Monday, November 15, 2010

Calculating the Speed of Mess

I have to believe that if Garth Sundem lived in Ann Arbor, he'd be a SK parent. This delicious bit of parenting nerdiness is from Garth's Geek Dad column at Wired Magazine.  Enjoy!


Calculating The Speed of Mess

Jonathan Liu's inspiration for this post

Equations relating speed and mass go back to Newton and beyond. But after I got geeky with an equation for Halloween candy, Geek Dads Jonathan Liu and John Booth hit me with an intriguing question: what about relating speed and MESS? Simply, how fast should you expect a clean kids’ room to get messy?

Said GD’s did the better part of the brainstorming and I did the factor slapping, to produce the collaborative equation below. Plug in your family’s numbers to discover how many square feet per hour your kid’s room will accumulate non-traversable junk. For the ├╝ber geeks out there, keep reading below the equation for more mathematical sweetness you can do with the Speed of Mess.

Here, for your practical use and cerebral edification is the mathematically certain (wink, wink) Speed of Mess:


•  K#= The number of kids playing in the room
•  KA= The average age of K#
•  KB1= Is one of K# a boy between ages 6 and 13? Enter 1 for yes and 0 for no.
•  KB2= Enter age of boy between 6 and 13. These are the planet’s messiest beasts.
•  F= Fodder: Generally, how much junk (toys, clothes, books, reptiles, etc.) does your child’s room contain? 1-10 with 10 being Lloyd from the show Hoarders
•  N= In days, the newness of any single game, toy, or book
•  PE= Parental energy: 1-10 with 1 being “new baby” and 10 being “methamphetamines”
•  PS= Parental strictness: 1-10 with 10 being Sir, yes sir! and 1 being Duuuude!
•  T= In Fahrenheit, the temperature outdoors (add 25 “degrees” for sleddable snow)
•  S= Storage: 1-10 with 10 being wire bins to the ceilings and ample closet space and 1 being bare, padded room (though let me also point out the usefulness of the latter)
•  C= Percentage of occupied time in which K are using a computer, TV, game console or other screen-based entertainment

SOM is the square feet per hour that your kids’ room will collect mess that precludes passage. Max for three, 10-year-old boys with no storage, lax, exhausted parents and lots o’ stuff is 85.33 ft^2/hr and min for one, 17-year-old with strict, energetic parents, with little stuff and ample storage (on a nice day, etc.) is 0.21 ft^2/hr.

Further mathematical sweetness:
Notice that the speed of mess is like a velocity. By calculating “velocities” for each hour in a single day and summing these velocities, you could discover how many square feet of junk accumulates per day (those willing to get down with calc could do it more accurately). Then, using the total area of the room and the percentage coverage at which point you go batty, you could calculate how often you need to instigate a massive cleaning effort (MCE). There’s lotsa other cool stuff you could do with SOM—any suggestions?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Taking Flight

I love after-after-care time. Usually my kids are running in and out of the house, playing with friends, grabbing an apple or a drink and sharing little bits of the day as my husband or I cook dinner. I catch glimpses and glimmers of David's school day in these moments, stories of his wonderful music class with Jan or how Ruth challenged them to draw a portrait. There's always something about Mrs. Carpenter's exciting science adventures or Imogen's leaping back in time in Latin. But today's conversation was something unique, something that both taught us a little bit about appreciation. It went something like this:

Me: So, D, what was your favorite thing in school today?

D: Well, Christian Bok came and did poetry, really cool poetry, poetry without words that just had sounds in it.

Me: Huh, like what?

D: [making the most amazing popping and zipping sounds]

Me: What's that about?

D: Oh, Dada poetry, Mama.

Me: Dada poetry? You are studying Dada poetry?

D: Uh, yeah... [insert a "duh" like sound here]

Me: D, do you realize that I didn't even know what Dada was until I was 13 years old?

D: [shocked] REALLY?

Me: Yeah, and remember last year in Latin when Imogen talked about water and the poetry of Ovid? I didn't know about Ovid until I was 13 either. Or French, I didn't start to study French until I was 13 either.

D: [mouth open] REALLY?

Me: Really.

D: Mama, when did you study Chinese?

Me: [blink, blink] I have never studied Chinese, D.

