Seattle Commuting Tips for ALAMW13 (and otherwise)

I’m SO EXCITED you’re coming to Seattle! Yes, you! You’re going to have such a fantastic time! Yessssss! Books! WOO! And I’m hoping I might be able to help you out during your time here!

So I’ve been bus commuting a 70-mile round trip pretty regularly for two years now, most of those with cumbersome teacher bags in tow and wearing overdressed teacher clothes. Based on my experiences, I would like to humbly offer a few transportation suggestions if you’ll be coming to Seattle later this month for ALA.

Photo by James Thigpen.

To get around without a smartphone, I cannot help you. Seriously. Sorry. I truly don’t think I would be able to bus commute without my iPhone. I CAN tell you that bus drivers (and most riders) are VERY willing to help you puzzle out where you need to go. So if you DO have a smartphone, you should get One Bus Away and make sure you have the most recent version of Google Maps, which provides directions using public transit.

Black Sun, Isamu Noguchi

A word about Seattle distances: things might seem close, but distances are different than what you’d encounter in a suburban community. I’m from metro Detroit, where driving nine miles for a restaurant wasn’t a big deal. In Seattle, that distance puts you WAY out of the downtown core and up into suburbia. My parents stayed at a hotel that was four miles away from us, and although it was close, it was also six neighborhoods away. I tell you this not as discouragement, but just so you have some perspective.

Next: light rail from the airport. DO IT. It’s cheap, it’s roomy, and you’ll feel good about the environment. If your organization is comping you for transportation (ha?), help a pal out and share a taxi with them, but otherwise, LIGHT RAIL. A word of caution, the distance between the Sea-Tac terminal and the Sea-Tac light rail station is a littler longer than you might expect. Your hotel is probably at the University Street or Westlake Center stop.

You should get an ORCA card if you plan to use public transit any more than once during your time in Seattle. Seriously. Even just having an epurse (loading up the card with money) is cheaper than getting a physical ticket for light rail. You can even do this before you ever leave home!

From the 2010 Bucky Pop Up Party.

Don’t bring an umbrella. Seriously. Coat with hood, yes. Umbrella, no.

Photo from Roger Wilkerson.

Speaking of coats, I alternate between a puffy vest over fleece, a wool car coat, and a rain coat. They all serve me just fine; the only reason I choose one instead of the other is based on my outfit for the day, honestly. I don’t have a multiseason squall, but if you do, you’ll be set.

Boots would be nice, yes, but none of that heavy duty Sorel or L.L. Bean business. Complete overkill. These are the besssssst. For one thing, it’s not that cold here. For another, you probably won’t be walking outside THAT much. And one last thing: if you have sweaty feet, you will HATE YOUR LIFE in boots that long. I usually wear cowboy boots in the winter if I’m not wearing my rain boots.

If you get frustrated with the bus system, keep in mind, Seattle wasn’t really designed to be an enormous city. Our interstate goes underneath the Convention Center and can’t ever be widened, for goodness sake. So although our mass transit system is pretty rad, we’re obviously nothing like New York or D.C. 

Cabs will be easy enough to find downtown, but I lurrrrrve using Uber. They almost always have a deal going on, so run a search to see what you can track down.

Photo by Mr. Schu.

You’ll be close enough to the walk to the legendary Seattle Public Library. You should. Obviously.

A few other caveats, because I always like to hear those when I receive advice. I’m not terribly in shape, but I am pretty slim. Bus commuting for the larger among us, particularly with luggage, can get a little cramped. Nothing to the point where I’d advise you AGAINST it, but again, I know I’d want to know that in advance.

Also, just a friendly general public transit reminder: If I have somewhere I need to be RIGHT on time, I always try to catch a bus one earlier than I’d need just to be safe. That said, unless the weather is awful, time estimates from both One Bus Away and Google Maps are pretty darned accurate.

Any other transit-related questions? Just ask in the comments, or track me down on Twitter!

Woodland Park Zoo!

Today, we had the opportunity to go to the Woodland Park Zoo! I’ll admit, I heard quite a few of my students say beforehand, “Uhhhhh, we go to the zoo evvvvvery yearrrrr.” But I’m pleased to say we had quite a fabulous time. We prefer the Woodland Park Zoo to the Point Defiance Zoo, and we also noticed that this zoo has a bunch of new exhibits that weren’t there a few years ago when some of us came as kindergarteners or first graders.

