Archive for September 2012

Secret directions for moms and dads

September 25, 2012

“I don’t like it when you tease me!” my six-year old son said indignantly to me one night.

“But I have to tease you,” I answered reasonably. “That’s what moms and dads do.”

“No,” he argued a little uncertainly.

“Yes,” I said. Inspired, I added, “It’s in the secret moms and dads directions.”

He frowned and demanded, “I want to see the paper!”

I told him that I couldn’t show him the paper, because it’s only for moms and dads. But I started thinking about what would be written on that secret paper. (Teasing is secret #6). Though these are well-known secrets, it’s good to reflect on them every now and then.

Secret directions for moms and dads
1. Give children smiles and hugs, and laugh together.
2. Listen to them.
3. Create small rituals and shared moments.
4. Praise them honestly; correct them quickly and consistently.
5. Play games (but don’t always let them win).
6. Tease them gently and tickle them mischievously.
7. Encourage their imagination.
8. Teach them how to learn, how to think for themselves, and how to be happy with what they have.
9. Let them make their own mistakes, because actions have consequences.
10. Show embarrassing childhood photos/videos and tell embarrassing stories when they are older.

What secrets would you pass on to your child when they have children of their own?

‘Back to school’ for everyone

September 18, 2012

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young,” said businessman Henry Ford.

Hawaii’s children are back in school, already engaged in another year of learning. But “back to school” is not just for students – it’s for all of us.

Maybe there’s a class you wish you had taken in school, or a hobby that you’d like to try. (I started taking ceramics this year at our neighborhood park). You don’t have to sign up for a semester of classes at a college or university. You just have to decide that learning is important to you.

What do you want to learn today? If you’ve paused by the wayside, here are a few ideas to start you back on the path of lifelong learning:

* Adult Education: The Hawaii Department of Education offers low-cost adult education classes in adult literacy, reading and writing English, math, and a high school diploma. In addition, there are classes on photography, computers, drawing, hula, income tax preparation, sign language and more. Check with your local community college or university for more “Continuing Education” programs.

* Art: The Honolulu Museum of Art offers fee-based workshops and classes on painting and drawing, textiles and fiber, glass, printmaking, ceramics, metal and jewelry, flowers and lei, sculpture, and the tea ceremony.

* Boating and seamanship: The Hawaii Sail and Power Squadron offers fee-based boating classes, seminars, and certifications for people interested in boating, seamanship, and navigation.

* Cooking: Kapiolani Community College offers fee-based culinary classes about cooking, baking, local recipes, knife skills, and more, with intriguing classes like “A Splash of Aloha” and “Come to the Casbah” and “Green Holidays.”

* Emergency preparedness: The Hawaii Red Cross offers training in CPR, AED, lifeguarding, swimming, caregiving, and more. There are community classes and online courses.

* Hawaiian language and culture: Kamehameha Schools Distance Learning offers low-cost online classes on the Hawaiian language and Hawaiian culture. Learn about the Kumulipo, Hawaiian names, traditional Hawaiian places, sustainability, Kamehameha I, and Bernice Pauahi Bishop. For educators, there are also online Hawaiian culture courses that are eligible for Hawaii Department of Education Professional Development credit.

* Health and fitness: Many hospitals and health maintenance organizations (HMOs) offer free and low-cost classes about health, fitness, maternity, chronic conditions, and more. Check your health insurance provider for classes near you.

* Hobbies and fitness: Honolulu Department of Parks and Recreation offers free and fee classes for all ages. Adults can sign up for everything from aerobics, zumba, aikido, belly dancing, and swimming to ceramics, dance, guitar, hula, ukulele, and yoga. Check the Hawaii County, Kauai, and Maui Parks and Recreation websites for local classes.

Maui: Winston Churchill once said: “I am always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught.” What are you going to learn today?

Accidental paths to invention

September 11, 2012

Accidents happen. Sometimes accidents are weird or embarrassing or hurtful. And sometimes accidents can lead to great inventions.

Birgit Krols’ “Accidental Inventions: The Chance Discoveries That Changed Our Lives” (2012) gives us an entertaining, easy-to-read glimpse at some of the useful inventions resulting from “mere fluke, through laziness, absent-mindedness, or carelessness” (page 6).

