I never learned to love math. I don’t think I am alone.

As elementary and secondary students, we are required to earn passing grades in math in order to move up the educational ladder. But we don’t have to like it and, too often, we don’t.

Study session at Pennsylvania College of Technology

It might not seem, at first, like a big deal. Some people like learning math and some people do not. However, success in the modern workplace often requires an understanding of how technology works. That understanding begins with mathematics.

Most of us lack even a basic understanding of how things that we depend upon every day really work.

How often do we look at our computers, cellphones or other devices and wonder how in the world they do what they do? It is not only our communication and entertainment devices; it is our appliances, automobiles and other products. Most of us lack even a basic understanding of how things that we depend upon every day really work.

Penn College electronics and computer engineering students

… industry will “fall a startling 2.0 million workers short of its needs” … over the next decade.

This lack of knowledge leaves too many men and women out of the running for jobs in growing industries, which need highly skilled workers. A Forbes article published earlier this year concluded that industry will “fall a startling 2.0 million workers short of its needs” to employ 3.4 skilled manufacturing workers over the next decade.

Two million job openings could go a long way toward improving our nation’s economy. How many lives could improve, how many families could be more secure, if we were capable of motivating students to take on the challenge of really understanding the mathematical foundation of modern technologies?

Learning automated manufacturing at Penn College

“You have to think abstractly and math really helps you to develop that mindset …”

Earlier this year, I interviewed Edward J. Almasy, a member of the faculty at Pennsylvania College of Technology, who described the importance of math in operating the electronic devices that rule modern industry.

“There’s millions of calculations going on every second. You can’t physically see that. You can’t see gears turning … levers being pulled. You have to think abstractly and math really helps you to develop that mindset … Having a mathematical mind will help you to understand how things work.”

 “Working Class: Game On! Why Math Matters” – the latest episode in our award-winning documentary series – explores the link between math, computers and technology. It also encourages teachers and parents to help students understand how studying math will prepare them for the challenges of a modern world.

Penn College mathematics faculty often must find unique ways to turn students on to a subject they feared (and perhaps tried, as I did, to ignore) in high school.

“A teacher can make math more interesting.”

Lauren A. Rhodes

“When students come into my classroom, I would say the majority – at least more than half – are just terrified,” said Lauren A. Rhodes, who tries to calm the students’ fears and convince them, “You can do this!”

Her colleague Edwin G. Owens sees this as a motivational challenge for teachers: “Most students who are struggling with math see letters and numbers, they don’t see what they represent. A teacher can make math more interesting.”

Edwin G. Owens

In tackling the subject of “Why Math Matters,” the Working Class documentary features mountain climbers, a superhero and the legendary video game pioneer who founded Atari, Nolan Bushnell.

In a future blog, I will share more details about my interview with Bushnell, who was named by Newsweek as one of “50 Men Who Changed America.” The entrepreneur who revolutionized the industry in the 1970s, today works with a company that develops adaptive games for learning, Brainrush.

Working Class: Game On! Why Math Matters made its broadcast premiere on public television this fall on WVIA Public Media. WVIA serves as co-producer of the series.

Teachers and homeschooling parents who want to learn more about how to use Working Class and other public media resources in their lesson plans are invited to participate in a free workshop on Nov. 30, 2017, at WVIA Public Media Studio. Contact me via e-mail to get more information or register for the workshop.

The shirt speaks for its owner, Mike Cherry, climbing coach and creator of The Addventures of Plusman comics, featured in Working Class: Game On! Why Math Matters.


A Construction for the Heptagon (Neusis II) https://www.k-state.edu/english/nelp/purple/art.html

Math was the beast of my high school homework. It loomed large and dangerous. I feared it and, too often, I hid from it. So, imagine my surprise when an enthusiastic math teacher led me to understand what I had missed.

“What I love most about math is its beauty,” explained Lauren Rhodes, assistant professor at Pennsylvania College of Technology. “I think of mathematics as color and light and sound and form … Math is art and art is math and music is art and music is math. They are all related. The underpinnings are mathematical …”

Lauren Rhodes

While interviewing Lauren for the Working Class documentary series, I found myself wishing I had learned math from a teacher like her. If I seen math as more than numbers and symbols and if I’d been willing to explore the connections between math and things I was naturally curious about, I might have tamed the beast that I feared.

I’ve been surprised to realize how many creative artists and innovators actually love math. Not only are they not afraid of math, they love it!

Crockett Johnson, author of Harold and the Purple Crayon (a children’s book classic featured in Working Class: Dream & Do), pursued a later-in-life love affair with mathematics.

Original book cover, Wikipedia

According to Dr. Philip Nel, who created The Crockett Johnson Homepage, math first was a hobby for the artist and then it became the inspiration behind a significant body of work.

