Tuesday, June 27, 2017

DIY recipe

First, watch one or two YouTube clips. Next, mistrust video learning, so browse a few pages of home-improvement books at the library. Confirm most of what you watched online. Draw up a vague shopping list of necessary supplies. Head to the hardware store and spend at least an hour, dizzyingly considering the pros and cons of products for stripping wood finishes, the relative merits of competing stain brands, the incremental arrays of sand-paper grains, just the right brushes for the job, and so forth. Tell a parade of employees who ask if they can help you that you're doing fine. Return home, exhausted and amply equipped.

Lay down newspaper in the work areas because you're marginally responsible. Stir stripping goop a paranoid amount and brush on. Wait. Scrape off the goop along with (most of) the former finish. Discover, through trial and error, the sweet spot that achieves this purpose without gouging the wood. Wait again for surface to dry. Remove lingering bits of tenacious finish with three different flavors of sand paper. Not only does this buff out many gouges, you'll learn it also opens the wood for subsequent stain absorption. Vacuum up sandy residue. Brush on wood conditioner, which will promote even staining. Wait while conditioner dries. Brush on stain. Wait for more drying time before applying second coat.
Now the big wait: over night for stain to dry thoroughly before applying finish.
The next day at dawn, three thin layers of finish go on, requiring at least two hours of drying between each. (Incidentally, this makes a fine excuse to read, which will help you put a dent in any magazine piles lying around.)

And the payoff, from before:
To after:

That unsightly hole in the screen will be gone soon when the window is replaced to do its refurbished sill justice. That, by the way, will be a job for professionals.

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.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

New way to write short about something old

At the tail end of National Poetry Month last week, I encountered a new verse form from Korea, called a sijo. I put it to use to capture a quirky, mundane Monday moment.

My welcome mat today held, unexpected, a thick phone book--
this annual anachronism that signals spring, even as time
(in certain unfathomable moments) seems stuck in amber.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Worship & testify

Things I believe in: serendipity, coincidence, the brain's ability to create connections where they may or may not exist.

That's why, when I happened to pluck a dusty Bruce Hornsby CD off the shelf on Sunday and noticed a track called "Sneaking Up on Boo Radley," my students and I gave the track a spin 48 hours later as part of studying To Kill a Mockingbird. That's also why after two online interactions connected me to this text and this one in the past week, I'm slicing about them now.

Six days ago, math educator Dan Meyer reminded me (and anybody else reading his blog) to "testify." The context for this exhortation was advice to educators who present formally, but I took the charge to apply to any interactions with learners. Each time in front of students, for example, to what truths must I testify? This bar feels high and essential and worthy.

"Testify!" was still pinging around my skull almost a week later when a #BFC530 Twitter chat pointed me to author David Foster Wallace's 2005 commencement address at Kenyon College. It's called "This is Water." Near the speech's end, Wallace tells the imminent graduates: "You get to decide what to worship... There is no such thing as not worshiping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship." (7) Of course, there's religious worship, but that's one type among many. The challenge, Wallace warns, is that outside religion, "pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive." (7) Worshiping, it turns out, tends to elevate absurdly lofty ideals.

Cue, the connecting brain, which concludes: In worshiping, I aspire, knowing I must inevitably fall short; in testifying, I tell stories of the journey, so that others may learn and progress farther down the road.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Towards a definition of innovation

About 140 sixth graders pinballed into an auditorium two days before Earth Day. They staked out tables to showcase potential solutions they had developed for problems facing our planet. In the wake of this inaugural Innovation Fair at my school, I've been wondering. Students certainly displayed curiosity and enthusiasm yet, to tap into prevailing buzz, how innovative were they?

Circulating among tri-fold cardboard panels and glowing Chromebooks, I found myself bucketing most projects in one of two ways:
  • Imaginative - such as the picture-book story about dwindling bee populations and what people can do to help
  • Informative - like the well-researched display about burning trash for energy and recycling subsequent ash byproducts for road resurfacing
These categories obviously blur. Imagined stories can be inspired by research, and research projects can involve making something imaginative to showcase findings.

