Sunday, December 2, 2012

I'm an acorn

I never talk about being an acorn. I certainly haven't mentioned it in any of my blogs. In fact, I rarely talk about it at all. It isn't something that comes up in every day conversation and I almost feel like bringing it up would be nearly impossible in any other setting.

In the first grade I was given a test. At the time I had no idea what I was doing. I just remember being handed a booklet that had a bunch of parallel lines and a classic sharpened number 2 pencil. I was asked to make as many things as possible out of these parallel lines. To me, it was completely and totally fun. I always loved being creative, and I was able to draw numerous things that day. I am sure there was more to the test, but all I can remember is being so proud of all of the things I was able to make out of these two parallel lines.

The next year when I went to school, I learned that I had tested into Project Acorn. Apparently I was given a test that day in first grade and my results put me into this "program." As a 2nd grader, I had no idea what that really meant. All I knew what that a few times a week, during reading, I was able to go and hang out with a woman named Ms. Hay. With Ms. Hay I was able to work on special projects. I was given the opportunity to learn about things that I wouldn't normally have the opportunity to do in the classroom. I can remember being the only person in Mrs. Brandon's class that would go and see Ms. Hay. I don't really remember anything other than that. I remember we use to meet on the stage at Taft School. I think that is where we met anyways. I feel like most of my 2nd grade projects consisted of writing stories.

In third grade, I remember making a volcano. I remember using a lot of clay and some of those Mattel little people--which were apparently choking hazards at the time, because they aren't so little any more--on the base. I remember being fascinated when I learned what happened when you mixed baking soda and vinegar. I thought it was the coolest thing ever. I probably did other projects that year, but I only remember the volcano vividly. After I practiced my experiment with Ms. Hay, I remember bring it into my classroom with Mrs. Keeler and showing the class how it all worked, I remember feeling pretty proud of my experiment.

In fourth grade I can remember writing something about the law and court cases, perhaps, maybe it was about Washington, D.C.? I do not remember exactly what I did, but I remember my dad use to have access to small white booklets that were like little hard cover books. He brought some books home for me and I remember writing in them.

Come to find out, all these years of special projects and leaving class during reading a few times a week was apparently because I had tested into a "gifted and talented" program. I never knew any of this, all I knew was that I got to work on fun special projects a few times a week and work on word problems, mind puzzles, etc. It was a wonderful time.

Once I moved into Middle School, I remember the program changed. It was less project based and more word problems and Mathletes type based. I remember Mrs. Ganadick (sp) working with us.  I feel like there was some uncertainty for a bit if the program would remain intact. I remember the program was still given during our Reading/English classes and it began to get a bit more awkward getting taken out of class. I don't remember much about Project Acorn in 5-8 grade, and I honestly do not even remember if we had it all four years. I do remember meeting up in a room in the library and getting to hang out with some of my closest friends. I really do not remember what we did, but I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to work on special projects while in school.

In Whitin School, I was introduced to the wonderful world of science fairs. In 5th grade I remember doing an astronomy based project. To this day, I am still super impressed with my 5th grade project. I made a solar system, of course. I bought styrofoam balls and painted one like each planet and then one as the sun and used wooden pegs to make a real revolving solar system (thanks dad). What I think I was most proud of, however, was the night sky my dad helped me build. We used half of a cardboard barrel and screwed it to a flat board. We then cut a hole in the back to insert a flashlight. My dad then drilled holes in the barrel. When we shined the flashlight through it was like a planetarium, almost. When you turned the lights off, you could see the constellations shining through. My parents probably helped me more with these projects that I could ever remember. I just remember thinking they were the coolest things ever!

In sixth grade some of my friends and I decided to have our entire project based on potatoes. We decided to think of as many uses as possible for potatoes. Including a potato clock, potato stamps, etc. I remember loving all of these project based science projects and wish more than anything that I had found a way to keep it up in my every day life.

I honestly think that Project Acorn set me up for a lifetime love of learning (lifelong learning). A real desire to ask questions and learn about things I do not understand. To this day, I still love going to lectures, watching documentaries and writing, for that matter. I question pretty much everything and am always curious of the whys.  I think there is something special to be said about project based learning. Supporting educators, empowering students to create their own projects encourages responsibility, planning and organizing and fosters a real respect for the learning process.

I never feel like I know everything and I always leave room for possibilities in my mind. This all goes back to my imagination and my love of the sciences.

I never really talk about my Project Acorn experiences, it can be an awkward thing to talk about.  I feel lucky that I was in a school where liking to learn was 'ok". You always see shows and hear stories of people being bullied for doing well in school. I have no doubt that there were those that were picked on and it still breaks my heart. I feel extremely lucky that while I was picked on, I was able to keep my geekness and love of learning intact.

I always did well in school, but I also had to work hard. I always did well on our state's standardized testing, but never did well on the PSATs or the SATs. Knowing that for me anyway, there were some things I was good at and some things I was not so good at, I am just grateful my SATs weren't treated as the only important measurement of my ability and capability and in the end did not determine my destiny.

Education is so important, I can only hope that we all continue to work together to figure out what works best for our students. I can only hope that we find a way to allow students that would benefit from project-based learning to do so and have the same opportunities I did. I can only hope that as a human race we can begin to take bullying more seriously and find more ways to support students and educators to set up the optimal environment for all to learn, succeed and grow. Here's to hoping we find ways to encourage science literacy, support curiosity and find patience with our inquisitive children.

To this day, I am still not really sure how this test was scored. I  believe that everyone is "gifted and talented" in their own way.  Cheers to everyone having the opportunity to be an acorn and everyone finding their talent and gift. I know I am still working on finding mine.....

And that's all she wrote....

“We spend the first year of a child's life teaching it to walk and talk and the rest of its life to shut up and sit down. There's something wrong there.” 
 Neil deGrasse Tyson

“Kids are never the problem. They are born scientists. The problem is always the adults. They beat the curiosity out of kids. They outnumber kids. They vote. They wield resources. That's why my public focus is primarily adults.” 
 Neil deGrasse Tyson

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