Site Visits

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Golden Ratio vs. Rule of Thirds

I have to confess that I am not much of a photographer. But I am familiar with 'The Rule of Thirds' for composing photos and I found this article interesting in that it suggests that instead of using the Rule of Thirds, photographers might be better served by using the Golden Ratio and the Fibonacci Spiral.'s so crazy it just might work!

Monday, October 10, 2016

A New School - Part 3

A New School For A New Generation of Learners

Rethinking a system designed by an agricultural society, implemented by an industrial society, and being used to educate a technological society.

Part III - A New School

In my previous installment, I considered the true purpose of school. Is it to impart knowledge about specific subjects? Is it a means for teaching children soft skills such as perseverance, integrity, and grit and how to set goals? Or perhaps, it is simply a place where children learn the critical social skills necessary for living a productive life in society. A survey taken on social media suggested that the main purpose of school is for children to learn those soft skills, the skills everyone uses in life regardless of their choice of vocation. And yet, according to the new national math standards, Common Core - adopted by 46 states, and since rejected by eight of those, the real purpose of school, at least in mathematics, is to impart knowledge, most of which is highly useful only to those pursuing higher levels of study in mathematics. A troublingly small percentage of the Common Core math standards are focused on the skills all students truly need in order to live their lives.

Thus we find ourselves in an educational predicament. In too many classrooms all across America, high-achieving, college-bound, goal-driven students sit side by side with peers who have little ambition to continue their schooling past high school, who desperately need critical job and life skills in order to strike out on their own after graduation, but instead are being taught as if they, too, aspire to earn a four-year college degree.

I think there is a solution to this predicament, however, and to find it, we have to travel across the Atlantic to the land of pizza, pasta, and out of this world gelato: Italy. A land with more history in its little finger than the US has in its whole body, Italy is renowned for its culture and its traditions. Change comes slowly in a place where certain tasks have been done the same way for thousands of years, and education is no exception.

Every three years, 15-year-old students across the globe take part in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). The results of this exam are used as one of the most common measures of a country's educational system. Sponsored by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the test covers topics in mathematics, reading and science. According to the OECD web site,
"The Pisa mathematics test is designed to measure how effectively countries are preparing students to use mathematics in every aspect of their personal, civic, and professional lives, as part of their constructive, engaged, and reflective citizenship."

The mathematics test consists of three broad categories, with sub-categories of questions within each:

Mathematics Content: Space & shape; Change & relationships; Quantity; Uncertainty & data
Mathematics Contexts: Personal; Occupational; Societal; Scientific
Mathematical Processes:  Formulating situations mathematically; Employing mathematical concepts, facts, procedures, and reasoning; Interpreting, applying and evaluating mathematical outcomes

Not your typical run of the mill list of facts to know and be able to spit back out on demand, is it? In 2012, Italian students scored an average of 485 on the mathematics portion, a year in which the worldwide average score was 494. This ranks them 32nd in the world - not a very impressive result. For comparison, however, the US scored an average of 481, putting us at 36th in the world. China had the highest average score at 613.

So why would I choose Italy as a model of educational excellence, when perhaps its strongest claim to fame is that its students, while below average, at least outperformed American students? In this case, it's less about the concept of excellence, and more about providing the right kind of education to each student. You see, Italy structures its school system differently than the US does (as do many other nations, let's be clear), at least for the high school-equivalent years.  And in that difference lies what I believe is a key to teaching all students the exact skills they need in order to best live out their best future.

Through the eighth grade, Italian schools operate more or less like most American schools do. Children are required to begin attending school when they turn six years old, and generally progress through elementary and middle schools from the age of six through the age of fourteen. However, upon completion of their eighth grade, Italian children are required to make an important decision about their futures. That decision, for many, will determine their future career, earning potential, and the opportunities that await them following completion of their high school studies.

High school in Italy looks nothing like it does in the US. For starters, there is little of what we would consider 'school spirit.' There are no sports teams to cheer for - no football under the lights on Friday nights; no packed gymnasiums in the winter for basketball. All sports take place through clubs and have no affiliation with schools. The buildings themselves are typically nondescript. You could drive right by one and unless you happened to notice the sign on the wall telling you it was a school, you would likely drive right by it, never knowing you had passed a school.

