeder nectar. They used four parts water to two parts sugar. I hope you caught our hummingbird live web cam last week. We are back to chick cam now. The chicks are getting bigger every day and can fly up to the rim of their chicken hotel.
Last week the intermediate students drove to Smithville to dig red clay, which we will use next week when we do the final plastering on our cob oven. We went to a really cool organic farm in the piney woods that is off the grid. We ate lunch under the stark skeletal burned trees at Bastrop State Park. One last photo for this blog...a before picture of our oven taken recently.
It is April. The gardens are in bloom, the grass is growing and needs frequent mowing, and students are working to finish projects before Expo, our community sharing day. We have other things growing and changing as well.
We have located a billy goat buck to "rent" for 45 days, who will be arriving on campus soon if all goes well. Come October we may have baby goats on campus. Whatever happens, these next weeks will be an adventure!
Three of our own coop eggs hatched this week and we have 3 new friends, "Cutie," "Fred," and "Kumquat." "Fred," was stuck to the shell and it was due to the heroic efforts of Kate that it lived. We cannot wait to see how the genetic traits manifest in our new mini flock.
Last but not least, we have a date to finish our cob oven. We are excited to welcome Trey Farmer back to IOS to apply our final plaster. Next week we will drive to Bastrop and dig buckets of red clay for our cob. This week our dimension of Human Greatness is "Identity." All of these things help make IOS what it is. Once we were a dream. I hope you are dreaming big, too.
Every Wednesday morning at the Inside Outside School, we have Peace Circle. We gather in the theater space together, light a candle, meditate to center ourselves and then one of us shares a story that connects to some aspect of Human Greatness. When we were working with "Identity" we heard the story of the Soul Bird, the bird that lives in each of us, the bird that has the keys to open the little drawers inside of us that hold our feelings and bits of our self that we may open often or rarely. Sometimes we tell the soul bird which drawer to open and what we want to think and feel and sometimes it decides all by itself which drawer to open. The children did some amazing watercolors to represent the soul bird inside each of them. In our lives, the soul bird dips into some dark sticky places where the drawers are stuck and when they open there are sticky feelings in them. It is nice to know that we can handle feeling those things and that there are plenty of drawers to open that help us feel better. As we work with big ideas like Identity, Integrity, and Intuition, we learn more about who we are and how we can be true to who we are. This week we will be working with the dimension of "Imagination." Do you think trees have feelings? I wonder.
This week we harvested the rest of the winter garden in preparation for planting the spring garden. Good thing we waited since we had such a freeze here. This carrot came out of the garden. It is probably the result of not thinning the carrot patch. Our donkey will make short work of it.
One of the primary math groups made collages of bird pictures, working with numbers between 10 and 20. We have been keeping bird feeders around campus and have begun to see and hear a wonderful variety of birds. They are nesting in the palm trees, above the garages, and under the porch eves.
For this months portraits, the students used feathers, flowers, leaves, twigs and bits of bark to make nature self-portraits. They are breath taking.
Our Dimension of Human Greatness focus this week has been Initiative. I figured I could take the initiative to do a blog post today. Students are taking initiative by adding more guiding questions to their inquiry projects this week, which always changes everything. We have a new student and the campus is vibrant and green. It is very good.
One of my favorite outside activities that we are doing at IOS is nature journaling. We begin by recording the date and temperature and making a small box on our page to draw what the clouds look like today. Then we sketch what we see. There is so much to see, from the little twigs with their complicated bark markings, to rocks with rough grainy surfaces to the way the creek looks as the water swirls around tree trunks.
As we sit and sketch, we become aware of birds starting to sing around us because we have become so quiet. Looking up, I notice that you can see bird nests so much better in February when there are no leaves in the canopy. Beauty is everywhere around us even now in its more stark attire.
One of the most inspiring movies to come out of the change in education movement of the last few years is "August to June: Bringing Life to School. I have watched it over and over and have fallen in love with Amy and her class. One of the things she did with her students that we have embraced this year is to create a self portrait each month and make a book of them at the end of the school year. Last week our students studied the work of Picasso and Cubism, before working on their portraits for January. Here one of our third graders studies her face as she makes the portrait.
Here is her finished portrait. The intermediate class used water color and the primary class worked with oil pastels. Brain Pop provided the background on Picasso. We used overhead projectors to help with the silhouette part of the project.