To varying extents, the projects that I grouped this way recapitulated existing know-how. Then, I came across what felt like a quirky outlier. It was a simple paper-and-pencil cartoon that might've been, at first glance, a robot whale. More lay below this surface. The drawing's creator envisioned a new bio-engineered organism that could miraculously and naturally clean the oceans by feasting on waste as it swam about. Compared to the lion's share of fair projects, this one felt more dream-like than feasible. It also felt more innovative: the moonshot what-if touted by many breathless web videos. By pushing his ideas past envelopes containing what he already knew, this student sparked new, unexpected questions.

Given how widely the term 'innovation' is being tossed around nowadays, including in the title of our recent school fair, I've started picking at its use as a label. That's led to this conclusion: To qualify as innovation, three conditions must be met -- newness, difference, and creativity.

Newness by itself is just the latest loaf of sliced bread; difference, the latest bread-flavor sensation; creativity inspires slice shapes we haven't seen before. While these qualities can appear in pairs, too, it's not until all three synergize that innovation emerges.

Schools can tend fruitful ground for such synergy, though this often requires changing systemic, student, and familial habits and cultivating new ones. Otherwise, our learning fairs will look like they have before, no matter what we call them.

Thanks for reading. I welcome your thoughts to make my first-draft musing better: What's your take on the increasing innovation buzz?

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

I can't believe it's not a run-on sentence, #2

Just cracking -- today, for the first time -- David Elliott's clever verse novel Bull, with its mashed up mythology and rap rhythms, I'm tickled by the word play, the story spinning, picturing legions of Rick Riordan-crazed mythomaniacs in middle school to whom I might make an ecstatic book recommendation until I abruptly confront (on page 6) the first eff bomb dropped, and I find myself needing to re-calibrate the giddy expectations from a moment ago; or do I?

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Season's greetings

Sundown Monday night signaled the beginning of Passover, so my wife and I gathered a group of friends for our first seder in years. We truncated the traditions, focusing mostly on food ones; meanwhile, our friends delivered, potluck-style. Besides good fun and the breaking of (unleavened) bread, the night treated me to one vivid memory of my grandfather.

Growing up, I sat around numerous dinner tables where he occupied the head. I remember how he would slowly look around the gathering, before the meal was served, making eye contact with each person there. (This proved easy when it was just my brother, me, and our grandmother for a casual Friday-night dinner; more challenging at, say, a bar mitzvah with a roomful of a hundred people.) Then he would say the same seven words. "I'm glad everyone who's here," he'd proclaim, pausing once more to sweep the room with his eyes and a small smile, "could come."

Looking around our table last night, those words felt apt -- as they always have. I kvelled (my grandfather's word) that his memory could come, too.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

April showers quickly sour

Snowplows in April
grate like the brutal scraping
of nails down chalkboard.

Tuesday morning's wake-up view

Friday, March 31, 2017

Covering ground - 3.31 #sol17 Story Challenge

"Distance changes utterly when you take the world on foot." --Bill Bryson, A Walk In the Woods

I've been reading and enjoying the book quoted in the epigraph above. Just now, my wife and I went for our own walk on this cool, cloudy, slightly drizzly day. We ambled through an area that caught fire less than two weeks ago.

We meandered and spied some of spring's first splashes of color: pasque flowers.

Though the blackened landscape still smelled of smoldering, we marveled at the green healing before our eyes.

That nod to nature reminds me that it is not in my nature to write every day. However, for the last two Marches, I've given it a go, one metaphorical step at a time.

Thanks, Two Writing Teachers, for hosting this annual party; and thanks to the participants in the Slice of Life Story Challenge, first-timers and long-timers alike, for your contributions to a supportive, welcoming community.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

You can't win if you do play - 3.30 #sol17 Story Challenge

Guess what I saw when I flipped down my tray table on Tuesday night:

Considering myself an introvert, I refrained from pressing my flight attendant call button. I did, however, establish meaningful eye contact with the next attendant who walked past during pre-flight maneuvering.

