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?

Friday, May 9, 2014

[New Favorite Things Friday #6] Geek Love

Today's New Favorite Things Friday is dedicated to the geeky things I am loving.

1. Logitech's Unifying Receiver
I like external mice. I have plenty of them. I used to have to carry all of the little receivers around with me and all of my USB slots were filled with receivers. Now I have one that works with all of my mice and my solar-powered keyboard (yep). I actively like it every day. I am not advertising for Logitech, but I haven't found any other unifying receiver peripherals (yes, I said peripherals). They may be there, but I'm happy with what I have, so I haven't looked very hard. 

I like office supplies as a rule. I am currently into these discbound notebooks because... I don't really know why. I am also into making my own planner pages because I know what I want in a planner and I can't find it. I even bought the special hole-puncher so I can make my own stuff. I hope this crush lasts because $40 for a hole punch is just plain silly.

3. Pop-up Pencils

This my favorite kind of pencil. I like my pencils sharp all the time, and I can't carry enough pencils around to satisfy my preference for sharpness. And no, I don't want to carry a sharpener because I like my pencils pencil-pencil length and don't want to deal with pencil shavings. As a grown person, that is a decision I get to make. The only issue I have is that theses pencils typically come in designs like the One Direction design, the dinosaur design, the Hello Kitty design... you get the picture. I did find some nice plain ones recently, and am quite happy with them.

4. Pocket

I constantly find things I want to remember online. I have the Pocket app installed on all of my devices, and can just "Pocket" whatever I want to remember. I love it. It works for me. 

I love to learn about new geeky things to love. What things do you have a crush on that might be considered geeky?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

An Open Letter to Louis C.K.

Dear Louis C.K.,

We don't know each other, but I heard that you sent some tweets about the Common Core State Standards. More than heard about them, actually.They're everywhere! I'm guessing you might be surprised by the response. I'm guessing that many things are being said about your tweets--hailing them, using them as leverage, attacking them. In fact, I saw all of that and more on your Twitter feed--it's trending!

I went to Twitter looking for more information about your thoughts. Your tweets that day hit a nerve with me (and a gabillion other people). I suppose, in all honesty, I was irritated by them. You see, I typically agree with the things you say. I find you funny and usually just right enough to make people uncomfortable--pulling the curtains back on a social issue that needs airing. I am honest enough with myself to know that when something sticks in my craw, I have more to learn. 

I stewed on it for the last week, read articles, editorials, Facebook posts, heard jokes about it on Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, read your Twitter feed, and finally figured out my issue. 

This whole thing is just one sound bite. One sound bite that has the ring of truth because it is your experience as a parent of children in public schools. One sound bite that has been strung up on flag poles across the nation (nations, even) to leverage the agenda of... any group with an agenda it would seem.  Part of me hopes you're irritated by that, too. Instead of opening up a conversation, looking at all the sides, intelligently examining the specifics, the mudslingers are on a tear and your face is on the flag.

I don’t sling mud. I don’t insult what I don’t understand. I spend time reading all sides of an issue before I assert an opinion. Sometimes, I don’t pick one clear side because the information provided is too shadowed by rhetoric. Considering all of that, weighing all of the issues, I do support the Common Core State Standards. I support the intent of the standards themselves--absent the ever present conspiracy theory. I agree that what we have done in the past has not developed the learners we need. I have read the CCSS in detail, across grade levels, even the appendices (more than once, even) and it is a simple truth--there is good to be found there. I agree with you, we can’t expect something new to be perfect, and the CCSS isn’t perfect. I don’t expect a set of standards to be the panacea for a centuries-old system that no longer serves the needs of our society. I expect a set of standards to be exactly that—a set of standards. Standards are simply an end-goal, a level of quality, a guideline. As a set of standards, I support the Common Core.

The CCSS didn’t create high-stakes testing. High-stakes testing has been here for over a decade. It is a separate issue and worthy of discussion in its own right, but not on the coat tails of the CCSS. That limits the conversation to one iteration of the problem, misplaces the responsibility, defeats the purpose of the argument.

The CCSS didn’t write New York State Assessments. I've chosen not to research who did write them, but I know a set of standards didn’t do it. If the assessment is poorly written, poorly implemented, or used unfairly, that is also worthy of discussion. This is true for any assessment written by anyone. If it is a poor assessment, implemented poorly, or leveraged inappropriately, that is a concern. 

The CCSS didn't implement themselves. Poor implementation is a concern.. New York implemented early and quickly. We can learn from that. We can also learn from states and districts that are implementing differently. 

