Monday, September 26, 2016

Mr. Rickbeil's Field Trip - Part 2

Part Two:  The Sauna Experience

Mr. Rickbeil's Field Trip
Part 2:  The Sauna Experience

This post is the second installment of a five-part series, chronicling Mr. Rickbeil's educational trip (and much needed vacation) to Finland this past summer.

Being from Minnesota, I understand stress.  Life in Minnesota has plenty of stresses, including snow in April (and occasionally May), tater tot hotdish, frequent summer road construction, more frequent summer mosquitoes, and weeks in a row where the temperature never tops 30 degrees.  Additionally, we have some strange rituals in Minnesota designed to reduce stress that actually seem to create more stress such as ice fishing, camping with the mosquitoes, and watching the Minnesota Vikings.  Growing up prepared me for strange forms of stress and recreation, but nothing could have prepared me for the Finnish version of recreation.

In Finland, the national recreation obsession is the sauna, and they are everywhere in Finland.  They are in the vast majority of the hotels, apartment complexes, and individual homes.  They are in summer cottages on lakes and larger vacation homes beside the Baltic Sea.  If you are ever lucky enough to take a boat tour around Helsinki, you will find an endless supply of houses with an equally endless supply of saunas.  In fact, most of the saunas are built to resemble the houses they are next to, with the same color roofs and paneling.

Staying in hotels, I had plenty of opportunities to visit a sauna, although the hotel saunas are supposedly not as authentic as the municipal ones.  On one of my days in Finland, I paid a visit to a public sauna next to the large lake on the North end of the city I was staying in.  I was suffering with the jitters from a rather strong cup of coffee (another Finnish tradition), so visiting the Sauna in the early evening seemed to be a good idea to relax.  I had no idea what I was in for.

The sauna experience begins with a plunge into the lake.  In fact, most summer cottages usually place their sauna a few steps away from the waterfront for this convenience.  However, this lake was nothing like Chesapeake Bay.  In fact it was a frigid 55 degrees, which seems out of place anywhere in the middle of August.  Although I have plunged in a few Polar Bear plunges, the cold water was a shock to my system, and I immediately began gasping for breath in the water while the native Finns around me chuckled to themselves.  After a short one or two-minute swim, I made a mad dash out of the water and into the sauna itself.

This was the other side of the story.  The sauna building was a toasty 185 degrees, which was not even the warmest sauna I visited during my stay.  The first few minutes are comfortable, taking away the cold blast of the water.  The next few minutes make you sweat.  The next few minutes make your ears and eyes feel like spaghetti that is softening up in a boiling pot of water.  When someone pours a ladle-full of water on to the rocks in the sauna, a pleasant steam rises and fills the entire room- until a minute later, when you realize that same steam is giving your face and ears the sensation that they are melting.

This was the first cool dip and toast.  I repeated this pattern about 12 times over the next two hours.  The first few plunges seemed masochistic, but something strange happened the more I entered the water and the sauna.  I started getting used to it, as each plunge seemed a little less frigid and each toast seemed a little more tolerable.  My body had actually adapted to the sauna experience, and I found myself enjoying the experience more and more.

The Finnish people swear by the saunas, and it did not take me long to understand why.  The constant ups and downs in my heart rate left me feeling completely relaxed after the two hour experience.  My body felt like it had run a five-mile race, even though I spent most of the time sitting still in the steam.  The Finnish people swear that saunas help them to reduce their stress, sleep better, live longer, and fight off disease.  Finnish people celebrate saunas with their families, with honored guests, and even to finalize business agreements.  They are the essential cultural experience of Finland, and I can see how the toasty sauna must be a relief during a long, cold winter.

I miss the sauna, and wish I could put a public sauna with a cold lake right here in Ellicott City.  But the point that my sauna experience really drove home was the importance of having a plan for stress.  In Finland, frequent saunas a good way to handle the stresses of life. I may not have a local sauna, but I need to plan for the stress that is a routine part of life.  I need to make time to run, work out, and play pick-up basketball.  I also need a daily prayer routine, regular time with my friends, and a few hours each week with the Minnesota Vikings, even if the latter may actually increase said stress.

The beginning of the school year is an especially stressful time, and it does not take long on campus to feel the stress and anxiety that come with the anticipation of everything coming in the new school year.  As a family, I encourage you to plan for the stresses that will be coming your way this year.  Make a plan of when you will play together, exercise together, or do things you enjoy together that will help you manage the stress in your life.  You might not find yourself cooking in a Finnish sauna, but planning for the stresses that are coming will help you thrive in the midst of them.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Mr. Rickbeil's Field Trip

Mr. Rickbeil's Field Trip
Part 1:  Less is More

This post is the first installment of a five-part series, chronicling Mr. Rickbeil's educational trip (and much needed vacation) to Finland this past summer.