To a certain degree, Italian high schools are localized, similar to how American schools are. But unlike US schools, where except in larger cities or regions with open enrollment regulations in place, students attend the school within whose boundaries they live, Italian students select their school first, and then worry about how they will get to wherever that school happens to be. If that means commuting to the next town over or even several towns over, using public transportation, a scooter, or in rare cases, the family car, so be it. Indeed, it's not your address that determines which high school you attend - it's your ambition, your potential, and your drive.

In general, there are two types of high schools Italian students can choose from, with a variety of options within those two categories. Here is a brief listing:

Liceo - This is generally a five-year program (students typically graduate at age 19) and the focus is on theoretical studies, in preparation for university attendance. Liceos (in Italian, 'licei') come in three main 'flavors':
  • Liceo Scientifico :  for students wishing to pursue a career in the sciences, such as biology, chemistry, and physics. Future engineers may find themselves here as well.
  •  Liceo Classico: for students wishing to study 'the classics', including Latin, Greek, Italian literature, art history, philosophy, etc.
  •   Liceo Artistico: for students wishing to pursue a career in the arts, including painting, sculpture, and architecture.

Istituto - These schools typically offer three- to five-year programs and upon completion, some students may opt to continue their studies at a university, but may also simply transition to the workplace. These schools are broken further into two classifications: technical and professional. The line generally lies between those students moving directly into the workforce and those seeking

  •  Istituto Tecnico : this would be similar to American technical colleges, offering training in agriculture, industry, business, finance, marketing, hospitality, etc. Most students, upon completion, will enter the workforce directly, but only after completing a capstone internship of some sort. They will tend to have more opportunities professionally.
  •  Istituo Professionale: these schools provide three to five years of vocational training, allowing graduates to enter the workforce directly or become eligible for apprenticeships. Fields include transportation, logistics, electronics and some engineering, computer technician, graphic arts,    fashion, agriculture, construction, tourism and many more.

 Imagine asking fourteen-year-old children to make a decision about their futures before they enter high school. It sounds preposterous, doesn't it? We don't even expect our university students to know their future plans when they first enroll - how then could we expect students four years their junior to make such an important decision? The simple answer, we wouldn't. That is, if the US were to adopt a similar model for high school, we wouldn't simply put the question to each eighth grader and force that student to choose. Instead, we would spend a great deal of time and energy during those middle school years to really learn about the path each student wants to, and perhaps more importantly  is willing to, take. Between teachers, counselors, parents and the student, we offer students the choice of two simple paths for their high school careers. And what's more, we don't split our high schools up, nor do we force children to commute across town or across multiple towns to attend their school of choice. No, we offer them both paths within the high school they will already be attending. From the outside, little appear different, if anything. But on the inside, the teaching and learning going on would look very different than it does today.

In 2000, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation committed more than $2 billion to schools across the United States to help them create smaller schools within large schools, the so-called 'school within a school' movement. By and large, it failed. This is not that model. In fact, to the outside observer, it may appear that nothing has changed within the school walls. But I believe such a change could radically alter the educational path of millions of students for the better.

My plan involves identifying two primary pathways to a high school diploma within each high school. The first pathway would be for those students who have little or no interest in continuing on to higher education. Notice that I’m not suggesting these students aren't capable of studying at a higher level, rather they would opt not to pursue that pathway. These students seek a high school diploma and ideally in the process of earning that diploma they would acquire the kinds of skills that they would need to transfer directly into the workforce or to a trade school (i.e. into life) where they could pursue whatever their passions happen to be.

The second pathway would be for the college-bound students. Two-year or four-year, it wouldn't matter. These students would be seeking the coursework that will prepare them for their future studies. All the mathematics foundations that lead to higher level work, Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, College in the High School courses would all be a part of this pathway. Even honors coursework, and courses often taken as remediation in the first year of college would be completed during high school.