The CCSS didn’t teach your children math that made them cry. It is my guess that it was a deeply passionate, caring teacher trying his or her best to teach a wholly new focus on math without adequate preparation.  The new math standards are wildly different than what we’ve done in the past. And it's about time. In the same breath that someone blasts the CCSS math standards, they also accuse the public education system of keeping our children behind other countries in math. If you read the standards, the background of the standards, the thought behind the changes, the pedagogy at work there, you will see that the authors agree. What we have been doing isn’t working. This is an attempt to change that. A change of this magnitude is going to take time, high-quality teaching, sound pedagogy, and support. If teachers in a particular state or district are not getting the support they need, that is yet another worthy discussion.

I want to chat with you Louis C.K.—hear more about the specific concerns you have, share some insights into the standards themselves, look for ways to leverage the strength of your voice with the strength of my experience to affect positive change for all students. I don’t have a political agenda, an ad campaign, a book to sell, or a fan base to please. I have nothing to gain personally from supporting or denouncing the CCSS. What I do have is a deeply rooted passion for education. I work every day to provide quality education for all learners. It is what I was meant to do. I have seen waves of change in education, and it is this current wave—the wave that includes a set of standards focused on learning behaviors over stacks of content—that has me hopeful.

So what do you say, Louis C.K.? Why don’t we chat about all of the sides of this issue that you inadvertently stirred up? I can learn from your experience as a parent. You can tell me what you know, what you want to know, and what the solutions might be. I can share my understandings with you, and, in the process, learn more myself. Nothing to gain but mutual understanding and movement towards a mutual goal of improved public education. Yeah?  Sound like a deal?

--a dedicated education professional

P.S.—in response to the person that is concerned with your habit of double-spacing after a period. I do it too. It’s how we were taught in high school in keyboarding class.Word processing programs do it for us now, so we are, in effect, making three spaces when we try to double-space. That doesn’t stop me. I just use the "find and replace" option after I type to take them all back out again. I support you in your double-spacing.

Monday, May 5, 2014

[Mentor Text Monday] The New Culture Club

Okay, not really. The old Culture Club was enough to tide us over for a few more decades at least. Admittedly, I did just scour Culture Club lyrics for something witty. There may be a Culture Club mentor text coming soon.

For today, I want to thank one of my amazing siblings for this mentor text from

OpenCulture's Twitter Bio describes it most succinctly:

The site itself is mind-boggling and will require much more of time to explore thoroughly. I may have found a third favorite source (UPPERCASE Magazine and WIRED Magazine being numbers one and two). Expect to hear enough about this site to become bored and eye-rolly.

From an array of options so huge I cannot even rest my thoughts, I have chosen this article and video as my mentor text for today.

Forrest Gump Directed by Wes Anderson

What I imagine here is a mentor text for a book or film trailer, or a summary of an historical even to science topic. Because this is a specific "wes-andersonian" style, I'd have to decide if I was going to dive into both the trailer and the style, or focus on one or the other.

I'm fascinated by the way an entire movie can be portrayed using text and simple images--I see some great summary or synthesizing practice here. Picking out only the points that are most important, and then distill them down to text and one or two images.

I'm equally fascinated by Wes Anderson's film style or, more to the point,  the concept of having an artistic style. How is a style developed. Students can examine the styles of favorite authors--create a book trailer that honors the style of the author. Students can examine their own style. How is style developed?  Can style change? Is your writing so very "you" that someone could try to mimic it?  I might segue into the figurative language concept of a synedoche during this discussion as well. Such infinite possibilities.

In my own planning, I start with a text or texts that strike my fancy, and then work to plan using the Common Core State Standards. I teach lessons in a variety of classrooms, and in this case I am planning something for 4-6th grade 1:1 technology classrooms. This video has so many options running through my head, that it was tough to narrow it down to one or two standards.

At first, I chose:
Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.

After reading the standard as it progressed through the grades, I realized that this was not my most effective focus. In grade K-5, this standard lends itself to a more specific focus on word usage and connotation than I want to do with this text. 

So I changed my focus to:
Make connections between the text of a story or drama and a visual or oral presentation of the text, identifying where each version reflects specific descriptions and directions in the text.

I always use a writing standard as well, and will be focusing on:
Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

I read through each grade level of each standard to make sure I understood the intent and the progression. Click here for a documents showing the progression CCR.R.4 and CCR.W.4.

This post is getting long. I will post my next planning steps later this week!

While I'm at it, is this video something you could use in your classroom? Is there something else on you might be able to use? What Common Core Standards might you use?