As a preface to this post, my belief is that deep learning does not occur through sit and get. Deep learning occurs through experiential, authentic, interactive, collaborative instructional processes. If deep learning is desired for teacher professional development, then it should reflect best practices for teaching and learning.
Professional learning must focus on creating safe and productive spaces for teachers to begin planning and experimenting with the concepts that have been shared. Too often, facilitation centers on giving strategies to teachers rather than coaching them on how to deliver the strategies to students. As a result, teachers leave the session with a toolbox of ideas that are never implemented. Instead, more professional learning time should be spent helping teachers plan, develop materials, and practice delivering the strategies with colleague support. (http://inservice.ascd.org/personalized-professional-development-moving-from-sit-and-get-to-stand-and-deliver/)
When I design teacher PD-related workshops, I am guided by the following principles:
- Teachers need time to tinker, play, and experiment with instructional materials and resources especially with new forms of teaching/learning technologies.
- For skills development, such as using new technologies, scaffolding and increasing complexity should be a strong component of the PD process.
- Teachers need to be offered lots of instructional suggestions and resources so they can tailor their PD learning to their own teaching environments.
- Intentional and active reflection and goal setting should be included to increase the chances of transfer of learning.
Tinkering With Instructional Materials
Teachers and librarians, like their students, need hands-on experience with tools and with playing to learn as that helps them build creative confidence. (https://www.edutopia.org/blog/crafting-professional-development-maker-educators-colleen-graves)
Teachers, during PD, should be provided with time, resources, and materials with which to play. It sets the expectation that they will be active agents of their own learning. It gives them the message it is okay to play and experiment with the materials; that tinkering is often needed as a part of learning new skills.
Scaffolding and Introducing Complexity
As teachers, we have come to learn over the years that we should never expect our students to fully understand a new idea without some form of structured support framework, or scaffolding as the current buzzword defines it. The same, of course, should be the case in supporting learning for our fellow teachers. (http://mgleeson.edublogs.org/2012/03/10/when-it-comes-to-technology-teachers-need-as-much-scaffolding-as-students/)
Once teachers get familiar with instructional materials and resources through tinkering, they should be guided through a series of skills that are increasingly complex; that honor the process of scaffolding. As with tinkering, this should be a hands-on process where teachers can try out these skills with facilitator and colleague support and guidance. As confidence is built through success with basic skills and strategies, more complex skills and strategies will be more welcomed by teachers.
Lots of Instructional Strategies and Resources
Even with fairly homogeneous groups of teachers, their teaching and learning needs can be vastly different. They often teach different groups of students, different grades, different content areas. They often have different backgrounds, years of experience, and personal and professional interests. As such, they should be provided with lots of instructional strategies and resources to help them make direct connections to their own teaching environments. Given the plethora and free resources that can be found online, curated aggregates of resources can be provided to the teachers. Time should be allotted during the PD training for them to examine and discuss these resources with their colleagues.
Transfer of Learning Through Reflection and Goal Setting
Reflection is essential for learning. In order to “make meaning” of an experience, the learner must have an opportunity to reflect on or process the experience. To help ensure that program participants transfer learning and training experiences into real-world applications, we must be intentional about both engaging the learners and creating opportunity for meaningful reflection. (https://www.e-volunteerism.com/volume-xvi-issue-1-october-january-2016/training-designs/enhance_learning)
Facilitators of teacher professional development need to be more intentional to include specific strategies to help insure that learning is transferred in teachers’ educational environments. Reflection and goal setting, two powerful transfer of learning strategies, should be built into teacher professional development.
A Recent Example
Because of on my request, my district gifted education supervisor purchased 3 sets/3 dozen Spheros. As a follow-up, he asked me to facilitate a teacher professional development workshop on their use.
The schedule for this afternoon workshop was:
- Short Introductory video about Sphero in schools: Gain Attention and Provide a Context
- Orienting and Simple Driving the Sphero: Tinkering
- Using the Draw Program: Tinkering
- Video Tutorial and Practice of Simple Block Programming: Increasing Complexity
- Build a Project-Chariot or Tug Boat: Increasing Complexity and Instructional Resources
- Review Curricula for Use in the Classroom: Instructional Resources and Transfer of Learning
- Final Reflections – Sharing about one’s own processes and possible applications in one’s own classroom: Transfer of Learning Through Reflection and Goal Setting
- Email Exchange – for sharing how the use of Spheros are being implemented in the classroom: Transfer of Learning
The slide presentation used and shared with this group of teachers:
Workshop photos showing teacher engagement:
Socratic seminars have been around, obviously, since the days of Socratics. I believe they are an underutilized but powerful instructional strategy.
