Wednesday, December 31, 2014

[An Abecedary of Cape-Wearing] L is for the Law of Unintended Consequences

Okay tootsies... it's time to get down with some philosophy up in the blogosphere. 

As I reach the almost halfway mark of the Abecedary of Cape-Wearing with the letter L.

L is for the Law of Unintended Consequences

Here are some quick definitions:

--events and/or actions that result from the implementation of a law of rule that the makers of the law did not expect (link here)

--unintended consequences (sometimes unanticipated consequences or unforeseen consequences) are outcomes that are not the ones intended by a purposeful action (link here)

--actions, particularly those taken on a large scale as by governments, may have unexpected consequences. These “reactions,” may be positive, negative or merely neutral, but they veer off from the intent of the initial action (link here)

How does this apply to the Abecedary of Cape-Wearing? Here is my thinking (and the thinking of these folks that wrote this cool and totally geeky book)...  Superheroes dwell exactly in the middle of a world of large-scale, high impact, life-altering change. They save lives, lasso meteors, thwart world domination. Even the smallest action in the world of a superhero is... well... super. It is a super action that leads to a super consequence. 

When my kidlets and I were in the throes of discussing what makes a superhero, they noticed that all of the truly heroic superfolks wrestled with their own powers at one time or another. At first they scoffed at this idea--why would Superman even pause for thought if he could do all of those super things?  Why didn't Batman just stop with the tortured-soul act and get on with it? What could possibly have possessed Hal Jordan to even consider NOT becoming a Green Lantern?

One of the kidlets had a big thinking thought, "Because sometimes people died."

Big thinking silence ensued. What if your heroism killed people?  Is it worth it? 

"Yes, if it saves other people."
"What if it kills the wrong people?"
"Is it ever worth it if someone dies?"
"I bet you still feel bad even if you didn't mean it."
"It doesn't matter if you meant it or not--it killed people."

And they looked at me for the answer--hoping I could wrap it up in a nice package that would feel better than the abyss of uncertainty that was, at that moment, staring them in the face.  They waited... I waited...  realization dawned on their spongy brains. There is no right answer to this question. Large-scale actions lead to large scale results--a spider web of consequences that can't be planned or controlled. 

After this conversation the lovies were subdued for a few days. They noticed unintended consequences for their decisions more and more. The learning on this one was deep and personal. I wasn't sure if they would make the connection, but I didn't want to make it for them--this was deep learning and not to be rushed.

About a week later the light shined down--they were reading about Martin Luther King Jr in their social studies class. I heard them arguing as they walked in to my room,

"He was a pacifist. He was peaceful."
"But people got hurt and maybe died."
"He didn't mean for them to do that though. It wasn't his fault."
"He gave speeches and told them to take action--he should have known."
"How could he know what would they would do?"
“That’s what you have to do when you make big decisions. You have to decide if it’s worth the consequence.”

And lo' the light shined down as they made the connection.

"Hey Boss, this is that law of the consequences thing!”

Why yes my dears... yes it is.

In education we must be aware of the Law of Unintended Consequences. Our words and actions have power. We may not be able to control each resulting ripple, but it is our responsibility to think it through, consider it, be intentional in our work.

What are your thoughts about the Law of Unintended Consequences?  Where does it apply to your work, your planning, your best hopes?

Monday, December 22, 2014

[An Abecedary of Cape-Wearing] K is for Kal-El
Back in the day, my wee little students wrestled with a big question. 

What is a superhero?

Their conversations during the various phases of this discussion were awe-inspiring. They thought deeply about heroism, super-heroism, humanity, the forces of good and evil, and their own belief systems.

Each time they thought they had a clear answer to the question; another facet would rise up creating more layers of questions and fewer answers.  One of my favorite unanswerable questions that came from this ongoing discussion was:

Is Kal-El a superhero?

Kal-El was a boy on the planet Krypton without special powers. Due to a brief ride through space, and  a shift in gravity, he was graced with incredible strength and some laser vision and became what we know as Superman. But as Kal-El—is he a superhero?  If one characteristic of a superhero is that she or he have super powers, can we count Kal-El? If we can’t count Kal-El until he lands on Earth and becomes Superman, can we say he is a superhero?

