What Are You Doing for Others? Inspiring Youth to Make a Difference

There has been a tremendous amount of discourse regarding the current political climate in our nation. I have abstained from getting involved in these discussions as I do not wish to offend or make anyone uncomfortable.

The other day, however, my sister-in-law directly asked me for my opinion. In response to her question, I admit I was vague and I didn’t go into any detail about my political opinion. I did state though that it is my hope that through the events of the past year, perhaps our youth will be more engaged in politics and causes for which they feel impassioned.

“I have never been interested in politics myself,” I stated. “Yet, what I observe is that people are beginning to realize their voice – their vote – makes a difference. They are finding the courage to speak up and to speak out rather than stand by as ideal observers.”

What Are You Doing for Others? Inspiring Youth to Make a Difference @EvaVarga.netWhen we were traveling through the East Coast this past fall, we visited numerous national monuments and historical landmarks. Famous quotations were often inscribed in the granite and I would read these aloud as we walked. My daughter photographed many and copied her favorites into her journal including,

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?'”
~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

I had carefully coordinated our history studies prior to our departure to align with this trip. Much of our family discussions thereby revolved around historical events and the impact of our nation’s past leaders.

Study Rhetoric and Fallacies of Logic

In the evening, we would watch some of the presidential debates. We also watched snippets of previously recorded presidential debates as well as speeches delivered by Martin Luther King, Jr. We made note of their speaking style and the way in which they interacted with the other debaters and moderators.

When the kids were younger, we enjoying reading together The Fallacy Detective. It is fascinating to witness them continue to recognize these fallacies in others. It is especially humorous when the catch their own father special pleading.

Now that they are a little older, I look forward to incorporating more lessons on debate and rhetoric, a skill I feel is significantly lacking in most school curricula. As such, I have ordered a copy of The Discovery of Deduction which uses methods such as Socratic dialogue, discussion, and other subjects areas to teach dialectic students the art of rhetoric.

Legacy Dr MLKTake Action & Get Involved

A few years ago, I wrote a post for Multicultural Kid Blogs entitled, He Had a Dream: The Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Throughout my post, I explore ideas and opportunities for today’s youth to get involved and make a positive difference in the lives of others.

Consider also the example of Dr. Jane Goodall who stated Every individual matters, every individual has a role to play, every individual can make a difference

 

Rare, Bizarre Creatures from the Deep: An Unexpected Nature Study

I grew up on the Oregon Coast in beautiful Bandon by the Sea. I spent many a day on the shoreline investigating the marine invertebrates under the rock crevices and walking the sandy beaches. My brothers and I longed for the minus tides, providing us the rare opportunity to go spelunking in the sea caves just off shore. These rocky islands are now protected areas for marine bird nesting habitat but back in the 70s, it was our playground.

dune geology tunicates

Dune geology features: foredune and deflation plain

Tracking Marine Debris

In all the years I have spent on the beach, I have found a diverse amount of debris and organisms in varying states of decay. I probably spend an equal amount of time sifting through the wrack on the high tide line as I do in wave zone digging in the sand looking for mole crabs.

I have found marine debris from Japan evidenced by the kanji script. An occasional flip flop or fishing net remnants are not uncommon. While immersing myself in marine biology courses at the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology one summer, I even found several squid egg cases that washed ashore after a winter storm, providing my peers and I an opportunity to observe the development up close. Yet, once in a while, I am still surprised at what washes ashore.

tunicates

Walking along the ATV trail across the deflation plain

This past holiday weekend, my family and I enjoyed a leisurely walk on the beach near our home. Our goal was to field test a new marine debris app, a joint initiative between the NOAA Marine Debris Program and the Southeast Atlantic Marine Debris Initiative. The tracker app allows you to help make a difference by checking in when you find trash on our coastlines and waterways.*

We drove out to the North Spit and thereafter began our excursion through the deflation plain. We soon discovered, however, that there was too much standing water to stick to the trail that meandered through the wetland area. We thus walked along the ATV road until we reached the small foredune. Just a few feet up and over and we arrived on the sandy beach.

No sooner did we arrive at the shore and we immediately were captivated by the presence of a strange organic material that was strewn across the beach for miles. Upon first glance, it looked like a hard plastic tube resembling a sea cucumber. My first suspicion turned out to be incorrect, however. Upon returning home, I learned that what we had found were actually colonial tunicates. Fascinating!

tunicates rare creatures

Planktonic salps, Pyrosoma atlanticum, strewn across the beach.