"I'm a lucky guy," I said, wedged into the middle seat in one of the plane's backmost rows. (Irony is rarely lost on me.) I pointed at the sticker and gave a winning smile. "I'm ready for my prize!"

The attendant may or not have rolled his eyes. If he did, the gesture was tasteful in its subtlety. "We'll see if we can find that prize once we're in the air," he said and moved on briskly.

I reverted to introversion, losing myself in Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods. No more mention of prizes the rest of the flight; my champion must never have found one. Still, I felt plenty lucky -- having won several days of celebratory family reunion and a ready-made slice.

Another day, another list - 3.29 #sol17 Story Challenge

Uh oh. Two list blogs in two days must mean I'm getting near the bottom of the barrel for the 2017 Story Challenge... I'll lay the blame for this one at the feet of TWT's Kathleen Sokolowski, whom I've dubbed Inviter-In-Chief. I'm here because of her, in short. Earlier today, she reached out to me and others via a Twitter-Flipgrid combo, asking, "What does the Slice of Life Story Challenge mean to you?" This is what I wrote and recorded in response.

Top Ten Things SOLSC Means to Me

10. My wife sometimes looks at me funny. ("You're writing what?")
9. My repertoire of writing purposes stretches beyond workaday routines.
8. I write daily in March -- and I'll have you know it's a pretty short list of things I've done every single day this month.
7. I read others' writing each day, neither to evaluate nor grade, but just to respond.
6. I'm part of a writing community hundreds strong, with operatives around the globe.
5. As I search for writing ideas, I notice what I'd otherwise overlook.
4. It's opened an unexpected line of communication with my parents.
3. I don't just teach writing. I'm a writer.
2. Unexpected learning, from insightful quotes to recommended reading to classroom moves to cooking recipes.
1. It's a writing sandbox, a place to play with words. Thanks for the opportunity, Two Writing Teachers.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Lunch list - 3.28 #sol17 Story Challenge

Nine things I learned from Mrs. Gilbert, the proprietor of the restaurant where I ate lunch today:
  • The Publix grocery store around the corner is the second busiest in the state.
  • American Express issues a black card for celebrities who prefer to keep their names anonymous.
  • Her customers prefer pureed split-pea soup to the whole-pea variety.
  • McDonald's sells chicken noodle soup.
  • Guantanamo Bay continues to operate as a detention center.
  • SWAT team officers have to sit in booths on the ends because the weapons holstered at their hips prevent them from bending their knees.
  • Provisioning a yacht can be more easily done near Davie, FL, than in the Florida Keys.
  • Leaving your red Bentley in a lot where a second red Bentley may already be parked inevitably creates confusion.
  • Grilling over natural gas, versus propane, yields a better burger.

Monday, March 27, 2017

For the birds - 3.27 #sol17 Story Challenge

I walked on the beach today. I watched sandpipers scooting along the tide line. They darted here and there, pecking at tidbits I could not see, stamping forked footprints in the damp sand. Their flitty pace wore me out. 

This scene made me recall the recent Pixar short, "Piper." It's an imaginary animated look at the lives of such birds, one in particular who fears the water. I figure I aped the movie makers in attributing all sorts of anthropomorphic shenanigans to the birds I spied. As one article put it, "All animal animation straddles the fine line between reality and caricature, as directors must create convincing and expressive characters out of their real-world counterparts." That description applies not just to animal animation by the way, but rather most close encounters between me, the amateur naturalist, and creatures in the natural world.

Life can imitate art, sure, and vice versa too -- whether drawn, painted, CGI'd, or even sliced.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

How we roll - 3.26 #sol17 Story Challenge

My wife and I, we're in the land of cars, this particular one having sidewalks, plus shoulders on some streets for biking. So, this morning, we walk a couple of miles from the hotel where we're staying to my in-laws. (The time difference being in our favor means we're up early.) We borrow two bicycles. We pedal a half-dozen miles north to a brunch reception, the last scheduled event in this wedding weekend. (My taste buds report the brunch fare tastes extra-delicious; I credit our effort.) Then, we pedal back south. Our behavior proves atypical among the reception guests.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Milestone² - 3.25 #sol17 Story Challenge

Here's an interesting coincidence (and one that enables me to produce a slice expediently): Today, 10 years to the day that my wife and I got married, we're attending the wedding of another member of our family. What better way to observe a milestone occasion than by celebrating a new milestone occasion?

