Category Archives: Uncategorized

Writing woes – Flash fiction

For the past couple of months, Charli Mills has been posting a flash fiction challenge on her site Carrot Ranch Communications.

I have been really enjoying the challenges as I hadn’t tried writing fiction in such brevity before. I do like having a go at various genres but the main focus of my writing is education and literacy learning. I am currently developing resources for children, parents and teachers which I plan to make available on a future website.

 Having many years’ experience in writing these types of resources, I sometimes think I would be willing to develop any resource requested by an early childhood teacher. Participating in the Flash Fiction Challenge was a way of proving to myself that I could attempt any topic and genre.

 However, I have not found writing a response to this week’s prompt so easy. Charli’s challenge was to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a travel horror story.

 I am not a fan of horror (real or imagined) and I haven’t done enough travel to have experienced a horror story (thankfully) but I was still keen to have a go and keep up my good participation record.

The difficulty I was experiencing with this writing task made me think about writing tasks that are set for children in school. How many children have ever returned from holiday and been set the task of writing about “My Holiday”?

Maybe that’s not so bad, they have all experienced it. But what about other topics that are of little interest to them.

 This week across Australia students in years 3, 5, 7 and 9 are sitting NAPLAN (National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy) tests.

Students in those year levels are set the same writing task . They are givena ‘prompt’ – an idea or topic – and asked to write a response of a particular text type” 

Information on the acara (Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority) webstite explains that

“In 2014, as in previous years, the Writing task will be a single common task for all students. The 2014 Writing test will require students to respond to either a persuasive or narrative Writing prompt. However, the genre of the prompt will not be disclosed prior to the test period.”

It goes on further to say that

 “The provision of a rich and broad curriculum is the best preparation for NAPLAN, including the Writing task.”

I think I have a fairly rich and broad educational background with a reasonable level of literacy skills; but I am not convinced that, on any given day, in a restricted amount of time, under the watchful eyes of supervisors I would produce my best work in response to a prompt about which I may have little experience, knowledge or interest.

 

What about you? How do you think you would go?

 

Below is my response to Charli’s horror travel prompt. I don’t think it is my best work.

 

Travel woes

She willed the doors shut forever, knowing that open they must, or she’d be left behind.

She mentally checked and re-checked required items. Surely there was something she had missed?

 Dread gripped her ankles, threatening her balance.

Fear squeezed her chest, constricting her breath.

 Heights and enclosed spaces were not her thing.

 She straightened, attempting to hide the tremble from fellow travellers.

 “Don’t be crowded. I need space, air to breathe.”

 The doors opened. She was swept inside.

 They closed, encasing her. No escape now.

Would she make the distance, mind intact?

 Ding!

Floor 35. Here already.

 

The NAPLAN writing tasks are marked against a rubric of 10 criteria. I wonder what the criteria for flash fiction would be and how I would score.

 

Please share your thoughts.

Ho ho ho! (Q.E.D.)

In comments to one or two previous posts on my blog, suggestions were made that I should tackle the issue of Santa. I wasn’t prepared to do that at the time, and am still not. (I didn’t do much of a job of it as a parent.)
However I came across this post by Michelle Sowey, and I think she tackles it quite well. Being a philosopher, she deals with it much better than I would.
Although it’s not Christmas yet, it’s never too early or too late to start thinking about issues like these.

The Philosophy Club

(Or, This Festive Season, Teach Your Children to Believe Responsibly)

Ho ho ho! Illustration by Ask Alice

Currently circulating on social media is this letter from a couple of well-intentioned parents to their questioning son, who is looking for the truth about Santa Claus. Not wanting to deprive their boy of his innocent credulity, nor wishing to tell him outright lies, the parents take the circuitous route of explaining Santa as a metaphor for a bunch of desirable qualities like love, hope and happiness.

Mom, are you Santa?

I can understand why many parents choose not to disenchant kids at an early age. It’s endearing to see children take delight in their fantasy worlds. It’s lovely to watch them immerse themselves in works of fiction and let their imaginations run wild in creative play. What’s more, fictional characters like Harry Potter, Santa Claus and the tooth fairy are common reference points for the majority of children in…

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Kids & Philosophy: A cinematic feast

The Philosophy Club

Kids & philosophy

Anyone keen to foster children’s curiosity and philosophical thinking is sure to savour this banquet of short films. Bon appétit!

