Learning, apprenticeship, study.

I’ve mentioned it before, but it’s time to make things Internet-official. I’m stepping out of the classroom next year and taking a leave of absence. I’m excited beyond expression, but I’m also scared. Scared that maybe I’ll never come back or that I’ll realize I was doing things wrong the whole time. Scared that I’ll be away from inspiring educators and remarkable kids who keep me going. Scared that I won’t take full advantage of this opportunity.

Who am I when I’m not a teacher? Am I really going to stop being a teacher when I’m out of the classroom? How can I best improve myself and equip myself to return to a vocation of teaching and learning?

I’m fortunate that the district approved my leave (after sending me a very official piece of certified mail that looked SO SERIOUS that Toby texted me asking if I was in trouble). I’m fortunate for the Internet so that I won’t be isolated in this year away. I’m fortunate for the support of remarkable friends who help me become a better person. I’m fortunate for administrators who advocate for the best interests of my students and for the mental health of educators.

Although I’ve been pretty open about my struggles with depression and mania, mental health isn’t the core of why I’m leaving, although I think it does explain why I feel so thoroughly drained and ready for reflection. Teachers leave the profession because they’re burnt out. I hope I’ve caught myself before going over the burnout cliff, and that I will return to my classroom a more thoughtful and proficient educator.

This week is spring break. I’m working with Toby to craft some sort of framework or schedule so I don’t just sink into a fog of ennui in my bed and never emerge. As first-world-problem as it seems, breaks and vacations are really difficult for me, and it often takes a few weeks into the summer before I stop feeling like my skin is crawling. Routines and schedules help my students, and they help me too. One of my tasks is to write something every day. So here’s my work for today.

Learning, apprenticeship, and study. Those are today’s intentions.

Lessons Learned: First Day Streaming Hearthstone

I suffer from craaaazy summertime depression after school gets out. This past summer, I committed to “Operation Just Get Dressed,” which helped ensure I at least put real clothing on instead of hanging out in pajamas all day. Part of the reason I was motivated to actually get dressed was because I was streaming Crypt of the Necrodancer for about an hour almost every day. (I definitely try to keep my stream age-appropriate, but a few salty comments made it through, if you watch any of my past broadcast videos.)

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Streaming Necrodancer.

(for more information on what streaming is, start here)

Streaming Necrodancer was great. I met rad people, got a manageable amount of tips from watchers, and learned a lot about the world of streaming. Also, despite my deep concern regarding treatment of women online, I encountered genuinely friendly folks who were looking to talk about a shared interest.

So now school’s back in session. I’ve felt the pull of my depression pretty strongly in the past week or so, so I decided to head back onto Twitch. But I’d recently started playing Hearthstone, a collectable card game (think Pokeman or Magic: The Gathering) set in the World of Warcraft universe.

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I spoke earlier this year at the Nerdy Book Club blog about how learning video games has given me a lot to think about as a teacher, and starting to stream Hearthstone has expanded my thinking even more. Here are a few initial meditations:

Stick to one teaching point. THIS was my biggest takeaway from last night’s stream. I’m new to Hearthstone, and although I’m not totally opposed to backseat gaming (receiving suggestions on gameplay from folks in your Twitch chat), it quickly became VERY overwhelming when even a half dozen folks began offering tips. Even more confusing (and this was CRITICAL for me to realize as a teacher), some of their suggestions made absolutely no sense. I didn’t have enough knowledge of the basic game itself to be able to apply their nuanced ideas.

Some knowledge transfers. I quickly understood the mechanics of Hearthstone because of my experience casually playing Magic on and off for the past decade or so.

But some of it doesn’t. Strategies I’d often use in Magic (such as getting low-cost creatures out on the board early in the game) would totally blow up in my face in Hearthstone.

And that can be okay! I rarely play blue decks in Magic because there are often a lot of spells and counterspells (instead of creatures). But in Hearthstone, I’m comfortable playing either creature-heavy decks or spell-focused decks.