He explained: “During what might be called his third career, Johnson painted about 100 large, vivid canvases of geometric shapes, often using a computer to plan the shapes for his abstract, mathematical ideas.”

Crockett Johnson’s math inspired work helps to dispel the myth that math and art do not mix.

Created during the last 10 years of Johnson’s life (1965-1975), 80 of the mathematical works now are part of a National Museum of American History collection.

Crockett Johnson and his painting Squared Circle. https://www.k-state.edu/english/nelp/purple/photographs.html#johnson_and_art/krauss Photo credit: Jackie Curtis.

The Mathematical Association of American calls the collection a “mathematical treasure” created by an artist who had “no formal training in mathematics.” Examples of the work also are included in a Smithsonian “Where Art Meets Math” spotlight.

Crockett Johnson’s math inspired work helps to dispel the myth that math and art do not mix. It is a myth Lauren Rhodes routinely faces.

“I have heard parents, teachers, other students, people talking about themselves, saying, ‘Oh, that’s okay, you’re just not a math person. Some people just aren’t. You’ll probably never be able to do mathematics.’ I want to scream, ‘No! No!’ It may be harder in some ways to learn some pieces of mathematics for some people, but we need to find a way for math literacy.”

“It may be harder in some ways to learn some pieces of mathematics for some people, but we need to find a way for math literacy.”

Lauren believes passionate educators can inspire students through practical learning experiences that pave the way for greater math literacy.

“I think probably the best thing a teacher can do ever is love their subject,” she said. “I know as teachers we all lose that passion occasionally. You’ve got to get it back … You have to sell your subject. You have to love it. Then, I think secondly you have to bring the magic with you.

“You have to be able to show students, even if they don’t understand … show them what different colors look like in mathematics. Show them what different sounds look like with the waves. Show them geometric structures that are unusual and yet structurally sound … Even if mathematically they can’t do it yet, they have to know why … Why are we doing this? Where is this algebra that seems to go on forever, where is it going to take me?”

“Show them geometric structures that are unusual and yet structurally sound.”

Artistic welder Matthew Gordon was influenced by his mother’s (Lauren Rhodes) love of art and math.

Mathematics can take students to incredible places – and serve as a foundation for rewarding careers – if they are willing to put the work into their study of the subject.

The latest episode in our documentary film series, Working Class: Game On! Math Matters explores the challenges and rewards associated with the study of math. It emphasizes the connection between math and technology.

“I think technology has helped mathematics to blossom,” Lauren Rhodes said. “I think the unfortunate side effect of inundation with technology is that we do expect to learn immediately – that if we can’t ‘Google’ it, then it’s not worth knowing. To me that’s very frightening because I know how much work it takes to really learn something for yourself … It takes time and effort and energy … We need resilience and fortitude, not just immediate answers. We need to have a meeting of technology and humanity.”

“We need to have a meeting of technology and humanity.”

A Student Bodies welded art sculpture on the campus of Pennsylvania College of Technology.

The Working Class series attempts to arrange such a meeting, inviting the audience to see the connection between what we learn in school and how we live our lives and  choose our work.

This week, Working Class: Game On! Why Math Matters premieres on WVIA Public Media. Featuring Lauren Rhodes along with other educators and legendary video game pioneer Nolan Bushnell, the film explores a variety of careers — from gaming and simulation to electronics engineering — that are based on the beauty and practicality of math.

Math is not a beast. Students need support and inspiration from teachers and mentors willing to dispel dangerous myths about who can and who cannot excel in math. Each and every math student deserves to find a path that leads to math literacy.


Frustrated Imagination

“… By senior year, Harold

became distant, his work increasingly angry …”

In a poem published in a recent issue of Poetry magazine, D. Gilson has re-imagined Harold – the creative child who draws his world into existence in Crockett Johnson’s Harold and the Purple Crayon.

Unlike the confident, charming boy (whose tale was featured in Working Class: Dream & Do and mentioned in the most recent producer’s blog), Gilson’s character is a frustrated young man lacking in motivation.

Harold’s world lost its hue. His color-filled imagination – misinterpreted by parent-blaming psychologists and academic dragons – wasted away. One of “kid lit’s” most innovative boys, Harold responded in anger to the dimming of his light, his creative nature.

I find a rock-hard bottom line in Gilson’s poem. Kids start out curious, excited about life and learning. What adults do, or do not do, can kill that curiosity and cause youths to abandon opportunities to become their own best individual selves.

When students see education as drab and lifeless, something is wrong. While we may try to appease our concerns with the idea that “standards” alone assure no student is “left behind,” we know in our hearts it is not true. Rote instruction, which does not inspire curiosity and creativity, leaves behind every child and every teacher that loses a zest for the experiences of teaching and learning.

