June 2008 Archives

TLT faculty fellow

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Started my adventure as a faculty fellow with Penn State's Teaching & Learning with Technology group yesterday. The focus of the project I am working on will explore the potential and possibilities of blogs as portfolios. One aim is to engage students in discourse about their development as a professional via blogs. We are documenting our progress and thinking in the open. Visit the wiki to learn more.

I spent my first morning updating the project wiki and meeting with Brad and Chris who will be my collaborators on the project. We are trying to get to know each other, share our thinking, and set a course for the summer. More to come as things unfold...

Cheerio

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My last day in Bognor was lovely. Duncan and Peter collected me at 8:30 AM and we spent the morning visiting St. Mary's Primary School where Peter is a Year 2 student (equivalent to Grade 1 in the US). The school is small, with about 34 new students admitted each year -- about 238 total students. It was the culmination of their Passport to the World experience. Each class had been studying a different country (e.g., France, Poland, Spain, South Africa), and the children were preparing for parents to visit in the afternoon. The excitement was palpable and the kids eagerly shared with me what the had been learning.

uk-kids.jpgI spent the afternoon back at University of Chichester visiting teacher education students' presentations of their Creative Journeys projects. The highlight for me was the live link between Year 6 students from St. Mary's and Grade 9-10 students from South Africa. Children from both groups shared their interests and accomplishments, sang a traditional African song together, and celebrated the birthday of one of the children. I was struck by how the children giggled at the same things and engaged wholeheartedly in a genuinely remarkable experience. Well done UC students!

I spent a few hours with Chris Shelton at the end of the day, comparing notes and processing the experience. Chris is the co-PI with Jamie Myers on the grant that supported my travel. He is responsible for teaching the ICT curriculum to teacher education students. We played with some programmable toys and he showed me some animations developed by students. Very cool stuff!

Duncan and his family visited me at the B&B before dinner. I received at least four big hugs from Peter, and a 1/2 roll of mints from Joe. Sweet. Julia Young, the administrator who looks after Penn State student teachers while they are in Bognor, took me to dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Chichester. As was the case throughout my visit, when I attempted to pay I was told that she was under strict orders from Duncan to look after me.

It is sad to be leaving when I feel like I am just getting the hang of the system here. I am looking forward to a return trip at some point and opportunities to collaborate with my new friends and colleagues. And of course I hope I have the chance to host them in the US some time in the near future.

Final leg of the pilgrimage

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I spent the first part of the day with Jayne and a visit to Warren Park Primary School. It was a special day due to the opening of their new outdoor classroom, which utilizes green design. The school's Head, Colin Harris, is incredibly dynamic and coordinated the most fantastic opening ceremony. He  moved the crowd, including myself, to laughter and tears as the classroom was named and unveiled. The children will work with teachers to study the schoolyard and engage in outdoor/nature studies regularly.

After the school visit, I took the train to Victoria Station in London (about a 2 hour trip). From there I walked to Westminster Abbey and toured the cathedral and grounds. The history and art were spectacular! Of course, this was the final leg of my pilgrimage to visit Darwin's burial place. A simple burial stone and wall medallion are all that remain. Fitting for one who struggled with the tension between religion and the laws of the natural world.

My only regret for the day is that I somehow reformatted the memory card in my camera, so I lost pictures of the outside of the Abbey. I'm sure you can find more extraordinary photos than mine online.

Standing in the presence of greatness

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downhouse.jpgToday Jayne May and I ventured to Down House, the home outside of London in which Charles Darwin and his wife raised their many children and where Darwin wrote Origins. To walk the grounds, to stand in his study, to pace the sandy path where he worked out the details of his theory -- there are no words to describe it. I am again struck by stories of him as a loving father, by how ill he was during most of his life after the voyage of the Beagle, and by his brilliance in developing a theory that is still accepted in the scientific community 149 years later.

I really enjoyed getting to know Jayne. She has a wonderful sense of humor and she kept me laughing all day. I was intrigued to learn that teaching evolution is not controversial in the UK. Maybe having Darwin as a home boy makes a difference.

Discovering West Sussex

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So my inquiries with the local scientists today have revealed that the beaches of Bognor and Felpham are flint - which makes total sense given the chalk bedrock of South Downs. Flint forms in the chalk and the chalk washes/erodes away. Flint is composed of microscopic quartz crystals formed from silica. On occasion, quartz crystals grow in the cavity of the flint nodule forming a geode, which is what I found. Not all that special to locals, but wonderful for me (and hopefully Z).

year10sci.jpgSpent the day at Westergate Community School today, a secondary school where Stuart Lander is Assistant Head. I was able to observe several classes, including science, history, and PE, and talk with students and faculty. It was an excellent experience that helped me gain a better understanding of the educational system here. More to come on this...

In the afternoon, I took a walking tour of Chichester. The cathedral is beautiful - the only mediaeval cathedral in England to have a separate bell tower. A pair of peregrine falcons is nesting in the spires with their 4 fledglings. They were putting on quite a show for anyone looking up.

I spent the evening with the Lander family and their German exchange student at The Bulls Head pub in Fishbourne. Tej ordered my pint for me - Fuller's Discovery. The twins introduced me to spotted dick. I know what you must be thinking, but it actually quite tame. It is a traditional English pudding served with custard. Very rich, but delicious. I have to say that I will miss the Lander family. They have been generous with their time and very gracious.

Tomorrow I am off with Jane to Darwin's house. Can't wait!

