Storytelling with Drake Students

Martha and I bundled up on a very snowy morning in early January, and drove to the Hotel Pattee in Perry Iowa. Lopso, the resident dog greeted us warmly at the back door. His name complements the fact that he had three legs, making him lopsided. He became a caring presence to us and the students. Lopso wandered in and out of our session, and paused only for his hotdog lunch.

Carol Spaulding-Kruse had asked us to facilitate three hours of yoga with Drake students during a J-Term class, focusing on the intersection of yoga and writing. We focused our session on Hanuman, the monkey-faced god of the Hindu myths. Even though Hanuman’s story is centuries old, its lessons are still relevant today. The Ramayana is one of India’s most popular myths. In it Ram asks Hanuman to complete several difficult and challenging tasks, that he believes are impossible. Each and every time, Hanuman tells himself that he cannot accomplish such enormous tasks, and yet, he always does. He’s been telling himself a story that simply wasn’t true.

Lopso the three-legged dog at Hotel Pattee
Sweet Lopso approved our message, however he stood firm that he could not skip his hotdog lunch.

As we told Hanuman’s story, we asked the students to consider the stories they tell themselves. Martha and I urged them to note which stories are true, and which are not. Sometimes in our minds, we tell ourselves stories like, “I’m not funny” or, “I’m too shy.” Because the stories aren’t always true, necessary, or helpful, they limit our capacity to experience our full humanity. We told the Drake students some stories we’ve told ourselves, and how they’ve not always been helpful, true, or necessary.

Yoga asks us to occupy space, to relish in the full capacity of our humanity. Hanuman reminds us we can do hard–even impossible–things, even when we’ve been telling ourselves we can’t.

We’re Gardeners!

That’s what my four-year-old granddaughter says as we plant fall crops. I always tell folks who work with kids in gardens, it’s not about the plants. It’s about the kids.

Tell Me Something Good

I’ve worked with Des Moines kids since 1980. Sometimes it’s hard to be optimistic when the challenges seem to multiply each year. But this article and the statistics it uses to illustrate its points provides some tangible examples of progress.DSC_0285

This morning I taught art to half a dozen boys who attend a group home for various problems they’ve had at home. We start each week with an art journal. Today more than one boy started their journals with, “I hate my life.”

I gradually introduced different media, first crayons. I asked the boys to experiment with using different pressure, and mixing different colors. Then I passed out watercolors and had them paint over their crayon drawings and see what happened.

They really got excited when I put their watercolor paper under the faucet and told them to go experiment with putting watercolor on it. They tried brushing, splattering, dripping. Their attempts produced a variety of results, but the product isn’t the point with these young men.

The point is building self confidence and a sense of mastery. Using simple tools and media gives these boys a chance to succeed, to produce something they’re proud of, whether it’s for the spring show or to take home to decorate their rooms.

DSC_0330Last week we built structures per Andy Goldsworthy. First we watched the movie Rivers and Tides as well as a satire my cousin created. The idea of just creating a piece of art was a little too abstract, so I asked them to build structures. They learned collaboration, creativity, perseverance and problem solving through the activity.

They climbed trees, got dirty and wet, and came up with several different approaches. Today when we walked back to the woods, their shelters were still there. And they crawled into them.DSC_0278

Remember Evelyn Davis?

I started working in Des Moines in 1980 when I was fresh out of graduate school. Iowa State University Extension hired two urban 4-H professionals to fill one position. The Polk County Extension Director’s reaction was not warm. “There’s no such thing as a free puppy” was his frequent response to our requests.

Extension negotiated with Evelyn Davis for free rent in exchange for free programming with the families, kids and staff at Tiny Tots, and we moved into an old classroom on the second floor of the old Nash Irving Middle School, then the home of Evelyn Davis’ Tiny Tots Center. It was a cold day in February 1980, and Horticulture Specialist Mohammad Khan took us on a breakneck tour through the “hood” in his tiny Nissan. Things have improved a lot since then. Hofmaster and I learned our way around the city by being lost a good deal of the time.

Evelyn Davis’ work continues through the Evelyn K. Davis Center for Working Families. The Center houses Gateway to College and other programs for individuals and families that struggle to make ends meet, much less get ahead. Ms. Davis was a force of nature that impacted me personally as well as professionally.

I felt my baby’s first kick in the hallway at Tiny Tots waiting out a tornado warning. When I brought Kate to the center a month or so after she was born, Ms. Davis took my crying child from Charlene Owens’ arms and she quieted and settled against that warm caring heart immediately.

Ms. Davis helped our nutrition education programs connect with other organizations in the community, and let us hone our teaching skills on her staff and clients. Our joint efforts brought additional ISU staff to the community to work with parenting skills, nutrition education and advise on home improvement. We turned those three classrooms into a real inner city Extension Office that impacted the community for four years.

Now the site of the old Tiny Tots Center is Evelyn Davis Park where we held our first 4-H Portable Challenge Training. We brought Sam Tower in from Washington State University to spend a week with 12 professionals from Extension, Des Moines Schools and Employee and Family Resources. Those five days began the adventure movement in the Des Moines area. That fall we created a physical education class for kids who were at risk of dropping out of high school because they were failing PE. Soon we added afterschool and summer programs, and finally corporate training and work with adult students.