In the Socratic method of education, teachers engage students by asking questions that require generative answers. Ideally, the answers to questions are not a stopping point for thought but are instead a beginning to further analysis and research. The goal of the Socratic method is to help students process information and engage in deeper understanding of topics. Most importantly, Socratic teaching engages students in dialogue and discussion that is collaborative and open-minded.
Ideally, teachers develop open-ended questions about texts and encourage students to use textual evidence to support their opinions and answers. In the Socratic seminar, the teacher uses questions to guide discussion around specific learning goals. Socratic questioning is a systematic process for examining the ideas, questions, and answers that form the basis of human belief. It involves recognizing that all new understanding is linked to prior understanding, that thought itself is a continuous thread woven throughout lives rather than isolated sets of questions and answers. http://www.learnnc.org/lp/pages/4994
The Benefits of Socratic Seminars are:
- Offer opportunities for student voice
- Embrace the power of open-ended questions
- Often mimic how intellectual discourse occurs in real like
- Support providing evidence-based arguments
- Build active listening skills
- Reinforce close reading
- Approach real world solutions as having multiple perspectives
- Hone critical thinking skills
- Build oral communication skills
- Emphasize the importance of critical reflection
- Help to develop conflict resolution skills
To learn more about Socratic Seminars, visit:
Sneetches: A Socratic Seminar
I introduced the Socratic Seminar to my two groups gifted elementary learners, ages 7 to 12, through the following slidedeck and by using Dr. Seuss’s Sneetches
Here is some highlights from this Socratic Seminar:
I had the opportunity the learn about Dr. Reuven Feuerstein through Dr. Yvette Jackson at a National Urban Alliance conference almost 20 years ago. The biggest thing I took from the conference, that remains with me today, is that student potential assumes there is a limit, cap, or ceiling as to what can be learned. If students are perceived as having a propensity for learning, there is no cap. The apropos cliche becomes the sky is the limit.
Feuerstein is known for his groundbreaking work in cognitive modifiability; rejecting the idea that intelligence is fixed, he established the principle that all children can learn how to learn. (http://brainworldmagazine.com/dr-reuven-feuerstein-on-why-intelligence-is-modifiable/#sthash.xJYtEpxo.dpuf)
Dr. Feuerstein’s beliefs can be summed up in the following quotes:
Human beings have the unique characteristic of being able to modify themselves no matter how they start out. Even in born barriers and traumas can be overcome with belief and the right mediation.
What if, instead of measuring a child’s acquired knowledge and intellectual skills, the ability to learn was evaluated first? And what if intelligence was not a fixed attributed, measurable once and for all? What if intelligence can be taught and was in fact the ability to learn?” (http://www.paperbackswap.com/Reuven-Feuerstein/author/)
Most school settings focus on students’ deficiencies. If educators take the perspective that their students have a propensity for learning, then their focus becomes identifying and working with their strengths and prior knowledge. It is through accessing prior knowledge and student strengths that deficiencies can be addressed.
This year I have been focusing on design challenges and design thinking with my gifted elementary students, grades 2nd through 6th. Last semester I introduced a series of activities to have them explore, learn about, and interact with design thinking principles and strategies. For a description of those activities, see https://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2016/09/25/introducing-design-thinking-to-elementary-learners/
To re-introduce design thinking again for this spring semester, this week I asked them to do the Extraordinaire Design Studio:
The Extraordinaires® Design Studio is a powerful learning tool, that introduces children to the world of design, teaching them the foundations of design in a fun and engaging way. Your clients The Extraordinaires® are over the top characters with extraordinary needs, it’s the job of your student to design the inventions they need to fit their worlds. Choose your design client, from a rap star to a vampire teen or even an evil genius plotting in his lair. Look at the exceptionally detailed illustrated character cards to learn more about them, their world and their needs. Once you’ve chosen your Extraordinaire, pick a design project. It could be a communications device for a soldier or a drinks carrier for a circus acrobat. https://www.extraordinaires.com/shop/the-extraordinaires-design-studio-deluxe
To play, the character cards are laid out and then the inventions or gadgets are randomly placed on the character cards. The learners can then select which character/invention pair for which they would like to design.