Gifts from the sea

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UCbuilding2.jpgWalked to campus this morning and spent the day with Year 2 teacher education students. They have just returned from a six-week placement in partnership schools, and they have one week before they head off to their choice placements. These next placements are two-week, non-traditional field experiences at museums, nature centers, alternative schools for the severely disabled, etc.  During this interim week the faculty have arranged a series of experiences known as Creative Journeys in which students participate in projects designed to help them use their imagination, take risks, and express themselves in innovative ways. Students are creating public art, producing performances, writing music, painting, planning a web link to connect local children with children in South Africa, and more. I enjoyed visiting various groups, hearing their ideas, and learning more about their school experiences. I found many of the students to be bright, articulate, and enthusiastic about teaching. The faculty is wonderful and has developed a high quality, innovative program for their students.

UCbuilding1.jpgThey run a three-year program here at University of Chichester, as well as a one-year Masters program. In the three-year program, students take an integrated science–science methods course each year. The modules include life, earth and physical sciences, with strong emphasis on investigation. Year 3 students also examine relevant science education research. It is an interesting and desirable model. Maybe we can learn from it at Penn State as we redesign the 4-8 program for science.

After classes ended around 4 PM, I dropped of my things at the B&B and set off to explore Felpham, which is the local village. It is described as a “hamlet by the sea” and is the location of William Blake’s home in the very early 1800’s. I found the house, which is beautifully preserved and has a thatched roof. I ate across the street at the Fox Inn, enjoying a pint of lager with my meal. I was told by the bartender that the ales were for the men. : )

geodes.jpgOn my way back, I wandered along the shore. It is very rocky, so I decided to find a special one to bring back for Zach. I had no idea just how special it would be. Something sparkly caught my eye. When I took a closer look, I saw that one of the rocks had split apart revealing crystals inside – a geode?! Spectacular! After a little online searching, I learned that Sussex beaches are famous for fossils and minerals. Hopefully I can squeeze in a few more trips to the sea to search for treasure again before I go.

The tide waits for no man

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hike.jpgIt was another glorious day in southern England today. Vini Lander picked me up after a hearty breakfast in the B&B and drove me out to her home in a neighboring town. She, her husband, Stuart, and I hiked South Downs via Kingley Vale national nature reserve, which is home to an ancient yew forest. We dined on a picnic lunch of traditional English meats (sausage rolls, pasties, etc.) while sitting atop ancient burial mounds and overlooking Chichester Harbor. The views were spectacular and well worth the steep climb up the hill. In addition to being a science teacher, Stuart is a history enthusiast, so it was a special treat to hear about the local history of the area.


boshamdoor.jpgAfter our hike, they took me to the village of Bosham. Apparently, it is quite a desirable location to live. The homes are  lovely with spectacular gardens and views of the tidal creek. The community parking lot contained the highest concentration of BMW, Lexus, Mercedes (and the like) vehicles I have seen outside of a dealership lot. The village shore road floods with the coming and going of the tides. Sometimes the waters even rise up through the town, so the doors of some houses are raised from street level by several feet. It has an odd effect until you realize what you are looking at. There is a wonderful story of King Canute proclaiming that he was so powerful that he could turn back the tides. He was put to the test with his throne placed at the edge of the creek. He was, obviously, not successful. The tide waits for no man.

After touring the village, we returned to the Lander home where I was introduced to Pimms and we had a traditional Indian curry meal with the boys -- Tej (21), Kishan, and Simran (15 year old twins). The conversation was lively and very enjoyable! Another wonderful day in the UK.

Having a jolly good time in the UK

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whitehorses.jpgMy travel to the UK was perfect. How often do you hear that? Everything was on time and easy to negotiate. I arrived at London Gatwick Airport at about 9 AM and grabbed the train to Bognor Regis on the coast. White Horses B&B was only a small taxi ride away. It's a beautiful home with a proper English garden. My room has an ocean view. The weather is sunny and warm (at least for now). Lovely.

I was able to Skipe with Zach and Jer when I arrived and gave them the video tour of the place. I also had some time to wander the path along the coast in both directions. Lots of families were out enjoying a day at the beach. Duncan Reavey, a science faculty member at University of Chichester and his two boys, Peter (7) and Joe (4), met me in the afternoon and we wandered up to the pier in Bognor where I learned about the Bognor Birdman competition. Apparently competitors jump from the pier to see how far they can go/fly. It's quite a hit with the locals and even makes the UK news.

After chasing after the boys on their bikes, I went to the Reavey home for tea and a later dinner. The boys both have wonderful electric train sets, and Peter performed his part from a recent pantomime -- he was a munchkin in the Wizard of Oz. Charming. Margaret Reavey is a science teacher. I learned the British way to drink tea, which requires placing milk in the cup BEFORE you pour in the hot tea. I think I might end up being a tea drinker after all.

The week is packed with lots of activities, including spending time with students in the teacher education program while they work on their second year projects and visiting local schools. Should be interesting.

OBXX 2008

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sandinbra2.jpgIt was the best women's writing retreat yet! There were 11 of us this year -- Barb Crawford (Cornell), Julie Luft (Arizona State University), Carolyn Wallace (Stirling University, Scotland), Leigh Ann Haefner (Penn State Altoona), Maryann Frazier (PSU), Deb Smith (PSU), Stephanie Serriere (PSU), Annmarie Ward (PSU), Jackie Manno (Clarion University), Jessica Ward (NC State), and me. The house was more of a villa than a beach house -- pretty incredible! Projects included writing/revising manuscripts, crafting proposals, and analyzing data. One of my favorite quotes of the week was borrowed from a colleague in entomology -- "Why do we call it a retreat when we are moving forward?" Guess next year we will be attending the OBXX Women's Writing Advance!