The beauty of this question for my students at the time was the possibility of either answer.

If Kal-El was superhero because of his potential on another planet—then aren’t we all superheroes just waiting for a new planet?

If Kal-El is not a superhero and Superman is—then doesn’t that mean we can all be come a superhero if the right things happen to us? Are we all just waiting for the right circumstance to reveal our powers?

If Kal-El isn’t a superhero and Superman is likewise NOT a superhero—then what does that mean for the definition of superheroes? Can we honestly say that Superman is not super-heroic? If we cannot, then what is super-heroism exactly?

Surprise, surprise, I am applying this teaching and learning. My students loved the idea of superheroes. They loved the idea that they could be a Kal-El  waiting for a new planet, or a Bruce Wayne waiting for the right technology, or a Peter Parker in need of a mere spider bite to unleash their amazingness.  Superheroes show us our potential to be amazing. Just add enough strength, enough flexibility, enough learning, and KaBlam!  Superheorism all around.

This speaks to the eternal hope of possibility we need to have for ourselves as teachers and for our students as learners.

Why not believe that it is possible?  Why not believe in the possibility of what we could be rather than focus on the limitations of what we’ve been told we are?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

[An Abecedary of Cape-Wearing] J is for The Justice Society of America

Thanks to @shelley-burgess, @drjolly and the #satchatwc Saturday morning Twitter chat, I am determined to finish the Abecedary of Cape-Wearing within a year of having the brilliantly foolish idea of starting it. That means I have 17 letters to finish in 24 days. That's... (4 plus... 7… carry the 2...) a gabillion times more letters than I did previously. So wish me cape-wearing luck! Click here for letters A-I.

J is for the Justice Society of America. The JSA is referenced as the first team of superheroes in DC comic books—introduced in World War II alongside the All-Star Squadron.  In case you’re curious about the history and the subsequent link to the currently-known JAL, the video below is pretty interesting:

I’m especially fascinated by superhero teams. I love watching strong characters with vastly different skill-sets work together to beat the baddies. There is always some sort of struggle—struggles about leadership, struggles about membership in the team, struggles about which baddies to fight and how—that’s the nature of a team. They always prevail in the end, though. And end up caring about the team as a whole more than their individual needs (almost always anyway—click here for a video of Batman going rogue with the JAL).

Teams of cape-wearing teachers have the same struggles and the same successes. Incredibly talented adults come together for a common purpose—to prepare children for success. The methods for achieving that purpose are varied and each path is full of pitfalls, but teams of teachers always prevail. While it is sometimes difficult to work within a team of such intensely caring, radically different, super-powered colleagues, the success achieved by a team of cape-wearing educators far out-weigh the successes of one individual.

Who is in your superhero team? How do you combine your powers to beat the baddies?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

[Throwback Thursday] A Memory

I was Google-chatting with my sis this morning and had a remembery that gave me new perspective on the work I do today.

Waaayyyy back in 6th grade (think early 80's... acid wash jeans...leg warmers... neon sweatshirt with "Frankie Says Relax" emblazoned on it....) I experienced a pivotal social moment. Didn't we all?

I went to a small school in a small town. There were about 80 kids in my grade. Most of us started in Kinder together and would graduate together down the road. New kids were either celebrities or pariahs. M. was a celebrity. She was related to a D.--a popular kid, and she had a commanding presence. She had style, she had sass, and she was exotic. The girls in the three 6th grade classes followed her around, hung on her every word, did her bidding. 

I hung out on the fringes--feeling like I should want to be in the mix, hampered by shyness, and not sure I wanted to be a full-on lemming. I watched, smiled when I was supposed to, and worked very hard to appear that I belonged there while I decided if I did. If the weather was acceptable (i.e. not frozen or hailing), we were outside. The group would go en masse to the furthest edge of the school grounds--as far as we could go without being called back. M. would stand in the center and hold court. At about that time each day the high school vocational classes would have to walk near us to get to their next class. Social norms would dictate that high schoolers walking by a gaggle of 6th grade girls would have the upper hand. They didn’t. M. was that good. One boy in particular struck her as a target and she honed in.

