About Celeste Frazier Barthel

Free Choice Learning PhD Student Bioenergy Graduate Student Research Assistant

The Fun and Learning of Snow Days …..
The last week has brought an unusual amount of snow to the Willamette Valley and in particular Corvallis – 9 inches. The town is not well prepared for this amount of snow coupled with extended below freezing temperatures. This means that the snow stayed around till today on roads, sidewalks, parking lots, and well everywhere. Coming from back east this seems a bit unreal that 9 inches of snow has kept schools and businesses closed for 5-7 days. However for a free choice learner, a studier of human nature and a parent these past 7 days have been a blast to part take in and observe. (The truly only difficult thing was trying to readjust and balance my own personal & work schedule with the increased time the children and husband have been around the house.)
Now for my observations in learning from the snow days …
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow – snow predictions where do we find them – Thursday night the house was full of looking up weather predictions, one was not enough, so multiple ones were reviewed. Which site or news show was correct? Who was using the same data? Where were they collecting the readings or data from? All of these questions were flying in the house. Now let’s talk about the social network postings – the questions about whether or not “we” as the collective Willamette Valley would “get” the predictions were flying about. Some were based on data some on past experiences, some on hope for or against the arrival of the snow. The grocery store – I had this person form California come up to me completely upset as my son and I were gathering some special “snow food” to go along with some of our family traditions – he was distort. He had never been in snow and picked living here due to lack of snow. He owned a bicycle and was concerned about how he would get around town if it did snow. He stood there for over 5 minutes, following me around the store trying to convince me that I should not be excited about this and that others are upset. It was rather interesting. I asked him if he had read the weather reports and he said no, he was not going to and was hoping for the snow to not come. Again it is how we each handle things differently. Very interesting. Evening came, bedtime came, how many of you after all the data gathering still slept with your PJ’s on inside out in hopes for the snow to arrive? At least three in our house did. Is this a culture things or just our family tradition?
Snow Fun – The snow arrived and the excitement arrived. Snowman building. There are multiple methods for snowman building. So many methods that some even get upset if you do not follow the methods that they are used to using. For example do you push the snow into a pile or gather in a bucket and place in a different spot? This is a slight difference, but I have learned an important one as the pushed snow can have leave litter making the snowman “dirty” looking. Also do you add a little water to ice over the snowman to make it last longer or let it be? Again another important point. Do you use sticks, stones and moss for finishing off the snowman or do you use buttons, carrots and real clothes? Again these conversations were extremely interesting to listen to – the reasoning and negotiations involved in making the final decisions were at boardroom level from 9-12 year olds. Then after all of these conversations came the conversations of getting the needed materials from the adults and then the conversations with them. It was great to be an observer on these as I had my younger one and was not in charge of these … love it. Social Media postings of pictures of the various snowmen have been great!
Sledding – oh the joy of physics! We live in a hilly area, so there was a large amount of places that sledding could take place. Well different people have different tolerance for difference speeds and sometimes this is learned in a situation like sledding. Transfer of skills from skiing like stopping, proper falling and rolling also took place. Fortunately no one got hurt, but many learned a lot about what they could, could not do and liked and did not like. Again the postings on the social networking sites have been a blast to follow.
Inside fun – the chemistry of baking cookies … the science of washing dishes … the fun of making ice cream by using the freezing temperatures outside … the fun of frozen things on your porch that don’t normally freeze and realizing that there is actually water in that thing …. Your neighbors burst pipes or frozen water pipes so you are helping carry water jugs over … games you never get to play as you are running everywhere to carry out your normally scheduled life. These postings have been the best. The photos of the various baked goods alone have made me gain weight. The postings of people sharing rides with the 4WD is also something that was a nice thing to see unfold. The community seemed to come to each other’s needs.
Inside Cabin Fever – the realization the some sort of regular schedule is a good thing. This was very clear on the social media sites. Cabin fever was mentioned as early as Monday with only being in from Friday through the weekend. By Thursday with the prediction of the freezing rain, the posts were beyond hopeful that this did not happen as they were more than ready for a regular routine to return. I have to admit that for myself I felt it by Thursday, but not really before. This may be because we have a 4WD vehicle and I was able to get out some or having a child with a choric illness does not allow me to have a completely set schedule so I live without a set routine. I have had to come to terms with this over the last few years. The children expressed it in a different way – I saw it in an increased inside volume of noise. The normally quite children from the neighborhood, along with my own were so load that I could hear them all the way at my mailbox when they were in the house. This has never happened before. Again a different way of expressing their cabin fever or change in routine.
All in all the last seven days of snow covered Willamette Valley have brought many different opportunities for fun and learning that have occurred outside of the normal routine. Some have been really cool and others for some (like bursting pipes) are hopefully a onetime life lesson. I feel really lucky that during this time I had the opportunity to sit back and do some participant observations in the make shift learning lab of the snow covered town of Corvallis.

