Media Monday: Celebrating Cinco de Mayo with kids


The anniversary of May 5, 1862, when outnumbered Mexican soldiers defeated French invaders in Puebla, Mexico, is observed with much more hoopla in the United States than in Mexico. But sometimes it’s tough to find ways to celebrate Cinco de Mayo that don’t revolve around half-price drinks at local restaurants and bars or chihuahua races for charity.

For kids, who certainly sense the festivities in the air around this time of year, it’s a great excuse to explore local Mexican culture in a variety of ways. Here are some great options in the Austin area:

The Mexic-Arte Museum has some exhibits any kid with an interest in the visual arts will enjoy. Right now they’re featuring colorful prints focused on the desert Southwest and a wide range of photos and videos about Latinx and Latin American history. You can go back later this spring when they will also provide a space for showcasing art by Austin teens. The museum has some downloadable booklets that can be jumping-off points to inspire creativity and curiosity. The booklets include a guide to how prints are made for younger kids and a detailed introduction to Mexican popular art and to the work of San Antonio’s clay tile artists for older kids.


At the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center, an outdoor space features Exoskeleton, a cool sculpture that also “generates, stores, and processes energy through its solar panels.” The artist, Victor Pérez-Rul, is from Mexico City. His work should spark some excitement for kids whose interests also cross the boundaries of science, art, and engineering.

And on the eve of Cinco de Mayo, an evening of Mexican Folklórico dance is happening at Austin High School! At the Gran Show de Primavera "Alegría" families will be able to see traditional dances from more than a dozen regions of Mexico accompanied by teen mariachi musicians. What a treat!

Shelley Sperry
Sperry Editorial


Media Monday: Arts + sciences = an explosion of creativity

The greatest scientists are artists as well.
—Albert Einstein

In many schools and colleges right now, educators are busily doing demolition work— breaking down old walls between the arts and sciences. Students and teachers are recognizing more and more that the creative process is not that different, no matter what your official academic discipline. Australian educator David Roy calls it a “quiet revolution” happening in classrooms across his continent.

A great example of this art-plus-science trend is happening Wednesday at Arizona State University, where scientists and artists are collaborating on a project called “Science Exposed,” in which scientists and students create diverse projects examining problems in the life sciences through sculpture, dance, and music. For example, in “Sal’s Genetic Tweekery,” dancers explore how salmonella reacts and survives in different environments. The project is led in part by choreographer and MacArthur Fellow Liz Lerman.

Interested in hearing from other educators who are merging arts and sciences education? Take a look at a few recent fun examples here:

Why Teachers Love Using Those OK Go Videos in Class. The massively popular music group is catering to its teacher and student fan base by creating special materials for the classroom in its OK Go Sandbox.

Nashville math teacher Joel Bezaire helps kids understand new concepts by reading aloud from the novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, explaining that “The literary hook for this lesson is strong, and kids are really into learning more about primes thanks to the context of the story. The lessons don't always line up this nicely, but so much of what Christopher [the protagonist] writes about regarding mathematics is about flexibility with numbers that it's a really nice match.”

David Roy talks about how teachers across Australia are Integrating Arts and Science in the Classroom, saying, “If we truly want to encourage students in Science, STEAM and not STEM should potentially be the way forward. Only then might we have creative scientific solutions to the challenges our societies face.”

In a Popular Science article last fall, we get a look at Kari Byron, whose work explores How Art Could Help Kids Study Science. Byron says that “Science is a creative field, it’s just more organized. . . . When you take your creativity and you throw your energy into it, it almost works like a drop in a pond, it radiates outward, and creativity begets other creativity.”

Shelley Sperry
Sperry Editorial


Media Monday: The TiLT podcast—talking about kids whose differences are not deficits


I recently discovered the TiLT podcast , which is geared specifically toward parents raising “differently wired” or atypical kids, and I think it would be a terrific resource for many families in the Alt Ed community. I was impressed by the sharp, energetic host, Debbie Reber, who has created a wealth of resources and written a book on the topic of “raising an extraordinary child in a conventional world.”