I remember that he walked alone--separate from the rest. He shuffled by each day with his head down. M. didn't like his hair or the way he walked. She altered the words of "Wild Thing"--directing us all to sing along with her as he walked by. I remember the boy put his hood up and tried get further away. This happened for a few days and I watched Wild Thing shrink and try new ways to avoid us each day.

This was before the tragedies of school violence reminded us to teach kids about diversity, bullying, and well… basic humanity. I'd spent my elementary years struggling with a bleeding heart sense of empathy--I knew it wasn't cool to care and I was trying to do what was socially expected as I entered middle school.

I lasted about three days.

On the day I sealed my fate, Wild Thing had his sweatshirt hood up, his hands in his pockets, and he was slinking along at the furthest edge of the walkway. M- called out to him to take his hood off, to come closer to hear the song, to dance for us. I heard my own voice say:

"Stop it."

There was a deafening silence. A sea of 6th grade, blue-shadowed eyes turned toward me. A few girls took a step back. 

M: “…What did you say!?”
Me (much less forcefully): "I said stop it… that's mean."
M: "You stop it! Don't be bogus. Sing the song."
Me (seriously doubting my choice): "I just think it's mean..”
M (turning her whole powerful self toward me):  "If you say that again I'll make everyone stop talking to you forever."
Me (after a pause where I heard audible gasps and considered my own mortality): "…I...  don't care. Stop it."
(shocked pause): "That's it. Get out of here. They’ll never talk to you again."

And they didn’t. She was true to her word. The girls of the 6th grade avoided me for most of that year.* I had a lot of time to doubt my decision. There was no undoing it, so I don't know if I would have if I could have. 

And here I sit today--the Director of Student Services for a small school district (though over ten times the size of where I grew up). Apparently I knew exactly who I was that day. My over-empathetic heart decided for me that it was worth the fight to protect those that had a raw deal. I chose my side and while I didn't remember that until today, I see now that I am exactly where I intended to be.

Do you have a pivotal moment you may have forgotten? One that gives you a new perspective on where you are today?

*Lest you think I was entirely solitary, H. moved into town a few months later and was labeled a pariah due to her braces and her odd personality. We became friends of necessity. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

[An Abecedary of Cape-Wearing] I is for Incredible

For more of the Abecedary of Cape-Wearing click here.

I struggled with this one. I didn't want to go for the obvious. I wanted to pick something witty, pithy, or surprising. I even started writing a different post. 

But here's the deal. The Hulk deserves a post. The Hulk with the incredible-ness, I mean. 

A few years ago, while my hotten-tots were deciding what characteristics make a superhero, we got stuck on the Incredible Hulk for a good while. We'd made our own list of characteristics at the time, but even if you make your own lists, or look at the lists available online, Hulk is an outlier. 

He's strong, true. He can beat baddies, absolutely, He hangs with other superheroes, and that's always good.  But the kiddos were concerned that in reality, the most heroic thing about Hulk is how hard Bruce Banner works to NOT lose control and hurt innocent people. They felt that the Hulk himself was not as heroic as Bruce Banner, but they had a hard time coming to terms with that.  Hulk is part of Bruce Banner that he has to control in order to be heroic. Hulk is the power and strength, but can also be the dangerous side.

They compared him to Clark Kent and Superman, Hal Jordan and Green Lantern, Oliver Queen and Green Arrow, Peter Parker and Spiderman. In each of these cases the alter ego has control over the powers to some degree. In the case of Bruce and the Hulk the need control becomes the story. His anger, the fear he might hurt someone, the need to control his strength—that is Hulk’s story.

And really, that is heroic. We all have a side to us that is not heroic. Sometimes that side starts to win. Sometimes it does win. As caped crusaders, we need to accept our inner Hulk, allow him to come out only when truly necessary, and strive to control it the rest of the time. So Hulk gets a slot in the Abecedary of Cape-Wearing for working so hard to NOT lose it. 

