Raising a Mighty Girl

Tell me Ava, why do you think Sistine said what she did about Southern people?” I asked.

We were reading the book ‘The Tiger Rising‘ by Kate DiCamillo and Sistine (the female protagonist) introduced herself to her new classmates in Kentucky by declaring southerners ignorant. Her classmates answered back on the playground afterwards.

Does she have a good point?”

What do you mean?

Are southern people ignorant?” I asked.

Well daddy, everyone is allowed to have an opinion.” She answered back.

Yes, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but it doesn’t mean just because you have an opinion, that makes you ‘right’.” I countered. “All opinions are not equal as some are better supported by facts and reason than others.”

I suppose Sistine’s point is backed up by the cruel irony that actual, modern day Kentuckians in desperate need of affordable health care vote against their own self-interests by electing people like Mitch McConnell who has routinely threatened to take it away. Add statistics on the southern states leading the country in obesity, lowest levels of educational attainment, teen pregnancy, and most deaths by firearm and Sistine may have a point. That would be a lesson for another time.

“Every country has the government it deserves.”

-Joseph de Maistre

With these deplorable conditions and bleak statistics, one would think that voters would be desperate for change. However, when the United States elected an admitted misogynist over a distinguished secretary of state, first lady and senator, we took giant leap backwards for women’s equality. I was shocked at how many women were dismissive not only of Trump’s conduct, but flat out rejected their own gender as weak or inadequate to run a country. The fog of the election hangover seems to be clearing to the reality of having a charlatan run the highest office in the country. That too would be a lesson for another day.

Just like Sistine, girls are often subject to a different level of judgement that has a razor thin margin of error compared to boys. They must be capable, but too much, and they’re seen as headstrong. They must be leaders, but if they micromanage, they’re ‘bitchy’. The pendulum swings so quickly.

Raising a daughter in this double standard environment will be the ultimate challenge for us as parents and we hope she’ll be able to recognize and rise up against blatant sexism as she grows up. Our little jag through the middle east in October and November should yield some teachable moments for women’s equality.

Strong and virile men with the inviting and submissive female

Our family is preparing to see ‘Avengers Endgame‘ this weekend and have been thinking of the franchise as a whole. The first time ‘Black Widow’ was introduced to the world, she was a damsel in distress to be rescued by capable men. One of my colleagues in graduate school highlighted how we even market products to boys and girls differently and this indoctrination conditions gender roles for the rest of children’s lives. Some people just can’t get their head around transgender, unisex bathrooms but have no problem with them on airplanes.

“These lawmakers who preach ‘small government reach’ want to limit a woman’s choice of what to do with her own uterus and ensure she’s nothing more than a birthing vessel to pander to their political base.”

As I write this, the nation is in a frenzy. New abortion mandates in Republican controlled houses have swept across the predominantly southern and midwestern states have made it illegal for women to get an abortion after 8 weeks. Doctors that perform a procedure will be sentenced to a life-time in prison. Teri Carter shared a very touching op-ed piece in the Washington post about her own experience of reuniting with her father who abandoned her as a child and pointed out how these new laws exonerate the impregnating father from all culpability; even child support. This condemns underage women to a life of poverty and limit their upward mobility with them being asked to carry the sole burden of childrearing as men are officially deemed as not responsible. These lawmakers who preach ‘small government reach’ want to the government to have more control over a woman’s uterus than she does, relegating her to a birthing vessel in order to pander to their political base.

For Small Hands
Like a girl

What can be done? How do we raise confident girls in this anxious age? Expose them to strong females in movies, literature and around them in life. Empower them. Let them shine. Encourage them to hangout with similar people who are up standers not bystanders. A friend of mine recently introduced me to ‘A Mighty Girl‘ which is a great site for parents and teachers with fantastic readings, and highlights movies, books, even clothing to empower and inspire girls to stand up, not sit down. But really, how does any parent really know what the hell they’re doing? Like Tyrion told Jon last weekend when asked if he did the right thing: “Ask me in ten years.”

By then, our daughter will hopefully be in her first year of college and I’ll be willing to tell you all about whether I did the right thing or not. In the meantime, we’ll always have Sistine to inspire us so we’ll be seeking out many more like her.

For Small Hands

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How We Budgeted For a Year of World Travel

A recent Fed survey highlighted that 40 percent of Americans can’t cover an unexpected $400 emergency.

At my previous school, I co-taught a course on financial literacy and found that it’s usually bad financial habits that keep people destitute. Unnecessary expenditures of gym memberships, FOMO inspired extravagant living, and a daily Starbucks keeps even established professionals living paycheck to paycheck. My secret? Invest regularly and live frugally.