Background knowledge is essential, not just a smart instructional add-on… The information I transferred over from my experience playing Magic only took me so far. It was time for me to start running searches for how to build basic decks. (I had been using the default decks up to this point)

…But limit your resources. This is why webquests can be so powerful in classrooms. If you run a search for “basic Mage Hearthstone deck,” you get 1.5 million results.

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That’s insane. But I then asked my chatroom how reliable the website Icy Veins was. Upon learning that it wouldn’t lead me too far astray, I began looking through their resources. Am I going to build the best deck EVER? No way, but it’s a lot easier for me to manage that information using one website instead of getting totally overwhelmed on a forum.

Bragging isn’t helpful. Yup, just like we tell our kids when they start comparing test scores. It was thoroughly unproductive when a lad in chat pointed out he could kill my opponent in two turns. It didn’t help me at all. It didn’t inspire me to do better. It didn’t make me want to improve my knowledge of the game so I’d be more equipped to win in the future. It was in NO WAY motivating. But it DID make me stressed out. Even though I knew it was unreasonable stress and this was something I was doing by choice and who the heck did this guy think he is anyway? That cortisol started coursing through my veins. (my icy veins?)

Let it goooooooo. Luckily, I was able to let go of that stress pretty quickly, but I imagine that was because I had mentally prepared myself to receive some snarky/sexist/unhelpful comments. Hearthstone is a much more popular game than Necrodancer is, so it stands to reason that I’d encounter more trolls and unsavory folks overall. We’ll see how things go in subsequent streams, because if people wind up being persistently jerks, I’ll just stick to indie streaming.

Lots more on my mind, but if I kept going, this would never get posted. Thanks for reading, and see you on Twitch!

Ferguson

I’ve been following the news in Ferguson as closely as I can manage, and I just wanted to be upfront and honest in sharing I anticipate conversation around it will come up in class.

I know this is an emotional situation and that events are still unfolding, and although I know half of you have not had students in our class before, I hope you will discover our class prides itself on being a community of respect and trust. Potentially intense conversations happen in an age-appropriate, respectful manner.

I’ve facilitated our students’ difficult conversations about tragedies such as the Sandy Hook shooting, the September 11 terror attacks, Trayvon Martin’s shooting, and the SPU shooting. I’m always available and eager to engage in conversations with our families too (Ms. Stock and I have started planning our home visits so we can find out your preferred style of communication). You can also drop by our daily class meetings, which are usually from 9:00-9:20 AM.

I know that every family reacts differently based on their personal history, so let me give you a bit of my background. I’m a former newspaper reporter. My father is a retired police lieutenant who defied every possible cop stereotype (I do mean EVERY one — he liked bagels). I grew up in Metro Detroit and didn’t feel equipped to learn more about or understand the racial tensions around me.

I want my students to feel empowered to grapple with the important issues of their time in an age-appropriate way, regardless of the individual position they arrive at. Our yearlong guiding theme is Systems, Cycles, and Relationships. The protests in Ferguson highlight that our theme is timely indeed.

Our work with Junior Great Books gives students the chance to learn Socratic tools to discuss folklore and legends that have multiple perspectives. The protests in Ferguson are a real-life application of this work.

I’m always growing and learning, and if I realize I’ve misspoken, I always explore how my views have changed. Please help keep me honest through productive feedback.

Thank you for your continued support, and I look forward to seeing you at our barbecue this Sunday!

Math Goals for 2014

I just discovered this post in my drafts, but I think August is a good time to look back at these initial ideas about 2014, as the new school year swiftly approaches.

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As I’m frantically reading books to meet my yearly #bookaday goal of 365, I’ve been looking ahead to 2014. I realized I have set reading goals for myself since 2003 or so, but I’ve never had a math goal. Then my longtime friend (and fellow UCMST grad) Katie got me thinking on Facebook:

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Screen Shot 2013-12-27 at 4.08.20 PMWhat would a math goal look like? Well, I can certainly share with you what’s been rolling around in my mind, although I haven’t arrived on anything definite yet. And I’ll also offer some more general math-related goals.

My goals this year are pretty audacious, and I’m okay with that. There are all sorts of teacher-y math goals that I have, but I’ve shared ones that are light on educational jargon.