Thank you Hulk, for showing us how.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

[An Abecedary of Cape-Wearing] H is for Helping

Superheroes are helpful. It’s sort of their job. They help ladies in distress on a regular basis. They help save bus-fulls of innocent victims from certain death. They save folks who inadvertently fall off tall buildings. And they save cities and planets from evil-doers and imminent destruction.

Some superheroes wage an internal battle with their superhero status, but are convinced as they are continually called in to help and generally save the day.
Some superheroes wage a similar and equally internal battle to stay away from polite society in order to save folks from themselves. The Hulk for example. His main role as a superhero is to keep himself from hurting the wrong people--to try to be in the right place with the right amount of control to unleash fury on the baddies, but keep it away from the nice folks.

Either way, the nice folks get used to it. Metropolis, Gotham City, New York City, Smallville, Earth…the buildings collapse, the subway goes off the rails, the bridges break and the people call for their hero to help. At first they are there without a hitch and the crowd cheers. Later, they are waylaid by multiple and simultaneous disasters or nefarious evil-doers and the crowd questions their loyalty. Why aren’t they there right away?  Why are they allowing this to happen? Why do the bridges keep falling down (okay, they don’t ask that last one, but I totally would)?

At this point the iniquitous, the vile, the power-hungry, the vengeful, the diabolical--the baddies figure it out. Make the people believe the hero doesn’t want to help, won’t help, can’t help, and they will turn on him. Hold him prisoner so that he can’t, threaten him with the death of his tortured love interest, convince her she is out of control, blow up his mansion--make it so they can’t help and let disappointment to their dirty work.

At this point you may be wondering where I’ve hidden the silver lining, and you are right to believe it is here. Each time this happens (and it happens so often you’d think they’d figure it out more quickly), our heroes come to a similar conclusion. One person can’t be the only helper. One person alone can’t save the city. The hero has to start helping the city help themselves. Rebuild the building, shore up the dam, support the good guys. That’s how to truly save the city.

There will always be political rhetoric in education. We have made the grand and important statement that all children have a right to a free and appropriate public education. That is no small feat. We as a whole have embarked on a project that will continually require every bit of our strength, stamina, and heroism to achieve. It can’t be done by one person, one agency, one program. Each of us has some level of experience in education--as a learner, as a parent, as a teacher, and we are all stakeholders.Education and education reform require a daily promise from all stakeholder to do well by our children. We are each superheroes in this commitment and we are equally responsible for saving the day.

Friday, August 22, 2014

[New Favorite Things Friday] Precision

This week I noticed myself drawn to things that helped me be precise. If you know me, you may know that I vacillate between precision and a chaotic sort of gut-feel driven decision-making.  This was a week of precision.

What The Font?

I discovered What The Font? a little less than half an hour ago (said in Inigo Montoya voice--holla if you follow*).  Honestly, I can't believe I didn't go looking for it before. When I am working with any sort of technology, I often think it should be doing more for me than it does. Typically, I Google the thing I want it to do and find that either yes, it can be done or I am a wee bit lofty in my expectations. In the case of What The Font? I was trying to identify a font as I do on a daily basis. I was mirroring a graphic from a website (not copying, honest) and wanted the exact font. I held a brief conversation with myself:

Me: Self, shouldn't the internets be able to figure this out?
Self: You are being too lofty again, dear. There is no way the internet can recognize random fonts.
Me: But don't you think it should?
Self: Well of course dear, check if you must*

I typed "font reader” in the search bar and viola!--the first hit was from a site called  It was post from 2007! I was not being lofty!  What The Font? can identify fonts for you!  Huzzah! 


Just after my font success I wanted to know an exact color from the same website (still not copying, honest). I searched "color picker", found a Google Chrome Extension, started to download it, and had another conversation with myself:

Me: I am absolutely sure I would have done this before now
Self: Yes dear, considering your strong feelings about color.
Me: I wonder why I didn't?
Self: Perhaps you did do, dear. Go ahead and check.

And there it was in my Chrome Extensions bar... ColorZilla. It does everything you might hope for and more. I was immediately gifted with the RGB numbers and full code for the color I wanted.