This summer, I decided to take a field trip to a faraway place to learn about the most successful and efficient school system in the world.  I wanted to see how a different culture educates their kids.  I wanted to learn from their successes and see what aspects of their educational system are applicable to American schools, Catholic schools, and all of us at Trinity.  My journey took me over 4,200 miles away to a small country on the North coast of the Baltic Sea.  This is the story of my trip to Finland.

Finland has been an educational giant in the developed world since the results of the first PISA tests sixteen years ago, which ranked Finland 1st in reading literacy, 4th in math literacy, and 3rd in science literacy.  If you find it surprising that Finland ranked at the top of the list, nobody was more surprised than the Finnish people themselves.  When the first results were released, the educators themselves figured it was some kind of mistake.  This “mistake” was only confirmed three years later, when Finland placed 1st in the world in reading literacy and science literacy, and second in the world in math literacy.  Finland clearly had a good thing going after all.  Of course, humility comes somewhat naturally to Finnish culture, which may explain their top ranking in the world after all.

In my 16 days in Finland, I was constantly surrounded by a people and a country where less is more.  The city of Helsinki contained fewer skyscrapers than any big city I have ever seen, with two modest Cathedrals setting the skyline for the city.  The Finnish people live in modest homes and apartments, retreating to small cottages in nature as their favorite vacation spot.  Although it helped that I was on vacation, I was constantly presented opportunities to slow down, enjoy a cup of coffee, and take in a meal at a cafĂ©.  Finland was a good destination for business travel and relaxing, and people genuinely seem to enjoy a slower pace of life.

This culture of "less is more" permeates their education system as well.  Children start their formal schooling in first grade at the age of seven with hours that resemble my half-day kindergarten back in the 1980's.  Finnish students take recess several times per day, with law mandating a 15-minute break after each 45-minute class.  Doing the math, this adds up to as many as six recesses a day in a common middle school schedule.  Finnish teachers spend significantly fewer hours teaching the week and more time collaborating with other Finnish teachers over warm cups of coffee.  Visiting Finnish middle schools, it was not uncommon to find foosball and ping pong tables in the hallways, as students needed something to do with all of their break time in the middle of the day.

The most amazing thing about their "less is more" philosophy is that it worked.  I knew about their approach, their recesses, and their efficiency in class.  What surprised me was their rationale behind their approach.  Finnish children do not get so many breaks because it lightens their load or because guilty Finnish adults worry too much about the stresses on today's youth.  The breaks and "less is more" mentality is emphasized because it gets results.

In a trip designed to learn from Finnish culture and schools, I am not 100% sure what to make of all of this.  I'm not sure that frequent recesses, breaks, and foosball tables would improve our education in the United States as it does in Finland, although I call dibs on the foosball table if we ever get one.  However, as we start a new school year, I do know that I could benefit from a little more "less is more" in my life.  I know that my work could improve with a little more sleep, a few less 10-hour workdays, and a few less activities crammed into my free time.

This may be the place many of our families find themselves in as we enter this new school year.  As we settle into the September routine, I encourage you to think about "Less is More".  You may find that by doing fewer activities and allowing more open time on your family calendars, you will find yourself happier and more productive.  Maybe the "to do" list could be shorter so long as the things at the top get done.  Maybe we can all benefit from a few more lazy Sundays, a few more opportunities to relax on the margins of our daily schedules.

This school year, don’t be afraid to do a little less.  As the Finns taught me, less can definitely be more.

Apple Science Experiment in Mrs. Buckley’s Kindergarten

During our unit on Apples, the kindergartners used the scientific process while observing how different liquids affect apples.

First we picked apples from the apple trees on the Trinity campus. 

In the classroom we set out five containers with a few apple slices in each one.  We labeled the containers with the name of the liquids we were going to use. We also set up a “control” cup of apple slices with no liquid. 

Each kindergartner drew their predictions on a recording sheet.

The liquids were added to the containers. After two hours we observed the apple slices again and recorded our observations again, noting any changes.  We recorded observations the next day also.

The control apples had started to oxidize, as had the apples in water and soda.  The children’s least favorite was the apples in vinegar because they were “stinky” and very, very brown.J

Kelly Buckley
Kindergarten Teacher
Trinity School
(443) 498-5071

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Virtue of the Month for September: DILIGENCE

Virtue of the Month

Comes from the Latin word diligere meaning to value highly,
to take delight in

A DILIGENT person works Hard to finish a job.

A DILIGENT person is:

a hard worker

A DILIGENT person applies himself/herself to the task at hand;
Starts working right away;
Works hard to finish a job;
Invests time & energy;
Does a job efficiently;
Applies his/her God-given talents;

DILIGENCE is a key ingredient to success in practice, exercise and study.