When students see education as drab and lifeless, something is wrong.

I encourage the reader to spend a few minutes with D. Gilson’s poem and to consider what steps she or he can take to inspire creative schooling. Parents, teachers, and other adults who care can make a difference by nurturing a natural love for learning that exists in young minds.

The founder of Atari and Chuck E. Cheese, Nolan Bushnell, told me recently in an interview featured in Working Class: Game On! Math Matters, “If the student doesn’t want to come to school or is bored in school, it’s our fault. We have to change what we’re doing … We really need to make sure that we are providing a banquet of learning as opposed to ‘You’re going to eat your spinach right now and you’re going to like it.’ I think that maintaining curiosity and passion is more important than academics.”

“If the student doesn’t want to come to school or is bored in school, it’s our fault.”

Nolan Bushnell

I invite teachers and parents who are interested in discussing these ideas to join me on November 30 at 9 a.m. at WVIA Public Media Studios in Pittston for a Working Class: Connecting Classrooms & Careers workshop. WVIA’s director of education Andrea O’Neill and Working Class director/editor Chris Leigh will join me in leading the workshop.

Join our workshop – Nov. 30 – WVIA Studios

If you would like more information or to register, please email me at elambert@pct.edu.

I want to thank poet D. Gilson (who asked, “Where, oh where, do the wild things go?” in another poem recently published by Poetry magazine), for his imaginative look at how beloved children’s book characters might be changed by their life experiences. I also want to thank Nolan Bushnell for committing his time, energy and legendary entrepreneurial expertise to the cause of making education more relevant for students in the 21st century.

We must do all we can to prevent young people from becoming disengaged and resentful of educational systems that  leave them behind, without the tools and imagination they need to create lives that are worth living.


“Every person is creative. Creativity is the natural order of life …. You are creative. Your child is creative. Encouraging that in both of you opens doors to happiness, connection, and yes, increased performance and ability in other areas.”

My bookshelf holds a number of works by author Julia Cameron, who paved The Artist’s Way for many over the last quarter century.

For several decades, inspired by Julia Cameron’s The Artist Way, I have started my days by taking a notebook and pen in hand and writing three “morning pages.” I recount a dream, set the day’s agenda, consider a challenge, start a shopping list. Maybe, if I am wide wake, I imagine a few lines of poetry.

Nothing on these pages is worth sharing; yet, I believe capturing my thoughts on paper as soon as I rise invites more creativity into my daily routine.

Author Julia Cameron encourages the raising of creative children.

When I started thinking about making films that would inspire viewers to connect academic studies to careers in the “real” world, I turned to another Julia Cameron book for inspiration. In The Artist’s Way for Parents: Raising Creative Children, she writes, “Every person is creative. Creativity is the natural order of life …. You are creative. Your child is creative. Encouraging that in both of you opens doors to happiness, connection, and yes, increased performance and ability in other areas.”

I do find pleasure in creating. Whether it is writing scripts for the Working Class documentary series, taking photographs of beautiful scenery, making a quilt from recycled materials, or cooking with fresh herbs from my garden, I love playing with ideas and producing an original something that I can share with others.

Whenever anyone tells me that he or she is not creative, I feel sad because I know it is not true. I know creativity lies within each of us. We only need to explore our curiosities and we will discover countless ways to express our individuality and creativity. It is fun for everyone.

Inspired by Harold and the Purple Crayon, featured in Working Class: Dream & Do, I used purple fabric in several homemade creations.

Do you remember Harold and his crayon that created an entire world? If not, take time to read Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson. The first film in our series, Working Class: Dream & Do, features a reading of this book, which simply reveals the power of a person’s imagination in developing his/her place in the world.

The story is featured in Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book: Life Lessons from Notable People from All Walks of Life, edited by Anita Silvey (2009). Two famous authors, Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are) and Chris Van Allsburg (Jumanji and The Polar Express), selected the 1955 classic as a book that offered important life lessons.

Van Allsburg said, “As a child my favorite book was Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson. The book is based on a perfect visual concept: A little boy builds a world out of purple lines, and then that world becomes real … I believe that the empowerment of Harold appealed to me as a reader – I loved the idea that I could be in control and create my own world.”

“I have remembered the book since childhood for two reasons,” he continued. “First, for the theme: The book explores the power of imagination, the ability to create with imagination. Second, the book contains a fairly elusive, mysterious idea but presents it so succinctly through these simple drawings that this idea registers clearly.”

It is true! Children’s books can teach us much about what we need to know in life … and everyone has their favorite.