In addition to seeing all the fabulous animals, we also met up with Greg from the education department, who taught us about plant and animals and how they survive with each other. Here we are on our way to visit the komodo dragon.

He also showed us the tapir, the orangutan, the lion-tail macaque, and the siamang.

My group observed the jaguar walking like it was modeling on a catwalk!

My group of eight students (so well-behaved! Wheeee!) went to one of the aviaries where we saw birds less than three feet away from us.

The weather was ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS, and whenever we got cold we were able to go to an indoor exhibit.

Not all the animals were exotic. In fact, we all enjoyed hanging out with the enormous chubby squirrels.

How old is too old?

I’ve had a copy of Byrd Baylor‘s If You are a Hunter of Fossils in my teacher tote bag for months, waiting for me to write CAFE lessons for it. It was originally a text included in kindergarten Kinderroots kits, but when we switched from Success for All, the books were introduced to general teacher circulation.

I put off posting lessons because I worried the book would be outdated, thus opening a huge can of worms in determining whose role it is to decide whether books are outdated. (It’s our librarian’s role, I’d argue. But we have a half-time librarian who is spending every second he’s in our school making up for the FOUR YEARS when we didn’t have a librarian at all. I don’t think weeding books are at the top of his list. He and our library assistant have added ELEVEN HUNDRED books to our school library this year.)

Despite my initial apprehension, I finally read the book and gave a few lesson suggestions. Hunter of Fossils has held up well to all the recent dinosaur discoveries and changes. But other books don’t hold up as well. And as a school with a teensy tiny library budget, at what point do we retire old books?


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There are a bunch of other old books that are in the bookroom. I’m not too concerned about these texts, as they’re intended for teacher check-out, and I assume teachers know how to lead a rad anti-bias, these-were-the-times lesson.


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Again, what is the line for “accurate,” though? For example, our school’s Ben Franklin biography is Jean Fritz’s 1975 book What’s the Big Idea, Ben Franklin? A large bulk of the information is pretty accurate, to my mind, but there are some pieces that have been disproven. We included the updated information in our class discussion. There’s an updated version of this book with illustrations by David Small, but I haven’t read it and don’t know if there are any changes.

But what about the books on the shelf available for general consumption? I’m not by any means looking to somehow censor outdated information, but I wonder how we can set students up for success in accessing accurate information.


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As mentioned above, we are fortunate to have a 22-computer lab (Although it is tiny. And many of our classes have 25 students. And we use it to take state standardized tests in.), which many classes use to research information.

But access to information isn’t a cure-all. The nightmare scenario for my kids comes from my own cultural shock in China. I read at least a half dozen books on the country and the culture, but the most lasting impression I had was from Big Bird in China. I LOVED this movie when I was little. ADORED this movie. And as an adult, I knew that some things would be VERY different on my visit, but even the more recent texts I read didn’t prepare me for the changes I saw.

I thought people would be wearing neutral-colored Mao suits. I thought cities would be more run down. In retrospect, I guess there’s always more research I could have done, but I wonder what would have helped me sift out the most recent, relevant information, especially considering I went into the program knowing NOTHING about China. Except pandas and Mao.

Anyway. So I guess I’m still left with my initial question. At what point are old nonfiction books worse than no books at all? I’ll pester some librarians this week, and please leave any thoughts or ideas in the comments!

New Traditions

This year was the first Christmas I celebrated away from my Michigan family. Mom and dad, I missed you sooooo much! The hope was that my new husband Toby and I would be able to develop new traditions to make the holiday our own. Due to my mopiness and gross indecision, nothing earth-shattering was created, except lots of fires, tea, and reading. And mediocre Indian buffet food for Christmas dinner. And frankly, that’s just fine by me.

But now that I’m looking forward to returning to school today, I’ve been thinking about the traditions my students, colleagues, and I have been developing in the five years I’ve been teaching. Here are some things I’m looking forward to in the new year.

Mock Caldecotts. This started last year officially, although I’ve been holed up in front of a computer the morning of the ALA Midwinter Conference ever since Katherine Schlick Noe told me about the awards livestream when I was at Seattle U. My students come in early (if the conference is held on the East Coast) and enjoy breakfast snacks as the awards are announced. If it’s an award they’re not familiar with (last year I neglected to explain the Sibert award to them — MAJOR oversight on my part), they usually look to me to gauge what their reactions might be. This year, though, I think we’re pretty well-prepared to critique the official choices.