Busloads of kids get surprise trip to Toys”R”Us

Today the post is NOT an advertisement for Toys”R”Us, it is rather a horrifying realization that it is viewed acceptable by this multimillion dollar corporations choice of “props” as a ploy for the children without the thought of insulting an entire profession or the positive role field trips play in the lives of children. The bus is covered over with the “Meet the Trees Foundation” so the students think they are going into nature and have activities related to trees. When I was teaching in the inner city, this was a highlight of the year to go to the county, hike and wade into the Chesapeake Bay. Many of the children had not EVER set foot into a natural source of water prior to this trip or seen trees growing outside of the ones planned along the city sidewalks. Research like that of Bryan Rebar (Associate Director; STEM CORE at University of Oregon) supports the importance of the role field trips play in meaning making for young learners. To use this with such disregard in advertising, is appalling to me as an educator and free choice learner researcher. I encourage you to watch the video and form your own views. There is an open letter to Toys “R” Us from North American Association for Environmental Education – NAAEE if you would like to follow this further. I look forward to your comments below.

Today this blog post will be a bit different for me. I usually do not write about things that are outside of my research, however as a female scientist, I would like to help spread the word about a fairly new resolution from the United Nations in 2011 – October 11th is International Day of the Girl. This year’s theme is “Innovating for Girls’ Education” with the philosophy that if girls are educated, this creates a better world for everyone. Attending classes on campus, walking the streets in Corvallis or even when I visit family back east, it is hard for me to remember that today in 2013 there are still so many females that have no or little access to learning. Education First reports that 33 % fewer girls than boys are enrolled in any form of a primary school setting (formal or home school settings).

Self-efficacy in many forms play some key roles in educational and learning research. I hope Larry Enchos approves of my summary here (but as this is a blog and is to be informal in nature here goes) it is when one believes that one can do something, they actually achieve it or do it better than when one thinks they can’t do it or has fear of the topic. For me and the population of in-service and pre-service educators I have had the pleasure of working with, this is important in science, especially in elementary science. Research suggests that elementary teachers often shy away from the topic of science out of fear or a belief that they are “bad” at “doing” science. Ok, that was my very short summary and now back to the topic of International Day of the Girl. From this day that now has been set aside by the UN, part of it is to empower girls in every community and to improve their self-efficacy, not per say in science, but in just the thought that they themselves are valuable individuals with special things to offer society. They are worth society’s investment; they are worth educating. When completing my MS at Oregon State University in Geography, one of my professors completed his PhD work in a community in Kenya. At the time it was so very impoverished that it was heart breaking. He worked with the local women to help them organize their native skills, taught them simple math and record keeping and over the time of his research the transformation was amazing. His research is impressive in his field, however he is most remembered for this “side” work. Educating the women in that village was transformational.

Below is taken directly from the UN website on the International Day of the Girl. As Free Choice Educators, it is important for us to remember that whatever our topic is that we are helping to prepare for the general public to encounter in our free choice learning settings, we should try to make the topic accessible and transformational as it may be the first time this individual is encountering this information.

“The fulfillment of girls’ right to education is first and foremost an obligation and moral imperative. There is also overwhelming evidence that girls’ education, especially at the secondary level, is a powerful transformative force for societies and girls themselves: it is the one consistent positive determinant of practically every desired development outcome, from reductions in mortality and fertility, to poverty reduction and equitable growth, to social norm change and democratization.
While there has been significant progress in improving girls’ access to education over the last two decades, many girls, particularly the most marginalized, continue to be deprived of this basic right. Girls in many countries are still unable to attend school and complete their education due to safety-related, financial, institutional and cultural barriers. Even when girls are in school, perceived low returns from poor quality of education, low aspirations, or household chores and other responsibilities keep them from attending school or from achieving adequate learning outcomes. The transformative potential for girls and societies promised through girls’ education is yet to be realized.
Recognizing the need for fresh and creative perspectives to propel girls’ education forward, the 2013 International Day of the Girl Child will address the importance of new technology, but also innovation in partnerships, policies, resource utilization, community mobilization, and most of all, the engagement of young people themselves.
All UN agencies, Member States, civil society organizations, and private sector actors have potential tools to innovate for and with girls to advance their education. Examples of possible steps include:
Improved public and private means of transportation for girls to get to school—from roads, buses, mopeds, bicycles to boats and canoes;
Collaboration between school systems and the banking industry to facilitate secure and convenient pay delivery to female teachers and scholarship delivery to girls;
Provision of science and technology courses targeted at girls in schools, universities and vocational education programs;
Corporate mentorship programs to help girls acquire critical work and leadership skills and facilitate their transition from school to work;
Revisions of school curricula to integrate positive messages on gender norms related to violence, child marriage, sexual and reproductive health, and male and female family roles;
Deploying mobile technology for teaching and learning to reach girls, especially in remote areas.
Girls face discrimination and violence every day across the world. The International Day of the Girl Child focuses attention on the need to address the challenges girls face and to promote girls’ empowerment and the fulfillment of their human rights.


