I took no prisoners…wait, I mean, no photos.

How could I get so involved in what was going on today that I neglected to take photos??  It’s Mardi Gras!  We were all jamming to zydeco music and making masks and things today.  Then we all got a little jacked up on sugar (it doesn’t happen that often) and did some line dancing.  I love the idea of king cake.  I love the smell of king cake.  I love that a 2nd grader found the baby in his piece and the party will be at his house next year because I made 4 king cakes last night.  And if you have never made king cake, it isn’t difficult, but it is time consuming.  4 is very time consuming.

Miss Amy LOVES Mardi Gras.  She must’ve stolen the feathers off of about 100 birds to make the boas she was wearing.  And let me not get started on the fabulousness of her glasses.  Poor Ms Tracey, cold and all, couldn’t stop herself from doing a little jig to the music while she kept the Magellans and the Armstrongs (the one 5th grader-since all of 4th grade is on the Sound to Sea fieldtrip) in line.  Neal was right in there too, masking and working.

Angela and I had 21 sharks (Cousteaus) and we made the cutest masks using their hand prints.  They traced their hands and cut them out and decorated them.  I then attempted to glue them together with what has to be the WORST glue gun in the history of the universe.  And I got a huge burn on my index finger which gives witness to the horrendous quality of said gun.  Most of them got finished (thanks to Ms Bruder’s stapler) and they are really cute.  I wish I could show them off, you know, with some photos, but I can’t.  I totally blanked on taking photos.  There was a lot of excitement, but then again, Shark-time is never quiet or boring. Thanks to those parents who patiently waited while we glued on feathers and straws for their kids.  Thanks to the amazing, the fantastic, the supremely generous Pat Bruder for letting her classroom be covered in small people, glue and feathers for over an hour this afternoon.  We are humbled by your generosity. And your floor space.

We gathered in the cafeteria after craft time to stuff ourselves with King Cake, again, no photos.  I love that about 15 of our BI kids knew what the 3 mardi gras colors mean and why people celebrate (and who celebrates) mardi gras.  They also knew that New Orleans and Rio de Janiero have the 2 biggest Mardi Gras celebrations.  So the colors, purple means justice, green means faith, and yellow means power.  Those colors and meanings were named by Rex, King of Carnival back in 1892.

It was a good day.

If you haven’t met our newest staff members, Angela and Neal, do seek them out and say hi.  They are rock stars.  Things move at lightspeed in Bright IDEAS.  We baptize new employees with fire and dodgeball.  There is very little room for that learning curve that may exist in jobs where there are no small children involved.  They hit the ground running in Janauary and have not looked back.

That’s about it for today.  I am going to get back to regular blogging.  I have been absent for too long.  A lot of water has been flowing under our BI bridge.  But that is for another post.  Thanks for reading.  Thanks for sharing your kids with us.


The first few weeks…..

I can’t believe it is already the middle of September (almost).  Time is flying by.
We are getting into the swing of things in our new space.  It has not been without a multitude of challenges either.  We have had to make lots of tweaks to how we do things, find space to hold clubs and to have our explorers meet, reinvent how we play games, do checkout, and many more examples.  So up front, our thanks to the kids, their parents, and our teachers; for your understanding and patience, your suggestions ,your offers of your classroom spaces and your flexibility.

That first week!  “Getting to know you…..”  I can’t even write that without hearing the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic in my head.  We played lots of games where we got to know the kids who were new and remember the BI kids from years past.  Team building and the CARE rules were a big part of what we were discussing and living.  CARE rules are a big part of the classroom behavior/attitude commitment and we follow the same rules at afterschool.  In case you don’t have them memorized:

C-communicate kindly A-act safely (in BI we also say awesome attitude)
R-respect all
E-excel every day

here are some photos from the 1st week as the Magellans and Armstrongs used that old fortune telling folded paper game to get to know each other and work with partners.

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Then we dove headfirst into studying the Planets.  The Sharks (aka the Cousteaus) studied the Earth, Magellans the inner planets and Armstrongs the outer planets.