Sendak, in a 2005 interview with Jennifer Ludden for NPR’s All Things Considered, said, “Harold is just immense fun; that’s all, just fun … there are no lessons in ‘Harold.’ You have fun, you do what you like and no one’s going to punish you. You’re just a kid.”

The second part of the NPR interview reveals that early mentoring from Harold’s creator Crockett Johnson and his wife Ruth Krauss (another legendary creator of children’s books and author of The Carrot Seed) helped to guide Sendak’s career.

Each of us needs guidance and encouragement to follow our personal dreams and achieve our professional goals. Every person and every profession benefits from an infusion of creativity. As we consider careers and guide young people in the direction of their dreams, let us remember that following our curiosity can lead us to richer, more satisfying lives.

In the words of Julia Cameron:

“Allowing our children to blossom creatively does not mean that they will become professional artists, but it does mean that they are more likely to enter a profession where they are more fully themselves.”

Risk & Reward

Chris Leigh, rock-climbing risk taker, filming Working Class documentary from the Shawangunk mountain range.

I am a cautious risk taker. As much as I enjoy exploring new opportunities, I am fond of tradition and grounded in the familiar. (Grounded is a key word.) So, when invited to climb the boulders at Mohonk Preserve last fall during a video shoot for the latest episode of the Working Class documentary series, I politely declined.

Fortunately, the series’ co-creator, director and editor Chris Leigh took the challenge. Assisted by Eric Ratkowski, an experienced climber with the accredited guide service Alpine Endeavors, Chris made his first climb in order to film a practice session of the Shawanpunks youth climbing team for Working Class: Game On! Why Math Matters.

You might wonder how mountain climbing fits into the script of a documentary series that connects academic studies and technology-based careers. It seems like a stretch until you meet Michael Cherry, who created a math superhero in The Addventures of Plusman comics. He also climbs and coaches the Shawanpunks.

The essence of delving into a mathematical concept or the complexity of movement required to complete a rock climb are essentially parallel creative processes.

Addventures of Plusman creator Mike Cherry wears a heart-felt message on his climbing t-shirt.

“Math and climbing are similar in that they’re both hard,” according to Mike, whose biography on the Alpine Endeavors website states: “Although people approach puzzles differently, they share the same joy in solving them. The essence of delving into a mathematical concept or the complexity of movement required to complete a rock climb are essentially parallel creative processes.”

The process of creating a documentary about the importance of math in education and the workplace led Chris to take a risk and climb Mohonk’s internationally famous rocks in the Shawangunk Mountains near New Paltz, NY. While I kept both my feet on the ground, I photographed Chris in action and admired his courage in making the climb.

Coach Mike explained to me how fears about climbing are similar to the fears some students face in their math classes.

“In a situation in class, you may initially feel very uncomfortable because you don’t know if you’ll succeed … In math and in climbing, I think getting through those fears is really a key to being able to learn and being able to just let yourself explore.”

Brave warriors of the Shawanpunk climbing team get ready to take the mountain.

While I was not a brave mountain warrior during our day at Mohonk, I did overcome another kind of fear in producing the Working Class: Game On! Math Matters documentary. I took a chance – a long shot at best, I thought – and requested an interview with a real-life superhero.

It all began after the release of the first episode of our documentary series, Working Class: Dream & Do, when Nolan Bushnell began following the series on Twitter. Yes, the Nolan Bushnell who brought video games into American homes in the 1970s.

Much to my surprise, my request for an interview was accepted by the man who starred in the Silicon Valley saga, founded Atari, created video games like Pong, introduced Chuck E. Cheese to pizza and game loving kids everywhere, and wrote a book about hiring a young Steve Jobs.

We talked via Skype late last year. I confess that I was very nervous. He, on the other hand, was an enthusiastic conversationalist who spent the better part of an hour sharing his thoughts on technology, education and what today’s kids need to prepare for the future.

Portions of Nolan’s interview appear in Working Class: Game On! Why Math Matters. I will share more details about the interview in a future Working Class producer’s blog. For now, I will just say it was an incredible honor to speak with such a fascinating man –  one of “50 Men Who Changed America” according to Newsweek. It is an opportunity I would have missed had I not faced my fear of rejection and reached out with my “longshot” request.

At the end of the day, risk can bring reward. A kid can learn to climb a mountain or solve a math problem. An adult can step outside his/her comfort zone and make a good project better. People can work together to provide education that is relevant to present and future needs and to ensure that natural resources, like the beautiful Mohonk Preserve, are protected for future generations. The potential rewards are worth the effort.