Friday, March 24, 2017

Fodder for stickler - 3.24 #sol17 Story Challenge

In a hotel tonight, I noticed this sign:

For the record, I'm skeptical my safety is that important to you if you're going to speak of it so cavalierly.

Spelling does count -- at least, sometimes.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Probing question - 3.23 #sol17 Story Challenge

Yesterday, I finished a book called We Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose Student Resistance Movement That Defied Adolf Hitler by Russell Freedman. (It was a serendipitous find in the public library's e-book collection. Click here for a review from Common Sense Media.) This short nonfiction combines text and photographs to tell a riveting tale of college students in Germany who organized against the Nazis. As I read, I found myself uplifted and horrified in equal measure, learning about a moment in history I hadn't met before.

Among the ideas and remembrances I'm taking away from the book, there's one paraphrased wondering that stands out. A main character asks, "How should a responsible citizen act under a dictatorship?"

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Slice about something slice-able - 3.22 #sol17 Story Challenge

The student with whom I sat to read aloud was eating an apple. He took one more crunchy bite, leaving the fruit looking like the perfect cartoon core that had been gnawed all around. I could see his mind turning, weighing: "I can't keep eating this and be able to read aloud clearly." His mouth working noisily, his eyes scanned the surroundings for an apple landing zone. He contorted himself and set the apple on the shelf behind us. The apple rolled off, but he deftly caught it in midair and replaced it on the shelf. He turned back to me, ready to read. My eyes, though, we're still on the apple. "That's going to be there all day, isn't it?" my brain told me. We went on reading. (An excellent fluent rendition, by the way, with top-notch comprehension from our young apple eater.) We then proceeded to other business; an hour later, our period over, we parted company. It was five hours later when I rediscovered the now brown apple in otherwise unchanged repose.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Would you rather? - 3.21 #sol17 Story Challenge

Would you rather have an uneventful, unremarkable day, just like any other, or one that has quease-inducing ups & downs?

Say, a day that featured a great classroom moment like the student who's so excited finally to hold the printed text that accompanies his audio book, and then an exhausting moment when a knot of students temporarily lose the battle to stay focused; the chance to celebrate by email with the family whose child shows dramatic growth and to celebrate in person with that same child, followed by a gut-punch conversation with a different child about all that's not working in that same class; the simple joy of three kids in one period each checking out books from the classroom library, and after school the simple frustration of trying to corral a dog who'd rather be sampling poop than jogging trails; or, in the evening, digesting a litany of professional shortcomings via email chased by a glowing compliment shared by blog.

You can probably guess the kind of day I had. Now, I'm ready for an unremarkable one.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Sucker! - 3.20 #sol17 Story Challenge

I'm fortunate to lie in a professional bed largely of my own making. That said, the bed has drawbacks like the fact that it's taken me just under two weeks to review the latest round of student work from the end of third quarter. I aimed for a one-week turnaround, and my estimate was badly off.

This work amounts to a digital portfolio where seventh- and eighth-graders are presenting evidence to justify they've met course standards in reading, writing, and speaking. One of my roles in this process is to confirm their mastery or to send them back to the drawing board with guidance. The upshot: I'm doling out more feedback and fewer grades. There's a lot about these dynamics that I like. That said, it has not been an easy path. New approaches rarely are.

So, I was disproportionately happy just before five this afternoon when I rewarded myself with a treat. I unwrapped a Blow Pop that had been sitting on my desk, waiting for just such a pick-me-up moment. I would enjoy it while reading through the last portfolio. And then, having opened that file, I found I'd already reviewed the work; I'd just overlooked entering the requisite grades.