What are Tunicates?

This bizarre and rarely-seen creature is called a pyrosome, a species of pelagic colonial tunicates. Their scientific name, Pyrosoma atlanticum, is derived from the Greek words pyro meaning ‘fire’ and soma meaning ‘body’ which refers to the fact that they are known for bright displays of bioluminescence.

Pyrosoma atlanticum are one of the few pyrosomes that make it to the west coast of the U.S. The species found here are less than a foot but can get as long as 24 inches. Largely colorless, they can show up as pink, grayish or purple-green.

tunicates invertebrates

A specimen of the colonial tunicate, Pyrosoma atlanticum 

These massive colonies of cloned creatures are related to a kind of jellyfish called a slap. A tunicate is a marine invertebrate animal, a member of the subphylum Tunicata, which is part of the Chordata, a phylum which includes all animals with dorsal nerve cords and notochords.

Each individual organism is about 1 cm long – less than a third of an inch. They are all connected by tissue and in turn form this colony that looks like a plastic tube. The recent winter storms have caused them to strand on the shores and have been found in all areas of the coast.

Usually found in temperate waters as low as 800 meters. The colony of animals is comprised of thousands of individual zooids and moves through the water column by the means of cilia (an organelle found in eukaryotic cells that project from the much larger cell body).

As they move through the water column, sometimes close to the surface and sometimes as far down as 2600 feet, they filter plankton out of the water for food. As it sucks water in, it then pushes it back out, thereby propelling it through the ocean. It does all this via one opening only, so it moves incredibly slow.

For more images of Pyrosoma, check out Bob Perry’s photographs. Included in his work are a few pseudoconchs (false shells) of the pelagic mollusk Corolla which we similarly found.zoologyIf you are interested in learning more about invertebrates with your students, I encourage you to look into the Amazing Animals curriculum unit I have written to introduce middle level students to zoology. This 10-week unit is full of inquiry-based activities and lesson plans fully outlined for you.

Due to our fascination with these rare creatures, we didn’t spend as much time with the debris tracking app as I had intended. We’ll give it a go another time.

Finishing Strong: Integrating Geography & History Activities

Welcome to Finishing Strong ~ a weekly link-up dedicated to families homeschooling middle & high school kids. Each Wednesday, moms just like you share their best tips, encouragement, advice, and more for teaching older kids at home.Finishing-Strong-500x500

Finishing Strong is hosted by me here at EvaVarga along with my friends – Heather from Blog She Wrote, Megan and Susan from Education Possible, and Heidi from Starts at Eight. Each week, we collectively highlight the post that received the most clicks. We also choose a few posts that most appealed to us as individuals.

Be sure to join us next week as we reach a huge milestone. We’ll be celebrating our 100th edition of Finishing Strong with a fabulous $100 cash giveaway!


In Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Ben Stein famously plays a high school teacher who drones on about the 1930 Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act while his students slump at their desks in a collective stupor. For many kids, that’s history: an endless catalog of disconnected dates and names, passed down like scripture from the state textbook, seldom questioned and quickly forgotten.

Taught well, geography and history are fascinating topics and two that I love to teach. My favorite way to teach social studies is through travel. Nothing quite compares to seeing historic sites and walking in the footsteps of those who made history. These past couple of weeks, my family has been inundated with the history of our country as we’ve walked the Freedom Trail in Boston and talked with interpreters in Gettysburg and Philadelphia. I can’t wait to share it all with you.

Meet Historical Figures at a Living History Event @EvaVarga.net

I know it is not always feasible to travel, especially for large families. There are a variety of creative ways to enrich geography and history studies. One of my favorite approaches is through primary source documents – letters, interviews, etc. Providing students opportunities to research historical figures and develop an engaging presentation they deliver in first person, brings history to life.


The most clicked-on post was An Inside Look at Our 2016-17 Homeschool Plans by Sara at Classically Homeschooling. It’s always fun to take a peak into the decisions and choices other families have made. Often we find inspiration in new curriculum materials and approaches to educating our children at home.

finishingstrong-geohistory

My favorite posts this past week focus on activities to inspire you to integrate geography and history into your curriculum.