The Sharks played games where we were the planets, we shared what we already knew about the earth, where it was in relationship to the sun and learned many new facts.  Then one day, we made models of the earth out of playdough, an successful activity repeated from last year’s study of the earth.  Very cool to get to build it from the inner core to the water and land.  Cut out a cross section and our world really takes on a whole new perspective!  Here are a few photos from that day.  (and one of the cross sectioned earth which now resides in my own daughter’s room) This playdough was made with Jello so it smelled very fruity.

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Also attached photos from the MG (Magellans) and the AS (Armstrongs) presentations that they did to for each other on the inner and outer planets. My own blood relative Magellan is still talking about the Asteroid Belt.

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This week, we are taking what we learned last week and expanding it to study the Milky Way Galaxy.  In the Sharks, we have looked at lots of books and pictures online of the Milky Way, reviewed all we know and learned last week about the earth and our solar system and we have been focusing on drawing spiral galaxies.  What are the characteristics of a barred spiral galaxy?  What are the elements that make up one?  We have done a lot of drawing.  On Tuesday, we did crayon galaxies and then painted them with thinned out black paint.  They were ultra cool.  I wish I had videoed our painting because you should have heard the exclamations of excitement and shouts of joy as the white crayon lines and stars popped into view when covered with black paint!!  Here are some of the photos from that day.

IMG_4588 IMG_4591 IMG_4592 IMG_4595 IMG_4597 IMG_4598All this, and it is only Thursday of Milky Way week.  Keep checking in on us.  DICKSON OPEN HOUSE tonight 5:30-7.  Hope to see you in the halls.

Let us know if your BI kid has a special interest and we will try to incorporate it into our studies.  Happy September!

38 days left

Not that I am counting.  Not that I am looking forward to summer or anything.  We sort of dropped off the face of the blogging earth for a while, but we were not gone or dormant, we just weren’t writing about all the cool things we were doing.

We studied the National Parks of the US.  Learning about natural resources, conservation, the animals of these wild and wonderful lands, which ones are near to us and which ones are thousands of miles away.

We have been to China and studied Chinese origami, made dumplings, learned about Chinese culture and what school life is like for Chinese kids.

The older kids have been deeply involved in March madness and following the road to the championship.  Learning to fill in the bracket and see the progression of the teams. Go Louisville!

We studied the Amazon Rain Forest too.  I learned so much on this topic!  The Sharks made newspaper explorer hats and headed off down the Nature Trail to read a book in the story hut (or whatever you call that structure 1/2 way down the trail).  Another day, the Sharks, Camber and I borrowed rhythm sticks from the fabulous Mr. Hamilton and spent an hour out in that hut on the Nature Trail creating all kinds of music of our own.  Times like those, I wish I had a better video recorder.  It was really a blast.

We had a restful and restorative spring break.  Or at least I did!  and now we are in that final push to the end of the year.  Session 4 of clubs start on Monday the 15th!!  I can’t believe it, can you?  Wow.  I hope your kids have turned in their registration.  We have tons of exciting new clubs, climbing club, bowling is back, Express Yourself, the Breakfast Club, swimming is back too, creative writing, and a sculpture club!  And in the Explorers Club, we will be going to Senegal (and skyping with Janna McIntyre, our staff member who is on an exchange student exploration of her own right now) and Hawaii too.  If only we could do a field trip there……

This week, we have studied the Heart and Lungs.  I will tell you our impetus for this topic was finding a kindergartener and a 1st grader playing “the smoking game” on the playground one day.  I mean, we all know people who smoke.  And a lot of us have done it at one time or another.  So there has been no blame or finger-pointing at all.  And our discussions have stressed that smoking is an adult choice to make.  We decided to not avoid the subject, but to face it and talk about heart and lung health and what smoking does to them. Our focus being on heart and lung anatomy and function, diet, exercise, etc….we have some swimmers in the Magellans who have incredible lung capacity!  It has been an interesting week.  Lots of pulse taking.

DON’T FORGET—or if you don’t know about it yet—Experience Dickson Night is Thursday, April 25.  and if you are a Bright IDEAS family, you are warmly invited to join us for a Potluck Luau on April 25 4:30-5:30 in the cafeteria.  Invites are being handed out now.  Bring a dish to share if you are able, don your favorite Hawaiian shirt, and come do the limbo with us.  Seriously, you don’t want to miss it. Don’t worry if you can’t bring anything.  Just come.  Sit down with our little BI family and commune.