My sigh of relief was almost as sweet as the sucker's synthetic taste of watermelon.

p.s. Follow-up from Sunday Slice: Wildfire danger appears to have been contained for now.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Sound of Sirens - 3.19 #sol17 Story Challenge

With apologies to Simon and Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence"

Hello dryness, my old friend,
You have parched earth's sandy skin,
And now a fire softly creeping
Spread its flames while I was sleeping
And the smoke that was drifting o'er the plain
Still remains
Amid the sound of sirens.

Living in most parts of the western United States means fire danger, so I'm not totally surprised when I crack open a bathroom window this morning before taking a shower and smell smoke. A few minutes later, I learn of the wildfire about a mile away, and that my home sits in a pre-evacuation zone. In other words: limbo. I gather the few valuables I claim, go on with the day. Periodically, I check updates from the city's Office of Emergency Management or peek at the smoke leaking from a nearby canyon. I notice how the usual ambient noise is studded with aircraft fly-bys and siren songs. Thanks, police and fire crews. I wish you an uneventful evening.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Change of plans - 3.18 #sol17 Story Challenge

Today was a beautiful day where I live and, in between grading binges, I intended to enjoy it. I made a plan.

Plan A ~ Ride mass transit south for 15 minutes to hook into a trail network through the foothills that would enable me to trail-run back home. The journey on foot would be about seven miles, and this was within the realm of reasonable for me these days. All proceeded as planned until I hit the first trail closure sign. Due to maintenance stemming from severe flooding back in 2013, the Mesa Trail wasn't open to take me back north. I needed a new plan.

Turn around? Not my bull-headed style. My inner GPS started rerouting: I can still do this, I calculated. It would just be slightly less comfortable without water and food. Sure, it'd be farther, but I'd be okay.

Plan B ~ I shifted gears, mixing in running and walking as a means of conservation. I kept going west, up near the summit of Bear Peak, at 8,400 feet, notably higher than Plan A called for. I'm glad I walked. I caught my alternate route north, down the west ridge of Bear Peak and up to a saddle below Green Mountain, down to Flagstaff Mountain, and then one more stretch of trail back to town.

About four hours and 11 miles later, I drank several glasses of water, ate a banana, collapsed on the couch, then woke up to write this. Since pictures are worth thousands of words, here's a map, with Plan A in blue, B in purple, and the infamous closure in red.

Friday, March 17, 2017

(Green) Day in the Life - 3.17 #sol17 Story Challenge

So make the best of this test, and don't ask why. "Time of Your Life," Green Day

Two birds, one stone is the blogging game here. I'm posting about a day in my life (this one!) as part of the Slice of Life Story Challenge and the latest #sunchatbloggers group topic, which means I'm not writing short.

