[Giveaway] Talking about Constitution Day, September 17, with City Councilman Ron Nirenberg

City Councilman talks about civics education on Constitution Day, September 17| San Antonio Charter Moms

Constitution Day celebrates the anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution on September 17, 1787. I’ve written before about how to order your own pocket U.S. Constitution. Today, in honor of Constitution Day, I am giving away two books (Hip Pocket Guide and Our Documents) that will help you and your family learn about the U.S. Constitution, and I am sharing advice about civics education from City Councilman Ron Nirenberg (campaign site) based on his experience developing classroom materials and civics education programs. To enter the giveaway, please leave a comment below, no later than Wednesday, September 24, 2014, about something you would like to change in your neighborhood. I will randomly choose a winner on September 25 and notify him or her by email.

The United States Constitution: What It Says, What It Means: A Hip Pocket Guide | San Antonio Charter MomsEarlier this year, I learned that Nirenberg carries a pocket U.S. Constitution with him in his briefcase. “Ron Nirenberg: a weight-lifting daddy who loves to rock out”, Lainey Berkus, San Antonio Express-News, March 12, 2014. Nirenberg is one of a group of local enthusiasts who want to make Constitution Day a bigger thing in San Antonio. This year, KLRN is hosting “A Conversation with the Constitution”, a moderated discussion about the U.S. Constitution, at 5 p.m. tonight at the KRLN studios.

Nirenberg’s passion for the U.S. Constitution goes back at least to his years as a graduate student at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. After graduation, Nirenberg became a program director for several initiatives at the Annenberg Public Policy Center, including Student Voices, FactCheck.org, Justice Talking and Justice Learning, and the Annenberg Classroom.

I recently spoke with Nirenberg about his approach for teaching civics, and he highlighted some teaching materials that he helped develop. These materials, both online and in book form, are relevant both for classrooms and for home education.

Nirenberg says, “In order to teach people about active citizenship and being involved in government, you have to make it relevant.” Instead of talking about founding theories, such as separation of powers, Nirenberg likes to start the discussion with something concrete: “What’s wrong in your neighborhood?” Then, he follows up by asking, “OK, so you don’t like that pothole in front of your driveway. Here’s the budget of city government, and here’s the portion that’s allocated to fixing potholes. Here’s the person who sets that budget who you can contact.”

The key, he says, is to start with what’s relevant to them, and then to help them to understand their role in the process. The next step is to build on that: “At a certain level, the city’s jurisdiction reaches its limit, and you get to the state, and to the federal government. It’s not about the theories and it’s not about the branches and the high offices, it’s about ‘This is a problem we face in our community,’ and these are the systems around it that help us deal with that problem.”

This approach underlies the materials that Nirenberg helped develop while he was at the Annenberg Center, including The United States Constitution: What It Says, What It Means: A Hip Pocket Guide—the edition that Nirenberg still carries in his briefcase. “On one part, it has the original text of the constitution; on another part, it has a contemporary interpretation of the language, as well as citations to laws that support it. It was geared towards young people.”

The United States Constitution: What It Says, What It Means: A Hip Pocket Guide | San Antonio Charter Moms

Our Documents: 100 Milestone Documents from the National Archives | San Antonio Charter MomsAnother book developed during Nirenberg’s time at the Annenberg Center is Our Documents: 100 Milestone Documents from the National Archives. This full-sized book contains the text of key documents in American government, plus brief introductory notes. It’s illustrated with facsimiles of some documents, as well as portraits of selected authors and historical photographs. “We distributed thousands of these by caseloads for schools,” says Nirenberg.

Getting these original documents in the hands of students is essential. “Everything that we did through Annenberg Classroom, through Student Voices and the affiliate projects, was free. We would provide full, bilingual curriculum to schools around the country. We would provide pocket Constitutions and literature for schools to use at no charge.” The free materials were funded through a combination of national grants as well as local funding in 22 cities.

Our Documents: 100 Milestone Documents from the National Archives | San Antonio Charter Moms

In addition to learning about civics in the classroom, students can learn at home. The Annenberg Classroom offers a wealth of free, online materials. The Hip Pocket Guide and Our Documents belong in every home library. Nirenberg’s question, “What’s wrong in [our] neighborhood?”, is a good conversation starter at the family dinner table. Justice Luz Elena D. Chapa and her husband take their daughters with them every time they go to vote. “I am a San Antonio Mom :: Hon. Luz Elena D. Chapa, Justice, Fourth Court of Appeals”, Inga Cotton, Alamo City Moms Blog, August 27, 2014. Several San Antonio City Council members, including Nirenberg, host regular public meetings with constituents; here is a notice for a recent event:

D8 Dialogues with Councilman Ron Nirenberg

If you are feeling ambitious, plan a family vacation to Philadelphia to visit the National Constitution Center.

To enter the giveaway of one copy each of Hip Pocket Guide and Our Documents (both both to go to one winner), please leave a comment below, no later than Wednesday, September 24, 2014, about something you would like to change in your neighborhood. I will randomly choose a winner on September 25 and notify him or her by email. Good luck!

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose—I bought the two books out of my own pocket. I am just really passionate about the U.S. Constitution.