I would like to thank Mike Cherry, Eric Ratkowski, and Alpine Endeavors for allowing us to experience climbing from a variety of angles (and for keeping Chris safe on the side of that mountain). I would also like to offer a special thanks to Mohonk Preserve’s Jon Ross, associate director of visitor services, and David Toman, deputy executive director and chief financial officer. David approved our request to film on location and Jon spent an exceptionally lovely fall day driving us through the breathtakingly beautiful mountain preserve.

You can see Mohonk’s famous boulders and more on Working Class: Game On! Why Math Matters during its premiere broadcast on WVIA Public Media on Thursday, Oct. 19, at 8 p.m. or watch it now via the series website http://workingclass.tv/.

Check in next week to the producer’s blog for more highlights of the latest episode in our series and for updates on Telly-Award-winning episodes Working Class: Dream & Do and Working Class: Build & Grow Green.


Teacher Andy Bartholomay

“I’m old enough to remember the first Earth Day,” Andy Bartholomay admits. “We were destroying very quickly the environment around us. One of the things the first Earth Day did was put us back in touch with where we come from.”

Andy teaches forestry at Pennsylvania College of Technology. Because his students will manage forest resources for the next generation, he believes it is important they respect nature and understand their effects on the environment.

“I think Earth Day is a really good reminder that people are linked to that land, and the land is linked to the people,” he said during an interview featured in the Working Class: Build & Grow Green public television documentary, available now for online viewing.

“Where did the wood in your house come from? It came from a forest. Where is carbon being sequestered today? It’s being sequestered in the trees in your yard. I think people have a much better understanding of how they relate to the environment and that they are actually part of the environment,” he explained.

As a forestry professional, Andy sees nature as a resource that people can use wisely to meet present needs while protecting the environment for future generations.

“Even though my background is heavily into harvesting and regeneration and the manipulation of the resource, I still hug trees,” Andy said. “I’m in awe when I go in and see an old, tall tree that’s survived for centuries … It’s amazing to me. I’ll hug a tree. I admit it.”

Another Penn College teacher featured in Working Class: Build & Grow Green, Deb Buckman, remembered that the first Earth Day came as “a bit of a shock” to her.  She grew up in a pristine environment, in Northcentral Pennsylvania, which had not yet seen obvious effects of pollution.

“It focused a big beam of light on what industry was doing, what municipalities were doing, and even what individuals were doing to create damage to the environment,” the chemistry and environmental science teacher said.

Environmental Science Teacher Deb Buckman (at right)

After college, Deb worked in industry, helping the companies comply with environmental regulations.

She recalled, “Industry used to be the big bad guy, but most of them now are very pro-environmental and really do want to work with making things better … There’s a lot more dialogue between industrial people and people who care greatly about the environment to try and solve some of these problems.”

I asked Deb how we can do better jobs balancing environmental concerns with the desire for modern conveniences. She suggested that we ask ourselves these questions before consuming products:

  • Do I really need this?
  • Where did it come from – locally or from thousands of miles away?
  • How much do I need? (We throw out a lot of stuff – from food to big appliances.)
  • Do I really need to replace something that works with a newer model?
  • Where will the item that I discard end up? Will it be recycled?

“Every life does make an impact,” Deb declared.

“Unless you’re standing and doing absolutely nothing, you are making an impact. We make an impact every day. We travel in our cars, which means we burn gasoline; the gasoline had to come from some place … The growing of all the food and all the impacts that happen with that. Our clothes make an impact. Every single thing you do makes an impact on the environment.”

Deb believes history has taught us important lessons that can help us do a better job managing our natural resources. In Pennsylvania, she recalled, those lessons came from big “booms” related to timber and coal and, more recently, natural gas.

“I think we’ve learned a lot from the past mistakes … We learned that if you just leave coal mines and abandon them, you’re going to wind up with acid mine drainage, which destroys everything. We learned that we need to have trees and don’t strip everything down all the way.”

Andy described how the devastation of forests in the 19th century left an important legacy: “At one point Pennsylvania was completely clear cut with a few exceptions here and there. There was no look at the future.”

“The modern practice of forestry in Pennsylvania and most of the United States is a lesson of sustainable growth and sustainability … an effort to maintain forest in perpetuity so that we can have the wood products and the fiber that we need while, at the same time, maintaining balance in the ecosystem,” Andy said. “Today, a truly managed forest is one that is sustainable, so that there will be forest – generation after generation.”

Earth Day 2017 (Saturday, April 22) is a perfect opportunity to share messages of history and hope for the future with the next generation. Take your children … take your students … take yourself … into the outdoors and appreciate the gifts and the resources that nature provides.

Then, take time to consider your impact on Planet Earth.

“Everything that we do today will affect what happens next year and the year after and a hundred years from now,” Andy reminded me. “If we do our job well then we’ve impacted future generations in a very positive manner.”