More critical is that in the courses potentially leading up to high caliber courses, courses such as Algebra I/Geometry, English I/ II, US History, etc., separate sections would be made available to each pathway. This way, students seeking a foundation for eventual work in Calculus, for example, would be in Algebra classes in their early years with other students seeking that same foundation.  Students in the career pathway would also take Algebra, many at the same time (but not in the same classroom) as the other students. But here's the key - the courses would be taught differently, with different standards, expectations, and content. College-bound students would get more of the theoretical side of algebra, akin to the training Italy's liceo students receive, while career-bound students would receive the parts of algebra that they need in order to be successful in their future endeavors.

I recognize that some will shudder at the thought of 'tracking' students in high school. It risks conjuring up a caste system at an age when cliques already test the self-esteem of even the most successful students. Does this plan suggest a line of demarcation between what some might label the 'haves' and the 'have-nots'? I don't think it does. If I am going to take an algebra course, why wouldn't I want it to teach me the things I need to learn from it? If that means a set of theoretical skills, skills that don't necessarily translate directly to the work I will eventually do, but yet lie at the foundation of the higher levels of mathematics I will eventually study, then so be it. That's what I need to learn.

But if instead it means that I receive from my algebra course a more practical set of math tools, tools I can use on the job, in my home, when I make car payments, or decide whether to invest in a house or a retirement plan, then that's what I should be learning. Geometry can be taught as a tool for building the idea argument and proof in upper level math, or as a tool for forming a coherent argument for a raise, or making a proposal to an investor, or to the city council for a project I'm trying to pitch. This plan allows teachers to teach students what they need, when they need it, and at an appropriate level for where they are learning.

Now, could a school really pull this off? Let me introduce you to Wilson High School in Washington state. Wilson is in a rural town of about 5,000 permanent residents. In the summer, tourists flock there and the weekend population rises to around 15,000 on average. It is a small school. Its teams compete in the third smallest school classification of the six in the state. Student enrollment is steady at around 400 students in grades 9-12. Poverty is a very real problem in the community, and a very small number of graduating seniors each year go on to study at four-year universities. Many graduates enter the workforce immediately after school lets out or struggle to find their passions in the years that follow high school.

In an attempt to discover the feasibility of a school model such as the one I propose, I looked at Wilson's master schedule for the 2015-16 school year. From the list of courses the school offered, I identified three categories of courses:
                1. Courses that might be taken solely by college-bound students
                2. Courses which could be open to all students regardless of the pathway they choose, such as PE or band.
                3. Courses that might be taken solely by career-bound students
I listed each course under its appropriate heading, and I noted courses (such as Algebra I, with an asterisk) which could easily be offered to students in either pathway, with the caveat that they would be taught differently, according to the particular needs of students on that pathway. I wanted to see if this school, which has a definite lean toward career-bound students, could manage to offer a dual-pathway educational program and still operate as a regular high school. Here is what I found:

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the lists were generally equal in length. As you consider the list of courses a career-bound student might take, it's extensive. In addition, it offers those students who don't want to take a course that prepares them for college-level work options and opportunities to pursue their own passions.  Then, when taking courses such as US History or Geometry, students could learn those subjects the way they need to learn them, and take from those courses the really critical life-relevant lessons they impart without being overwhelmed by the 'college prep' atmosphere often associated with those courses.

Similarly, college-bound students would be able to learn with peers who share their level of motivation. In those foundational courses, teachers could take them to more interesting places without worrying about losing students who aren't as interested in the subject.

And as far as electives go, there are still many opportunities for students on different pathways to meet up, interact, and share the critical social experiences high school affords. Such a re-envisioning of a school would take little more than recoding a few courses, and perhaps preparing a new course catalog.

Oh, but what about the students who decide, after eighth grade, to pursue a college-bound pathway, then discover that they really aren't as motivated as they thought they would be? Are we setting those students up for failure by placing them into a pathway for which they are not adequately prepared? Absolutely not. A school would set some minimal criterion for maintaining status in the college-bound pathway. For example, after one failing grade (because "life happens"), a student might be placed on academic probation. A second failing grade and that student would be transitioned to the career-bound pathway, still on track to graduate, but now challenged to rethink their motivation and workload. For highly motivated students, this isn't a punitive policy, but rather a daily motivator and a reminder of the commitment they made to themselves.