5:12am | In darkness, blurry voices from the clock-radio alarm.
5:33 | Clean, dressed (swap blue jeans for green ones), check in with #bfc530, tidy up loose email ends.
6:04 | Meal planning: cereal, decorated with sliced banana; yesterday's uneaten lunch=today's 2nd chance.
6:28 | Stroll through the dark to catch bus. Spend commute reading slices and a book.
7:10 | Amble into school. Chip away at review of student work. Prep for first period.
7:38 | Get news to be ready for spontaneous Spirit Week next week. Ponder how wardrobe requirements might necessitate accelerated laundry schedule.
7:40 | Students start stumbling in. Chairs start falling over.
7:55 | First period is on. Students read for 10 minutes.
8:05 | I book-talk Ready Player One by Ernest Cline and Epic by Connor Kostick. We revisit claims made earlier this week about best pie in honor of Pi Day and related structures for persuasive writing. Students try their hands at writing the beginnings of literary analysis, using some of the same structures. Students also shoot bi-weekly feedback my way about their progress.
8:50 | Second period. Small group for literacy support. We read, too. We talk about what we're reading. I describe how disparate pieces in the novel I'm reading (Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay) have just clicked together during the morning bus ride, and I now feel ferocious momentum to finish the book. Students describe how the feeling I described fits -- or doesn't -- with what they're reading. They then complete formal reading practice on computers. I pretend I'm an audio book for one student who reads along silently, and then I check in with a few kids who read aloud to me, hearing how their fluency is progressing.
9:45 | Third period. Similar story as prior class, but bigger group. Lots of coming and going as students bounce between literacy and math support, the latter with a colleague in another room. Some students still manage to be productive; many don't. Two voice their increasing unhappiness with me.
10:40 | Fourth period. Mailbox check. Only occupant: one piece of green-foil-wrapped chocolate. I dash off an email to a guidance counselor who's out today, seeking help mediating with those two unhappy students from third period. Then, more chipping away at digital pile of student work needing feedback.
11:30 | Homeroom. Announcements: "Spirit Week is coming!" A student enlightens me that, " 'Funner' is actually a word in the dictionary." She and I confirm this with a dictionary on hand.
11:35 | Slow-rolling start to eighth-grade team meeting with six colleagues. Double-duty with lunch, triple if you count bathroom break.
12:25pm | Fifth period. My aim is to repeat first period, which mostly happens. Except for part way through class when a panicky student comes over brandishing his cell phone. "My dad's calling. I need to talk to him." I respond, "It's okay. He'll leave a message. If it's an emergency, he can call the school office, and they'll ring our room." Moments later the classroom phone rings for you-know-who. I'm still unclear if I made an accurate prediction or revealed a trade-secret that the student communicated via seeing-eye text magic.
1:20 | Sixth period. Smaller, lively group that chased my book talks with several of their own.
2:15 | Covered part of study hall for a colleague. Jockeying students, library passes, craft supplies including rulers and tape, and questions like "What's the lowest grade I can get and still pass?"
3:05 | Last bell. Students exit for the weekend.
3:10 | I check-in with talented-and-gifted coordinator and principal about unfinished business. (Rhetorical question: Isn't it all?)
3: 30 | I steal a little more time to review student work before the next bus home departs.
4:07 | Back on the bus. Respond to a few Slices to keep part of the Welcome Wagon rolling and then return to my own reading.
5:00 | Mind off school, instead on March Madness and whether I need a suit for a family wedding next weekend. Tangential learning about the ambiguities of 'cocktail attire.'
6:18 | Leftovers for dinner
6:50 | Respond to more Slices and get my own contribution going.
7:54 | Recognize that slicing and trying to watch basketball mean I'm doing neither very well.
8:48 | Off with TV. Reread blog, revise, publish. Then, off to bed to finish Sarah's Key and nod off by

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Et tu, Clerihew? - 3.16 #sol17 Story Challenge

I don't always write short, but when I do, I write clerihews.

While the Ides of March proved painful for a certain Julius Caesar,
now into this month's second half, I hope the slices do come easier.
Hard or easy, long or short, let's keep writing through the thirty-first
since we've got enough momentum that blogging bubbles won't be burst.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Fair to middlin' - 3.15 #sol17 Story Challenge

We're in the middle of March and this daily blogging challenge. (Zeugma!) Hence, middles.

When my wife and I travel by plane, no matter who books the tickets, I sit in the middle. (We have a not-nice name for this spot, which starts with a 'b.') Depending how my wife's mood aligns with the airline's available stock, she might nab a sweet window seat -- all the better for balling up her jacket and leaning her head in a modicum of kinked comfort; or she might rock the aisle, able to sit or stand (almost) at her pleasure.

So then, what's the best seat for me? Next to her, obviously.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Then shoves pie? - 3.14 #sol17 Story Challenge

"Dig, if you will, the picture." -Prince, When Doves Cry

It's about 9:30 in the morning on March 14th. A slightly larger than average sixth-grader barrels into the classroom, marginally unaware of his surroundings or the people in them. From his left arm, a partly unzipped backpack dangles and swings. That same arm also curls around a helter-skelter stack of books and notebooks. His opposite arm balances decidedly more precious cargo: two grocery-store pies of some creamy variety, tufted with whipped cream, scattered with chocolate sprinkles, precariously snug in plastic shells.