Our appetiser is Zia Hassan’s 9 year old discusses the meaning of life and the universe. In case you missed the viral internet sensation last year, here’s a kid with a remarkable philosophical imagination.

Squatting on his patio, he holds forth on multiverses, free will, the meaning of life and the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence (“an endless quest without knowing what your quest is”). His bold speculations are tempered with a healthy dose of philosophical doubt and a striking awareness of the limits of his knowledge. Confronting the question of free will, he senses that life

    may be predestined, but you can change that destiny. I might be wrong; it might be scheduled like some play… and you act it, not knowing that you’re part of it… Maybe…destiny is…

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Searching for purpose in a picture book – Part B

What is the purpose of picture books? Is their purpose simply to entertain with an interesting story and rhythmical language that is fun to read and recite? Is it simply, as I said in my previous post Searching for meaning in a picture book – Part A, “. . . a special time of togetherness, of bonding; of sharing stories and ideas . . . “ Could the purposes of picture books extend beyond entertainment alone? I think most people would acknowledge that reading picture books to young children has a profound effect upon children’s learning and development. In addition to entertainment, picture books can be used for a multitude of purposes, including:

  • to encourage a love of reading and books
  • to develop vocabulary and knowledge of language (through immersion and engagement rather than direct instruction)
  • to provide a link between the language of home and the language used in the wider community and in education
  • to support children embarking on their own journeys into reading
  • to inspire imaginations
  • to provide opportunities for discussing feelings, emotions, ideas, responses
  • to develop feelings of empathy, identification, recognition, hope
  • to instill an appreciation of art by presentation of a wide variety of styles, mediums and techniques

I’m sure you can think of many more than I have listed here. But what of knowledge, information and facts?

How, and when, do children learn to distinguish fiction from fact, or fact from fiction? At the moment that question is too big for me to even think about answering, but it is a question that I ponder frequently and may return to in future posts.

Children seem to realise early on that animals don’t really behave like humans and wear clothing.

They don’t expect their toys to come to life and start talking.

They quickly understand, when it is explained to them, that unicorns and dragons are mythical creatures and, to our knowledge, don’t exist.

But what happens when the lines between fact and fiction blur and content, though presented in fiction, has the appearance of being based in fact? For example: The lion is often referred to as “King of the jungle” and appears in that setting in many stories. However, lions don’t live in jungles. According to Buzzle, they live in a variety of habitats and jungle isn’t one of them. You knew that didn’t you? But what about the children? When will children learn that lions are not really kings of the jungle? Do you think it matters if children grow up thinking that lions live in jungles?

What about when animals that don’t co-exist appear in stories together? For example: Penguins often share a storyline alongside polar bears. Does this encourage children to think that penguins and polar bears co-exist? When do adults explain to children that penguins and polar bears live at opposite ends of the planet? At what age do you think children will happen upon that information? Does it matter?

What about the way animals are visually portrayed in stories? Must the illustrations be anatomically correct? For example: We all know that spiders have eight legs. Right? If I was to ask you to draw a picture of a spider, how would you do it? Have a go. It will only take a second or two. I can wait.

Now compare your drawing with these:

How did you go?

While children easily realise that this picture is fictional:

They have less success is understanding what is wrong with the previous images. Spiders have eight legs. Those drawings show eight legged furry creatures. The story says they are spiders. That must be what spiders look like. Right? Unfortunately, real spiders look more like this one:

All eight legs are attached to the cephalothorax, not the abdomen (or even one body part) as shown in most picture books. While I am sure you drew a spider correctly (didn’t you?), most children and many adults draw them more as they are depicted in children’s stories. Is this a problem?

I am not for one moment suggesting that we get rid of fictional picture books and stories. I love them! And as I have said, and will continue to say, many times: they are essential to a child’s learning and development. There is no such thing as too many or too often with picture books. Instead, I would like you to consider the misconceptions that may be developed when the content of picture (and other) books may be misleading, and how we adults should handle that when sharing books with children. One of the books that gets me thinking most about this topic is “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

As I said in a previous post, it has been published in over 50 languages and more than 33 million copies have been sold worldwide. I am almost certain that you will be familiar with it, and upon that assumption, I have one final task for you in this post. Please share your response to the question in this poll:

To be continued . . .