A Cemetery Scavenger Hunt Makes a Great History Lesson shared by Cindy at Our Journey Westward. What better way to dig in to the history of your community than to learn more about the actual lives of the people who have made your town their home?

Amber Oliver’s How to Teach High School Geography at Bright Ideas Press. I love her statement, “While it is indeed impossible to learn all there is to know about this planet, its territories, and its people in just one course, it is quite manageable to give your child a good look at this world we live in from the comfort of your own home.”

One of the things I love best about traveling is sampling the wonderful regional dishes and local favorites. It is a fabulous way to learn about history and geography. I’ve selected Teaching Kids to Cook: Epcot Food & Wine by Megan at Education Possible because it provides a great example of how families can integrate these cultural experiences at home.

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As always, thank you for helping us to make Finishing Strong a key resource for families who are homeschooling through the middle & high school years.

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Develop Your Student’s Science Inquiry Skills with BirdSleuth

When we lived in California we had a tropical bird-of-paradise in our yard. While it was not a native flower, we could agree that it was extravagant. When we traveled to Peru, we enjoyed a nature walk at the Inkaterra Hotel in Machu Picchu where we observed over 100 different native orchid species in their natural habitat.

Tropical species provide an interesting point of discussion in the classroom, sparking questions such as: “Why are our local flowers different?” or “What characteristics do the wildflowers we find here in North America share with tropical species?” These questions offer a perfect springboard into science inquiry.

inquiry-skills-birdsleuthWhat is Science Inquiry?

When most people think of science class, they picture classrooms of students all engaged in the same canned activity, following a scripted set of procedures that lead to a predictable outcome. Inquiry based science education is much more. Inquiry science engages kids in inquiry-based science lessons provides them with a way to explore on their own. It removes the teacher as somebody who is providing them with information that they need to memorize. Instead, the kids are experiencing, discovering, and developing their inquiry skills as they go. That is what real scientists do.

Although inquiry based instruction has been written about for decades, it is not widely used in science classrooms. Open inquiry, in particular, is often thought to be difficult to use in the classroom. Perhaps one explanation for this is the perceived difficulty in moving students toward the development of experimental questions.

Scientific inquiry also refers to the activities through which students develop knowledge and understanding of scientific ideas, as well as an understanding of how scientists study the natural world.

Many home educators have experience in leading their children through guided nature studies and observations. Keeping a nature journal is a popular pastime amongst many.  When we take a group of kids outside, however, you will quickly observe that the majority of their questions are reference questions. Questions they can answer relatively easily with experience identifying and using reliable sources.

If your goal is for students to generate questions that inspire investigations, then you need to be able to guide learners into reframing their questions. The Integrating Inquiry for Educators: Developing Student Science Practices online course is a wonderful guide designed to help you – the educator – do just that.

integrating-science-inquiryScience Inquiry Skills for Educators

If you wish to go further with inquiry and citizen science, I strongly recommend Cornell University’s BirdSleuth online course Integrating Inquiry for Educators. They have designed this self-paced course to help educators explore the process of science inquiry and investigation, especially as inspired by outdoor observations and citizen-science participation.

I was provided free access to this course in exchange for an honest review. Having completed the course, I would gladly have paid three times the course fee of just $49. I was very happy with the design of the course as well as how the material was delivered. The course text (eBook option is FREE), videos, assigned NSTA reading materials, case studies, interactive quizzes, and the application assignments were all nicely balanced.

The online course both challenged and piqued my interest in science inquiry. I am now – more than before – looking forward to engaging my kids in a inquiry based science explorations in the years to come.

You can also elect to earn two optional Continuing Education Units (CEUs) if you successfully complete the course. All online materials will be available to you for six months following your enrollment.

Whether you choose to enroll or not, you can support student inquiry by taking the opportunity to download their free Investigating Evidence lessons which will guide you towards supporting scientific questions through citizen science. To accompany these lessons, they have also compiled an extensive list of resources including power points and videos.

Enroll Today

Publish Student Work

In addition to the course materials and other online resources, their annual publication BirdSleuth Investigator provides students with an opportunity to share their research. You will find rich pieces of work done by students in grades K-12 throughout the country. Written by and for students, is also beautifully illustrated by youth.