After drawing out and labeling their inventions and gadgets, they took pictures of them and posted their images along with a short description on a blog post. Some example learner work follows:
TJ selected a hover chair for an astronaut.
Sebastian selected a communication device for a fairy.
Will selected a drink carrier for a wizard.
This activity was a high interest, high engagement, high yield instructional task. Some learners had a little trouble getting started but once they did, their designs and inventions were fantastic. I think the fanciful nature of the cards helped engagement. The company has a free app to go along with their set for the designs to be uploaded and described. This app did not do what was promised so I cannot recommend its use.
What I think this type of design challenge does especially well is to introduce the idea that design thinking often encompasses designing a specific type of product for a specific type of client. It does a good job of introducing learners to the core of the design thinking process:
The Design Thinking process first defines the problem and then implements the solutions, always with the needs of the user demographic at the core of concept development. (http://dschool.stanford.edu/redesigningtheater/the-design-thinking-process/)
This set does cost some money but there are other free options:
- Maker Education Card Game that I created
- Destination Imagination Instant Challenge
Maker Education Card Game
This game, which I first introduced in the Maker Education Card Game, is a card game that ends with the makers making something based on selected cards. Each maker picks a card from each of the three categories:
- The Thing or Process
- The Product
- The Population.
For example, a maker may choose, Create a Blueprint from The Thing or Process category; a New Toy from the Product category; and Adults from the population category meaning the maker would create a blueprint for a new toy for adults. The educator and makers can choose whether it is a “blind” pick or one in which the makers see their options. (Note – I would love to increase options in all categories. If you have additional card ideas, please leave them in the comments section).
Destination Imagination Instant Challenges
Destination Imagination offers similar design challenges
The Destination Imagination program is a fun, hands-on system of learning that fosters students’ creativity, courage and curiosity through open-ended academic Challenges in the fields of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), fine arts and service learning. Our participants learn patience, flexibility, persistence, ethics, respect for others and their ideas, and the collaborative problem solving process. https://www.destinationimagination.org/mission-vision/
Randomly choose one or more items from A and one or more items from B, C, D or E and get busy.
I absolutely love all of the new robotics toys that have been coming out for elementary age learners. I have been using them for my summer maker camp, with my gifted education classes, and for my upcoming Saturday morning program. One of my gifted girls noted, “Where do all of these robots come from?” I laughed and told her, “It’s actually has become one of my passions. Collecting them has become a major hobby of mine.”
I usually use them for an hour per week with my two groups of gifted learners. I am an advocate of student-centric learning and giving them choices as to which instructional activities they would like to engage. For their robotics hour each week, I am giving them the following choices with their goal of using five of the robotics to complete five of the tasks provided.
My robotics-type devices include:
- Dash and Dot
- littleBits: Gizmos and Gadgets; Arduino
- Jimu Robot
- Finch Robot
- Osmo Coding
- Adafruit Circuit Playground
- Let’s Start Coding
The craft activity involves letting the students make a stylish necklace for themselves, where their names are spelled out in binary using black and white beads. See https://bycommonconsent.com/2014/10/19/activity-day-girls-craft-idea-binary-code-necklace/ for further directions.
Several board games that teach children computer coding concepts have been brought out recently. They make a good complement to online learning games and enable techie kids to have some fun family time away from a computer screen. http://www.techagekids.com/2015/11/board-games-teach-coding-kids-teens.html
After learning a little bit about Robot Turtles, Code Monkey Island, and CodeMasters, play one or two of them.
We are caught in an infinite loop! Someone has re-written our classroom code and we are stuck. We will keep having the same day over and over unless we can find the correct code to de-bug the system. The correct code has been locked in the Breakout EDU box – once we figure out the combos, we will can escape the loop and move forward. http://www.breakoutedu.com/caught-in-the-code
The teacher will walk the group through this task.