Recent podcast episodes included a chat with Tom Ropelewski, the filmmaker behind “2e: Twice Exceptional,” a documentary we at Alt Ed Austin love; an interview with an ADHD and autism parent coach; and a deep dive into navigating the high-school–to–college transition.

Reber is a homeschooler who involves her son Asher in the production and development of the podcast, so you can hear a parent’s and a kid’s view on some subjects. Debbie says she created TiLT “so parents stuck in this place of not-knowing and frustration can feel connected and grounded as they move forward in figuring out what their child needs in a way that feels positive and hopeful for the whole family.”

I encourage you to check out the main TiLT website, and here’s the site for Debbie’s book: Differently Wired, which comes out in June.

Shelley Sperry
Sperry Editorial

Media Monday: Intimate discussions with “Remarkable Educators”

Ba Luvmour, host of the  Meetings with Remarkable Educators  podcast

Ba Luvmour, host of the Meetings with Remarkable Educators podcast

For anyone interested in exploring the great variety and depth of alternative education projects happening in the United States and Canada today, there’s a new podcast that brings terrific interviews with educators of many stripes to your earbuds. The show is called Meetings with Remarkable Educators and is hosted by Ba Luvmour, a long-time educator and trainer of educators based in Portland, Oregon.

The podcast started only a couple of months ago. Co-produced by author and educator Josette Luvmour, it features interviews and accompanying transcripts—which are really a nice little bonus—plus a fable or “teaching story” told by the host that is designed to spark thought and discussion.

The most recent guest was Phil Gang, a Montessori educator who is passionate about developing kids’ love of nature. Phil runs the Institute for Educational Studies at Endicott College and sees interaction with nature as a path to spiritual development for children: “There’s a certain kind of quietness and inner reflection that happens when they’ve been gardening. It just happens. . . . There’s excitement about it, but there’s also inner understanding.”

I especially enjoyed the interview with Paul Freedman, the founder of Salmonberry School in Washington state and the international Holistic Education Initiative. An advocate of “deep education,” Paul talked about his transition from public schools to a more holistic model sparked by the needs of his own son, who was “not a square peg kind of kid.” He explains his philosophy this way:                               

My holistic ideals include: Kids should be guided to author their own lives and learning. We should be striving to provide the space, the relationships, the environments and inspiration, the content that ignites kids' learning so that they can soar. Kids should be able to do that at their own pace. They should be able to follow their hearts in terms of passions and gosh, that should be fun. . . . We're all natural learning beings and given the time and space and support to let kids learn what they want to learn, when they want to learn with their friends and with a guiding teacher.

If you’re curious about where progressive, innovative schools are heading in the 21st century, the Meetings with Remarkable Educators podcast is a great opportunity to learn, and on Ba’s website he usually links to other information about his guests in case you want to know even more.

If you’d like to keep up with the latest topics and guests, you can also follow Remarkable Educators on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Shelley Sperry
Sperry Editorial

Media Monday: New year, new debates over tech in the classroom

My resolution for the month of January involves deleting quite a few news feeds and social media apps from my phone for a while. It’s not quite a media fast, but certainly a restricted diet to start the new year. At the same time, I’m becoming more convinced that my smartphone is an indispensable tool for research in my work and for exploration of the world of art and science.

Lately it seems that educators are in a similar pickle: how to balance the addictive and troublesome aspects of the digital world with the undeniable value of the information and interconnection our phones provide? How much smartphone use in the classroom is too much? When is a digital fast in order, and when should kids be gorging on the world of data, video, and stories available literally at their fingertips?

Many educators are wholly embracing the power of the computers in kids’ pockets by using Twitter, Facebook, calendar apps, and texting to connect with students about assignments; asking kids to learn about current events and scientific advances by exploring government data sites, magazines and journals,  and the latest scholarly papers; and watching academic panels and real-time experiments on video. Smartphones are also allowing for “flipped classrooms,” in which kids absorb key information online so that they can use precious class time to put their knowledge into active practice in discussions, labs, and group projects.

In the 2017 Digital Study Trends Survey, answers from high school students demonstrated that smartphones, tablets, and similar learning technologies are quickly expanding as part of most school curricula, with 60 percent of students saying that tech helps them improve their grades and prepare for exams.