That’s all for now.  Thunderstorms are rolling by and it is time to retire.  Say goodnight, Gracie.  (Goodnight, Gracie.)


WeIRd sCIence

Can I tell you how surprised I was that one of our Armstrongs had watched the 1985 cult classic with Anthony Michael Hall “Weird Science”?  I didn’t even feel like I could show the theme song video made by the band Oingo Boingo.  I told this student that it was entirely inappropriate for him to have seen the movie and that he should talk to me about it in 7-10 years.  (Maybe that is not my call to make, but I mean, geez!!  “Give me the keys, I’ll drive….”) Meanwhile, every time I say the theme of the week, I hear the music in my head.

We have had two days of awesome fun with these experiments!  Who doesn’t love cutting up a bar of Ivory soap and putting it in the microwave?!?!  It is the strangest feeling stuff ever.  All the water dries out of it and that is what makes it expand; the particles just separate and you get this dry, but slick, sort of cotton candy weirdness in your hand.

Raisins dancing in soda, paperclips floating on a piece of paper in water, exhibiting the heaviness of water and the principles(? is this the correct kind of principle? the auto-editor thinks so)  of surface tension.  Then we got to the milk and cream explosions with Dawn detergent and Ms. Bruder, 2nd grade teacher extraordinaire, came in to put something in the fridge and stayed to see the experiment through to the end.  She then came back with her class iPad to take photos when we did it again with different groups.  Fats and proteins vary in whole milk, heavy cream and half n half.  Way cool.

I heard that the Cousteaus were painting with shaving cream, glue and paint today.  I saw the evidence on the cheek of my smiling first grader.  And somewhere the Magellans were knee-deep in their own experiments with different slimes, glucks and other sticky substances.

Tomorrow, the Cousteaus are making lava lamps with small bottles of water.  and then in the 4:30 hour, we will BE the lava lamps.  Oil and water.  I want to be oil.  The Surgeon General has declared that we all need to embrace the Mediterranean diet and it is heavy in olive oil.  Why not start tomorrow?

Pics are already up on our Facebook page, so you can check them out there.  If you don’t ‘LIKE’ our page yet, what are you waiting for?! go do it now and get a look at that crazy soap.

Other goings on this week-Friday is a Professional Development Day for teachers.  That means BI is open all day, 8:00-5:30.

from the Earth, to New Orleans and into a volcano

I wish I had been better at catching up the blog with posts of pics, things explored by the kids, etc…..Earth week seems like FOREVER ago, but it really wasn’t that long.  We made models out of playdough, we studied the structure and layers, we talked about the land, we looked at where earth fits into our solar system.  and so much more.  and then one day, we ate earth cupcakes.  It always comes back to food for me.  usually carbs, even though I don’t eat much of them anymore.  I love them.  The earth cupcakes would have been better if I had embraced the artificial dyes more heartily, instead of the healthy dyes.  They were a little on the pastel side.

Then came the civil rights movement.  I focused on music that week and we looked at how music was a part of the Underground Railroad, a way to give directions, a way to pass on information to slaves trying to get north to freedom.  We looked at how some of the very songs that were important in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950’s were songs sung by slaves in the fields.  Full of coded messages and inspiration for their fellow slaves to not give up on hope, on themselves.  We listened to all kinds of music (from slave songs, to hymns to songs of protest and then since February is also Black History Month, lots of fab tunes by Otis Redding, the Commodores, Stevie Wonder, Etta James, Earth, Wind and Fire, just to name a few).

A lot of good conversations were had that week with the kids about fairness and prejudices that are still around.  Several exercises Tracey has mentioned earlier had a deep impact on the groups.  Jackie Robinson’s brave and heroic leap into the Major Leagues resonated with the kids.  Who doesn’t love baseball?