Washi Tape Planning Boards

When the to-do lists get long, I need to manage them in some way. This week a shiny new magnetic white board was installed on my office wall. Granted, I had planned a lovely book shelf quilt wall-hanging for that wall, but considering the size of the to do list, that has fallen to the wayside. I tried listing the to-dos by color, but was not feeling the result. I used washi tape to divide up the board and categorize the to-dos. I also made some quick color-coded magnets by using pre-stickified magnets and pre-colorfied flat-bottom marbles. Could I have marked something off the to-do list in the time it took me to do that? Most certainly. Would it have felt nearly as good?  Not even a little bit.


 I like to wear my wrist-band fit tracker, but it looks and feels clunky after a few days of constant wear. I've seen a lot of thread-wrapped bangles around and about lately, and thought I might be able to fancy it up a bit. I wanted it to stay smooth and unobtrusive, so I had to wrap it very carefully to keep it lined up. I wonder how long it will last and not become pill-y?


I read a blog post about Verilux light bulbs and think I might need to try one. Imagine the precision color-picking to be found with light bulbs like this! 

*In case you wondered

**My self is kind of like Mrs. Doubtfire in these situations.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

[#clmooc] Make Cycle #2--Memes

Learning about memes with the 2014 Making Learning Connected Collaboration Make Cycle #2. 

Interesting stuff! I learned so much from Kim's blog post--To Meme or Not To Meme and her link to this PBS video.

I had so much fun with Edna (my imagined blog naysayer) and the idea of a meme. I used the suggested tool--MemeGenerator and tried not to overthink it (difficult for me).

Here you go...

Friday, June 27, 2014

[New Favorite Things Friday] Coffee, Poetry and Turtlenecks--a BeatnikFavorites List

Okay, I was wrong (one for the list!!!). My understanding of what Beatnik meant was not quite right. Chocolate, coffee and poetry does not a Beatnik make (click here for a definition).

So call it what you will, my favorite things this week are reminiscent of coffee shops, black-turtle-neck-beret-wearing artists, and cryptic poetry readings.

1. Black-out Poetry and Doodling

I've always liked black out poetry as a teaching tool and had fun trying it out with my students, but lately I've some amazing black-out poetry that has me trying it out. I can't show you mine yet (since many of them go into my #365mistakes4growth list), but these are the pages that inspired me (links provided for credit):

2. The Best Cup of Coffee Ever

It was a shot of espresso, a scoop of Nutella, and a bit of cream--a candy bar in a cup. It was perfect and came with the swirled heart on the top. Decadent, yes. But perfect.

3. Not Wearing Turtlenecks

I am not a fan of the turtleneck. I am fairly certain they were meant only for turtles. I mean really... consider the name. My new favorte thing this week is living somewhere that doesn't require them. Beautiful weather, sun, open skies, and the beach. Life is good.

Do you have any new favorites this week?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

[Integrated Learning Weekly] This week in the news...

I am exploring new ways to share updated information and news with my collegues. Here is my current method. It is a list that I am hoping to curate weekly. All of these links came from my own reading from my Feedly page, Twitter, and shared articles. I save these posts using Pocket, and it was easy to get them to post here. I am hopeful this works!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

[#clmooc 2014] Make Cycle 1--Create a How To

I have been so excited for the Making Learning Connected MOOC this year!  I caught the tail end last year and LOVED the brain stretching.

A teensy bit late, here is my How To Video for Make Cycle #1:

How To Be Barb Montfort

Friday, June 13, 2014

[New Favorite Things Friday] My Favorite Mistake
My favorite mistake this week was a small one that had very little impact on anything other than making two people laugh and a third person exclaim that they were happy to hear the laughter.

I was trying to say something about not rushing to think too far ahead in a situation--to make plans for something where the factors are not yet in place. I thought I'd use an idiom to communicate this. Before I share that idiom, I thought I'd share a definition:

In linguistics, idioms are usually presumed to be figures of speech contradicting the principle of compositionality.[5] This principle states that the meaning of a whole should be constructed from the meanings of the parts that make up the whole. In other words, one should be in a position to understand the whole if one understands the meanings of each of the parts that make up the whole. The following example is widely employed to illustrate the point:
Fred kicked the bucket.
Understood compositionally, Fred has literally kicked an actual, physical bucket. The much more likely idiomatic reading, however, is non-compositional: Fred is understood to have died. Arriving at the idiomatic reading from the literal reading is unlikely for most speakers. What this means is that the idiomatic reading is, rather, stored as a single lexical item that is now largely independent of the literal reading.