Code.org® is a non-profit dedicated to expanding access to computer science, and increasing participation by women and underrepresented minorities. Our vision is that every student in every school should have the opportunity to learn computer science, just like biology, chemistry or algebra. https://code.org/about
As an introduction to robotics and computer science, do a few hours of tutorials via Code.org. The site, itself, offers a number of different tutorials, within their Hour of Code page – https://code.org/learn. Feel free to do the ones that look interesting to you.
After creating an account at CoSpaces using your school gmail, create a scene and use their Block coding to animate the people and objects in your scene. How-to directions can be found at https://youtu.be/0x-jdrwE7Ng.
“The app enabled ball that does it all” – that’s the tag line for Sphero 2.0. Sphero is robotic ball that connects to your smartphone or tablets over Bluetooth. It has built in multi-color LEDs that gives it light effect in combination of colors. It is waterproof, too. The free SPRK education program (which can be used with both Sphero and Ollie) has series of lab exercises to teach kids programming and robotics concepts. http://getstemgo.com/toys/sphero-and-ollie-robots-all-you-need-to-know-review/
The Task: The Maze
Program the Sphero or Ollie with the SPRK Lightning Lab app to navigate your own original maze made out of obstacles and materials in the learning environment. To complete this challenge, you must gather data about the best route through a maze and figure out how to build a program so Sphero can successfully navigate through the mayhem. More about this lesson can be found at https://sprk.sphero.com/cwists/preview/177x.
The Task: Painting with Sphero
Using a large piece of paper, different types of finger paints, the Sphero with the nobby cover, and the Lightening SPRK app, create a Jackson Pollack type painting. The full lesson plan can be found here – https://sprk.sphero.com/cwists/preview/152-painting-with-spherox
A “cleaner” alternative is to do a light painting with the Sphero using a long exposure app – see https://sprk.sphero.com/cwists/preview/78-light-paintingx
The Task: Battlebots
With a partner, create a Battlebot out of the Sphero or Ollie, cardboard, Popsicle sticks, and skewers. Challenge another team or two to a Battle. Last team with a balloon intact wins.
More lessons can be found at https://sprk.sphero.com/cwists/category
Dash & Dot are real robots that teach kids to code while they play. Using free apps and a compatible tablet or smartphone, kids learn to code while they make these robots sing, dance and navigate all around the house. Sensors on the robot mean they react to the environment around them. https://www.makewonder.com/
The Task: Rolling the Code
Using the Blockly app, complete the Dash and Dot Robots: Rolling for Code activity as described in http://www.thedigitalscoop.com/the_digital_scoop/2015/01/dash-and-dot-rolling-for-code.html
The Task: The Xylophone
Using the Xylophone and Xylo app, program Dash to play at least three songs.
Explore the possibilities of inventing with the Gizmos & Gadgets Kit. The Bits components snap together with magnets, for quick alterations on the fly. Chock full of motors, wheels, lights, servos, and more. The kit boasts 13 littleBits and instructions for 16 inventions. https://www.microsoftstore.com/store/msusa/en_US/pdp/littleBits-Gizmos-amp-Gadgets-Kit-2nd-Edition/productID.5064612700
Control Ozobot with colors! Draw OzoCode color codes on paper or a tablet and Ozobot uses optical sensors to respond—spinning, speeding up and more at your command. It comes with an OzoCode chart and over 20 games and activities. Color coding masters can move on with free Ozobot apps and the OzoBlockly editor, which introduces block-based programming. http://ozobot.com/
Quirkbot is a microcontroller toy that anyone can program. It is compatible with the open construction toy Strawbees and can be used along with readily available materials like regular drinking straws, LEDs, and hobby servos (motors) to create a wide variety of hackable toys. Let your creations express themselves and interact with their environment through sound, light and motion. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1687812426/quirkbot-make-your-own-robots-with-drinking-straws
Go through the tutorials found at https://code.quirkbot.com/tutorials/getting-started/ and then build at least one of the Quirkbots found at https://www.quirkbot.com/build. Teacher’s guide can be downloaded: quirkbot-educators-guide-v0-9
The LEGO® Education WeDo 1.0 is an easy-to-use concept that introduces young students to robotics. Students will be able to build LEGO models featuring working motors and sensors; program their models; and explore a series of cross-curricular, theme-based activities while developing their skills in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics as well as language, literacy, and social studies. https://education.lego.com/en-us/products/lego-education-wedo-construction-set/9580
Build one or more of the robots. Use Scratch to program them. These Scratch examples can help: https://scratch.mit.edu/studios/1302388/.