The goal with BirdSleuth Investigator is to encourage students to pursue their scientific interests through inquiry and investigation by showing them that their hard work can get published. They accept bird-related submissions from all students. Submissions can take the form of artwork, poetry, or scientific reports; anything that a student has truly put effort into has the potential to get published.

To share your students’ projects with us, submit them here. Students certainly feel rewarded for their hard work when they find their work in a published journal! Read the submission guidelines for more details.

Global Youth Service Day: What Will You Do?

Volunteering is an opportunity to change lives, including your own.  It is generally considered an altruistic activity and is intended to promote goodness or improve human quality of life. In return, volunteering can produce a feeling of self-worth and respect. There are many volunteer opportunities for kids of all ages – playing with kittens at the local humane society, serving meals at the local rescue mission, or picking up trash in a neighborhood park.youthserviceday

Research has shown that students who participated in service-learning were found to have scored higher than non-participating students in several studies, particularly in social studies and language arts. They were found to be more cognitively engaged and more motivated to learn. Service-learning has also been shown to increase achievement among alternative school students and other students considered at risk of school failure.

Service learning has always been a major part of our homeschool journey. Today, I share a variety of ways in which you can encourage your teens and pre-teens to get involved.

Global Youth Service Day

The 2016 Global Youth Service Day is April 15-17. Many youth organizations hold events in conjunction with Global Youth Service Day, so the month of April is full of service and awareness opportunities that you can celebrate as part of Global Youth Service Day. Choose a cause and an idea from the list of ideas below or come up with your own. Your project can count towards as many of these events as you want.
Earth Day

Service to the Environment

2016 marks the 12th annual National Environmental Education Week (EE Week) which will be celebrated April 17-23, 2016. EE Week events and projects will be taking place across the country in classrooms, after-school clubs, parks, aquariums, museums, and more. Families and educators of all kinds, teaching any age, are encouraged to take part in the nationwide celebration.

It’s Our Turn to Lead: Earth Day ~ Earth Day celebrations bring to light the fact that this planet’s resources are finite and will not last forever. Earth Day is April 22 this year, learn more today.

Plant a school vegetable or pollinator garden. Designating a small patch of the yard for some native flowering plants is a great way to attract pollinating insects to your home or school.

Celebrate Arbor Day All Year with These 12 Activities ~ The Arbor Day Foundation inspires people to plant, nurture, and celebrate trees.

Create a Bottle Cap Mural ~ A long term project that promotes recycling and provides an opportunity to give back to the community.

Don't ReleaseDon’t Let it Loose ~ Educate your community about the dangers of invasive species, for example, Saving the Native Pond Turtle.

Annual Ladybug Hunt ~ A citizen science project asking people of all ages to collect data on ladybugs in their local area.

Contact a local recycling center to see if someone can give a guest presentation about how different materials are recycled and the processes that take place at the facility.

Take part in the World Water Monitoring Challenge ~ In this citizen science project, students learn more about the watersheds in which they live, how watersheds work, and how protecting their waters can have beneficial impacts.

You can also find a variety of teaching materials and educator toolkits on the National Environmental Education Foundation website.

Service to Our Communities

He Had a Dream: The Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King ~ Each year, people across the country come together to honor Dr. Martin Luther King’s life and legacy by serving their communities.

Is there a cause dear to your heart? Think of a project or fundraising campaign to help teach others. In our home, we join the Nystagmus Network on Wobbly Wednesday to raise awareness and research funds for Nystagmus.

Habitat For Humanity Act! Speak! Build! Week ~ Building alone cannot provide shelter for the 1.6 billion people who currently live in poverty housing. Act! Speak! Build! Week serves to educate others by expanding the scope of Habitat’s mission from raising a hammer and raising funds to include raising your voice.

servicelearningService Learning Through Roots & Shoots ~ Roots & Shoots is the youth-led community action and learning program of the Jane Goodall Institute. Each year, youth collaborate to make a difference for animals, the environment, and their local communities.

Looking for a way to help kids in your community? Host your very own Bake Sale for No Kid Hungry.

Roots & Shoots Turns Learners into Leaders ~ Roots & Shoots places the power and responsibility for creating community-based solutions to big challenges in the hands of the young people.

Volunteer Opportunities for Kids

Volunteer Opportunities for Kids @EvaVarga.netVolunteering is an opportunity to change lives, including your own.  It is generally considered an altruistic activity and is intended to promote goodness or improve human quality of life. In return, this activity can produce a feeling of self-worth and respect.