I highlighted the line that applies most to this situation. This idea of parts making up the whole. The parts by themselves don't add up to the same whole. 
So there I am, trying to make a point. Knowing I am going to use an idiom to do so. I start one, then switch in the middle...
          Me: "Not to count my chickens before the horse." I say.
          She: "What!?!"
          Me: "Oh, you know... horses... carts... chickens... hatching?" 
          She: "I hope that's your mistake for the day, because I don't know WHAT you're doing."

At this point I fully understand the idea of compositionality. The parts were supposed to add up to a whole. I switched up the parts and they just became... parts. It's true, I think my conversation partner in this case had at least a vague understanding of where I was headed since the parts added up to two semi-whole ideas that showed a pattern of thought. I probably could have gotten away with not clarifying. After a bout of laughter that drew in that third person., the conversation moved on successfully. No real issue, no real mistake.

I loved the laughter though. It was my favorite mistake. I hope I have a chance to laugh next time I bark up the wrong foot.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

[An Abecedary of Cape-Wearing] G is for Great Power

G is for Great Power

"With great power comes great responsibility."
--Stan Lee (or Voltaire or the Torah)

"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men." -- Lord Acton

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power.” 

“The day the power of love overrules the love of power, the world will know peace.” 

“Patience is power. Patience is not an absence of action;rather it is timing. It waits on the right time to act,for the right principles and in the right way.” 

“Recognizing power in another does not diminish your own.” 

“Power changes everything till it is difficult to say who are the heroes and who the villains.” 

“Power does not corrupt. Fear corrupts... perhaps the fear of a loss of power.” 

“Knowledge is power. Power to do evil...or power to do good. Power itself is not evil. So knowledge itself is not evil.” 

That is all.

Friday, June 6, 2014

[New Favorite Things Friday] Caped Time Outs

Last week I left work on time one day and went to spend an hour getting my tootsies painted. The favorite thing is not painted tootsies, it's taking the hour out of my day to sit and enjoy the time. I was able to let my thoughts wander or not wander. I stared out the window at the sunny sky, I chatted some with the tootsie specialists, and I enjoyed the hour. I felt refreshed and energized afterwards. Of course I also felt fancy since I had painted tootsies.

It reminded me of the times in my classroom when I remembered to take a break like this. I scrolled through my blog and found so many little tidbits about times that this break made the learning actually go faster. To be clear, these breaks were often only a minute or two long, There is much to be taught to our most inspiring cape-wearing students and hour-long breaks are much less common.

I scrolled through some blog posts and found some of my favorite short breaks. There are quite a few here, so I will just encourage you to pick one or two that strike your fancy and take a mini-break as you read some bits about my "lovies" from back in my teaching time. I enjoyed the stroll and boy do I love teaching!

Going Invisible (time--under a minute; school skills used--writing craft and vocabulary)

Pickle Skins  (time--about a minute)

European Studies (time--30 minutes; school skills used--technology integration)

Bait and Switch (time--2+ hours); school skills used--reading, writing, presentation)

A Vignette (time--2 minutes)

A Collection of Blue Things (time--immeasurable)

A Cup of Tea (time--3 minutes of me, zero minutes for student)

Campfire (an all-time favorite moment in my teaching career)

Each of these vignettes shows a small (or longer) time out that had a positive impact on at least me. Can you think of a time out that was effective for you? If not, I encourage you to take one.

Friday, May 23, 2014

[New Favorite Things Friday] Bright Spots

This week I am loving things that are bright, shiny, or spots of happy in a day.

Crafty things and the time to play with them. 

Last weekend I spent some time playing with fabric. Fabric makes me happy. It's bright, soft, and it makes things! I make things because I love the chance to sit down with a goal and achieve that goal. It's true, I don't always finish the crafty things I start, but that's part of the fun!  A chance to NOT finish something is just as rejuvenating.