I would love to receive any other comments you would like to share regarding the content in this post.

I do apologize that I have been unable to get the text and pictures in the layout I desire. I obviously have more investigations to carry out and learning to do.  🙂

Maybe next time I’ll have it mastered, says she, hopefully!

SOLE Man

I love listening to TED talks.

TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design.

The mission of this organisation is Spreading ideas, a goal dear to my heart.

I always find the talks fascinating, challenging and inspiring. I feel quite humbled by the fact that there are so many clever, creative and innovative people in the world. However, at the same time, I feel reassured, knowing that our collective future and the future of our planet is in such capable hands.

Recently I listened to some talks by an educational researcher, Sugata Mitra,  winner of the 2013 TED Prize.

The TED Prize is awarded to an extraordinary individual with a creative and bold vision to spark global change. . . . the TED Prize supports one wish to inspire the world.

Mitra’s wish is to build a School in the Cloud, a school where children learn from each other. He introduces the idea of the Self Organized Learning Environment and invites people around the word to help him achieve his wish by downloading a SOLE toolkit to bring these Self Organised Learning Environments to their own communities.

The toolkit is a step-by-step guide which is designed to “prepare you to ignite the fire of curiosity in kids at home, in school or at after-school programs.”

A SOLE is basically a small group of children learning together, using the internet to answer questions of interest to them, with minimal teacher intervention.

There was much in Mitra’s talks that I agreed with, such as

schools as we know them now, they’re obsolete. I’m not saying they’re broken. It’s quite fashionable to say that the education system’s broken. It’s not broken. It’s wonderfully constructed. It’s just that we don’t need it anymore. It’s outdated.

“Encouragement seems to be the key.”

“There is evidence from neuroscience. The reptilian part of our brain, which sits in the center of our brain, when it’s threatened, it shuts down everything else, it shuts down the prefrontal cortex, the parts which learn, it shuts all of that down. Punishment and examinations are seen as threats. We take our children, we make them shut their brains down, and then we say, “Perform.”

much that intrigued me, such as the grandmother method

“Stand behind them. Whenever they do anything, you just say, ‘Well, wow, I mean, how did you do that? What’s the next page? Gosh, when I was your age, I could have never done that.’ You know what grannies do.”

much that inspired me, such as

“I think what we need to look at is we need to look at learning as the product of educational self-organization. If you allow the educational process to self-organize, then learning emerges. It’s not about making learning happen. It’s about letting it happen. The teacher sets the process in motion and then she stands back in awe and watches as learning happens.”

and much that I wasn’t sure about, that led me to question, such as, 

“Could it be that we don’t need to go to school at all? Could it be that, at the point in time when you need to know something, you can find out in two minutes? Could it be — a devastating question, a question that was framed for me by Nicholas Negroponte — could it be that we are heading towards or maybe in a future where knowing is obsolete? But that’s terrible. We are homo sapiens. Knowing, that’s what distinguishes us from the apes. But look at it this way. It took nature 100 million years to make the ape stand up and become Homo sapiens. It took us only 10,000 to make knowing obsolete. What an achievement that is. But we have to integrate that into our own future.”

As well as listening to TED talks, I also love reading about philosophy, especially the inclusion of the study of philosophy in the school curriculum.

While following up this philosophical interest, I came across this great blog post by Michelle Sowey, “Can you kill a goat by staring at it? A critical look at minimally invasive education“.

I couldn’t resist the title, of course, but imagine my delight when I realised that Sowey was critically appraising Mitra’s SOLEs from a philosophical standpoint.

Sowey saw much to agree with in Mitra’s talks, but for her also, the talks raised many questions.

These are points of convergence that Sowey saw between  Mitra’s approach and that of philosophical enquiry in the classroom:

  • both are curiosity-driven
  • both involve collaboration of students
  • both seek to engage children’s interest in big questions
  • both support children in exploring ideas and sharing discoveries
  • both offer the prospect of intellectual adventures that spring from children’s sense of wonder and their ability to work together.

Sowey went on to say:

“What’s more, Dr Mitra’s proposed curriculum of big questions includes many deeply philosophical ones, such as ‘Can anything be less than zero?’, ‘Will robots be conscious one day?’ and ‘What is altruism?’”