I loved our trip to New Orelans next!  Again, the food and the music!  My two favorite indulgences.  We had blueberry pancakes for snack on Fat Tuesday and King Cake on Friday.  We soaked ourselves in jazz.  and one day, Tracey, William and I took three groups and wrote rap songs with them, all on themes from New Orleans.  We learned the basic steps to zydeco dancing.  Hurricanes were a big part of the week, specifically Katrina.  Tracey is so good at engaging the Armstrongs, our oldest group of kids, in rich dialogue about subjects/challenges.  I just saw an article in the New York Times today how a man followed the rules for rebuilding his house in New Orleans after it was destroyed in Katrina is still waiting for permits.  The statement ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’ comes to mind.

This week, we have been looking at volcanoes.  There is nothing more fun than filling a bottle with baking soda and then adding vinegar and then watching watch happens.  The only thing better is if you add some red food dye and simulate hot lava.  or dish detergent or shaving cream.  Mount St. Helen’s is categorized at the 2nd most dangerous volcano in the US.  I have forgotten number 1.  I was in 5th grade when she collapsed, erupted, exploded.  I remember it very well.  I loved that some of the kids made the connection between the layers of earth we studied during earth week and what happens inside the earth prior to a volcano erupting!  It was exciting to see them get it.  same tectonic plates, same magma and liquid iron core.  To say ‘The Ring of Fire’ to me brings up the romance of Johnny and June Cash, but it’s important in the world of volcanoes too.  It’s in the Pacific Ocean.

Today might have been my favorite of all the crafts I have done in Bright IDEAS.  I am not crafty.  I can only steal the ideas of others and try to simulate them.  I consider today a victory.  I gave myself permission to veer off the volcanic theme for this project, but thanks to the vision of my staff teammate Cari, our project was reconnected to the theme!  We were not just going to be making salted watercolors, we were making lava drawings!!  I loved it.  and so did the kids.

Next week is weird science.  Not Anthony Michael Hall, but weird none the less.

For now, enjoy some photos from the past few weeks.


IMG_3051IMG_3138IMG_3205IMG_3206IMG_3208IMG_3214IMG_3216IMG_3218Bright Ideas Pictures 2013 006 Bright Ideas Pictures 2013 015

Civil Rights Movement & New Orleans

I’m catching up from an unintentional blogging fast. We took on the Civil Rights Movement a couple of weeks ago. A rather large undertaking for one week, but certainly a lot of material to work with. And then we took on New Orleans last week, coinciding with Fat Tuesday and Mardi Gras. I didn’t think about how the two topics would feed one another, until I was speaking with the Armstrong group about the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and the folks left behind in it’s wake.

During the Civil Rights Movement week,  I  used the book, Teammates, that told Jackie Robinson’s story. I read the book to the older children and then had them split into group and had each group answer a different question about the book. When I was working with the Magellans, 2nd & 3rd graders, one of the sub groups had the question, “What do you think it felt like to be Jackie Robinson?” And they came up with this (without any help):

  1. Sad
  2. Humiliating
  3. Irritated
  4. Proud/Happy
  5. Mad
  6. Ignored
  7. Questionable
  8. Crabby
  9. Lonely
  10. Believable
  11. Loved
  12. Afraid
  13. Not confident
  14. Different
  15. Badly treated

I was so impressed with the words they came up with to express how they might feel. Wow.

One of our staff members, Cari, turned a cafeteria table into a bus and had the children separate by some characteristic- clothing, eye color. The ones with the “desired” color got to sit at the front of the bus and the others had to move to the back. She put Dickson’s experiential theme into action by letting children experience what it felt like to be treated differently because of a physical attribute. It was a powerful moment of learning for our kids and staff.

Now on to last week -New Orleans  Wedged in-between the school Mardi Gras celebration on Tuesday, and Valentine’s Day Thursday, we had a wild week. And oh, let’s not forget Ms. Amanda’s King Cakes – she made four of them for us- on Friday. I spent some time talking to the Armstrong group about Hurricane Katrina. They were all just 3 & 4 when it came through so they didn’t remember it. I showed them some footage from the storm and the rampant destruction and desperation in it’s aftermath.  It’s even hard  for me to believe that folks lived in the Superdome for 6 days, waiting to get out. One of the  Armstrong’s noticed that most of the people left behind in the Superdome were black. We talked about what that meant. Why didn’t folks leave? Why did it take so long to get them out? Even if I had the time, I can’t answer these questions. But it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be asked. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t share how the images from Katrina made us feel.  I personally think it is a dark moment in our nation’s history and watching all that footage again, some of which I had never seen, was a sobering reminder that we still have a lot to overcome.