Mending a favorite gifted pillow:

New Learning!

Teachers crowded around their computers, learning new technology, excited about what they can do with it, and eager to share with their classrooms. This is one of the reasons I love my work. I miss daily interaction with kids, most certainly, but when I get to work with teachers like this, I can see the trade off!

Surprise compliments--giving and receiving. 

I typically adhere to the rule that if I think a compliment, I should say it. I often take people off guard with
this--I even get wary looks. But hey! We need more warm fuzzies in this world! This week I had the chance to give a few, but I also received a couple I wasn't expecting. They were compliments about my work and my teaching. I hadn't realized that I was wanting to hear that! It reminded me why I like to give them out so much!

A coffee shop that knows me. 

I often work in a coffee shop on my days off (shush. I like my work). There are a couple of folks at my local coffee shop that remember me (my bag actually--they like it). I like that. I used to make it a point to remember customers at my pop's grocery store, now I know why they liked it so much! We can be anonymous all day, but being remembered and welcomed is nice too.

What are your favorite things this week? Old things that are new again? New things that are... new? At work? At home?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

[An Abecedary of Cape-Wearing] F is for Force

This may be one of the slowest renditions of an abecedary you'd ever heard.

A very brief history.... This is my Abecedary of Cape-Wearing. The topic is less about superheroes and more about the cape-wearing qualities of people who champion learning. Educational cape-wearing is why I started the blog. We wear capes, you and I. They may not be visible (though I'm not averse to wearing an actual cape when necessary), but they are there and ought to be pointed out, highlighted, celebrated. And so here I am. In the midst of working with cape-wearers on a daily basis, I am slowly writing this abecedary to... to prove myself right. Or, less cheeky-sounding, to further support my mission. Though I am just now fixin' to extol the virtues of the letter F, you may want a reminder of the previous letters since they've been spread out over...almost 6 months (yikes):

Why I love a good abecedary...
A is for Caveat
B is for Beat the Baddies like Batman
C is for the Captain
D is for Donatello--one smart turtle
E is for Evil (the fighting of)

and now...

F is for Force

When you type force into a Creative Commons* Google search you get a snapshot of exactly why this is a cape-wearing word:

You've got physics, rockets, the solar system, math, roller coasters, the power of water in nature, gravity-defying hair styles, groups of people doing challenging work, and some superheroish-villainish characters. Each of these adds a level to the conversation about force as a cape-wearing characteristic.

In education we need to keep our momentum, our force, as we shoulder our way through a school year. There are days that the sheer magnitude of what we are trying to do, the physics of trying to keep a forward motion in spite of obstacles, the mechanics needed to force our way up the long climb on the roller coaster, the fuel needed to launch the rocket--they seem like too much. On those days, we need to use the less scientific forces to make it happen. We need to rally with our leadership and our peers to remember what fuels us. 

And here we can take a lesson from our superhero friends. The X-Men, the Avengers, the Justice League, the Teen Titans, even the Watchmen. They're superheroes (or mutants if you're a purist), for goodness sakes! Why do they keep teaming up? In the movies, they do it to build a force strong enough to battle a powerful threat. They find that they are better together than they are on their own. If you watch the slow parts of the movies, you also see that they simply want the company. The battle is easier to handle next to someone. Even Batman and Wolverine keep coming back to the group. They are the quintessential loners, but they come back and support the effort. They are looking for that reminder of why we are here, why we are working so hard, why it's worth being this tired. 

And what makes it worth it? Our learners. Take a minute and picture your learners. Are they our smallest humans learning how to grow into strong healthy humans? Are they our preschool and primary grade students counting on us to prepare them for their next steps in school? Are they almost-adult learners that think they know it already, but secretly count on you to make sure they actually do? Is your learner a particular person that needs your leadership right now? Whoever you are picturing, that is your fuel.

If we each add our fuel to the team, we become a force to be reckoned with. A force that can make change, affect lives, and even tempt Batman and Wolverine to join in. We all need that extra boost from time to time. And if you are in a school setting this time of year you are making that final climb on the roller coaster--creaking up the hill, straining against gravity, hoping the laws of physics apply to you to help you all the way to they top. Take a minute today and rally your team, take stock of your situation, and remind yourselves why you are there. Find your force and reharness it. It's there, I promise.