Then came the BUT:

Sowey went on to say

“There are two major points of difference, though, and it’s here that I see cracks in the veneer of minimally invasive education. It differs from collaborative enquiry in that (1) it features the internet as a principal learning medium and (2) it renounces the guidance of qualified teachers or practitioners.”

Sowey raised concerns including the need to develop in students the ability

  • to assess the credibility of internet sources
  • to challenge faulty arguments
  • to question claims that are dogmatic, propagandistic, biased, pseudoscientific or downright erroneous

She went on to say:

“We need to make sure that kids develop thinking and reasoning skills alongside skills in research and information awareness. For this, the support of a competent guide is indispensable, equipping children not only to assess the reliability of different sources but also to evaluate the many arguments they will encounter.”

I agree wholeheartedly with this.

She then goes on to say:

“To dismiss the infrastructure of schooling altogether because of traditional standardisation is to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Surely it makes more sense to repurpose that infrastructure in ways that better nourish children’s curiosity, critical thinking and creative exploration.”

which makes perfect sense to me also.

Although I am not a fan of traditional schooling and have made that stance very clear in previous posts, I have expended a lot of energy in trying to establish what I consider to be a better approach. The goal of nourishing “children’s curiosity, critical thinking and creative exploration” was always high on the agenda.

I encourage you to listen to Mitra’s inspirational talks, and to read Sowey’s compelling article in its entirety.

Sugata Mitra “Build a school in the cloud

Sugata Mitra “The child-driven education

Michelle Sowey “Can you kill a goat by staring at it? A critical look at minimally invasive education

I will leave you with Sowey’s concluding statement:

“We need the incisiveness and probing of critical and creative thinking to get deep into the viscera of the facts and anti-facts, the experts and anti-experts. And we need the incisiveness and probing of good teachers to go deep into children’s thought-space: to discover what they’re understanding and what they’re not, yet.”

What do you think?

Please share your thoughts.

Can you kill a goat by staring at it? A critical look at minimally invasive education

This article is thought-provoking; raising questions, issuing challenges and suggesting solutions. Teaching philosophy in schools is one of those suggestions with which I wholeheartedly agree.
I reblog this article in celebration of World Philosophy Day, the third Thursday in November.
I have also referred to this article in my post “SOLE man”

philosophyfoundation

In his renowned ‘Hole in the Wall’ experiments in developing countries, Dr Sugata Mitra gave children access to an internet-connected computer and left them to learn what they could, unsupervised, with apparently remarkable results.

Photo 1 (Hole in the Wall 1)

At an internet kiosk in a New Delhi slum, local children figured out how to search the Web, learned English, gleaned information from a variety of websites and taught each other what they had learned. Similarly, with access to a streetside computer in a south Indian village, Tamil-speaking kids managed to figure out basic principles of DNA replication by playing around with English-language web material on their own. ‘Minimally invasive education’ is how Dr Mitra describes this method, alluding to the high-impact, low-disruption techniques of minimally invasive medicine.

Photo 2 (Hole in the Wall 2)

Hole in the Wall: Minimally Invasive Learning Stations designed by Dr Sugata Mitra. Top photo: source unknown. Bottom photo by Philippe Tarbouriech, Jaipur, Rajasthan.

This novel educational approach has garnered…

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Aren’t they amazing!

Children, I mean.

birthday cake 2

My gorgeous little granddaughter is two years old today, and what a wonderful opportunity that provides me to reflect on the marvels of children’s ability to wonder and learn. I am forever in awe of their ability to learn language and all its nuances.

Some people say they are “sponges”, spongebut I say they are far more than that. They are creators of their own understandings, learning far more than anyone could ever possibly teach them. From the moment they are born, children are actively seeking to make sense of the world: through their interactions with it and relationships they form in it.

Anna is already using language for a multitude of purposes.