Ten years later we started the Adventure Learning Center with Living History Farms and Polk County Conservation, still the premier course in Iowa. And that’s where I learned to climb poles. But that’s another story!

Clean and Green Your Second Grade Class

With this Clean and Green Second Grade Program Guide, the first phase of the Keep Iowa Beautiful service learning, litter-free schools, environmental education, character building program is officially ready for piloting! With help from the Waste Commission of Scott CountyCharacter Counts! in Iowa, Davenport Public Schools, we are ready to send teachers and kids out to the playground and community to find ways to make them better while they are learning the essential concepts of the Common Core Second Grade State Standards for Mathematics, Life Science, Social Studies, Literacy and 21st Century Skills. The Second Grade Matrix of 20 activities is based on the Core and the Four Keys of Character Education-safe, challenging community, self study, other study and public performance-to assure that we help teachers incorporate best practice in their classrooms.

The guide is flexible; it has engaging activities for the classroom, afterschool and summer programs. Each of the activities can stand on its own, but it will be more powerful if used as a comprehensive unit. During this pilot year, we’ll collect feedback from as many of you as possible, and change the program guide in response to that feedback. Watch this Web Site for online surveys, send feedback to Martha McCormick, or add your comments to this post itself.

Clean and Green Your Kindergarten Class

I am excited to present the Clean and Green Kindergarten Program Guide. Thanks to Keep Iowa Beautiful, the Waste Commission of Scott County and Character Counts! in Iowa, we are ready to pilot it in Davenport Public Schools. The guide is flexible; it has engaging activities for the classroom, afterschool and summer programs.

Each of the activities can stand on its own, but it is more powerful if  used as a comprehensive unit. During this pilot year, we’ll collect feedback from as many people as possible, and change the program guide in response to your feedback. Watch this Web Site for online surveys, send feedback to Martha McCormick, or add your comments to this post itself.

The Clean and Green Kindergarten Matrix of 20 activities is based on the Common Core Standards for Mathematics, Life Science, Social Studies, Literacy and 21st Century Skills. We used the Four Keys of Character Education–safe, challenging community, self study, other study and public performance–as the other axis of the matrix to assure that we help teachers incorporate best practice in their classrooms.

Please check out the Clean and Green Kindergarten Program Guide. Download and try the lesson plans. Here are some of our favorites–

  • Collaboration with Nature and Math
  • Cricket Thermometer
  • Composting with Worms
  • Neighborhood Maps
  • Three-Letter Word Forming
  • Haikus and Wordles
  • Thinker’s Scavenger Hunt
  • Flat Stanley Recycled with Pattern

Keep Iowa Beautiful

I’m working with Keep Iowa Beautiful and the Waste Commission of Scott County to provide educators with a program guide and resources for teaching…

  • Service learning
  • Litter free schools
  • Character
  • Environmental education

…all organized around the Iowa Core and Common Core Standards. I’m using this post to run things by the Steering Committee, get reactions and involve them in pulling it together. I’ll make changes to the resources and continually update the committee as the program comes together.

Help us stay on task by posting comments to this page. Here are some of the resources we used to develop the program guide.

Learn through Service

Service learning is more than picking up litter and cutting down trees. Kids and adults can have fun and learn a lot from doing such activities together. But to have a bigger impact, service learning must be well planned and provide opportunities for reflection and feedback.

Experiences with the best outcomes include youth voice and choice, varied processing opportunities and reflection that informs future planning. Here are some resources to help you get started.

Do you have a group of youth that might be interested in creating social change, but isn’t sure?

Well, that’s a start. It doesn’t take much surfing to find lots of inspiration and help for  getting involved in service learning; check it out!

See the iJAG Survey

I am working with iJAG (Iowa Jobs for America’s Graduates) to assess longterm outcomes for graduates of the program. iJAG is working hard to increase the high school graduation rate in Iowa and have staff and programs in high schools from Sioux City to Keokuk and Dubuque to Council Bluffs. This survey is designed to get an idea of how graduates are doing on continuing their education, finding quality jobs and careers.

Here is a link to survey, and to the results.

Engineer Your World

When I was growing up and even until I went on college visits with my nephew Wil, I had no idea how much engineering is a part of all aspects of life–travel, energy, safe water, medicine, almost everything.

Wil is a junior now at ISU’s College of Engineering. He’s having a great time (maybe a greater time than his parents would like him to have) and some interesting learning experiences. He will be going to California to talk about a project he’s been working on for Pella Windows as part of Team Tech through the Society of Women in Engineering (SWE).

Unfortunately, the number of women in engineering is still much lower than the number of men. Engineer Girl is trying to change that with this Web site where girls can explore careers and meet people who are doing the work. The site is sponsored by the National Academy of EngineeringEngineer Your Life is easy to navigate, has video profiles of female engineers and a lot of information on–

Let us know about YOUR engineering adventure!