Similarly, one could envision a student at fourteen years of age choosing a career-bound pathway, then waking up as a tenth grader thinking, 'I want to go to college!' That's fine. That student, given a set of qualifying standards, including attendance, performance in key courses (identified at the beginning of the program), and even an application process, could appeal to be allowed to transition to the college-bound pathway. Upon approval, the change is made and off the student goes.

Here is what I think will happen. First off, even struggling students, given the opportunity and having made a conscious decision to strive for the college-bound  pathway, will rise to the challenge. By removing the distractions, the friends who try to hold them back, and surrounding themselves with like-motivated students (even if those students are higher achievers), those struggling students will find they are more capable than they even imagined. And in the rare case that a student is unable to keep up, they have a soft landing spot in the career-bound pathway.

Similarly, what of the late bloomer? The student with little encouragement or support at home, who never considered college as an option? Initially in the career-bound pathway, this student realizes that s/he is ready and capable of more. Checking the criteria for a transition, the student appeals, is admitted, and off they go into their future.

For the sake of all students and the teachers who agonize over them, searching for the magic formula to light a fire inside of each one, it's time to consider a new model for our schools. Allowing students to choose their pathway, with critical input from parents, teachers, and counselors, will allow schools to teach all students what they need, when they need it, and in the manner they need to learn it. It offers students the chance to blossom where they are, to discover their passions in a safe and encouraging environment, and to acquire and develop the skills they truly need in order to live a long and productive life.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

A New School - Part 2

A New School For A New Generation of Learners

Rethinking a system designed by an agricultural society, implemented by an industrial society, and being used to educate a technological society.

Part II: What is the purpose of school?

In the last installment, I noted a curious fact. Each state determines for itself when its students must start and when they are legally allowed to stop attending school. The federal government has no say in that matter. And yet, in those 46 states that have adopted the Common Core standards, minus the eight that have since withdrawn from them (Academic Benchmarks: Common Core State Standards Adoption Map), the federal government dictates what those students should be learning. And after reviewing the math standards for algebra and geometry and comparing them to those for grades 6-8, I posed the question of whether we are teaching the most critical skills for college and career readiness before students reach high school. And if we are, then when they reach high school are students being asked to learn skills that, at least for many, have little or no bearing on their futures?

I recently conducted a very non-scientific opinion poll on social media. By no means were these responses from a representative or random sample. And yet, the variety of responses was fascinating. Most respondents were young parents, whose children had either already started on their journey through the K-12 school system, or were about to. Some were grandparents and spoke with three generations of perspective (theirs, their children's and now their grandchildren's.)

I posed a simple, yet apparently loaded question: what is the purpose of school? I tried to make it clear that I wasn't asking from a cynical or fatalistic perspective. I wasn't throwing my hands in the air existentially, claiming that life has no meaning and that all is futile. Instead, I really wanted to know whether, in light of whatever they deemed the purpose of school to be, the traditional model of school that generation after generation had experienced - students arrive at a building, gather in rooms in some sort of homogeneous manner, listen to a teacher teach, practice on that teaching, then test on that teaching - was the best, or even the only model that could possibly accomplish that purpose?

The responses, fifty in total, surprised me. I broke them into three broad categories:
  • to develop soft skills - skills that are associated with personal growth and a vision of how those skills might be applied to one's future life;
  • to develop hard skills - content knowledge which can (and is) easily tested;
  • to develop social skills - learning how to relate, interact, and function with others in society.
Overwhelmingly, the most common response to the question of purpose in school were to build and develop those so-called soft skills. Skills such as learning how to learn and think, learning that it's ok to fail, developing character and integrity, learning how to be challenged, to fail, and to get back up, etc. The breakdown is shown below.