She has an extensive vocabulary which includes:

Names, for example, of

  • family members and friends
  • fruits and other foods
  • colours
  • animals
  • animal sounds
  • toys
  • dinosaurs (learnt from her big brother)
  • objects in the home and environment

Action words (verbs) including eat, drink, play, read, watch, swim, jump, dance, clean

Adjectives e.g. big and small

Adverbs e.g. fast and slow

Social graces for example greetings like hello and bye-bye, and manners like please and thank you

She sometimes uses one word effectively to convey a complex meaning or thought, but more often now she is stringing together a number of words to form phrases and sentences. She is able to participate in conversations which require an exchange of information or an interchange of questions and answers.

She uses:

Questions with appropriate words and inflection to:

  • be informed e.g. Where’s Mummy?
  • request e.g. strawberry please Daddy? play trampoline Mummy?
  • interrogate e.g. why you eat pineapple Bob?

Commands

  • more Beckii!
  • stop Bob!

Statements e.g. I go sleep my home

She understands the importance of facial expressions and body language that accompany these exchanges. She has learned the sway of accompanying a “please” with a smile and the power of an emphatic “No!”

Although many of her sentences do not contain articles (a, the), prepositions or connectives, her meaning is easily understood in the context of the conversation.

She knows the placement of adjectives before the noun e.g. “big ball”, not “ball big”.

She pretends play, e.g. setting up a group of balls then instructing the adults to “shh”, because the eggs need quiet for hatching.

She has learnt how to follow instructions and take turns in a game e.g. a game of memory turning over the cards to find the matching pairs.

johnny_automatic_father_and_daughter_playingAnna understands far more than she is able to produce. She responds appropriately to the questions, commands and statements of her family, asking for more information and clarification if she needs it. She knows when the sounds are produced in play rather than for meaning e.g. “Billy-bobby-silly-Sally”, and responds with giggles rather than questions.

She is familiar with the language of books and expects books to be a source of pleasure and language.

party_pinguin__card_ocal

She knows that songs and rhymes are not conversation and joins in rhythmically and tunefully. At her birthday party, she led the family in singing “Happy birthday” to herself, and did a marvellous job of conducting.

All of these observations reveal but a sample of her actual language learning, glimpsed through the grandmother’s window, you could say, during weekend visits. The parents would be more able to describe in greater detail just how extensive the language development is.

But is Anna’s ability with language remarkable?

Yes, indeed it is. Just as the language learning of every other child is remarkable.

In just two short years Anna, like most other children around the world, has learned the basis of her language. What conditions supported this enormous growth in language learning?

johnny_automatic_playing_dress_up

According to research, children are born with an innate ability to learn language. At first they have the potential to learn the sounds, words, grammar and use of any language, but as time goes on their ear is tuned to the language spoken around them, and by the age of one children have learned all the sounds of their native language. However, though this ability to learn language is innate, it doesn’t occur in a vacuum. It occurs in an environment rich in language, and the richer the environment, the stronger, the better the language growth.

Anna is surrounded by a loving family who speak with her discussing the day’s events, explaining information, telling stories and playing imaginatively. They read to her many times a day, and play games that require thinking and talking. This exposure to language, both oral and written, is an important part of her life, every day.

Conditions for language learning

Anna’s environment clearly exhibits the conditions, described by Brian Cambourne, which encourage language learning:

Immersion: Anna is surrounded by language. Her significant adults (parents and other carers e.g. aunt and uncle, grandparents) speak to her: interacting and playing with language. They read stories and sing songs to her. They hold conversations with each other about a wide range of topics. While not included in these conversations, Anna is quietly learning the nuances of adult discourse.

Demonstration: Anna observes adults using language in many different situations and comes to understand the language of different contexts and purposes e.g. greeting friends, shopping, asking for help, giving information.

Feedback: As soon as Anna started to make sounds of her own, her parents provided feedback by repeating the sounds she had made and by adding new ones for her to copy. When she started to say her first words, her parents responded with enthusiasm and encouragement.

Approximation: Anna’s parents accept and respond to the message of her communication, without hint of it being incomplete or incorrect. Instead they support and elaborate, seeing it as part of the development towards language proficiency.

Now that Anna is joining words into phrases and sentences, the adults respond, often with an agreement or explanation, by restating the sentence, and expanding on it, supplying the words not yet part of her vocabulary; demonstrating intuitively the target structures towards which Anna’s language is developing.

The guidance offered by these responses is gentle and intuitive, giving both congratulations on the ability to communicate and reinforcing standard language usage. For example, when Anna says “Apple juice,” the parent may respond, “Would Anna like some apple juice? I will get some apple juice for Anna.”