The Caribbean is our last stop. I wonder if we’ll have the energy to move and explore or just want to ‘plop’ down and chill.

How are we able to save and travel for a year? Here is our planning timeline going back 4 years:

4 Years Out: A Long Way Out

  • Start incrementally saving for your trip fund. Money talks and you’ll need an ample trip budget to travel for a year depending on your level of comfort, destinations and activities. For our family, working at an International School in South Korea gave us a nice pension that we’d get when we left, so we invested in our own retirement plans on the side and then would use the pension payout for the bulk of our trip budget.
  • Learn about travel credit cards. We’ve saved thousands in flights and hotel accommodation with our Chase Sapphire Reserve and Hilton Aspire AMEX card. There are many cards on the market and most offer signing bonuses too. CSR comes with a priority pass which means lounge access and money saved while eating at the airport.
Accredited Online TEFL

3 Years Out: Getting Closer

  • Start an emergency Fund. Open up a high yield savings account in an online bank such as Ally or Synchrony which have the best savings rates and are FDIC insured. I built up my emergency fund at Synchrony over 3 years which we could fall back on as a cushion if we ran out of money near the end.
  • Open a travel credit card. If you used the previous year to learn about a travel credit card, use this year to jump in feet first! Rack up purchases and points and hold them for the next two years so you can use points to book flights and tickets early in your trip.

2 Years Out: Near Horizon

  • Choose budget friendly destinations. South East Asia, South Asia and South America are all pretty cheap. We found some really affordable destinations in Eastern Europe as well. However, this is coming from a guy who just bought an $11,000 two week cruise through Antarctica for next January. Sometimes, you just have to live a little.
  • Start preparing your belongings. If you have a house or apartment, start looking for renters or property management companies. If you plan to use a storage facility (like we are) look into costs. We Mari-Kondo’ed our apartment and whittled down our belongings into 15 square meters which would cost $1,000 to store for a year in Korea until we got new jobs. Shipping costs would vary depending on destination but our hiring school would pick up that tab.

1 Year Out: Coming Up Fast!

  • Start booking tickets. We leveraged tools like Skyscanner, Google Flights and Hopper to find cheap tickets and bought our one way tickets in October for blast off in June.
  • Book and pay for accommodation. We booked a lot of our eastern European accommodation through AirBnB which allowed us to pay up front and save on costs of meal preparation.
  • Reserve accommodation you can’t afford. Although we had booked a lot of flights between Europe, Africa and the Middle East, we were coming up short for money to pay for hotels in Morocco, and we didn’t want to miss out on the beautiful Riad stays. We used ‘Booking.com’ and were able to make many reservations with free cancellation.
  • Book travel with rewards. After we bought some of our more expensive tickets for the first 2 months, we had to buy some expensive legs down to Africa. Here is where our credit card points came in handy as you often need to book reward travel 6-8 months in advance.

6 Months Out: One Foot On the Platform

  • Purchase travel insurance. Extend your current plan or shop around. We used ‘World Nomads’ that gave us coverage in all the countries we wanted to visit.
  • Switch to ‘Google Fi’. Use this worldwide cellular provider for unlimited calling and 1 GB of data for $10.

We are leaving soon with the first 7 months booked and largely paid for. After our pension is wired back to our bank account, I’ll transfer the whole balance into my Synchrony bank high yield savings account and set up a bi-weekly reoccurring transfer of our trip budget to our regular bank account. This will give us access to cash and the ability to pay off credit cards (and reap credit cards rewards) through an income stream.

Let's Go!

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Designing Curriculum for a Global Education

Working on curriculum can feel like a slog for many teachers. Teaching is a hard profession.

With only so many hours in the school year (and even day) to create and mark assessments, meet with colleagues and prepare for lessons, (let alone teach them) it’s easy to neglect updating curriculum maps to ensure the viability of a curriculum. After a few years of teaching, most teachers invariably figure out ‘what’ must be taught and do so with the best intentions in the only way they know how. Still, teaching is a hard profession.

Someone once called education a ‘Profession that cannibalizes its young’.

Education reformists in the US like Michelle Rhee who rose to notoriety after a pledge to clean up public education and remove ‘lazy’ teachers who didn’t teach a viable curriculum by teaching to the standards were first embraced by the public, eager for any change to our lagging scores on worldwide PISA tests. Eventually, the sole measure for success became standardized test scores and the countless (and pointless) number of tests that students took over the school year which highjacked lesson time in favor of test prep. Teachers that didn’t deliver were culled out of this rigged game resulting in high teacher turnover, attrition and overseas postings. Someone once called education a ‘Profession that cannibalizes its young‘. Teaching is definitely a hard profession.

