Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Something Incredibly Wonderful Happens

Something incredibly wonderful happened to me this week. I met Frank Oppenheimer.
He said some things that spoke to my soul from years of observing kids in rich learning environments:

The Exploratorium was conceived as a place to teach and learn, primarily because these are things we all like to do. It is the way we bring up our children, take our friends to the top of a hill to see the view, or call out, when we are walking through the woods ‘Hey, look, there’s a deer.’”

“This show of reality represents a basic honesty that is surprisingly important effect on learning.”

“No one flunks a museum.”

There is a stack of books from the library that I am working my summer way through. Summer reading was one of my all time most restorative activities during my active teaching time. I did not consider the summer break well started until I had spent at least a few days that first week nose deep in a novel from breakfast until supper or even lights out bedtime.
When I was growing up, my mom would occasionally request the removal of my nose from a book to get something done. During my university days, I reread The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings each year during my summer job bus commutes. Then I taught for 8 years before starting my family and so I had time to create a July tradition around summer reading. Family changed some aspects of this (no more dawn to dusk reading) but this summer I have reveled in it in a new way.
In late July, my husband got a total knee replacement and I had hospital and home time to spend nose deep in books again.

In the early 1990’s my husband and I enjoyed the opportunity to visit San Francisco for a conference related to his work. I checked out Frank Lloyd Wright buildings and discovered the Exploratorium. I could not believe such a wonderful learning environment existed. I tried to get there every time we went to San Francisco and have recommended it to many people as a highlight of a trip there. We planned a family holiday to San Francisco expressly so my kids could experience it. When I discovered a biography of the man who “made up” this rich world I knew I had to read it.
In the pages of Something Incredibly Wonderful Happens; Frank Oppenheimer and the World He Made Up I found a kindred spirit in Frank Oppenheimer. Biographer, K.C. Cole has communicated her “perceptions” of this physics and education genius so that I feel I truly “understand” his life and times. Perception and understanding were key to Frank’s educational approach. Cole had the advantage of working with Frank over many years and experienced the development of the Exploratorium first hand in the role of a writer. She had contact with him right up to his death from cancer in 1985.

Her description of Frank’s early life, his experiences related to work as a young physicist on the Manhattan Project with his more famous brother Robert, his eventual blacklist for his stand (with the scientists involved) on not using the bomb which included suggestions for international atomic energy oversight and his eventual high school teaching job in Colorado all lead to understanding the cosmic synergy he brought to the development of his “woods of natural phenomena”.
Frank’s science was a life philosophy, a way of looking at the world and wanting to know more. Knowing more could only lead to better people and society. In his view there were no stupid questions and ultimately with time to touch, listen and observe, patterns were revealed, connections made and looking for answers brought understanding.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Farming in the City

When my Mom and Dad moved into the town of Airdrie from the small farm they had been on for twenty some years out by Irricana, my twenty-something daughter began to fret. I never lived on that farm. I visited it lots but my Dad was an oilman and when I was growing up we spent lots of time following the rigs in a mobile home. We often returned to our family roots in Pincher Creek where my uncles and aunts farmed and ranched. As Dad brokered his years of experience as a rough neck into more responsible positions we found ourselves in Calgary and Edmonton. Then just as I entered my last year of university Dad's work took them to back Calgary and he fulfilled his dream of his own land. On the acreage they bought, they settled to raise my younger siblings, Brown Swiss cattle and allowed my horse-mad sister to purchase a paint horse to show.

"How will my kids ever learn all the things we did, Mom? Do you think my cousin, Leanne, will marry a farmer?" My daughter already had her sights set on a fine young man who was city raised in Calgary and she has always had the ability to take a long view and worry about it. She and her brother spent idyllic times "on the farm" riding horses, pulling weeds, stacking bales and floating down the irrigation canal while actually growing up in the city.

So next weekend, we will do our best to get my grand-daughter to a farm. The last couple weeks Anisha has been snacking on the ripening tomatoes we planted seeds for this past February and her Aunt Jenn brought raspberries in from her parents garden out by Stony Plain. But I think we would enjoy a bus ride in the country to see and taste out "on the farm".

Sunday, August 26, GEA, Live Local (handling ticket sales) and Northlands (where you can park and catch the tour bus) are teaming up to get folks out to our exceptional growing lands with an event called Farming in the City. North-east Edmonton is home to a large valuable area of fertile land with a fascinating micro-climate. The event promises some history (one of my favorite parts of tours) and the opportunity of a sensory experience to help connect us with our food roots (could not resist that little pun).