*Note--I use Creative Commons searches for this blog in an attempt to not "steal" images or videos from an unsuspecting author. Let's all make sure we give credit where credit is due!

Monday, May 19, 2014

[Mentor Text Monday] A Sunday Evening Sentence Search

It's Sunday evening. I want to post a mentor text, but my brain, she be empty. I tumble through my thoughts, flip through my mental card catalogue, scroll through my Twitter feed, and... nothing.

And then I remember--books! I read books, own books, and display said books in an easy-access shelving unit otherwise known as a book shelf. Books have words! Words have inspiration! I leap up from my slouchy-couch-typing position, semi-shut my eyes, pick a book, and settle back in (a little less slouchy, but not much).

What follows is my completely unstructured method for finding mentor-textian inspiration in a randomly-selected book.

The book, chosen mostly at random from my living room bookshelf:
Translated by William O'Daly
Published in 1974 by a small publishing house in Port Townsend, WA (near my home town!)

I've spent time with this book before--both in Spanish and English. I didn't read it cover to cover, but it's one of my familiars. It is not what I'd call an easy or accessible read, but it is undeniably gorgeous. The entire book is a series of unanswerable questions written as couplets. 

Unanswerable questions--I like that as a discussion and writing springboard. 

Couplets--I don't find teaching rhyming couplets overly inspiring, but I can see some interesting possibilities in a couplet conversation (rhyming vs. non-rhyming, open vs. closed, end-stop or run-on). 

I thumb through some of the passages:

And at whom does rice smile
with infinitely many white teeth?

Why in the darkest ages 
do they write with invisible ink?

Does the beauty from Caracas know
how many skirts the river has?

Why do the fleas
and literary sergeants bite me?

Um... no. Even in my swirly-twirly brain, these words do not inspire a teachable moment for me. I find many more phrases that are interesting, but not "the one":

How large was the black octopus
that darkened the days peace?


Who can convince the sea
to be reasonable?

Better, but I'm looking for a series...

If all rivers are sweet
where does the sea get its salt?

I like it, can I use the series?

If all rivers are sweet
where does the sea get its salt?

How do the seasons know
they must change their shirt?

Why so slowly in winter
and later with such a rapid shudder?

And how do the roots know
they must climb toward the light?

And then greet the air
with so many flowers and colors?

Is it always the same spring
who revives her role?

Yes, I think I can use this. A few of the lines are less clear than I'd like, but as a series, it has possibility. I see a few possible links:
  • geography--rivers leading to the ocean, where DOES the salt come from?
  • science--plants, roots, photosynthesis, how DO the plants know?
  • literature--symbolism, figurative language, what is the personality of Spring?
I'd like to try a lesson with a good read of these couplets--individually, and as a series. Depending on the grade, I would dig a little deeper in to the idea that with these questions, Neruda shows a depth of learning about the topic--the idea that good questions can hold as much information as an answer. I would like to tie it in to a content area unit, and then use this series as a mentor text for showing learning about that content. 

My next step? Trying it on. I have to try to write one to see if it is possible, to watch the path of my thinking, so see if it supports the thinking I have in mind, and to use as an example if I do use this text. Sometimes I'll try this with a topic that is interesting to me personally, but often I use content that is appropriate to the grade level I'm teaching.

3rd Grade--Physical Science: Energy and Matter

Why does the fruit bowl not light up 
with the energy it stores?

Does the energy it creates 
travel in waves as well?

Are sunbeams sisters 
to soundwaves and oceans?

Well. That was harder than I thought. I tapped out at three. It took more content knowledge than I expected, and it was difficult to find a balance between poetic and factual. This mentor text would take some time, a class I knew well, and students with experience struggling through challenges in reading and writing. Considering all of that, I'd still like to use it. I'm tucking it away in my idea file!

So, that's my process when I try on a new mentor text. Do you have a process you use, a resource you prefer, or some favorite mentor texts you can use over and over?