One of the more thoughtful changes I’ve seen lately in education is Finland’s move to integrated, thematic units of study rather than subject specific disciplines. Finland and the Scandinavian countries have led the world in education for years but they have had a lot going for them that has made it easier, such as high literacy rates, robust funding and exemplary teacher training along with amazing internal professional development opportunities. This change from subject specific to concepts or ‘themes’ has rightfully had its share of critics- the first person through the wall always gets bloodied. “How are teachers supposed to be experts on every subject?” is the common complaint from cynics. Good question, but don’t elementary teachers teach every subject with the exception of PE and the arts?

“A year of world wide travel has so many opportunities to teach history, explore environments, volunteer, and develop empathy through cultural awareness.”

Singapore American School’s superintendent Chip Kimball recently shared a fascinating presentation that I caught at 21st Century Learning Hong Kong to support this pedagogy. They are reorganizing their traditional classrooms into pods called ‘Flexible Learning Environments’ where teachers are on a team (Team 6a, 6b, 6c for instance) and students move to and from each teacher in the pod based on the needs of the project, not necessarily when the bell rings. This style of redesigning spaces supports grade level teams collaborating and sharing ideas in a constructive, empowering way that values teacher’s individual strengths, but in a fluid learning environment that resembles real life. By the way, Mr. Kimball, if you’re reading this, I’d work for you in a heartbeat.

Flexible Learning Spaces: Image Courtesy of Singapore American School

When the World is your Teacher

This is the curriculum I wanted to design. Having a year of travel to teach my daughter a curriculum that focused on high cognitive abilities but also educating the ‘whole child’ might be the most liberating, autonomous year of teaching that I’ve ever had, and possibly ever will. A year of world wide travel has so many opportunities to teach history, explore environments, volunteer, and develop empathy through cultural awareness. The challenge however, has been how to distill separate subjects into a handful of thematic units that are transparent, accountable and viable. Here have been the stages that I’ve used to formulate them:

Image Courtesy of Creative Commons

Step 1: Identifying Themes from Literature Studies: Our school’s grade 4 teaching team recently shared the half dozen books that are essential reading in their core curriculum. I’ve ordered the ones we haven’t read and chose ‘literacy’ as the backbone around which to name a theme and also integrate the three major writing pieces (narrative realistic fiction, persuasive essays, and informational writing). From this, I’ve settled on the following unit themes based on concepts in the literature:

  • Unit 1: Survival
  • Unit 2: The History Around Us
  • Unit 3: Standing up for Others
  • Unit 4: Explorers
  • Unit 5: Protecting Our World
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Step 2: Organizing Power Standards into a Curriculum Guide: Power standards are the most important standards in a curriculum and we wanted to teach them well and deliberately. We created a curriculum guide with these alongside summaries, skills and essential questions (we’ll use a lot more when we cognitive coach) for reference. We have some project ideas in stage 3, but will also let Ava chose the best product to demonstrate her learning. I’ll probably add to this over the months.

Unit 1 Curriculum Map: Sur… by on Scribd

Step 3: Breaking Down Standards into Assessment Blueprints: There is a saying in Spanish: “entre dicho y hecho hay gran trecho” meaning between what is said and done, often exists a big gap. In regards to education, it’s easy for educators to pay lip service to standards and not assess them or when they do, realize they didn’t give ample opportunities and chances for students to show their learning.

Image courtesy of Creative Commons

To prevent this oversight, I organized standards into assessment blueprints that allow me to track where and how standards have been assessed using ‘Depth of Knowledge’ indicators in verbiage with ‘Formative’ and ‘Summative’ assessments.

Step 4: Combining Standards into Transdisciplinary Projects: After I identified the standards, I was able to find overlaps in Math, Science and Social Studies to see where different subjects might support one another. For this last step we will have to be responsive to learning opportunities that we find while traveling and bundle them together when possible.

The Bottom Line

The word ‘homeschooling’ is a loaded term. When most people think of families that homeschool their children, they either dismiss them as casually negligent, political wingdings, or religious nut jobs who think that public education is a covert, Obama-era conspiracy designed to indoctrinate their children with a socialist, homosexual agenda. There are a glut of sites and blogs espousing the homeschooling pathway as ‘the only way‘, but parents risk under preparing their children for college and beyond who carry this practice into a child’s high school years when the parents themselves don’t have the content knowledge and expertise on more advanced subjects.