D: [blink, blink] Wow.

You can imagine that this went on for quite awhile, us rehashing the whys of why it took me 13 years to get to study the things he is experiencing in 2nd grade. Frankly, I didn't have a whole lot of good answers for him. We talked a lot about the way that some schools have changed and why engaging and creative schools like Summers-Knoll are so special and what going to a progressive, hands-on school gives to kids (lots of agreement here). He asked me a lot about what I liked about my old school (reading, which I seemed to do for hours after I finished my worksheets) and what I didn't like (being bored, mean kids) and I asked him what he liked about his (everything) and what he didn't like (leaving at the end of the day). It was one of those talks where you know that it's worth it, that this is the right time for your child to be so enamored of school, that these experiences lay critical foundations for a lifetime.

Truth be told, I think often about the gift that this school is to my son. I think about the families, alums and friends who contribute to our Annual Fund to support scholarships and ongoing expenses not covered by tuition (tuition that in another city would be thousands more). I think of the volunteer hours people put in to make sure the school operates smoothly. I think of the parents who ensure that kids have a chance to meet amazing people like Christian Bok (thanks Christine!). I think about the parents that know my child by name and care about the day he's having and about the teachers who get him and love him and the HoS that I can call on when I need advice. Yes, it's amazingly cool that he studies Dada and Latin and Chinese and learns about Leonardo's Flying Machine. And it's cool that he's doing great math and learning about punctuation and how to spell like a champ and all of those other skills that are needed too. And it's all part and parcel of the bigger broadening and developing of his mind  that will keep his curiosity and thirst for learning alive for far into the future.

Solid ground to stand on, wings to fly.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

If your kiddo comes home asking about Jimi Hendrix...

there's good reason.

Along with the great creators and innovators that the children are studying as part of the Renaissance theme, Hendrix's genius was of topic at this morning's school gathering.

Jimi Hendrix? How in the world would Jimi Hendrix make it into an all-school meeting? Elaine's brilliance of capturing the moment, that's how.

This morning Elaine led the school gathering and mentioned that since there were no student birthdays to recognize, she thought she'd talk a little bit about someone's birthday that she'd heard about on the radio this morning.

She told the students a little bit about Jimi Hendrix, who is considered by many to be one of the greatest guitar players of all time.

She mentioned that Jimi had mastered the guitar at a young age and, with that mastery, was able to free his mind to create some of the most amazing guitar music. She said he created music with the guitar that people couldn't ever imagine could happen.

And then she looked across the room at all of these beautiful faces and told them that she thought of our Summers-Knoll students when she was thinking of how Hendrix worked hard to master something and then made something so beautiful and amazing out of his passion. That they were working hard every day to learn and master math and writing and science and art and that she believed that they too would do and create things that would be just as amazing as Jimi Hendrix's work.

[This would be the part where I got totally teary.]

And these beautiful kids looked right back at her with the confidence that they too could be the next Hendrix or maybe the next Leonardo or Galileo. That their potential was limitless and that their gifts and talents could be used in the venue that best suited their lives. As Leonardo used the pencil so Hendrix used the guitar.  That's what was so amazing (and what set off the misty eyes). Elaine's gift for taking something in the moment and weaving this great story of mastery and passion into what she thought our children could accomplish themselves. Plus the look on the faces of the kids who live daily with the knowledge that their guides on this journey of learning believe in them and in their abilities in such a profoundly cool way.

So I leave you with Little Wing and hope that this post finds you fulfilling some powerful part of yourself, something you've mastered and feel passionate about, something that you can share with the world that expands the mind and fulfills the heart.

(The school gathering: Which I love, by the way. What a cool way to start the day as a community, centered on learning and seeing everyone's smiling faces!)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Creativity Crisis

I just received this great email from Miina (mom to Emi and Ella) and thought I'd pass it along. Great article. Thanks, Miina!


Hi Fran,
I thought maybe this article about creativity would be of interest for
SK parents to read...? If you think so too, please add the link to the
parents blog.