Expectation: Anna’s parents always expected that she would learn to talk and that her talk would develop through easily recognisable stages. They do not expect her to speak like a university professor at the age of two!

They are also aware that not all children develop language at the same rate, and understand that if Anna wasn’t speaking in sentences at the age when another was, they would just continue to provide demonstration, feedback and support expecting that she would in her own time. While they know that seeking help early if concerned about a child’s language development in these early years is very important, they have no reason to be concerned about Anna’s language development.

Responsibility: Anna’s parents recognise that the responsibility for her language learning rests with Anna. They provide the environment, they model language in use and provide her with feedback and support. They don’t attempt to formally teach her language structures which are not yet part of her developing language.

Use: Anna uses language in real situations for real purposes: to get things done, to ask for help, to think and share.

Don’t you agree it’s a pretty remarkable process?

Children all over the world become proficient language users when they are immersed in rich language environments, often provided intuitively by parents who talk with and read to their children.

Sadly, not all children have the benefit of an environment rich in language.

If we could convince all parents of the importance of talking and reading with their children in these early learning years, we would have far fewer children with delayed learning abilities at school.

Nor and Bec reading

How do you think we can help parents of young children understand the difference it could make to the lives of their children, and themselves?

Please share your ideas.

John Dewey’s dream

“John Dewey dreamed of the teacher as a guide helping children formulate questions and devise solutions. Dewey saw the pupil’s own experience, not information imparted by the teacher, as the critical path to understanding. Dewey also contended that democracy must be the main value in each school just as it is in any free society. The education system in Finland is . . . shaped by these ideas of Dewey and flavored with the Finnish principles of practicality, creativity, and common sense. What the world can learn from educational change in Finland is that accomplishing the dream of a good and equitable education system for all children is possible. But it takes the right mix of ingenuity, time, patience and determination.

The Finnish Way of educational change should be encouraging to those who have found the path of competition, choice, test-based accountability, and performance-based pay to be a dead end. . . . the Finnish way reveals that creative curricula, autonomous teachers, courageous leadership and high performance go together.”  (Sahlberg, Pasi 2011 Finnish Lessons, What can the world learn from educational change in Finland?)

John Dewey (1859 – 1952) was an American philosopher and educator. Dissatisfied with traditional practices for what he saw as their inability to keep pace with changing needs of learners and society, opened his Laboratory School in Chicago, proposing a more child-centred approach focusing upon individual needs of the children who would be engaged in a variety of activities of interest and meaning to them. The term “progressive education” refers to the movement against formal traditional practices which, following Dewey’s lead, began in America in the late 19th Century.

Pasi Sahlberg’s book “Finnish Lessons” is “about Finland and how the Finns transformed their educational system from mediocre in the 1980s to one of the models of excellence today. International indicators show that Finland has one of the most educated citizenries in the world”.

In the introduction Ann Lieberman writes, “In the Finnish context, teaching is a high-status profession, akin to being a doctor. Those who enter not only stay in teaching, but many continue their studies, not to leave, but to learn more and contribute more to their profession. This heightened sense of professionalism makes teaching a sought-after position and one obtained only by those who are fortunate enough to be chosen for candidacy.”

The debate about the value of a traditional versus a child-centred approach to education has waged for centuries. It seems that Finland has incorporated many of Dewey’s progressive ideals into their educational philosophy and pedagogical practice. I can’t help but get excited when I read of what happens in schools in Finland.

Which other countries will follow Finland’s lead to transform their educational system into one of excellence? For me, it can’t happen soon enough!

What do you think?

Welcome to my blog

Welcome to my blog. This is a whole new adventure for me and I am excited about where it may lead. I hope you will be inclined to pop in from time to time to share my journey and offer some encouragement along the way.

Since education is my life a good deal of what I write will focus on my thoughts and ideas about education and learning. Check out my poem Education is on the “Education is” tab to see how different I believe education and schooling to be. I would love to hear the ways in which you may or may not agree with me. I am in for a bit of education myself as I explore this new world (to me) of blogging and I know there are many wonderful teachers out there ready to teach me what I need to know.

When the student is ready the teacher appears.”

I am ready.

Let the adventure begin!