Math Goals I’m Considering in 2014

  • Read the History of Math textbook I borrowed from (also a fellow MST grad) John Novak.
  • See if these History of Math books are relevant to my interests, and if so, read them.
  • Track down contacts for kids’ publications to submit nonfiction, sciencey articles:
    • Synesthesia
    • Buckminster Fuller’s Geoscope
    • Alexander Graham Bell’s tetrahedronal kites
  • Apply to speak at the National NCTM conference
  • Visit Stanford, contact Jo Boaler, and apply to the Math Education PhD program
  • Grade math projects within a week to provide students with timely feedback.

So what might you do if you’re not a teacher or you’re still grappling with a damaging math past? What about these:

Mathy Goals You Might Consider

  • Make 1 in 5 (or another relevant percentage) of the books you read nonfiction.
  • Participate in the Hour of Code.
  • Keep going and take 28 more hours of code.
  • Sponsor a kid’s tuition to attend summer camp at DigiPen.
  • Take an introductory online math class through MIT or Stanford.
  • Talk with your kid’s teacher about the nature and length of your child’s math homework.
  • Play games once a month (analog or digital, your social group’s preference)
  • Create your own recipe for baked goods.
  • Pick up (or re-pick up) an instrument.
  • Take a dance class.

What are some math goals you might be willing to undertake? Share in the comments or use the hashtag #mathyresolutions in your favorite social media platform.

It’s Monday! What are you reading?

imwayr

Trying to get back on track with writing. I’ve been making excuses and getting sucked into my depression, but here we go.

Currently Reading:

I’m reading this with some of my students. I think I’ve finally figured out how to make small group instruction work during my literacy block. It involves using a rubric where I take notes during group meetings, so I can then input all my anecdotal notes into my gradebook. That’s been my biggest challenge — getting my classroom evidence to be reflected in my students’ grades. My students also have a shared Google Doc where they can ask each others questions and seek clarification.

Chomp, Carl Hiassen

I was originally planning on having this as our last read aloud of the year because it’s on next year’s Battle of the Books list, but after reading the first hundred pages, I decided to make a different pick. Actually, my students made the pick and they chose:

The Twenty-One Balloons, William Pene du Bois

I love this book, and we attempted to read it aloud last year, but we ran out of time before the year ended. Hopefully we’ll be successful this year.

I’m 45% of the way through the Bible. I had always thought of Luke as just being the gospel with the Christmas story, but I’m really enjoying JC’s parables in this translation.

Here we go!

Notable Books of 2013

This was the year of the series. When I was younger, I had a span of time where THE ONLY thing I read were books from The Boxcar Children, The Baby-Sitters Club, and Sweet Valley High. This year, I discovered some new series that set me off on reading marathons. I’ll be including usually only the first books in series that I read.

I was kind of underwhelmed with picture book this year.

If you want to see everything I read, my GoodReads list is here.

january

 

**SERIES**

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

**SERIES**

 

**SERIES**

 

 

 

 

 

02february

03march

04april

 

05may

(I also read this in December with my students.)

**SERIES** In 2013, I read every single Shannon Hale book ever written for children.

06june

**SERIES** I also read every single book written by Jessica Day George this year.

 

07july

Actually, I don’t love this series, but I am COMPLETELY addicted to it.

08august

09september

10october

 

**SERIES** Again, didn’t love this series, but I was addicted.

11november

**SERIES**

12december

You might laugh, but this book is EXACTLY what brief, simple, high-interest biographies should be.

**SERIES**

 






 

 

 

 

 

 

Diego Rivera Read Aloud/Homework

Monday’s homework was to play around with the interactive Diego Rivera exhibit that is explained in the biography read aloud we’re currently enjoying. We discussed that some portions of the mural do include some depictions of topless women.

Interactive Site.

Here’s the official DIA site for the murals.

And here’s the Chrysler commercial I showed to give students a sense of Detroit’s industrial path. It does contain the phrase “A city that’s been to H-E-Double Hockey Sticks and back.”

Thanks for your support!