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Artist Sean Kenney talks about LEGOs and learning

Artist Sean Kenney talks about LEGOs and learning | San Antonio Charter Moms

The San Antonio Botanical Garden is hosting Nature Connects: Art with LEGO® Bricks, an exhibit featuring giant LEGO sculptures, through January 4, 2015. My family and I attended the opening day events on September 6, and I got to talk with artist Sean Kenney about Nature Connects, his books, and all about LEGOs for fun and learning.

Kenney’s full-time job is designing and building LEGO sculptures. He and his wife have a new baby and a three-year-old daughter. “She’s probably the only three-year-old in the world who fully, 100 percent, comprehends her dad’s career,” he says. Kenney does not work for LEGO, but is a LEGO Certified Professional, which gives him a special role in sharing his love for LEGOs with kids and adults. The sculptures in Nature Connects are appropriate for the Botanical Garden because they feature wildlife and the ways humans interact with nature.

My questions for Kenney focused on how LEGOs help our kids to learn and grow. He “put his dad hat on” and shared some insights for families. Continue reading

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The Do Seum: Reasons to get a Charter Membership now

The Do Seum: Reasons to get a Charter Membership now

My blogger friends and I recently took a hard-hat tour of the construction site for The Do Seum, the new-and-improved San Antonio Children’s Museum, set to open in mid-2015. If you’ve been holding back from joining the San Antonio Children’s Museum, now is the time to take another look. The Do Seum is designed to address the shortcomings of the current museum. And, until August 31, 2014, The Do Seum is offering early bird savings on Charter Memberships. Continue reading

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H-E-B Body Adventure: Be healthy and have fun at the Witte Museum

UPDATE: This giveaway is now closed.

H-E-B Body Adventure at the Witte Museum | San Antonio Charter Moms

It’s the “Summer of the Body” at the Witte Museum, with two exhibits for your family to enjoy: the H-E-B Body Adventure and Grossology.

We have a family membership to the Witte and visit regularly, but earlier this summer we got a special treat—a blogger meetup at the Witte so we could experience these exhibits with our friends and all our kids playing in the museum together. Also, the Witte gave each blogger a set of four passes for free admission. Several bloggers have already given away their passes this summer: Alamo City Moms BlogMy Tots Travel, Champagne Taste Beer Budget, and Lone Star Signers; even though their giveaways are over, it’s still fun to see their photos and read their impressions. I’m giving away my four free passes this week; to enter, please leave a comment below, no later than August 6, 2014, to share why you want to visit the Witte. I will pick a winner and send notice by email on August 7. Continue reading

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Mind and body: athletics at Great Hearts Monte Vista

Mind and Body: Athletics at Great Hearts Monte Vista | San Antonio Charter Moms

When I was a student at a large, public high school in San Antonio, it seemed like there was an unbridgeable cultural divide between the jocks and the nerds. Then, when I went to college, at Trinity University, I sat next to football players who could lead Socratic discussions in upper-division History seminars. Mens sana in corpore sano: it’s not just a motto on the wall of the Bell Center, it’s part of the school culture. It was a great higher education experience, but I didn’t expect to find that in a K-12 school.

To be honest, I was first attracted to Great Hearts because of the classical curriculum. While waiting for my son, F.T., to move up the waiting list (earlier post; he got an offer in June) I have gotten to know the school better, and I am really impressed with their approach to athletics. Most charter schools, understandably, put academics first and offer sports as a form of recreation. Great Hearts aims to educate each student as a whole person by offering rigorous academics and competitive athletics. Continue reading

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[gallery] Monte Vista Historical Association 4th of July parade and picnic for 2014

Monte Vista Historical Association 4th of July parade and picnic 2014 | San Antonio Charter MomsMy kids and I marched in the Monte Vista Historical Association 4th of July parade and picnic again this year. It’s a family tradition—here’s an earlier post. Here is a photo gallery with some highlights from the 2014 parade and picnic.

For the parade, everyone gathered at the corner of Lynwood and Howard. Except for the grand marshall’s convertible, most of the vehicles were people-powered: bikes, trikes, and scooters. Pets, wagons, and strollers were festooned with red, white, and blue streamers, bandannas, balloons, and—of course—American flags. Continue reading

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CLOSED [Giveaway] A parent-activist reads Richard Whitmire’s “On the Rocketship”

A parent-activist reads Richard Whitmire's "On the Rocketship" | San Antonio Charter Moms

Richard Whitmire‘s new book, On the Rocketship, starts off right, with this dedication:

To the true disruptors: Rocketship parents pressing for better middle schools and high schools.

The author gave me a copy to give away to my readers. To enter the giveaway, leave a comment, no later than July 9, 2014 about what you hope to learn from the book; I will choose a winner at random and notify him or her by email on July 10. I hope, after you read it, you are just as excited as I am about the potential for fast-growing, high-performing charter schools like Rocketship to improve educational opportunities in San Antonio and beyond.

Rocketship is a charter management organization that operates clusters of elementary schools (K-5) serving predominantly low-income families who speak Spanish at home, helping those students to advance quickly and earn remarkably high scores on assessment tests.

Whitmire, a columnist and author, had remarkable access to Rocketship leaders in California as they dealt with setbacks and adjusted strategies. Whitmire also accompanied Rocketshp personnel into expansion cities, including Milwaukee and San Antonio. Continue reading

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