PARENTS & TEACHERS: See my last blog for links to resources that can help you share Earth Day and Climate Week activities with your children and teens.




When Rachel Carson revealed the dangerous overuse of pesticides in the mid-20th century, she increased public awareness of the impact of human intervention on the natural world.

“She set out to save a species … us,” declare the producers of American Experience Rachel Carson, a PBS documentary that offers “an intimate portrait of the woman whose groundbreaking books revolutionized our relationship to the natural world.”

“She set out to save a species … us.”

In anticipation of Earth Day 2017 (April 22), I highly recommend the film for family and classroom viewing. I also suggest teachers and parents review the free, online Earth Day 2017 Climate Education Week Toolkit, which offers cross-disciplinary lesson plans and activities, and encourages discussion of Rachel Carson’s 1962 bestselling book Silent Spring.

Rachel Carson

Carson, a writer and marine biologist, bravely stood her ground defending scientific facts that contradicted the powerful chemical industry’s claim of safety in popular pest control methods. The public outcry that followed the release of her book convinced the government to ban or severely restrict the use of dangerous compounds exposed by Silent Spring.

The Environment and Society Portal says Silent Spring’s “greatest legal vindication” was the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 that protects the public from “unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment.” In 2016, the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act strengthened the TSCA’s requirements for evaluating and reporting chemical risk and safety issues.

It is important for students to know the laws exist to protect human health and safety and they exist because individuals armed with information and courage brought awareness of life-and-death issues to the public.

Silent Spring … made a powerful case for the idea that if humankind poisoned nature, nature would in turn poison humankind.”

In a 2012 article published by The New York Times Magazine, Eliza Griswold wrote, “Silent Spring, which has sold more than two million copies, made a powerful case for the idea that if humankind poisoned nature, nature would in turn poison humankind … We still see the effects of unfettered human intervention through Carson’s eyes: she popularized modern ecology.”

I remember proudly affixing green and white ecology symbols to my notebooks after the 1970 inauguration of Earth Day. Now, a few years away from the 50th anniversary of the modern environmental movement, I find myself again very concerned about the future of our planet.

Wikipedia, Public Domain

Earth Day 2017 provides us with an opportunity to introduce a new generation to historical figures like Rachel Carson and to encourage young people who have a passion for the environment to consider careers such as those featured in Working Class: Build & Grow Green.

Technology and innovation provide obvious, well-publicized advantages in our modern age. Silent Spring reminds us not to overlook the potential toxicity of unbridled progress unchecked by public awareness.

To honor Carson’s legacy, let us use Earth Day 2017 to remind students that citizens have the right to voice their concerns and to demand what the law requires – full discloser of products’ hidden and potentially harmful effects on health and the environment.


The following resources, referenced in the above article, may be useful in your planning of Earth Day and Climate Education Week activities:

American Experience Rachel Carson – streaming video

Earth Day 2017 Climate Education Week Toolkit – free lesson plans and activities

Environment and Society Portal – human-environment relationship resources for teachers, researchers and the public

United States Environmental Protection Agency – website includes environmental topics, laws and regulations

How Silent Spring Ignited the Environmental Movement – The New York Times Magazine article by Eliza Griswold, published Sept. 21, 2012

Earth Day – History, campaigns for schools and communities

The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson – Biography, timeline, books, school projects and more

Working Class: Build & Grow Green – Public television documentary featuring 21st century career opportunities




Katherine Johnson photo by NASA; restored by Adam Cuerden

When she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015 for her role in sending the first Americans into space, Katherine Johnson declared, “It was just another day’s work.”

Johnson was a human computer whose expertise supported historic space flights including the first American in space (Alan Shepard in 1961), John Glenn’s orbit of the earth the following year and the 1969 moon landing.

I am part of the Kennedy-influenced generation that grew up watching Apollo missions on television, yet I had no idea that NASA’s early success was guided, in part, by a group of young women doing complicated mathematical calculations. They were the computers, before there were computers.

It took an Academy Award-nominated film, Hidden Figures, based on a book by Margot Lee Shetterly, to bring the stories of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson to our awareness. I am grateful to the storytellers who did so, because these stories truly matter.

I loved the movie and I left the theatre wanting to know more. What had inspired these women – these young, African-American women who studied and worked during the dark ages of segregation – to pursue complicated careers in a workplace system that openly discriminated against them?

Biographies on the NASA website reveal that Katherine Johnson’s “intense curiosity and brilliance with numbers vaulted her ahead several grades in school,” and “for Mary Winston Jackson, a love of science and a commitment to improving the lives of the people around her were one and the same.”

A New York magazine article states that Dorothy Vaughan was “possessed of an inner confidence that attributed no shortcoming either to her race or her gender” and “welcomed the chance to prove herself in a competitive academic arena.”