The Creativity Crisis
For the first time, research shows that American creativity is
declining. What went wrong—and how we can fix it

I think especailly this paragraph fits very well to S-K's way of
teaching (or how it should be done):

"Researchers say creativity should be taken out of the art room and put
into homeroom. The argument that we can’t teach creativity because
kids already have too much to learn is a false trade-off. Creativity
isn’t about freedom from concrete facts. Rather, fact-finding and deep
research are vital stages in the creative process. Scholars argue that
current curriculum standards can still be met, if taught in a different


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Begin the Begin

The school looked so fresh and lovely today after what must have been hours of cleaning and readying by our faculty and staff. New faces came peering around corners and looking down the hall while old friends gabbed and laughed and celebrated another chance to learn and play and grow.

This is the third year my son David awoke to begin his school year at Summers-Knoll and as I looked at the sweet Kindergartners coming in this morning, I could barely believe that the time had flown from when he himself walked through with big, anxious eyes. In our family, each year we "begin the begin" (with that fabulous REM song rocking in our ears)...we do a mad dash out for school clothes, scrub the dirt from our bare feet and get to bed early to train for the upcoming mornings. We talk excitedly of new teachers (full of surprises) or old teachers (comfortable as slippers) and what may happen with school approaching. We nest a little, prepare a little, Fall blows in to remind us that it's time and that the beginning is beginning. And then we walk, once again, into the familiar beauty of a that stone-covered building which has become a second home, into the arms of waiting friends who bring stories of their summer days and who, like we, are full of anticipation for what is to come.

Any of you who have peeled through old posts on this parent blog know that I am amazed at what transpires at Summers-Knoll. The deep relationships children develop amongst themselves, the camaraderie between faculty, the appreciation I feel for so many parents knowing my child by name and meeting him with a warm smile and a kind word. His brain is alive in this space and his eyes dance and thrill at the experience of new adventures, scaffolded by loving, thoughtful and intentional guides who want him to develop into a smart, competent and responsible young man. And, goodness, how did he get to be in second grade already? This school is a gift to us, magical and sound. Lovely. Real.

So here is to the beginning of our journey together. If you are new to our community, it is now *your* community. Grab a returning parent and ask a question, linger for coffee and talk to Joanna and the faculty about what is going on with  you and your family. Your family's threads strengthen the fabric of our community in special and important ways.

[and, if any of you would like to write for the parent blog, please let me know!]

Fran Loosen
(mom to David Giardino, 2nd grade).

Monday, May 3, 2010

Great kids, great families making a difference.

Today over my morning cup of Mighty Good Coffee, I had the chance to catch Paul Schutt (Dad of Oli in Mrs. Adhikary's K/1 class) on Michigan Radio describing his "3 Things" he'd do to improve Michigan.

Paul's response was fantastic and reminded me of the amazing parents we have in this school who work daily to build community, improve our economy, seed arts and culture and weave the fabric of what makes this area special. Take a minute to go beyond the drop off "hello" with any SK parent and you will find smart, connected, caring and giving people who have wonderful passions to share.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Walking a Step Behind

I am an orange and my son is a blue. I sit a few kids down from him in the lineup, our white uniforms only differentiated by the belts we have earned in our time under Master Fancher's watchful eye. David ranks above me, having studied longer than I and having (in reality) put much more heart and soul into the study of Tang Soo Do in his short time as a student. When he's the senior belt, the customary Korean salutation comes easily off of his lips at the end of our work. As a student, he is eager to respond to Master Fancher's questions at the close of class. He bows with deep respect to Master Fancher, not only his teacher but his best buddy Toussaint's dad. This is his space of confidence and competence. Once we were talking about the things that kids are good at in school. "Stanley R. is a math guy", he said "and he knows all of the bus routes in Ann Arbor. You could ask him anywhere to go and he could tell you. He's that good." So I asked what his 'thing' was, and he thought for a minute, his dark eyes a bit narrowed while he considered it. "Karate," he finally said with an enormous smile.  "I think I am really good at karate."               (above: David G. gets his blue belt)

I started studying Tang Soo Do after taking David to martial arts classes for a couple of months. Parents who were participating in the class would say "Oh, it's just a matter of time until you's fun, why not work out if you are going to sit there?" And, slowly, nearly all of the parents joined, drawn a bit by the "why not?" of the class, a bit by the bond that it created with their child. Now we have Ollie G in our class, Ian B., Amelia M. and Stanley C....followed by Karen G., Kristen B. and Steve C. who aim great kicks, work hard and take seriously the work at hand.