Create a humanoid robot with UBTECH’s Jimu Robot Meebot robot kit—and program it with the free Jimu Robot app on your iPhone or iPad. The kit’s six robotic servo motors give your robot smooth, life-like movement. Use the easy-to-follow 3D animated instructions on the Jimu Robot free app to build your MeeBot. Then employ the app’s intuitive programming function to devise an endless sequence of actions for him. http://www.apple.com/shop/product/HK962VC/A/ubtech-jimu-robot-meebot-kit
Make a Jimu robot using the Jimu app.
The Finch is a small robot designed to inspire and delight students learning computer science by providing them a tangible and physical representation of their code. The Finch has support for over a dozen programming languages, including environments appropriate for students as young as five years old! The Finch was developed to catalyze a wide range of computer science learning experiences, from an entry into the basics of computational thinking all the way to writing richly interactive programs. http://finchrobot.com/.
Use Scratch Programming to, first, do the basics found at http://www.finchrobot.com/teaching/scratch-finch-basics, and second, to do one of the projects found at http://www.finchrobot.com/teaching/scratch.
Using the MaKey MaKey you can make anything into a key just by connecting a few alligator clips. The MaKey MaKey is an invention kit that tricks your computer into thinking that almost anything is a keyboard. This allows you to hook up all kinds of fun things as an input. For example, play Mario with a Play-Doh keyboard, or piano with fruit! https://www.sparkfun.com/products/11511
The Task: Hacked Poetry
Program the Makey-Makey with Scratch to read a poem – attach Makey Makey to four drawings made by pencil that represent that poem. Idea for this came from Makey Makey Hacked Poetry Month Part I.
The Task: A Small Group Project
With one or two of your classmates, do one of the projects found at http://makeymakey.com/guides/
Osmo Coding uses hands-on physical blocks to control Awbie, a playful character who loves delicious strawberries. Each block is a coding command that directs Awbie on a wondrous tree-shaking, strawberry-munching adventure. https://playosmo.com/en/coding/
Play the game for 45 minutes and use each of the types of coding blocks during that time period.
The Arduino Bit is a tiny computer called a microcontroller. It brings the power of programing to your littleBits circuits, allowing you to create complex sequences of actions and explore new levels of logic and timing. https://littlebits.cc/bits/w6-arduino
For this advanced option, watch the getting started video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FXQ9d3qJt3Q and then do one or more of the tasks found at http://littlebits.cc/inventions/explore?q=arduino&page=1&per_page=9.
You can use your BBC micro:bit for all sorts of creations, from robots to musical instruments. This little device has a lot of features, like 25 red LED lights that can flash messages. There are two programmable buttons that can be used to control games. Your BBC micro:bit can detect motion and tell you which direction you’re heading in, and it can use a low energy Bluetooth connection to interact with other devices and the Interne. http://microbit.org/about/
For this advanced option, do two of the projects featured on http://www.makereducation.com/microbit.html
Circuit Playground features an ATmega32u4 micro-processor with contains within it: 10 x mini NeoPixels – each one can display any rainbow color; Motion sensor; Temperature sensor; Light sensor; Sound sensor (MEMS microphone); Mini speaker (magnetic buzzer); 2 x Push buttons – left and right; Slide switch; 8 x alligator-clip friendly input/output pins. You can power and program it from USB. Program your code into it, then take it on the go. https://learn.adafruit.com/introducing-circuit-playground/overview
For this advanced option, do one of the projects featured on https://learn.adafruit.com/category/circuit-playground.