I didn't expect the result to be this one-sided. To think that upon reflection on their own school experiences, and in concert with the professional life they had chosen upon its completion, so many would say that the main purpose of school is to build and develop skills that are rarely found in a course syllabus, tested even less often, and generally considered by-products of the 'real' work of schools - that is, the delivery, reception and retention of content.

As I sifted through the responses, a further delineation emerged. Among the responses that favored 'soft' skills, there were two main camps. The first focused on skills an individual would use to better interact with the adult world. Skills such as preparing for life situations, increasing personal productivity, learning to do the daily work of life, and even making a difference in the lives of others (which some might argue would also fall into the category of social skills.) Forty percent of the soft skills responses fell into this category. That means the other sixty percent fell into the second category.

This group included skills that were more internally focused, skills that would lead to betterment as a person, independent of the job or life situation one might find oneself in. Examples included igniting personal passions, learning how to fail without having heavy consequences for that failure, finding out what motivates you, and learning how to find the information you need to solve a problem.

I don't think most people would argue that these are unimportant skills. And yet, in general they seem to be byproducts of education, not its main focus. As an experienced educator with more than two decades spent in the classroom working with teenagers, I'm not sure what to make of this. On one hand, we have the Common Core Initiative telling us that the overwhelming majority of what high school math students need to learn is content-based.

On the other hand, the very students served by our school system, many of whom are now raising their own children and sending them into that same system, are telling me that what's really important in school are the non-content pieces - developing the personal skills and attributes that lead to being a productive citizen regardless of the depth of one's content knowledge.

After many years teaching high school mathematics in a traditional school building, I have stepped away from that setting, now for the second time. I currently teach for an online school, serving students across the United States, all of whom bring a unique story of how they came to enroll in an online course or fully attend an online school. I can't help but wonder if part of my story is this dichotomy illustrated above. How many students have I tried to force-feed algebra, perhaps in the same metaphorical way that ducks are force-fed in order to produce foie gras? And for how many of them did I take the time to understand that what they really wanted and needed was not more formulas and theorems, no matter how engaging I was in front of the room? Not more functions, more graphs, more proofs, or more complex equations.

Perhaps all they needed was someone to teach them the soft skills their predecessors identified as being the real purpose of school. And yes, along the way, surely they picked some of them up regardless. Undoubtedly, several learned how to fail and bounce back. But as I think back on some of the most challenging students, students who had no interest in learning how to factor quadratic polynomials, to prove two triangles congruent, or to find the sine of an angle, I now see many of them crying out for someone to teach them what they really needed - skills that would lead them to a better life than they thought they deserved. 

But I couldn't. I had to teach every student the same material. The college-bound future engineer who sat next to the student whose only dream in life was to hold a high school diploma. The future biologist who passed papers to the student who was working two jobs after school, and could barely stay awake in my class. I taught them all the same content, and I assessed them in the same manner on that same material. Truly, the skills I taught in math class were compulsory, designed so that everyone could be evaluated fairly and equitably.

But is this equity? I submit that it is not. Further, I want to propose a radical new approach to education that allows students to learn the right skills at the right time, for the right reasons, and with the right group of peers. To me, that, more than common standards, common assessments, and common instructional strategies, represents true educational equity.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

A New School - Part 1

A New School For A New Generation of Learners
Rethinking a system designed by an agricultural society, implemented by an industrial society, and being used to educate a technological society.

Part 1 - Making students learn

Compulsory education has been a part of American schools since colonial times. While it was still part of the British Empire, the Massachusetts Bay Colony enacted a law requiring its children to attend formal schools. In the mid-1800s, the US state of Massachusetts became the first of now fifty states to require towns to offer nominal schooling to young children. This schooling amounted to what we now know as 'The Three Rs:' reading, writing, and 'rithmetic.

In his 1976 article written for The Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation, Michael S. Katz explained that in its initial form, mandatory schooling applied only to children ages eight through fourteen and required them to attend school for a mere twelve weeks a year. This law effectively forced parents to 'raise up their children' in the acceptable Puritan (Christian) way, and was enacted due to documented failings of many to do so, thereby "transforming a moral obligation into a legal one."