The book emphasizes that invention is part discovery (hard work), part creativity (figuring out how to use it) and part salesmanship (convincing others that they need it). And it inadvertently shows us how we can encourage inventiveness when we are trying to invent a product or even solve a problem.

Here are 5 ideas to kick-start inventiveness and creativity:

* Discover a new use for an old product. You don’t have to invent something new, just a new way to use it. Kleenex tissues, invented in 1924 as a replacement for cotton in gas masks, were re-introduced as disposable tissues in 1930. Crafters do this all the time, turning old building materials into new furniture and artwork.

* Find a creative use for a failed invention. So it’s not exactly what you were looking for. Can it be used in another way? Superglue was invented by chemist Harry Coover in 1942 during his search for a ultratransparent plastic, and was ignored for over 10 years before being marketed. Post-its were invented by 3M scientist Spencer Silver in 1980 during his search for a strong adhesive, but it took his colleague, Arthur Fry, to see the practical uses for the weak glue.

* Get inspired by boredom. Frisbees were originally pie tins made by Frisbie Baking Co. in 1871, until bored students realized that they could be thrown in the air.

* Turn a nuisance into a solution. Piggy banks were invented around 1900 by an English potter asked to make “pygg” (clay) banks, and crafted “pig” banks instead. Velcro was invented by electrical engineer Georges de Mestral in 1941 after noticing burrs of burdock caught in his socks and his dog’s fur.

* Be cautiously careless; or, Don’t be discouraged by carelessness. Scotchgard was invented by 3M scientist Patsy Sherman in 1952 when she accidentally dropped a bottle of synthetic latex on her assistant’s white fabric tennis shoes.

As science fiction writer Isaac Asimov said, “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ but ‘That’s funny…'”

“A Chance to Make History” by Wendy Kopp

September 1, 2012

Teach for America began as an undergraduate senior thesis in 1989. The teacher corps now has more than 8,000 members in 39 cities and rural regions, and more than 20,000 alumni have completed their two-year contracts.

After 20 years of building and growing a corps of enthusiastic teachers, Teach for America founder Wendy Kopp has written “A Chance to Make History: What Works and What Doesn’t in Providing an Excellent Education for All” (2011) to share lessons from corps members, alumni, and colleagues about “the problem of educational inequality and what it will take to solve it” (page 3). The book is filled with stories of teachers and schools who are succeeding against the odds, but there is little from students themselves.  

Kopp acknowledges that “We have pursued all manner of reforms… Sadly, in aggregate, we still have not moved the needle against the achievement gap that persists along racial and socioeconomic lines” (page 6). There are no quick fixes; more funding, technology, charter schools, vouchers, school size, and curriculum don’t guarantee success. Instead, she focuses on things we can change: teachers, schools, a culture of achievement, and community. “At the core of the solution to educational inequality is leadership” (page 11), Kopp insists. 

The book is divided into six sections, covering transformational teachers, transformational schools, improving systems, warnings about silver bullets and silver scapegoats, increasing the pace of change, and transformational change.

* Great teachers are effective leaders who try to change students’ lives (trajectories). They have high expectations for their students, with frequent assessments; they maximize every minute and are committed to teaching.

* Great schools have an ambitious vision that everyone works toward with excitement and urgency, a culture of achievement, highly effective teachers, a program for “master teachers” to mentor colleagues, effective administrators who recruit and retain good teachers, and a supportive community.

* Great school systems invest in teachers, create cultures of achievement and accountability, and have an inspiring vision.

Optimistic and practical, “A Chance to Make History” is more of a presentation than a personal account. At times it seems like a promotional story for Teach For America. Ironically, correcting “educational inequality” seems to require a drastically “unequal” effort to make up the difference between low-income communities.

“The key to success is local leadership and capacity to employ all the elements of strong vision, culture accountability, and management that distinguish highly effective organizations” (page 141), Kopp stresses.

You can read a helpful discussion guide and find out about book events at To learn about Teach For America or apply to the Corps, visit