(Karen G. rockin' the flying side kick)

But walking a step behind my son in this process has added a dimension to our relationship that I never would have anticipated. For the hours and days this child has spent in my tutelage, he is now a bit of the teacher...and a gentle and loving one at that. "Mom, so I was thinking about your stance tonight," he says, with sweet and honest eyes, "when you are kicking your arms are too far away from  your body. Someone could hurt you. You should try to keep them in tight, to defend yourself." And, he's right. When doing my kicks tonight I noticed that I was not keeping close to my core, that I felt off balance. He'd noticed and been able to give me that feedback in a way that not only did not make me defensive, but made me want to ask him more. "What else did you see, D?" "Well, you do really well on that front kick, and the side one, those are your best two. The back one you don't do as well. But I think if you keep working on it you will get it. It's just a matter of keeping with it. That's what Master Fancher says."

And to that, I smiled. My 4' tall warrior providing me with insights that were valuable and honest, but loving and fair at the same time.

There are so few times we get a chance to walk a step behind our children, to let them teach us what they know and to share insights that maybe we have missed along the way. Being at S-K has taught me that teaching-- from child to child, adult to child, child to adult-- is the highest form of learning. By letting our children share with us what they know and engage in their learning, we both win. As the ancient saying goes "when one teaches, two learn".

P.S. If you are considering martial arts for your child, there is no greater teacher (in my humble opinion) than Master Mark Fancher, S-K parent. Classes are held multiple times per week at the Washtenaw Community College Occupational Ed building. Mark is amazing with the children and does this work (after his day job and multiple community commitments) because of his love for the Tang Soo Do tradition and what it brings to young people. 

The 5 Codes of Tang Soo Do:
1) Be loyal to your leaders
2) Obedience to parents
3) Honor friendships
4) Always finish what you start
5) In fighting, choose with sense and honor

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A little thought to ponder.

"I don't believe children can develop in a healthy way unless they feel that they have value apart from anything they own or any skill that they learn. They need to feel they enhance the life of someone else, that they are needed. Who, better than parents,... can let them know that?" 
 - Mister Rogers

How do we give children the opportunity to show that they are valued beyond their skills and possessions? How can we let them know that they are empowered to do great things and make real change in the world?  Something to think about as we parents help shape the future through our children.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Not So Ready for the Summer...If It Means No Math!

David and I were driving to school today, peering out at the snow blowing about and singing Lisa Loeb's "Are You Ready for the Summer?" at the top of our lungs. The song was revving into "No more math and history/summer time has set us free!"when David stopped singing, looked at me and said "No more math? AWWWWWWW! No fair!"

I nearly fell over laughing.  Here is my 6.5 year old kid pining away for the sun and the thing that he thinks of first in being "freed" from school is the idea that he won't be able to work in his math book.

The kid. loves. his. school.

I walked inside still chuckling and told Susan Carpenter about the exchange in the car. She confided that when the kids in her class are chatting a little too much, she shakes her head and says "hey guys, you're cutting into math time", to which the kids respond with an "oh no!" and get back with their work.

Her kids. love. math. (and spelling too...all sorts of things, actually)

It's still so amazing to me to watch kids zoom into school, excited to learn, feeling that what they do is fun and enjoyable, not arduous and boring.

Recently I read a paper written by a researcher at the Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement at the University of Minnesota that was describing what they call "Authentic Intellectual Work", work that "requires high-level cognitive performance (i.e., rigorous, in-depth understanding instead of only superficial acquaintance with memorized bits of knowledge) and it results in personally, aesthetically or socially useful products and services, instead of completed exercises that were contrived only for the purpose showing of competence or to please teachers." (Avery, Patricia G. Authentic Student Performance, Assessment Tasks, and Instruction)

Now, they don't talk about fun here, and they don't talk about missing your math book in the summer or wanting to take your spelling list out on the playground, but they do talk about work that is personally meaningful. Work that resonates with children beyond simply showing what they know or scoring well on a test.

The paper demonstrated two assignments given to two different 8th grade geography classes in Minnesota.

The first thing that struck me was that the Figure 2 assignment is a (somewhat simplified) variation of the kind of experiences that our K-5th graders have every day at S-K.