Preliminary voting on our classroom Mock Caldecotts, which were featured last year in the Federal Way Mirror, will begin the end of this week, with the final votes cast January 21 or 22. I haven’t yet decided.

Math Team S’Mores. Sometimes, traditions are started for no good reason. I can’t remember why we decided to microwave S’Mores for our math team members at the last meeting of the year, but this tradition is entering its fourth year. Our first math team competition is coming up this month at Green Gables Elementary. Whee!

Tour guide Ms. Houghton on field trips. I’m SO EXCITED to take the next step in this tradition. Every time we head up to Seattle, I put on my best newspaper reporter voice (which is also my best documentary voice-over voice) and point out relevant landmarks. Smith Tower, once the tallest building west of the Mississippi, Port of Seattle, Amazon headquarters, Starbucks Headquarters, the Convention Center that goes right over the freeway (and contributes to Seattle’s traffic woes), the U District, Space Needle, etc. My goal is for my students to take over this role on the remaining field trips we have this year. Wheeee!!!

Reading Challenges. I started my 50-book-a-year reading challenges when I was in college. You can see an early list here. This year I’ve committed to a few challenges, and created a new one. You know I love any excuse to pull out a new retro lady header.

Burke Museum!

 We went to the Burke Museum today, and it was fantastic! Not only was the lesson really interesting, but everything was perfectly appropriate and well-organized. The kids had a chance to touch First Nation artifacts, and everyone had great feedback. They adored the Carnaval exhibit, too.

Here are a few photos from our visit.

Learning about First Nation artifacts.
Students wearing carnival masks in front of giant puppets (people stand inside the puppets to hoist the giant people up on their shoulders)
RAWR. Red fox.
Listening to different Hawaiian instruments (look at everyone dressed appropriately in uniform!)
Mask and costume from Carnaval exhibit.
Stereotypical Seattle behavior — recycling and garbage separated outside at lunch.
Heading home. The weather held out all day!

A million and a half thanks to EVERYONE at the Burke Museum. Everyone we encountered, including the patient gift shop cashier, treated us with enthusiasm and kindness.

Huzzah! Next up: third grade field trip to Seattle Children’s Theatre’s production of Frog and Toad!

UW Atmospheric Sciences Trip!

Our class had an amazing trip to the University of Washington Atmospheric Sciences center this Thursday!

“They taught us a lot of things — like how to make a cloud. They were good scientists, they were smart but they didn’t act like they know everything.” L said.

“We were able to sit in college seats rather than regular seats, I felt like I was in college,” T.E. said.

“I wanted to say thank you for letting us sit in their classrooms because they taught us what they were learning about and they took us on the roof and that was really fun and kind,” T.S. said.

“I liked it when we were on the roof and they showed us the rain collector and the instrument that measured how much light there was,” K.A. said.

“When were on the roof, it was nice of them to show us how the instruments worked, and the rain catcher, and the satellite dish,” J.C. said.

Several of us thought the roof was going to be flat or go right upto the edge like in the old silent movie “Safety Last.”

“I thought the exploding cloud was really cool and it was nice of them to show it to us and having a volunteer was nice — it was kind of nice to have X help us,” A.B. said.

On our way out, we saw Cliff Mass and two of his TA’s coming out of Weather 101. We recognized Dr. Mass from his YouTube videos and from his NPR podcasts. Many students noted that he seemed older in real life than in the videos, although it was mentioned to them that that might not be the most tactful thing to say.

“My favorite part was when we were on the roof and Chris told us about the little thing that spins and told us about which way the wind was blowing — the wind vane. My second favorite part was when we took the picture and made funny faces,” A.G. said.

The photo A is talking about can’t be posted to this website because this is a non-district website, BUT families, if you e-mail me I will send you a copy. I CAN show you this picture of us walking up the staircase to the

“I was afraid it was going to be flat and we were going to slip, but instead it had a large square around it so we couldn’t fall,” A. V-G. said.

Olympic Sculpture Park, revisited!

When we went to the Seattle Art Museum in spring of 2010, we had a chance to see some of the pieces at the nearby Olympic Sculpture Park. One of the works that caused a lot of conversation was “Untitled” by Roy McMakin:

The black chair looks like one of the plastic ones you can get at WalMart, but it’s metal, just like the white “paper” box.

When my significant other Toby was in San Francisco for WordCamp last weekend, he sent me these neat pictures. Look familiar?


This last one is designed to look like what giant computer servers sometimes look(ed) like.

Thanks, Toby!