I'm talking to another student and watching the pie procession with anxious side glances. It takes less than five steps for the careening boy to list just enough that the top pie slides into space. There's a cartoon moment where it floats like Wile E. Coyote before his long plummet to the canyon floor. The pie then neatly flips 180 degrees (upside-down cake?) and does a passable Wile E. Coyote splat. The plastic shell cracks like an egg, crust and cream spraying out. To his credit, the pie-carrying culprit doesn't make a sound, neither a laugh, nor a cry. He gets to cleaning.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Not-at-all-still life, with cell phone - 3.13 #sol17 Story Challenge

The K-12 school where I work has its schedule quirks. One of them is a 15-minute pocket before lunch, which we call homeroom. Typically, it's for announcements and, if the weather's decent, we steal some minutes outside.

Students pinball around. Impromptu variations on tag break out. Assorted projectiles wing carelessly through the air. Amid this tumult, a few teachers pace the field, at this time of year baked to a dusty Serengeti brown.

We stalk like lions, casting side-long glances at our prey -- neither sick nor weak, but furtive. We circle patiently. The moment right, we pounce. Another misused cell phone falls into our hands to be reclaimed at the end of the day. We have, I suppose, our pride.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

On my side, not my wrist - 3.12 #sol17 Story Challenge

On the day that daylight savings drops its hammer on the US, let's slice about time.

I'm flashing back nine days ago when I was watching a talk by Sir Ken Robinson. He makes the case that ideas we take for granted can enthrall us ("the tyranny of common sense"). Then, around the 7:15 mark in the video, he polls his audience to see how many members are over age 25. He asks those people to raise their hands if they're wearing wristwatches; most are and do. He compares that result to asking a roomful of teenagers in which, it turns out, none have a timekeeping device attached to their wrists. The proliferation of digital devices has made watches largely obsolete in the 21st century for those who choose to dispense with them, or who never don them in the first place. At least, that's the gist of Robinson's hypothesis.

To my recollection, I stopped wearing a watch when I started college. I can't recall the precise reason why I dropped this habit. Perhaps, like Robinson says of his daughter, I no longer saw the point. Timekeepers are all around me -- as is apparent this time of year when I nudge them all ahead an hour. My wife is also (usually) unfailingly patient whenever I ask her the time, no nudging needed.

I maintain the naive hope that, by not outsourcing timekeeping responsibilities to a watch, I keep my internal clock better attuned. Or maybe that's just the upside of being trained for several decades by school bells.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Stack - 3.11 #sol17 Story Challenge

When I used to carry a stack,
I hefted it in a crate.
It was a visible burden.
of not insubstantial weight.

This weekend, the stack is back;
now it floats off in the cloud.
Digitally ephemeral,
it still can't be disavowed.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Acceptable regression - 3.10 #sol17 Story Challenge

Until Thursday afternoon, I was not familiar with "The Clean Up Song."

A group of seventh-, eighth-graders and I had spent the majority of a block period in groups creating collages. The project asked for ambitious synthesis as students collaborated with classmates to make a visual commentary on how leaders and citizens both should and shouldn't interact. (These are key themes in both our recent reading and new texts we're starting.) Also, students had to draw connections to their history studies, weaving in Ancient Greek views on government and John Locke's philosophies about human rights.

Near the end of class, there was collage detritus everywhere. Tidying was warranted. In the midst of cleaning, a few students started singing this song that they apparently remembered from preschool. It didn't take long to engulf the entire class: ♫ "Clean up, clean up, everybody, everywhere." ♫ When I chimed in replacing the next 'everywhere' with 'stack your chair,' everyone did, just as the bell rang, dispersing us and our laughter.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Clean language - 3.9 #sol17 Story Challenge

Push came to shove so, at this moment, I'm doing laundry. That reminds me...

A memorable time I did laundry was December 28, 2015. My wife and I were bicycle touring in Taiwan; we had found our way to Little Liuqiu Island; and we needed clean clothes.

Carrying a stuff sack of mostly mentionables, I hoofed it up the street to where I had been told I could find a self-serve laundromat. This establishment basically turned out to be a garage with washing machines and dryers. Inside, this is what confronted me:

For an English teacher who prides himself on his literacy skills, this was a humbling experience. I felt sudden empathy for language learners.

I resorted to a blend of background knowledge plus trial and error. In the end, I was successful in that none of our clothes got any dirtier due to choices I made.