During the Industrial Revolution, factories often took advantage of children, forcing them to work long hours while earning pennies on the dollar compared to their adult counterparts. In an effort to protect children from hard labor, states lined up to pass similar laws making education compulsory for all children, but only up to a certain age. In many cases, that age was sixteen, the age at which it was deemed that children were capable of working as adults.

To some, the word compulsory brings to mind images of Olympic figure skaters, all performing in the first stage of their final competition. The compulsory part means they all have to perform the same tasks in their routines, in order to be fairly and equitably judged compared to their peers. Hm…that sounds familiar.

Today all fifty states have some form of required schooling on their books, and the mandatory ages typically start between the ages of five and seven, and end between sixteen and eighteen (National Center for Education Statistics.) What's interesting is that while each state has its own law for compulsory education, there is no federal standard in place. Despite the fact that the United States spends in excess of $200 billion dollars on education - admittedly, around 5% of the overall budget - (US Department of Education 2016 Budget Fact Sheet) , the federal government does not have the authority to tell states when their children need to be in school.

What it DOES tell them, however, is what their children need to know and be able to demonstrate before they leave school. Each state can decide when children must start and when they may choose to stop attending school, but while they are in there, much of what they learn is dictated to them by the federal government in the form of the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

In the fall of 2007 I was invited to join a team of K-12 educators, post-secondary professors, and mathematicians to once and for all rewrite the expectations for all Washington state students in mathematics. It remains to this day one of the most challenging, interesting, and ultimately rewarding experiences of my professional life - one of which I am still immensely proud to have been a part.

Over the course of several months, we brainstormed, argued, pled our cases, talked, listened, and eventually wrote a set of standards for all mathematics students in our state in introductory algebra and geometry. When we published our work, we did so with great fanfare, as we believed we had designed a collection of skills and processes that would ably serve all students in our state for many years to come. Little did we know that 'many years' actually meant 'one year', as in 2009, Washington joined the Common Core Standards Initiative, and all our work was put into the archives.  By 2010, the state had provisionally adopted the Common Core standards, and in 2011, they were formally adopted - Washington had joined now 46 states in offering and assessing a set of standards that for the first time represented  a national curriculum.

While working on the Washington state standards team, I still vividly recall numerous occasions during which I heard some version of the following, usually from a professor of mathematics or a mathematician:  "We can't let kids leave high school without knowing how to …." And each time someone said this, they were able to back their claim up. Yes, the Pythagorean Theorem is important in geometry. Yes, factoring skills are crucial in algebra. Of course students have to be able to write proofs. And obviously, they need to be able to make a graph and interpret it… right?

After more than 20 years in the classroom, most of them as a National Board Certified teacher, I have begun to wonder just what students 'must' know mathematically in order to be successful in their lives. And the more I think about it, the shorter the list becomes. I pored over the Common Core standards (Common Core State Standards Initiative) for algebra and geometry and identified those skills at which every living, working, thriving adult really must be skilled, laying aside those skills that register as 'critical' to a mathematician, but to a typical adult, are likely never to be explored again once they close their algebra book for the last time.

In the former category, for example, I include skills such as the ability to solve an equation (finding an unknown value in a simple or complex situation), understanding the concept of a function (a construct that takes an input and returns - spits out - an output),  and being able to understand fundamental one-variable statistics such as mean, median, variation, etc.

The latter group includes skills such as understanding the difference between rational and irrational numbers, working with vectors and matrices, trigonometry, congruence theorems, and conditional probability to name just a very few.

In total, I counted a total of 156 math skills the Common Core standards expect students to master before graduating high school or at least fulfilling their legal requirement of compulsory schooling. Of those, I identified 46 that truly resonated as critical to success after high school. Don't get me wrong. I love math, and I love teaching math. Therefore, I find the remaining 110 skills fascinating, and most are intensely useful for further studies in mathematics. For those students continuing on beyond the most basic of math instruction, clearly they will need and want to explore many if not all of those 110 skills. But as a baseline set of required skills, I counted 46. That amounts to a ratio of 2.5:1, non-critical skills to critical skills. And to break it down further, nineteen of those forty-six skills came in the final set of standards: Probability and Statistics. Take that last section out and the ratio of non-critical skills to critical skills is 100:25, or 4:1.