My ultimate goal with this post is to provide a sensible roadmap for any others that may like to do the same. In the meantime, we’ll be adding to these Google docs and the ‘Curriculum‘ page as our trip marches forward so feel free to download, copy and steal any and everything. We’ll be out exploring!

In Bend Oregon (July 2018)

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Connecting Your Classroom to the World

One of the things I’m looking forward to the most next year is the ability to collaborate globally. As a classroom teacher, I’ve been able to foster connections using tools like skype and hangouts with professionals such as authors and scientists in fields that my students are learning about and are innately curious. Tools like ‘periscope‘ will make it easy to live stream field trips to classes around the world and share them with twitter hashtags and ‘Google Fi‘ will give us worldwide coverage.

Platforms for Connected Classrooms

Traveling Teddy: This is a fun site to dip your feet in connectivist culture wherein your class signs up to take a teddy bear around the world and document it as if it were a member of the community. Rockstar teacher Pana Asavavatana is the brainchild behind this fun program. Signups for next school year start in August.

Flat Connections: This is Julie Lindsay’s site that she uses to connect classrooms around the world to each other through events and projects. She’s a global legend and I just read her book ‘The Global Educator’ for the second time and pleased that many teachers featured I now call my friends!

Empatico: Craig Kemp turned me on to this one and my after school ES ‘Techsperts’ club has been using this for the last few weeks to connect with a classroom in India. We started as a mystery hangout and then moved into empathy building sessions (hence the name) built around prompts such as how you help in your community, to local landmarks, and how students use energy in their homes.

Google’s Applied Digital Skills: This has caught on like wildfire. Google compartmentalized tools of their app suite into tutorials and projects with a specific topic focus (coding, online safety, project management) and targets these projects for a specific audience within schools. As Google in Education has a focus on collaboration, it’s a great way to go beyond basic tool use and highlight the possibilities.

Education to Save the World: This site is also a great blog and Julie Stern breaks down approaches to global learning through inflection points called ‘Concept Based’ approaches to teaching and learning. She does a beautiful job of grounding current problems to historical ones.

Write About: This is a fun blogging platform that I’ve used with students that teaching not only writing, but the art of reading and responding to others as a commenter. The site has really fun writing prompts and as a teacher you can moderate the posts and comments from other students. A great way to start publishing student work to a larger global audience.

STEM colelection

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Waiting for the Hammer to Fall

We’re in our final few weeks of living in South Korea.

It’s a funny thing- living while such an impending life event is on the horizon. Just yesterday, we were out in the Itaewon neighborhood of Seoul, having a celebratory dinner and cocktails with our friend Roori at ‘Vatos’ before taking a taxi to Insadong to take in the ‘lantern festival’ which is a spring mainstay in downtown Seoul. We met up with some friends, had a few laughs and got Ava home and in bed just before midnight with her tired whininess just setting in. If we were in Spain, we’d just be getting our evening started.

As we were out last night though, I wondered if this would be the ‘last time’ we’d go here or the ‘last time’ we’d see that. My eyes danced around the facades, the hangul, and the lanterns as my friends tried to maintain a conversation while my attention would involuntarily drift elsewhere with creeping nostalgia leaving them wondering if my Tourettes was acting up or I was merely a poor listener.

At the lantern Festival, Seoul

This afternoon, our friend Jim is going to come by for Ava’s bunk bed which will be our biggest furniture item to ditch before the movers come to box up our lives and store them in a storage container for a year. From this afternoon, we’ll start the 6 week, downward slide of getting rid of clothes, asking if this ‘really brings joy’ and only keep essentials that we can’t bear to part with. Our last day of school is a Friday, and we leave the following Monday with a weekend fire sale in between.

The school year is drawing down too. Spring MAP tests are behind us, coaching and after school clubs are drying up, and seniors stress about their upcoming finals and wonder if they’ll have any negative impact on their college acceptance if they were to blow off and bomb their exams. Our staff are having conversations for next year around standards based grading and although we’re being kept in the loop as a professional courtesy, I wonder how much our voice matters compared to primary stakeholders and those who will be stepping up to continue traditions, invite new policies and make their mark.

Coincidentally, there has been a flurry of social media posts in my feed from co-workers around the world who are also about to set out on their new adventures and are feeling nostalgic themselves about the past with an uncertain future ahead. Of all the schools we’ve worked in, we came to love the community of people there, who were each others ‘rock’ of stability in the sea of international teaching and living.

One never realizes how good they had it and how good life was until those moments are no more. Isn’t that always the case in life?

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