We’ve made it easy to learn the fundamentals of all coding languages, like methods, functions, and statements. Your code will control electronic lights, speakers, buttons, sensors, screens, and more. Follow 14 step-by-step lessons to get the basics down. Tinker with already-working programs. https://www.letsstartcoding.com/
Bloxels® is an innovative video game development platform that allows you to create your own video games. With easy-to-use physical and digital tools, you decide what the game looks like and configure how it is played. You tell the story of the characters and design their looks. You create the obstacles and the power-ups. http://kids.bloxelsbuilder.com/
Bloxels really isn’t a robotics nor coding platform, but because of the interactivity of physical objects with technology, I include it as part of my robotics kit.
Watch the tutorials found at http://kids.bloxelsbuilder.com/full-tutorial and build a game that uses five rooms where each of those rooms include characters, backgrounds, hazards, and powerups.
This is typically an educational blog but sometimes events in the world are so touching and significant that I need to share them out. This is one such story. Plus I think it is a great way to start the new year.
A few decades ago I wrote a book of short stories. This story reminded me of one of the stories I wrote titled, Coming Out of the Dark. It was inspired by watching a man, probably around 80, playing with a toddler when I visited a San Francisco beach as well as my experiences leading an Elderhostel canoe trip for folks age 60 to 80 when I was in my 20s.
Coming Out of the Dark
When our son was born, I longed to raise him in a neighborhood like the one where I grew up . . . where its houses had big front porches and where, come summer, people lounged about in rocking chairs and drank freshly made lemonade. In the fall, there would be piles of leaves falling from the trees and the kids would play in them . . . a place where kids would know all of their neighbors, played ball in one another’s backyards, built forts in the trees, and played hide and seek in the shrubs.
After a lengthy search, we found such a place. The very day we moved into our new home, the neighbors greeted us with a homemade apple pie. The neighborhood brought back so many of my own memories along with that old familiar feeling of “home.”
After settling into our new surroundings, I found that one of my favorite things to do was to walk through the neighborhood at dusk. I loved the dull orange light that flowed from my neighbors’ kitchens and living rooms as they settled in for the the evening. I could hear bits of conversation and laughter floating out from their homes as I walked by.
When my son, Justin, was two years old, he began to walk with me in the colder winter evenings. We would see the Smiths next door gathered around their kitchen table for dinner. We watched as parents returned home to their children full of excitement and anticipation. “Daddy’s home! Mommy’s home!” We walked by Mr. Cottle’s house during our evening walks. There he would be sitting in a rocking chair behind his front window watching the traffic pass by. One of my other neighbors mentioned that he had recently lost his wife of fifty years. “When you look into his eyes,” she said, “you can see his sadness. It’s pure grief, the kind that only comes from losing the love of your life.”
Justin and I made a special point to wave to Mr. Cottle each day as we walked by. He waved back but seemed to do so with great effort as though the deep sadness in his eyes and heart were contained within his hand, making it almost too heavy to move.
As spring approached, the days grew a little longer. Backyard barbecues and street football become daily events, and Mr. Cottle moved his rocking chair to the front porch. I took the opportunity to add a cheery, “Hello!” to my regular wave. Justin followed suit with the enthusiasm of a two-year-old beginning to master the power of speech.
On these walks, Justin, like any boy his age, loved to explore. One evening he wandered into what was left of Mr. Cottle’s garden. Trying to keep him from disturbing Mr. Cottle, I insisted he return to me on the sidewalk. Justin scrunched up his little face and looked like he was about to cry.
Mr. Cottle looked at me, smiled, and said gently, “It’s okay. My wife always welcomed children into the garden. She loved for them to play here.” With that, he got up, leaned over the banister and told Justin, “Son, you can come and poke around in our garden anytime you’d like.” Deeply touched, I smiled and thanked him. Justin and I turned back down the street to continue our evening walk.
“He sad?” asked Justin. I explained that Mr. Cottle’s wife died, and Justin nodded his head. He thought about that for a minute then ran down the street in search of his next adventure.
Before long, Justin and Mr. Cottle settled into a routine. Justin would run to the bottom of Mr. Cottle’s porch stairs, hand in a high salute yellling, “High five! High five!” and Mr. Cottle would get up from his rocking chair to slap hands with him. Then they would explore the garden together.
The long days of summer arrived along with the heat that came in full force. Since the beach was only 30 minutes away, I began taking Justin there on most days. One evening, Justin ran up to Mr. Cottle’s porch for their high five and demanded, “Beach tomorrow. You come. ‘kay?”