One of the most exciting trends in educational technology is in the realm of assistance for kids with learning disabilities and special needs. Many phone apps allow students with a variety of reading challenges to translate written text to speech, for example.

But despite all the advantages, parents and educators are understandably concerned about the need for student privacy protections, boosting face-to-face human interaction in the classroom, and ending the use of technology employed in bullying and other forms of harassment. One recent Atlantic article sounded the alarm by suggesting that personal use of phones by teens—although not specifically classroom use—is “destroying a generation.”

It’s an issue that will likely grow even more critical in the next few years, as tech futurists are suggesting that we need to be preparing quickly for the not-science-fiction-anymore world when kids’ contact lenses will record video and artificial intelligence (AI) will help them find, read, and interpret research materials in new ways we can’t even imagine.

My resolution for the rest of 2018? To learn more about where the classroom tech debate stands now and where it’s going, and then report back here. If you’re interested, here are a few recent articles to start with:

Shelley Sperry
Sperry Editorial

Media Monday: Finding reading buddies on BookTube

A lot of us are in a mad rush right now to make sure we have some meaningful gifts for the kids in our lives, or we’re picking out a few items to offer to charities who are collecting gifts for those in our community who have much less than we do. Either way, books are often wonderful options for kids of all ages.

One fun way to find out what young people are reading and enjoying this year is by taking a look at BookTube, which is an enormous community of book enthusiasts on YouTube. BookTubers put out reviews and recommendations of all sorts in the form of vlogs, but YA books are perennial favorites because of the youth of most of the folks doing the vlogging. At this time of year, members of the community are putting together their “Best of 2017” lists, rating everything from science fiction and fantasy to romance to mysteries to how-to and self-help nonfiction books. If you’re looking for recommendations for a particular young person, go to YouTube and try a search of “best books of 2017” or “2017 favorites” and the genre, setting, or types of characters they enjoy. Then watch several of the BookTubers run through their favorites. Right now, BookTubers are voting on their top Young Adult reads of 2017 in a variety of categories via the YA BookTube Awards, so check out those finalists here and follow #YABookTubeAwards on Twitter.

BookTube also includes web series based on books—most famous is the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice. BookTubers frequently host read-a-thons in which they challenge themselves and each other to read as many books in a day, weekend, or month as possible. They cheer about their latest book hauls, and they discuss their most anticipated upcoming releases. In general, it’s an enthusiastic group of fans of reading who encourage and support each other.

But in addition to gushing or scathing reviews, BookTubers often delve into political and cultural issues of the moment, including prejudices of all kinds and the lack of diversity on BookTube itself. For example, see mynameismarines’s “Why Is BookTube So White?” Last year (and continuing this year) several BookTubers got together to promote reading diverse literature via a Readathon called  #Diverseathon. Like any social media site, there can be hateful and intolerant commenters, and there is a popular category of “Why I Hate BookTube” videos that are worth taking a look at as cautionary tales.

Below is a short list of BookTubers that will give you a taste of what the community has to offer. And if your son or daughter leans in the bookish direction, there are several great tutorials from BookTubers on how to get started creating your own channel, including Little Book Owl’s “How to BookTube.”

  • With almost 170,000 subscribers, BooksandQuills is a superstar in the community who lives in London but grew up in the Netherlands. She reads widely in YA and other genres, but also offers interviews about how to organize your library, how literary translators work, and many other topics.
  • AWildSanaaAppears is an anime lover as well as a book lover who is especially fond of science fiction and fantasy and has great specific recommendations for kids, including middle grade readers.
  • AlessaReads is an 8-year-old BookTuber who is amazingly prolific even though she just started her channel in early 2017.
  • BooksandBigHair jumps into wide-ranging discussions of book-related topics, including book conventions and re-reading Harry Potter with questions about class and prejudice in mind.
  • If you’d like to feel like a slug when it comes to reading, check out 10-year-old Snazzy Reads and his extraordinary word habit.

Shelley Sperry
Sperry Editorial