This last week the buzz around the house is – preparing for elk hunting, especially from our 12 year old son as this is his first time hunting. He has been practicing with his bow for months now and is very excited to hike into the wilderness to camp. However, the focus has been on practicing his with his bow and not the thought of camping in the wilderness, out of cell phone reach with only the things that you hike the 4 miles in with. As the time has gotten closer, and he and I began preparing his items for his backpack, many interesting conversations have taken place. I can’t help but think of all the various theories we quote, discuss, and write. For example, the conversation about the backpack being too heavy if you bring that. Or, well you don’t have to bring toilet paper, but what will you use in the woods – oh no there is no bathroom where you are going. Yes there have been bathrooms when we camped before but this is different. Well you can bring that, but if the battery dies, there is no place for re-charging. Don’t forget food, you will need food – what kind of food would you like to have and will that work for hiking it in? There were countless conversations like this all week, oh how I wish I had recorded them.

You ask why does this stand out to me – well I will tell you – my son who is 12 years old, who has traveled, camped and hiked before, showed me just how much our culture is dependent on modern conveniences. Almost everything in his bag first go around was removed for final packing. His normal automatic assumptions about the environment he would be hiking into for camp are based on his daily life and various camping facilities we have stayed in. This is a new experience for him, not only the hunting part, but staying in the wilderness for an extended time part – a new cultural experience that is out of his already established culture view of hiking and camping. This stood out to me in a big way through our conversations. Well at the very least he will have to process all the new experiences and decide how to incorporate them into his cultural view.

Thinking and communicating – how many levels do we actively do these activities on a regular basis. How many activities do we “go through” every day without even thinking or communicating. For example in my house there are two adults, one of which is up and gone from the house before the rest of us (total of 4 more) are even awake. I have always been very impressed with the activities of this person in the morning as I am not a morning person. It has been generally accepted that Jon is a morning person. Recently this has changed. A good bit of time I am up during this time. Although I am not a morning person, I has tried to engage in conversation – this has not gone over well. It is not that Jon is not agreeable to conversation, it is just that when I am up, the routine is broken and things are forgotten, things that are NEVER forgotten – lunch, keys, brief case … Once we even lost track to time and he was almost late – I say almost as he is always early.
Me on the other hand I have three other people up when I am up all of us trying to get ready to get out the door – one of which I need to help a great deal. I have communication thrust at me whether I am ready for it or not. Sometimes I am good about it, sometimes not so good and ask if I can talk to them in a few minutes. It is also that I do not ever forget anything, but it is rarer then when I am up with Jon in the morning.
I bring these things up as we are people of routine. How many things in our days are routine and how many things are actual thinking things. I have come to realize I am growing up their chronologically that I need some “peace” in the routines of certain things, but crave the opportunities to think actively. Over the years this has evolved from learning new facts in school or at out of school events to reading research to conducting research – even to evaluating other peoples’ research. This kind of thinking stimulates me in a very good way.
What types of activities stimulate you out of the routine of the everyday? Can you add communication to the routine activities and still “perform” them at an acceptable level? When you are using your higher order thinking skills, are you able to communicate to others at the same time? Does this communication hinder or help you in the thinking process?

Free Choice Learning – this is a term that I found myself using a lot the last few weeks while back east attending various family events. Many family members know and follow what I do with my research, career and schooling, however many do not and it seems like every few hours or days I was explaining my work to various people. Some met me with great enthusiasm, so with the oddest look followed by – really studying how and why people learn – they just do. Very interesting. As a personal study, I then followed up with the question that so many of us in the field us – well – What is your hobby? What are you an expert in? The initial resistance to answer and the always – Im not an expert in anything followed, but after a few minutes of conversation, fruitful discussion followed. For example a family friend has always taken photographs at all events, often following around and waiting for that candid shot. Over the years, the amazing photographs taken by this individual bring both pleasure and art to the family. This is not this person’s job; however, they can tell you almost anything about photography, even information about photography greats if you will. Even with this, this person would not accept that they were an expert in this area. In the end he agreed to think about it and have another conversation with me the net time we get together.

Another example is my aunt. She is 83 years old and one of the most amazing land scape artists and gardeners I know. She can look at an area, walk around it, touch the soil between her fingers and design a beautiful relaxing garden. She knows what to plant in relation to the soil and sun and can bring almost anything back to life when most people would through the plant in the compost. She does all this without chemicals and any schooling. Her trade was business. As a child growing up, I loved working with her in her gardens. When talking to her, she will admit she knows a couple of things about gardening, but as she has not schooling, she can’t be an expert. I told her that my schooling says different, and yes you can be an expert.

This area of free choice learning is one that interests me greatly, but still is not the norm for people to understand or see how the concept is used in their own lives. As programs and research in the filed continue to grow, maybe one day when I am at a family event and I say I work in the field of science education, free choice learning, I will not have to give an explanation …..