Curiosity, commitment, confidence – words used to describe the Hidden Figures heroines – are attributes we should encourage in every student, every child. There is no way to predict where their futures might lead. It is our responsibility to guide them in the discovery of their own potential.

To inspire a new generation, we must share stories of women and men who pursue excellence and persist through the rigors of academics and the challenges of society and the workplace. We also must connect the attitudes these remarkable individuals hold throughout their lives – from childhood through career – to their successes, in order to motivate all students to dream big and do the work required to achieve their aspirations.

Books and films like Hidden Figures and October Sky – based on Rocket Boys, a book by Homer Hickam that describes his experience as a coalminer’s son who became a NASA engineer – depict real-life adventures of exceptional, “ordinary” men and women who make history. Sharing them with your family members and with students in your classrooms can be truly inspirational.

I think it is important to note that all three of the women featured in Hidden Figures began their careers as teachers. Before they earned the respect of astronauts like John Glenn, they set the standards for students in their classrooms. The ripple effect of their contributions have, no doubt, passed through several generations.

“I loved going to work every single day,” Katherine Johnson told her colleagues at NASA when she retired in 1986. What more can any of us aspire to – and what more can we seek for our children – than the opportunity to say we love our work, every day?


Henry Cole presents On Meadowview Street at Longwood Gardens

“It’s one kid making a difference.”

Henry Cole’s description of his book On Meadowview Street, speaks to his passion for educating children about the environment.

I had the pleasure of meeting the author/illustrator at Longwood Gardens, where he was taking part in a family/community read day. He was kind enough to allow me to interview him while he signed books, greeted fans, and raved about the beauty of the “special, special place” that is Longwood Gardens.

Earlier that day,  I’d conducted interviews – for Working Class: Build & Grow Green – with two of Longwood’s senior gardeners who studied horticulture at Pennsylvania College of Technology.

At the moment I introduced myself to Henry, I was intoxicated by the beauty of Longwood’s conservatory and relaxed by the sound of water, flowing from ornate fountains dearly loved by founder Pierre du Pont. In my hands were my copy of On Meadowview Street, as well as two of Henry’s other books: I Took a Walk and Jack’s Garden.

Readers of these three books – and dozens of others Henry has illustrated, written or both – will not be surprised to learn that Henry is a former teacher. After studying forestry at Virginia Tech, he taught science at the Langley School in Northern Virginia for 17 years. The first book that featured his illustrations was Zipping, Zapping, Zooming Bats, published in 1995.

Jack’s Garden

Jack’s Garden, written and illustrated by Henry, also was published in 1995. It features full color art created with colored pencils on papers of different colors. It teaches youngsters everything they need to know about planting a garden – from the names of tools (trowels to pruning shears) to creatures (in various stages of development from larva to full grown) that live in soil.

Henry gives readers the most accurate details in his illustrations of seeds (from miniscule lupine and poppy to larger, more familiar sunflower) and birds’ eggs (from the obvious blue of the robin to the spotted, speckled eggs of the vireo, warbler, and barn swallow).

The book concludes with suggestions for kids who want to start their own gardens — including good advice to visit their local library and county extension office.

In autographing my copy of Jack’s Garden, Henry wrote, “For Elaine, wishing you lots of flowers in your gardens.” I love that!

I Took a Walk

As someone who cherishes time spent walking in fields and forests around my home, I also love that Henry inscribed my copy of I Took a Walk with a very relevant “Happy Trails to You.”

As readers open the folded pages of I Took a Walk, they reveal natural treasures in a variety of illustrated landscapes. Hidden in the cool shade of a green forest, across a clover-covered meadow, along a stream, and at the edge of the pond, are 54 different animals, insects and plants that Henry identifies on the final page of the book.

I really enjoy the interactive aspect of reading I Took a Walk with children and helping them discover the hidden images on the pages.

My personal copies of Henry’s books are made priceless by his inscriptions.

On Meadowview Street

Henry’s book On Meadowview Street was the star attraction on the day I visited with him at Longwood Gardens.  His heroine Caroline moves into a new house on a street that doesn’t quite live up to its name. So, when she finds flowers blooming in her overgrown yard, she decides to create her own nature preserve.

Soon, Caroline has parents and neighbors on board with her ideas for replacing traditional lawns with trees, plants, birdhouses, and water features that attract insects, birds and other wildlife. Like the previous books I mentioned, the book features detailed illustrations that Henry labels with appropriate text to encourage learning.

The story’s ending — “Now there really was a meadow on Meadowview Street … and a home for everyone.” — allows readers of all ages to see how simple acts can make a difference in the future of the planet on which we all live.

Everything we do on Planet Earth makes an impact. That includes our choice of career. Tune in to Working Class: Build & Grow Green to learn more about career opportunities that can positively influence our future.

Thank you, Henry Cole, for sharing stories that encourage kids and adult readers to make a difference by understanding, respecting, and celebrating nature. You make a difference!





Make your career part of your bucket list.

Bucket lists – filled with ideas for do-before-you-die adventures – can inspire us to live more rich and rewarding lives. Here’s the challenge: Don’t just make a list, fill your bucket!

Men and women who make a living doing what they love have regular opportunities to fill their buckets with activities, projects, and contacts that provide real satisfaction.

They do more than complete assigned tasks. They earn more than paychecks. People who love their jobs can be working on their bucket lists every day.

Last week, my blog featured wise advice from a talented, young, professional gardener, Lauren Hoderny-Hill. The Pennsylvania College of Technology graduate shared her thoughts about finding a perfect career match.

“When you’re in high school and you’re thinking about a career, you could think about what’s just going to make you a lot of money or you could think about something that you’re going to be happy doing for the rest of your life.”

5-45-lauren“Every day when I get up and I come to work here, it’s something I really love and enjoy doing,” she continued. “If you don’t find a career that you love and enjoy doing it’s just going to be watching the clock. How fast can I go home and end my day?”

“So, it’s really important to follow how you feel and to find something that is true to who you are,” she concluded. “I am comfortable with who I am. This is my perfect fit. I am meant to be here.”

For Lauren and fellow Penn College graduate April Bevans the perfect fit is one of the world’s great public gardens, Longwood Gardens, where they work as senior gardeners.

Earlier this year, I, along with Working Class director/editor Chris Leigh and student videographer Colin Helm, had the pleasure of interviewing Lauren and April at Longwood Gardens.

Longwood’s communications manager, Patricia Evans, graciously hosted our visit. Portions of the interviews are included in Working Class: Build & Grow Green,” which is available for viewing now on YouTube.

If you have never been to Longwood Gardens, I highly recommend that you add it to your bucket list. A USA Today’s reader’s choice contest ranked Longwood #1 – the “Best Public Garden.”

Chris Leigh, left, and Colin Helm take a break after filming.

One of World’s Greatest Gardens

Developed by American entrepreneur and philanthropist Pierre S. du Pont, Longwood Gardens is open to the public throughout the year. The majestic, indoor conservatory features 20 gardens and 5,500 plants.

Immaculate grounds, covering 300 acres, showcase seasonal displays. In bloom during our spring visit were hundreds of thousands of bulbs – every one planted by hand the previous fall.

One of Longwood’s newest indoor additions is an expansive green wall that displays plants outside public restrooms in the Conservatory. The green wall – featured in Working Class: Build and Grow Green – made Longwood Gardens a winner in America’s Best Restroom competition in 2014.

6-39-green-wallIf you can’t make the trip in person, be sure to visit Longwood’s website, where you’ll find a rich harvest of information including education programs, home gardening and design resources and blog posts that describe do-it-yourself seasonal projects you can enjoy with family and friends.

Today, one of Longwood’s first gardens – the 600-foot-long Flower Garden Walk designed by du Pont in 1907 – is one of its most popular. When we interviewed April Bevans along the garden walk on a rainy April morning, she paid homage to its founder.

7-08-april“I was just thinking this morning, actually, coming here, that Mr. du Pont was a bit of a genius in that he loved fountains as a child and as a young man. We have so many fountains here at the gardens, and the children are just fascinated with them. I think he really had a sense of what a public garden should be, and who it should be for,” she said.

Isn’t it interesting that the things Pierre du Pont loved as a child inspired his vision for Longwood Gardens? He put his bucket list into action and, in doing so, benefited future generations.

Today, the employees of Longwood Gardens, including Lauren and April, are guided by the principles established by its founder: innovative spirit, passion for knowledge and respect for the land.

The enthusiasm that Lauren and April bring to their work speaks to their love of horticulture and their desire to make a difference in the world by sharing their passion with visitors to the immaculate public garden in Kennett Square.

I hope you will add “Visit Longwood Gardens” to your bucket list. Also, please consider learning more about “green” career options, including horticulture, by watching Working Class: Build & Grow Green,the second episode of our award-winning public television series. Episode one, “Working Class: Design & Do,” earned a 2016 Telly Award and is also available for viewing on YouTube.

Patricia Evans, communications manager at Longwood Gardens (left), greets Chris Leigh and Colin Helm.

Creating this public television series was an item on my bucket list. It feels very good to fill up the bucket … and share this new episode with you. Please post your comments and let me know what you think of our first two episodes.