Onward and upward to Volcano Week.

the Civil Rights Movement

It’s a HUGE subject.  It’s a tremendous puzzle-parts of which are still unsolved, unresolved.  How do you introduce it let alone teach it?  How do you make it captivating?  In 45 minutes?!

The Magellans (2-3 grade Explorers) started with slavery.  They never disappoint when it comes to questions:  What was it?  Who did it? Why? What did they do with their babies? What was the underground railroad? Who were the conductors? Why was Martin Luther King, Jr. on the train? Can we see a picture of him in color?  Was Bob Marley African-American?  Where did ‘Hoe Emma Hoe’ do her hoeing? Why did they sing about it?  Why would you sing songs to communicate?  WAIT!  I heard that song before!  We sang that in my choir once.  What are we overcoming?  What does all this have to do with Michael Jackson?   He was African-American……

This was sort of how our introduction to the Civil Rights Movement went yesterday.  It was a long way from 1830 to 1950 to 2013.  But with the help of the Freedom Singers, Dr. King, Michael Jackson, the Commodores, Aretha Franklin, the great Leontyne Price and Otis Redding—–we made it at least to about 1992.  Later in the week, with the help of Bob Dylan, Chuck Berry, and the Nashville Quartet, we are going to continue to explore how music was used to communicate when people weren’t allowed to talk to one another, how music was used as a vehicle for expressing emotion, for protesting inequality, for bringing joy, and for bringing about change, inside us and in the world.

It’s All In A Name

Last week we participated in No Name Calling Week. The free lessons that I downloaded from the website were fabulous and engaging to all the children. I was able to lead the same lesson (on different days), It’s All In A Name, with both the Magellans (2 & 3) and the Armstrongs (4 & 5).  Below is the listed objective from the lesson plan

OBJECTIVES: To gain group knowledge of what each person’s name means to them. To reflect as a group on the importance attached to names and the different feelings brought up when names are used as Put-ups or Put-downs. To empower each person to assert what they do and do not want to be called in the classroom. To create an atmosphere in which students seek to use names that make others feel good.

The children were paired and had to interview one another about their name:

  • Who gave you your name?
  • Why was it chosen to be your name?
  • What do you like about your name?
  • What nicknames do you like to be called


The children then came back to the group and shared what they had learned about their partner’s name. Among our group, we have Juliana  who was named after the first woman author of a fly fishing book; Levi, who was named after Leviathan, the Mythological creature who guards Atlantis; India who was named after a character in her Mom’s favorite Movie, Gone With The Wind; Juve who was named after a TV show character, and Sophie and Sadie who were named after their grandmas. Some kids have nicknames that only their families are allowed to use.

We then talked about “Put Down” names- ones that make us feel bad. Many of the kids spoke of  negative spins on their names, that others had called them and why they didn’t like them. Some kids were surprised to hear that these names weren’t welcome, because they sounded cool. The kids also spoke of general words that are put downs- stupid, lame, idiot were a few, but they also spoke of phrases that hurt like, “you’re not my friend”, and “I don’t like you.”.

We then spoke of “Put Up” words- encouraging words- and brainstormed ones they liked to be called, ones that are spins on their names and general ones. “Nice job, good try and awesome”, were a few.

We talked about standing up for ourselves when someone calls us a name but we also talked about standing up for others when we hear it happening to others.

We intentionally played non-competitive games during our recreation time at 4:30 this week, to encourage team work and the use of (hopefully) “put up” words. On Thursday, the Magellans worked together to get a hula-hoop around the circle without breaking their hands. I heard a lot of put-up words, including “go, go go” and “you can do it!” and the kids were proud when they had accomplished this. We talked about how it felt to hear those words of encouragement from one another.