Perhaps most telling, beyond one person's opinion about which skill is critical to success in life and which is not, is the following statement, found in the final note for the standards, a note that summarizes the role of individual courses and the importance of transitions between them:

 "Indeed, some of the highest priority content for college and career readiness comes from Grades 6-8."

I find this comment to be an indicator of the level of skills expected of high school students and supportive of my assessment of the high school standards. If indeed, such a priority for both college and career readiness falls in the Grade 6-8 band, what are we asking of our high school students? Is it possible we are teaching them too much?

Friday, March 4, 2016

It's great to be alive, it's great to be a Puddle Jumper!

In Forks, everyone is a Puddle Jumper at some
point, but these are the official ones!
Leaving the town of Chelan, in central Washington state, if you drive west until you reach a large body of water, then ride a ferry across that body of water and keep driving west until you reach the ocean, you will find yourself in the tiny, quaint town of Forks. Made famous by the Twilight series, set in its city limits, and still featuring Vampire tours, Music night with Edward and Bella, and Jacob Black's Rentals, Forks is also the home of my new friends, the Puddle Jumpers.

Such is the nickname carried by all students at Forks Elementary, where, I learned on my first day there, "It's Great To Be Alive, It's Great To Be A Puddle Jumper!" Forks is situated in the Olympic Rainforest, and they receive over 100 inches of rain (that more than 8 feet, by the way) a year. I can attest to that during my short 36 hour stay!

Time to kick off a Reading Program!
I was there at the invitation of the Forks Elementary principal, Rob Shadle, who also happens to be a childhood friend of mine. He has done great things there, and there is a spirit not only of learning, but excitement of learning that permeates the building. You sense it in the teachers, and it flows out of them into their students. March 2 was the day they kicked off their Spring Reading Program and I was asked to come and share my love of reading through my book Fibonacci Zoo.

Bring in those Puddle Jumpers!
I gave nine presentations that day, as I welcomed all ages, from the sweet Pre-Ks through the academically strong 3rd graders. The energy was palpable, and summed up best by one of the 2nd grade teachers, Mrs. Haag, who said "anyone who can keep 40 second graders quiet and on the edge of their seats for half an hour must be doing something right!"

The gorgeous Second Beach in La Push
After a short break in the afternoon, spent exploring the rough and rugged Washington coast in "Jacob Black" territory on the Quileute Reservation, I was back for an evening presentation open to the public. It was so exciting to see so many familiar student faces from earlier in the day (who by now knew all the answers!) along with their parents and family members and even community members who came for the curiosity (and delicious cookies from JT's Sweet Stuffs)

Thanks Laura and the
Pacific Inn!
After the presentation, I did a book signing and was overwhelmed by the manner in which parents in Forks support and encourage their kids' love of reading. The town struggles with poverty. While the Twilight mania brought (and still brings) much needed tourism money to town, the elementary, for example, struggles with over 70% of their students qualifying for free and reduced lunch from the government. And yet, parents were quick to buy books, often multiple copies in multiple languages, in order to foster a love of learning in their children.

I sold out of almost everything I brought, including science books and Spanish language versions of Fibonacci. As I drove out of town the next morning on my long journey back home, I was filled with hope for our future. Hope that was evident in the face of every little Puddle Jumper I met there in Forks.
The site of my evening presentation - a beautiful facility!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Weather Channel

Just casually running through my Facebook feed and came upon this little gem. Fibonacci strikes again!!

Fibonaci Spiral In Weather

Headed to Forks...and Vampires?

Photo credit:
I am pleased to announce that I will be visiting Forks (WA) Elementary School, as a guest of my buddy, principal Rob Shadle on March 2 to help them kick off their spring reading program. I will be giving presentations to all K-3 classrooms during the day and then will be hosting an evening event and book signing for parents that evening.

If you happen to be on that side of the state, please come by and say hello!
Photo credit: