Classroom Notes – November 2008

Putting Math Facts into Action

by Dianne Ferrell

I am continually trying to think of ways in which we can make our lessons more relevant.

Since I work in a private school, I have the luxury of being more flexible in accommodating student needs.

For example, this afternoon during living skills class, we accompanied our students to the nearby grocery store to practice some math skills involving money.

It was fun selecting a special treat costing less than $1. Then the clerk had to be paid and change was checked.

The next day we talked about different coins which the clerk might have used in making the change.

What could have been more relevant, and tasty to boot?

Read an overview of our math curriculum.

Wheelchair Speed Bump, Begone

We’ve never encouraged students or visitors in wheelchairs to attempt NASCAR speeds as they enter the building, but even slowpokes felt their bones rattle as they came over the old bumpy threshold. Oftentimes the wheelchair had to be halted and tilted upwards for the wheels to clear the aluminum plating that rose abruptly from the sidewalk outside and ended just as precipitously above the inside carpet.

Thanks to handyman extraordinaire John Sarginson, the way has been smoothed. On a Friday afternoon last month, he volunteered his skills and donated the materials to fix both the front and back door thresholds.


John seems to know every trick in the book. He had to leave some exposed adhesive in the middle of the back threshold and that prompted him to ask, “You want this door shut for the weekend, don’t you?”

“Well, yes, John, we want it shut.”

“Okay, then here’s what I’ll do.” He pulled a few paper towels from the bathroom dispenser, laid them gently atop the adhesive, and then carefully closed the door.

“Now the door won’t be stuck to the threshold when you open it on Monday. And if the paper towels stick, they’ll wear off over time.”

We were eagerly awaiting the first wheelchair rider to test John’s handiwork. Jordan, who enjoys learning Spanish, was numero uno. He likes the smooth transit. Joining him in the spirit of satisfaction are Michelle, his mother, and Eric Brotman, Development Director of the Louis Braille School.


A Trip to a City Farm

On Thursday afternoon, October 23, cars filled with students, their parents and guests, left the parking lot of the Louis Braille School and headed north on Hwy 99 for the Fairbank “Hands-On” Animal Farm and pumpkin patch.

The destination was in sharp contrast to the journey.

Highway 99 is lined with all sorts of modern commercial enterprises, including car dealerships, restaurants, a casino, and gas stations, to name a few. The farm is not quite two miles off the highway, and as we turned into the driveway it looked like we were entering a photograph on an old farm calendar. Five acres of gardens and various animal pens stretched into the distance.

We immediately smelled the animals and their droppings, odors that city folk rarely encounter anymore these days. No one complained or made a face. There must be something in our brains that recognizes those smells as traditionally close connections to the earth, and after almost no time at all they blended into a general, pleasant fascination with the livestock and plant life.

Farmers Janet Fairbank and Jerry Jennings greeted us on our arrival. Janet’s family created the educational tours for school groups twenty-six years ago. “Back then, we knew people who were teachers,” she recalled, “and they kept saying, ‘Kids would love this.'”

Farmer Jerry started the tour by telling us about the pioneers who came west and how frugal they were with everything they grew. “They didn’t waste anything,” she said while holding up gourds that had been hollowed out to serve as soup ladles and water canteens.

“And I’ll bet you’ve never seen a basket made of corn cobs and husks.” None of us had. Nor had we seen a basket with a handle made from a dried length of vine.

Farmer Jerry showing us a basket made of corn cobs

Farmer Jerry pointed out several exotic animals, including White Silkie Chickens, Guinea Hens from Madagascar that sound an alert when strangers or intruders approach, peacocks, and Landrace pigs. Three of the pigs were sleeping when the children were given apple pieces to toss in their pen. A chunk of apple skittered in front of one of those large pink snouts and a second later the trio rose with astonishing speed. The kids were delighted.

The Pygmy Goats we saw lived down to their name. Farmer Jerry wasn’t sure why the breed was bred to be so small, but thought it might have something to do with a low center of gravity enabling them to keep their balance and climb extremely steep hillsides in the part of Africa they’re found. They don’t stand much higher than a child’s knees.


Geese in one of the pens made quite a racket as we passed by. “That’s the chorus line,” said Farmer Jerry.

Later she flapped her arms and asked everyone to do the same as we walked by a duck. “If you flap like you mean it, the duck here in the pen just ahead of us will move his tail back and forth,” she said. And he did.

Before leaving we went to the pumpkin patch and the children picked out their Halloween pumpkins.

Thank you, Farmer Jerry and Farmer Janet. We’ll be back next year!

Giving with Their Hands

Staying ahead of weeds, fallen leaves, roof moss, and parking lot trash is a lot of work at the Louis Braille School. If you’ve ever tried to empty a bathtub by using a teacup, you know how we feel sometimes.

Fortunately, we had many helping hands at the school last Saturday, October 25th.

The Putaansuu and Ullerich families, along with Adam Thompson, worked at a variety of jobs, all of which were executed so quickly, efficiently, and with such smooth coordination, that the list of their accomplishments seems surprisingly long when you consider everything was done in just a few hours.

They raked, swept, dug, bagged, turned the soil, edged out weeds, cleared the roof and rain gutters, began the process of killing roof moss (which they’ll complete at a later date), and laid down compost and bark mulch.

Just shaking hands with a member of that work crew could cause a lazy person to lose consciousness.

Noel and Corine Putaansuu were joined by their sons Aidan, 12, and Thayer, 9. Corine is Cub Master of Cub Scout Pack 300, chartered by Westgate Elementary PSO, to which Thayer belongs.

Jeff Ullerich is Scout Master of Boy Scout Troop 301, chartered by Edmonds Noon Rotary. Jeff was accompanied by his wife, GayLynn, and their son, Josh. Josh and his friend, Adam Thompson, both of whom are 15, belong to Troop 301, along with Aidan Putaansuu.

“We teach the boys things in addition to what they learn in school,” said Noel Putaansuu. “I like to drive by the building and see that we’ve done something good.”

All the adults share the belief that teaching children the value of community and charitable service is important. Some of the parents learned the belief at a young age.

“We did projects like this when I was a kid,” said Jeff Ullerich.

GayLynn Ullerich said her parents taught her the value of working beside her kids, a commitment founded in faith. “The Lord says we’re supposed to help people and this is one way we’re doing it,” she explained. “And it’s good to give help with our hands,” she added while digging with a trowel. “We’re not meant to give only with money.”

“[The Louis Braille School] is part of our neighborhood,” said Corine Putaansuu. “It’s important for us to help other groups, and important for the boys to be aware of that connection.”

To hear the scouts speak, that awareness is well developed. “Doing something good for the community is something good to do,” said Adam Thompson. His friend, Josh Ullerich, noted other benefits as well. “It gets me outside, gives me a chance to exercise and be with my friends, and to help people.”

As the work crew finished up their labors, Noel Putaansuu looked at the row of trees still heavy with yellowed leaves. “All the leaves will come down soon, and once we get some rain on the roof the treated moss will start to die,” he said. “I plan to have the work crew return in a few weeks to take care of those jobs.”

We’ll be waiting for them gratefully.

Scout riding in back of truck hauling away debris