This week we will focus on imagination for our Dimension of Human Greatness. We began on Monday by imagining the life we want for ourselves in the future. My visualization was that our school was continuing to flourish and that our influence spread beyond our gates, that our vision of children in nature at school could have the kind of influence on education that Amy has had from her California classroom.
I want for children everywhere to be free to ramble in the woods in every season. I hope they will all see the patches of green begin to appear at the end of winter. I imagine that every child will know the joy of splashing in a flowing creek and trading berries in their woodland storefront. I wish for each child to know the excitement of collecting an egg from the chickens, and to be able to grow food and use a screw driver. This is a face of education...
a happy face.
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Our primary class chose to study some of the animals found on our campus during the first semester. They learned about chickens, goats, donkeys, wasps and snakes. In addition to reading books and articles about each of these creatures, they studied them up close, except for snakes. We didn't have any actual snake sightings this fall. One of their projects was the following educational video in which they instruct us all how to stay safe around snakes. I hope you enjoy it. They are working on a stop animation video about the water cycle now that we will post here soon.
One of the great things about having a large natural setting for a school is that the campus is a huge laboratory. Intermediate students have been
learning about erosion and weathering (5th grade Earth Science TEKS). Our school building sits atop a steep hill above a flood plain. We have the amazing ability to bring
these TEKS to life. Where the septic tanks were placed in the hill there is a rain runoff area from the driveway. This week the entire student body toured the campus to study the check dams that were constructed on the other side of the campus by Design, Build, Live volunteers summer before last. Then we began collecting rocks and logs from all over campus to build new check dams. Kate had one team with the little red wagon hauling rocks from the east side of campus, Rashid's group brought logs up the hill and my group cleared the goat pen of large rocks. Then we used the wheelbarrow to bring rocks from near the gardens on the southern side of campus.
We worked together and in about an hour and a half, we built a series of check dams on the hill. The chickens inspected our work and seemed to be satisfied. Later that day, we did some research into the connection between famous landforms and erosion factors. Yesterday the kids worked in small groups to create models called "Lentil Land." Each model featured at least 6 landforms that we had researched.
Integrating spelling with -ion words like location and erosion, we spent the day making connections and having fun while working together. After making the models, students created a map of their project complete with compass rose.
Words like "delta" and "isthmus" come to life when you are having fun. (The Lentil Land project comes from of TOPS Science, which we highly recommend.)
Meanwhile the primary class made it rain inside by creating a model of the water cycle (2nd grade Earth Science TEKS) on the stove. You can bet that everyone of them knows a lot about evaporation and condensation now. They were so excited, you would have thought it was a birthday party! What is great is that we tied it all together, rain, runoff, erosion. It made the very cold rainy days we spent earlier in the week inside at the Inside Outside School more relevent.
This fall the students planted seeds in our garden beds. It seemed like for a long time that not one seed germinated. It was dry and hot. The
conditions were not right. Then
there were little plants long after we had given up. I recently moved to a house that has had the septic system replaced. The property is mostly dirt now, but there was a beautiful lawn when we first became interested in the property. The property is seeded, but there has
been no rain. We turned on sprinklers and still nothing. A wise friend reminded me that the seeds need the right temperature in order to germinate, not just water.
What do children need in order to begin taking more initiative in their own learning? I have had parents coming to me in the past week with concerns that they were not impressed with the work of the children in the first semester. I initially felt anxious about this, but through reflection, I have come to know in my heart and mind that this is part of the process of changing the direction. It takes time for these seeds to germinate. It takes trial and
error for the students to begin to take ownership of their learning.
In their post reflection if they come to the awareness that they didn’t meet their objectives, and that they want to do a more thorough job of presenting their learning, they learn much more than a C- on a piece of paper would ever tell them. When you
take away the grades, the student has to work hard for a different reason. If there is no extrinsic reward, the chance exists for us to work for our own satisfaction.
Educating for Human Greatness is not an overnight process. It is a garden that may look fallow for a time. We are in a drought, but today we will get a lot of rain. It is a 100% chance, but it is still winter and we cannot think that the rain will turn our campus green this week. I have faith in what we are
doing at Inside Outside School. I believe there is a better way to nurture learning than what we are offering children in the USA where high stakes testing pressure is taking the fun out of teaching and learning. I sit in the library of our school before the first students arrive this morning, surrounded by my favorite children’s books, hearing the rooster crow outside as he leads his flock of hens across the lawn, thankful for another day to be here now and do what I
love. The Little Engine That Could has been pulled from the shelves in preparation for a new elective class that begins tomorrow. I think I can! I think I can!