Mr. Cottle, a bit started at first, turned thoughtfully and said to Justin and me, “My wife, Nellie, loved the beach. We would spend hours there. Nellie made the best picnic lunches, cold turkey salad with her homemade relish, bread pulled from the oven the evening before, fruit salad, and fresh brewed iced tea. We use to go early in the mornings before it got too crowded and walk the beach, pick up shells, and play tag in the waves. We would come home only after we had eaten our picnic lunch together.” I watched as his bright eyes faded to ones on the brink of tears. “We wanted to have children to share all of this with,” he shook his head. “It just didn’t work out.” He smiled down at Justin who stared unflinchingly back at him.
Justin repeated, “Beach tomorrow. You go with me.”
I smile at Justin because of all of his childhood innocence and persistence. I looked at Mr Cottle and softly added, “Please join us. We would really like for you to come.” All kinds of emotions appeared to pass through his eyes, but he said, “Yes.”
As we left Mr. Cottle, I told Justin, “We need to go home so I can go to the market.” Justin squinted his eyes and asked, “No more walk?” I responded, “Nope, no more walk tonight.”
The next morning we stopped to pick up Mr. Cottle for our trip to the beach. He appeared a bit different, dressed in a light weight wind jacket and a New York Yankees baseball cap. Best of all, though, there seemed to be a slight bounce to his walk.
“Mornin’,” he said as he slid into the front seat.
Justin yelled from his car seat in the back, “Yea! Beach today!”
When we arrived at the beach, I asked Mr. Cottle to join us for a walk. As the wet sand silently shifted between our toes, Mr. Cottle watched Justin do what Justin does – peer under shells, chase after the sandpipers, and splash in the waves. His curiosity was contagious, and soon Mr. Cottle and I were following Justin’s lead, looking under driftwood, and digging under the sand, trying to find the crawly things that Justin so adored.
I watched as Mr. Cottle found a strainer and said, “Justin, Justin, come here.” Justin came running, and Mr. Cottle said, “Let’s strain the sand and see what we can find.” They became totally absorbed with their task. They were doing what boys do together, and I had the special privilege of getting a glimpse into their world.
Mr. Cottle showed Justin how to play tag with waves as I sat and watched. “Justin, follow the wave as it goes out, and when it comes back in, race away so it doesn’t catch you.” This game brought squeals of delight from Justin and Mr. Cottle laughed out loud. This sound caught us all by surprised.
“Wow,” said Mr. Cottle. “I haven’t heard that sound in so long. My wife would be so made at me. She once told me that my laugh was one of the reasons she married me.” He laughed again, and we couldn’t help but join in.
When it was time for lunch, we returned to our blanket, and I asked Mr. Cottle to unpack our picnic basket. He pulled out the food I made. He pulled out the fresh turkey salad with homemade relish on freshly baked bread. He pulled out the fruit salad with the season’s freshest fruit. Finally, he pulled out the fresh brewed ice tea. “This is just too much,” he said with a cracking voice.
I suddenly felt that maybe my good intentions might not have been such a great idea. “I’m sorry,” I said, “I just thought . . .”
“No need to make apologies,” he smiled. “No everything is great . . . . everything is fine . . . thank you.” His last word fell out of his mouth without much sound. He sighed as Justin and I sat quietly. Mr. Cottle stared out to the ocean, his chest shook slightly and tears slid down his cheeks.
Justin touched his arm and asked, “What’s wrong? You sad?”
“Yes,” Mr. Cottle replied. “Very sad but very happy at the same time.” He looked at me through his tear-filled eyes and whispered, “Thanks.”
Justin crawled into Mr. Cottle’s after lunch. I noticed that they had the same kind of eyes – young eyes. “I don’t mean to be forward,” I said to Mr. Cottle, “but when I first met you, all I saw was an old person. And now, when I look into your eyes, I see a . . . well, I see . . .” I stuggled to find a word that fit.
“A friend,” said Mr. Cottle.
I responded with a smile, “Yes, a friend.”
When we dropped Mr. Cottle at his home that afternoon, I said, “Beach again on Saturday?” Justin piped up from the back seat, “Beach again on Saturday?”
Mr. Cottle smiled brightly and nodded his head.