Wow. A moment of accomplishment for me!

And then we played another team game that involved trying to keep a ball in the air as a group. How many times in a row could 25 kids hit the ball without it hitting the ground? They tried it many times.



But we did have the contrasting moment to discuss as a group. Why couldn’t we accomplish more than 5? Why were there so many kids who never even hit the ball once?

We’ll have to give this one another go sometime. 

Until then..


We’re all different alike

That’s the title of the anti-bullying week lesson I am using with my group today in Bright IDEAS.  Thanks to Tracey’s dedication to finding us wonderful resources to use this week!  And where did my mind take the lesson?  Mother of a 6 1/2-year-old?  Woman who works with sometimes 90 kids a day?  I went directly to crayons.  I am sure that I have little bits of colored wax running through my veins.  Or at least I will, by the time I am 50.  (not THAT far away, people.)

Why crayons, you might ask?  Well, it began when my little nugget got the crayon maker for Christmas.  You take all your broken bits of crayons and melt them down and make new crayons.  Color medley crayons.  That is what I have been doing this morning.  Making crayons for my group.  I think that it is the perfect symbol of who we are as a human race.  We are all human.  (we are all crayons).  We all come in different packaging.  Some of us are tall (whole crayons), some of us are less tall (pieces of crayons).  Our backgrounds are diverse, so are our cultures.  But we are all crayons.  and these crayons are so cool, because they are swirling mixtures of all different colors-writing differently depending on how they are held.  Some have yellow on the inside.  Some have red on the outside.  Some are dark colors, some look like sunshine!  But they are all crayons.  made of basically the same elements.  But they are all unique.  They are all different alike.
crayon maker crayons


Wow, we have been off the blog for a while.  Tracey Whitehouse and I think about it all the time.  We talk about what we need to post.  What we want to post.  and then work, children, challenges with children, sickness, and life just get in the way.

We said goodbye to some beloved staff in December.  Janna McIntyre is off to Senegal very soon and this past Friday, we skyped with Patrick Frame from his new digs in Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavik.  We have missed their daily presence, but are so happy for them to be having these incredible experiences.  Even though our kids were suffering from a severe case of challenging behavior crammed into the project lab like sardines on the last day of a long week of no outside recess—-you could see that talking about another country with Patrick while he was sitting there, 5 hours ahead of us, in complete darkness of night, getting to ask him questions about life made more of an impact on them than any pictures or videos we could show them of a country.  It made it real.  It made it tangible.  A good learning for us staff.

Making experiences tangible for the kids is our daily challenge.  In fact, that was a large part of a 3 hour meeting that Ms. Lewis, Tracey and I had yesterday.  We have kids from all socio-economic backgrounds.  We are reaching some and we are light-years from others.  How to plan for groups that include kids from the entire socio-economic spectrum and engage them all?  Add into that mix that these are individual humans who are so much more than the sum of their socio-economic parts.  Our goal is to inspire them, help them learn to make good choices-not just to satisfy us-but so that they grow up to be contributing, interesting human beings engaged in life.  engaged in the world.  engaged in LIVING-not existing.

How do we positively contribute to their growing up process and inspire them and engage them and keep them safe AND keep our program evolving and moving forward as a whole?!?!  One way is a 3 hour meeting on a beautiful Saturday.  Another is the valuable resource of our teachers and staff at Dickson.  We so appreciate their willingness to hold counsel in the hallway or to share strategies and plans with us.  We are a stronger program because of them.  We are also so appreciative of the parents of our kids.  You support us, work with us and trust us to be a part of your kids’ lives.  Bright IDEAS is becoming more than the sum of its parts as well.

This is far from where I started this blog entry, but oh well.  It’s Sunday morning and I have only had one cup of coffee.

We have a lot coming up in BI.  This week is anti-bullying week.  We have new units of study for the weeks and months to come too.  Weird science, volcanoes, Senegal, the earth, character building, water, galaxies and stars to name a few.

Session 3 clubs start the week of February 4.  BI is in full swing between now and then.  I really need to go help that coffee pot by reducing its load……happy new year.  happy Sunday.  happy life.  amanda