The second thing was the contrast in the depth of learning that each assignment enabled.

The third thing was that our S-K project would integrate art, music, food and culture into the assignment. Children would be working in groups to discover and synthesize the information. Each would bring his/her own talents to the team. They would learn together and work to the best end as a team.

Imagine what information a child holds in his or her mind after a textbook-based assignment like Figure 1 versus a project-based learning experience like Figure 2.

The article concluded with some excellent questions designed to spark thinking about the quality of learning experiences for students:

1) To what extent does the task require students to organize, synthesize, interpret, explain, or evaluate complex information? (Student Construction or Knowledge)  
2) To what extent does the task require students to use methods of inquiry, research or communication characteristic of an academic or professional discipline? (Disciplinary Content and Process)    

3) To what extent does the task require students to address a question, issue or problem similar to one they have encountered, or are likely to encounter, in life beyond the classroom? (Value Beyond the Classroom)

Peel through the layers of the teachers' blogs and see how the projects they do in class ignite and excite the learning mind and how they stack up to those questions. As the authors of another paper note, "Participation in authentic intellectual activity appears to motivate students to invest in the hard work that learning requires, including learning the basics, more so than traditional schooling. Teachers report that authentic work is often more interesting and meaningful to students than repeated drill aimed at disconnected knowledge and skills. Research also indicates that students exposed to authentic intellectual challenges are more engaged in their schoolwork than students exposed to more conventional schoolwork." (Avery, 1999; Kane et al., 1997; Marks (in press); Newmann & Associates, 1996).

Our classrooms abound with amazing learning that leads children to stretch their inquisitive minds and become critical thinkers and creative problem solvers as adults. And budding math nerds who sigh that summer means the loss of math time even in the deepest winter snow. :)

Hopefully the weather will clear and permit us to gather together this Thursday for our S-K Community Meeting. I look forward to seeing you all there.

P.S. In case your own kids aren't ready to give up math for the summer, be sure to check out S-K's amazing assortment of math, language, science and creative arts programming for summer camp.  Brochures are available at the sign-in desk and hurry to register as there are indications that the camps will be in high demand this year.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Narrative

I posted the following bit to a parents' listserv that I am part of in Ann Arbor (arborparents, it's great!) and thought I would add it here even though it is only a little slice of what we do and was in response to a previous poster's question about independent schools.

Our fantastic new parent, Karen Godwin, noted the other day that we don't spend enough time on the story of what happens with children at Summers-Knoll in our materials and publications and she is so right. Amazing, funny, excellent stories abound here every day. Each child has his/her own path that led to S-K, and each has his/her own story of learning that is waiting to be told. The stories are most alive in the teacher blogs and in Joanna's posts, but we don't hear from parents nearly enough.

So over the next few months we will be asking for and celebrating the stories of our families and children in order to give more life to our narrative and let our community know what a unique and special place this is.

"Magical"as Karen describes it.

I couldn't agree more.
Posted on Arborparents on January 5th, 2010

I love more than anything hearing about parent's great experiences with independent schools in the area. Ann Arbor is lucky to have a number of really great school options, each very different from the next. And, because I am a shameless promoter of the wonderful school my son attends, and because this is the season when parents are getting into thinking about schools, I wanted to throw out the value of looking at a school like Summers-Knoll.

My son started at S-K last year after having been at a Montessori school for a couple of years (and aged out). The transition to S-K was extremely smooth. Teachers at S-K are amazing and have a facility with multiple modes of teaching. If a child needs something sensorial, they may employ Montessori techniques or pull from Reggio Emilio or Waldorf. Because the school is not tied to one pedagogical practice, teachers can be fluid with the needs of the child. The school is fundamentally a progressive learning environment, meaning that children learn through hands-on work and experiential learning. The emphasis is both on community learning (learning as a community within the school and breaking down the walls of the school to learn in the larger community and globe) and individual mastery. The community learning piece is huge piece of what makes the school so special. Not only do we have multi-age classrooms, but we have an integrated learning environment that engages the entire school body on monthly themes and encourages children to transfer learning between disciplines. For example, September's theme was North Africa and within that theme, children worked with math, language, science, culture and history--and all of these beautiful synergies happened like studying the geometric forms dominant in Islamic art and discovering the movement of language across the northern continent and the like. The month then culminated in the children researching from N. African recipes, harvesting vegetables at Tantre Farms and producing a feast for 196 people with Alex Young of Zingerman's Roadhouse, really breaking down the walls of the classroom to take learning into the community. Because of the truly small class sizes (capped at 12-14 per class) and talented teachers, there is a lot of discovery and flexibility that happens in the classroom and the children carry those threads from one experience to another. In another month where "farming" was the theme, the 4-5 class teacher introduced Shakespeare's "As You Like It" for its pastoral scenes and the students themselves took off with it and produced and presented an entire production of the play at the Kerrytown Concert House before the break.

