Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Bubbling up

I'm in the middle of reading The Filter Bubble, written by Eli Pariser and published in 2011. It's about the consequences -- both intended and not -- of technology that increasingly personalizes experiences for users. So far, I've highlighted a few juicy quotations such as:

  • "[W]hat is good for consumers is not necessarily good for citizens." (18)
  • "[M]edia that prioritize importance over popularity or personal relevance are useful--even necessary." (75)
  • "Innovation requires serendipity." (96)

And speaking of serendipity... On an unexpected drive today, I heard a radio item featuring Mr. Pariser. Turns out he's the co-founder and CEO of Upworthy.

Now I'm trying to discern if this is a case of "If you can't beat them, join them" or whether Pariser envisioned Upworthy in its hey-day as a filter-bubble busting site. Or perhaps it's just that much can change in six years.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Catch my drift(s)

I rode my bike in the Rockies yesterday, and it was lovely. Mostly. Brilliant sunshine and gusty winds insured that the day sparkled. At the highest elevations, snow patches still stood out against the dark peaks while scattered wildflowers splashed colors down lower. Temperatures in the 70s meant streams gushed with run-off.

I picked a stretch of the Colorado Trail that I had ridden before, which meant I started pedaling up a dirt road to access the trail. About an hour later, I hooked into single-track and started a stouter climb, happy for the trees's shelter from the breeze. A thrilling, jouncy descent brought me to a bridge and across a creek. I knew that meant more climbing in order to escape that drainage. What I hadn't anticipated was how high I'd have to go. As the trail crossed 11,000 feet in elevation and curved around a ridge to a cooler, shadier aspect, snow patches started to appear with more frequency. Drifts of varying sizes encroached on the trail. Footprints and tread marks told me I wasn't the first person to cross these hurdles. The next hour was a grunt, offering short, dry trail stretches between squishy obstacles that necessitated carrying my bicycle. I felt enough frustration to consider turning back, but made enough progress to press on until the aspect and elevation changed in my favor.

Lesson mostly learned: While being in the right place at the right time can deliver abundant joy, a few subtle changes (say: direction and elevation) can send that moment sideways, toggling those rights to wrongs. At the time, the stubborn Capricorn in me offered up a silent serenity prayer, then kept pedaling; or walking; or, in a few chilly cases, post-holing.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Something old/new/borrowed/blue

The #sunchatbloggers are a loose affiliation of reflective educators and, yesterday, one of them (Marilyn) suggested devoting blog space to musing about the school year's end. I'm going to combine her inspiration with the weekly Two Writing Teachers invitation and one old-saw structure to package four slices in one.

Old - I'm an avid reader who, for a long time, has aimed to champion choice reading with the middle-school students I teach. The recently concluded school year was the second in a row that I made a concerted effort to bolster what I value with time. Students started each class reading something they chose for at least 10 minutes, making for a pleasant soft opening to the period and affording me the chance to check in with a few readers each day. In year-end feedback, many students told me they value this time, too.

New - I took cues from several in my professional learning network and experimented with new grading/feedback dynamics in 2016-17. Rather than following a more conventional rhythm of tests and writing assignments within prescribed units, students continually updated an electronic portfolio in which they justified their mastery of course standards. Students could draw on our work together as proof and also from reading, writing, speaking efforts they made in other classes. My responses involved confirming their mastery evidence, coaching them singly or in groups toward needed next steps, or planning whole-class follow-up when warranted. Grades were derived quarterly from the ratio of standards mastered and confirmed. This likely counted as one of my riskiest endeavors as an educator, and it proved an uncomfortable leap for many--me included! By March, feedback from some students, parents, and the principal necessitated that we navigate back to more familiar ground. That, too, was a new experience.

Borrowed - Students and I cribbed several gamification moves this school year, playing Breakout EDU in actual and digital forms. These days palpably lifted the classroom energy. I appreciate Breakout's open-source ethos that encourages borrowing and fosters creativity.

Blue - I've been fortunate to have my own classroom for the past two-plus years. It's a space with one blue wall, the rest being cream colored. In May, I learned that I will need to vacate the space in 2017-18 to facilitate other needed changes in who works where and why. The upshot is I'll migrate between two rooms (and perhaps one office). Anticipating feeling like an interloper in colleagues' spaces initially made me a little blue. Now, though, I'm starting to see opportunities in the change. The clouds are parting; increasingly, the blue I'm noticing is the open summer sky.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Funathlon tritina

Saturday, grab a paddle;
carve the river water like a sharp ski.
Down Arkansas rapids, we ride.

Sunday, a short car ride
leads to snowfields, wide as a paddle,
softening in the sun to ski.

Monday, after that delicious ski,
time to ride
bicycles; each pedaling foot, a flagging paddle.

Three days in Colorado outside: paddle, ski, ride

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Hair today, gone tomorrow

But at my back I always hear / Time's wing├Ęd chariot hurrying near --Andrew Marvell

Carrying out the barber's mission,
Scissors snick with cool derision.
Down in my lap, I smirk to see
snipped silver locks,which came from me.
My thoughts turn dark, my smile galled:
Will I first go gray -- or just bald?

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

I'd like to thank the universe and the library

I live around the corner from a public library, which is a blessing and a curse -- but mostly a blessing. Monday, I stopped there heading home from school because I needed two items.

I checked out a To Kill a Mockingbird DVD. It will be the viewing prize when (if?) students crack a book-related digital breakout. I also borrowed both copies of Go by Chip Kidd, to use as in-class resources during a design project that culminates our study of symbolism, literary or otherwise.

Heading for the exit, I followed a woman ambling into one of the library's gallery spaces. She was, to my eye, joining co-workers in the process of mounting a new exhibit. Her voice giddy with enthusiasm, she said, "This is the most beautiful, inspiring library I've ever been in. And that's just walking to the bathroom."

I smiled and silently thanked the universe for reminding me of such blessings.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Beating a dead (grading) horse

Here's another idea collage, cobbled together from recent reading.

About two weeks ago, in the May 2017 Atlantic, I read a review of new-to-me poet, Patricia Lockwood. One line in the piece touted Lockwood's flair for Pun Lightning -- "that jolt of connection when the language turns itself inside out, when two words suddenly profess they're related to each other, or wish to be married, or were in league all along." (28)

Yeah, I needed to spend more time with this writer. So on a foray to the local library last week, I tracked down a poetry collection of hers; therein, I found "The Hatfields and the McCoys" and this bruising bit:

I chuckled and wondered: Are grading exchanges truly feud-worthy? These lines nevertheless packed extra punch since, just the day before, I had received an email from a student. It was a response to my prior alert that the student's grade (for the moment) might look distressingly low due to missing work from absences accrued while on a school-sponsored trip. "I want to avoid any unnecessary panic," I had written and gone on to sketch out the requisite catching-up steps. The message I got back: "Thank you for the email. I am currently panicking as I write this so I will be coming to office hours to solve this." At first, I wondered if there was dry irony to be gleaned from this note. Knowing the student, however, I was skeptical. Turns out a panic attack actually precipitated the student writing to me.

These two messages - Lockwood's and the student's -- juxtaposed in 24 hours strengthened my resolve to keep seeking alternatives to grades's scarring influences in schools; to help learners see grades as fungible, not tattoos.