As a family, we have made volunteering and service learning a major component of our homeschool. Over the years, we have had opportunities to volunteer in a variety of ways. I’d like to share some of those experiences with you in hopes of inspiring you to seek out volunteer opportunities for kids in your local community.

Roots & Shoots

My children and I have been active in Roots & Shoots since they were toddlers. Roots & Shoots is a youth-led community action and learning program of the Jane Goodall Institute. The program builds on the legacy and vision of Dr. Jane Goodall to place the power and responsibility for creating community-based solutions to big challenges in the hands of the young people. They are encouraged to work towards three goals: Care & Concern for the Environment, Care & Concern for Animals, and Care & Concern for the Community.

One of the things I love about Roots & Shoots is the flexibility. Through the program, young people map their community to identify specific challenges their neighborhoods face.  From there, they prioritize the problems, develop a plan for a solution, and take action.

Volunteer Opportunities for Kids @EvaVarga.netWe were recently interviewed for a local magazine about our volunteer efforts with Roots & Shoots. My kids loved talking with the reporter about their projects – each sharing what was in their heart and how they have been inspired to do locally.

My son shared his passion for music and talked about how he volunteers regularly at a local retirement home to perform for the residents. He stated, “I really look forward to going. I like giving them something to listen to and I like hearing them share about how music has touched their lives.”

My daughter talked about her long-term study looking at the impact of invasive turtles have on the ecosystem, specifically how they affect the population of native pond turtles. She shared with the reporter the posters she and her friends made to inform the public of the threat releasing pets.

Read my post, Service Learning Through Roots & Shoots to learn more about this dynamic program. You might also consider joining me for a free online course this summer, Turning Learners Into Leaders: Empowering Youth Through Service in Education.

Humane Society / Animal Shelter

Volunteering at a local animal shelter is one of the easiest ways to make a difference. Children can decorate kennels, help with events, foster an animal, or even walk the dogs. Children may be interested in raising monies to purchase food, bedding, or goods as a donation.

When my kids were younger, we volunteered at a shelter regularly to simply play with the cats. They wanted to walk the dogs as well but weren’t quite old enough. Age restrictions will vary so check with your local shelter to learn more.

Rescue Mission / Homeless Shelter

Another great way to give back is to volunteer to serve meals at a homeless shelter. A few years ago, I volunteered in the education department of our local mission and my children were allowed to accompany me. They worked on their own assignments as I walked around the room and helped the women with their coursework and job training skills.

Volunteer Opportunities for Kids @EvaVarga.netLiving History

Some of our fondest memories of volunteering come from our experiences at the High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon, where we volunteered as living history interpreters, Homeschooling in 1880: Living History Volunteers. In this role, we spent one day a week dressed up in period clothing and told the story of the early pioneers in the high desert. Our story was based loosely on our own ancestors. It was an awesome way to connect with the past as well as develop public speaking skills.

Public Library

My daughter is anxiously awaiting her 13th birthday so that she can serve on our local library’s teen advisory board. In this role she would get to interact with other avid readers, make recommendations to library staff on books, programs, and services, and inform patrons of her favorite books via shelf flags.

What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make. ~ Jane Goodall

Adopt-A-Park

Many municipalities utilize partnerships with local organizations to preserve, beautify and maintain neighborhood parks. Some of the tasks could include pruning, raking, weeding, light painting, graffiti removal, litter removal, tree and flower planting. As a part of the turtle project, my daughter is considering this option for the future.

Community Cleanups & Weed Pulls

Lastly, another way to tap into volunteer work is through organizations like church youth groups, scouts, and local agencies. The California Coastal Commission organizes an annual beach cleanup event in the fall each year.

Invasive species have always been a passion for me and we’ve thereby participated in many community weed pulls – both locally and while on vacation. You can read about our weed pull experience in Hawai’i in my post, Hoaloha ‘aina Weed Pull. Can you find a weed pull or cleanup in your community?

~ ♥︎ ~

I have shared additional resources and ideas for volunteer opportunities in my post, It’s Our Turn to Lead: Earth Day 2015,  at Multicultural Kid Blogs. I encourage you to take time to talk over the interests you share as a family and seek out options in your area. In what ways can YOU make a difference?