S-K is a school for bright, creative and gifted students which, like Chris noted for Emerson, means that we have children who learn at different levels and have different talents in different areas.  One area that this shines for S-K is in our math program. We use Singapore Math, which is a fantastic self-paced program that allows children to race ahead if they need to or to work at grade level, whatever their need, as the backbone of the program as well as all sorts of different hands-on, creative, real-life, exploratory math that utilizes different resources as appropriate (Montessori, etc) . All kids do math at the same time, so children move to other classrooms to work with their learning peers and we have a fabulous Phd who comes in to do work with kids who are learning at a really accelerated rate. The value that this brings to children is immeasurable. Parents have told me that their children say "I don't have to wait to do my work" and "I can work as quickly as my mind wants to". This is where the "individual mastery" of the program comes in. Children learn solidly across all disciplines and are able to explore and dig deep in areas that give them exceptional excitement. There is a love of learning in that school that I have never before seen in my life.

We have a phenomenal Orff-based music program, an art program that rivals any I have seen in highschool (figurative model making in 4th grade, ceramics, drawing--you wouldn't believe how cool it is) and an exciting and engaging french and Latin program starting in Kindergarten. My son still muses about the Muses that he discovered in Imogen's class as a Kindergartener. We are also an urban campus (right off of Washtenaw near Trader Joe's) on County Farm park, so we utilize the best of both the natural environment and what Ann Arbor has to offer. Being on the park and such a part of the city demonstrates to the students that they are stewards of public goods and that they have a responsibility to work for and care for what the community offers to them. This is not a fancy or flashy school. 30% of our kids get some form of financial aid and the emphasis is really more on using what you have well, something I really appreciate.

I could go on and on, obviously, but the other thing that I will finally say about the school is that it is like a family in many ways. One parent commented that S-K is "like homeschooling on steroids" and I really agree with him. The school, for our family, is an extension of our family's personal values and the truly personalized attention that my son gets is unmatched in any school around. The children are engaged in a environment that asks them to understand themselves both as individuals and in the context of community. Community service is a big part of the curriculum as is teamwork, leadership, compassion and diversity. The 2/3 class works deeply in "tribes", learning about differences and similarities, about solving problems and handling conflict. The school believes that the child's emotional, social and interpersonal development is every bit as important as the intellectual challenge they find at school. In other words, you can be the smartest kid in the world but if you can't work well with others, you will never be able to achieve all that is possible with your talents. It makes me want to go back to grade school, something I never thought I would say in my life. A friend whose son started K this year describes S-K as "magical". She's watched him race ahead in math, french, writing in ways she never knew possible in just a few months. He dazzles her daily with what he knows and runs into school every morning, eager to start his day.  She's kind of in love with the place, just like I am. :)

So, I truly believe we are lucky to have all of these fantastic schools in A2, each with their own, distinct personality. I think you know when you walk through a school what culture would work for your child. We visited S-K first and came back to it after looking far and wide, and really took the time to see it through the eyes of an elementary-aged child. The tight-knit parent community, the fact that parents know the names of all the children walking through the doors, the connected relationships with the teachers that parents have...these were all important to us and very much a part of S-K's DNA. It's also a really wonderful place for a child to land if a family is moving to A2 from a different community mid-year. The children embrace new children, as does the parent community. It's a safe spot and a wonderful transition into a new space.

I'd be happy to speak to anyone about Summers-Knoll and what led us to our choice and can elaborate on things like financial aid, our explorations classes, after-school enrichment activities, etc. Obviously I am biased but I truly believe that the choices out there are wonderful and it is really a matter of what is the best fit.