Category Archives: books

Project Based Learning with The Order of the Trees

I’m excited to share something I’ve wanted to make for a long time. As a former teacher, and current professional development coordinator, I spend a lot of time researching and planning project based learning experiences with teachers. I wanted to create something that could be used as a guide for a project based learning unit based on my middle grade novel, The Order of the Trees, published by Green Writers Press in 2015. 

This website is a working draft of those plans. It can be used while reading the book with students either aloud or in small groups, or it can be used after the book has been read as a culminating, immersive, integrated project.

It is my hope that I can add a student work page to the sites and feature student projects. Please share any work, feedback on the plans, questions or ideas with me! We are in this together. Also, I would be happy to Skype into your classroom to discuss projects with students, or answer their emails.

I hope you find this useful! Weebly is an easy website builder that teachers and students can use to create media rich, beautiful sites pretty quickly. I think that each project having an online home like this could provide a bridge to at home learning and a great way for families to stay connected to project work.  Google sites are also a good tool for this. Often, it helps teachers and students to have an online home for projects. Teachers can easily share curated links and resources this way.

Please let me know if you have any questions, ideas for this unit, or any thoughts about this tool.

“Love is like a tree, it grows of its own accord, it puts down deep roots into our whole being.”
— Victor Hugo

 

Start the School Year: Real and Relevant with Service and Project Based Learning

It’s almost time. Teachers are starting to have cold sweats and stress dreams, but also that seed of excitement and looking forward to seeing their students again. The new school year is upon us.

With everything happening in the world– it is clear to me that the path forward in education is to engage kids in meaningful, relevant, connected work that improves the community and  world, while growing empathy and self-efficacy in kids.

Research has told us that service learning has the capability to disrupt bias and fight stereotypes. We need this now more than ever. We can use project and service based learning as a tool to improve communities, school culture, and empower students to see other perspectives while helping to solve real problems.

I am heartened by all the progress in this regard. Schools across the country to moving toward personalizing learning for students, using tools such as service and project based learning across the curriculum.

In this spirit, I am launching Start the School Year #realandrelevant. My latest book, Real and Relevant: a guide for service and project-based learning,  came out in June, 2017, and is a guide for busy teachers who want to begin or deepen service and project based learning in their classrooms. It is the second edition of this book, and the new edition adds chapters on technology tools; a summary of my research on how service learning at the middle school level can contribute to personal growth; project based learning; and more examples from the field, including updated resources and examples.

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Kids: Get outside, get active, join The Order of the Trees

It’s late summer. The Vermont hills are a deep, verdant green. The ponds and lakes are warm enough for long swims. The bugs are mostly gone, and the trails are good for hiking. It’s a magical, fleeting time in the Northeast.

But I’ve just read something I can’t shake. It’s something many parents and teachers have long suspected. How cellphones in the hands of kids ages 14 and younger can be harmful in many ways– kids are staying inside more, interacting less in person, losing skills, deep connections, and childhood and adolescent experiences. According to this article in the Atlantic, and on NPR, kids who spend lots of time on their phones have increased anxiety, depression, and rates of obesity.

It’s pretty disturbing.

Lest you think, gah! That is only one article, The National Wildlife Organization gives us a reality check:

  • Children are spending half as much time outdoors as they did 20 years ago. (Juster et al 2004); (Burdette & Whitaker 2005); (Kuo & Sullivan 2001)
  • Today, kids 8-18 years old devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes using entertainment media in a typical day (more than 53 hours a week). (Kaiser Family Foundation)
  • In a typical week, only 6% of children ages 9-13 play outside on their own. (Children & Nature Network, 2008)
  • Children who play outside are more physically active, more creative in their play, less aggressive and show better concentration. (Burdette and Whitaker, 2005; Ginsburg et al., 2007)
  • Sixty minutes of daily unstructured free play is essential to children’s physical and mental health. (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2008)
  • The most direct route to caring for the environment as an adult is participating in “wild nature activities” before the age of 11. (Wells and Lekies, 2006)”

I’m also acutely aware of the power of technology to engage kids, motivate them, and provide a vehicle for creativity and sharing. This has me thinking about The Order of the Trees, the middle grade novel I wrote  and was published by Green Writers Press in 2015. In this eco-adventure, sixth grade Cedar looks like her namesake, and discovers, along with her friend Phillip, a deep and powerful connection to the old growth forest by her home in Vermont. They visit the forest and start a club called The Order of the Trees. Soon they learn that Cedar’s health is threatened and they can’t figure out why– and they must, before it is too late.

Readers have told me that the book motivates kids to explore outside, and to take action to protect local habitats. It can be a stream, river, local park or open space. Whatever it is, get out in it, explore it, write about it, draw it and help your kids do the same. Give your kids lots of unstructured time to play outside, to build things like forts and imaginary worlds. And try to find ways to protect open spaces in your community.  Read in the woods! Preferably, like Cedar, in a tree.

I’m inspired by this article, and the work of The Children and Nature Network, to encourage kids to read, be outside, and to take action in their communities.

In this back to school month, we will be featuring forests, kids in nature, and kids taking action. I’ll tag photos  with #orderofthetrees on Instagram and Twitter. At the end of August, we will give away a few copies of the book to start the school year off right, with reading and nature.

Please join me in helping kids see the value in nature, the value of using their voices, and taking back childhood from screens. Share your own ideas, photos, and thoughts in the comments, on Facebook, Instagram or on Twitter– then set the phone down and enjoy summer’s finest before it is gone! 🙂