Positive Reinforcement in the Kitchen

I’m a laughable cook, but a pretty proficient baker. That doesn’t mean I don’t still have sizable lapses in my knowledge. This morning, I engaged in a Twitter conversation with MJ, a representative at King Arthur Flour. Here was my takeaway:

Not only did MJ provide fabulous customer service, our conversation also mirrors what I hope a writing / math / literacy conference looks like in my class.

Walk with me through our exchange. I’ve bolded critical moments that we both took as student and as teacher.

First, I took a risk. I started with a vanilla scone mix and made the choice to cut up some fresh raspberries. I also ran out of regular milk, so I used almond milk instead. Struck with a lack of confidence, I Tweeted:

Often my Twitter appeals are made to the ether, but I received this:

It was a timely response from MJ, which offers a suggestion with “as long as the dough is not too wet,” as well as encouragement, “nice and tender and light.” Both comments are immediately practical and specific.

I recognized my error, but I persevered and shared my results:

And bam:

There’s the positive reinforcement. MJ recognized my effort with a specific compliment, “I love the pink color,” and she also nudged me further and gave me next steps with “just a little cream on the side.”

Then, she gave me this Lucy-Calkins-esque “off you go” statement:

Finally, as I was typing this post up, surprised that just three tweets could have such a huge impact on my baking experience, I realized the last key to this effective conference was that MJ kept it brief.

Here are my scones!

Where do you find conferring moments in your extracurricular activities?

The Power of Wordle!

I wasn’t going to do Thursday’s quick-write because I just produced what I’m calling a “half-draft…” it’s not even a full rough draft, so I didn’t think it would turn out well and I’m super-embarrassed about it.

But I couldn’t resist the siren song of Wordle. Wordle can be used for about a billion things, but I love using it to run my report card comments through after I’m done with my whole class. Here are some comments from the last few years:


Pretty rad, right? So curiosity got the better of me and I ran my half-draft through.


I’m pretty pleased with how things panned out, actually. “____Person’s Name____Understood” was a repeated sentence through the text, so it makes sense that that’s big. Bucky and Dymaxion make sense too. It seems like the next most common words are

  • structure
  • design
  • ideas
  • used

That’s where the work is for me today, methinks. “ideas” and “used” are kind of wimpy, especially when I really want to show that Bucky’s thought process wasn’t coming up with a set of discrete inventions or plans, but they’re all crazy-connected with each other and with the world and even the universe.

So. Hm. I will rewrite my half draft, perhaps play with a different direction entirely.

Oh! I also need to say that the book that’s been blowing my mind this week is Uri Shulevitz’s Writing with Pictures. So far “Chapter 3: A Complete Action” has been most helpful.

Today’s my writing day, so I’ll keep you posted later on how things go!

What Would Bucky Say?

Today’s Teachers Write prompt asks us to write a letter from one character to another. It’s amazing that as much research as I feel like I’ve been doing, I still don’t feel like I have a full sense of what it would be like to hear Bucky correspond with someone. I know his prose has a tendency to be really dense, so I honestly wonder if I’m even intelligent enough to write like him — is that an issue others often have? That if you’re writing a genius character, you might not be wise enough to make him or her sound authentic?

Anyway. This prompt immediately made me think about how I really need to dedicate some time to exploring more of the amazing audio and video that Stanford has posted as part of their project to sift through Bucky’s insane Chronofile, Bucky’s documentation of his own life (he called himself Guinea Pig B) that one source said he updated EVERY FIFTEEN MINUTES of his life (I haven’t found a second source to confirm this, although an architecture magazine in the 1970s printed one of his weekly itineraries and it’s INSANE).

I don’t know the extent to which Henry Ford and Bucky Fuller were in touch, and I know that the Henry Ford Museum didn’t acquire the Wichita House until after both were dead, but here’s an imagined letter of Bucky responding to Ford’s request for the house. There’s much, MUCH work to be done.

Dear Henry,

I’m flattered that you believe the Dymaxion prototype would be a valuable addition to your esteemed collection. Placing it alongside revered, iconic designs of industry, automotive technology, and American history is in some ways more than I could have asked for.

However, I wonder what your thoughts are about making this exhibit thought-provoking? I would find it a waste to restore the Wichita house and not have any further developments come of it. As you well know, the 4D design was not put into production because of high material costs. I imagine that in a city where material innovation would be key to the auto industry, local engineers and innovators would be sensitive to a shifting paradigm and would be well-equipped to continue research into a mast-based house.

I wonder too, looking back at my designs for housing pods in Harlem, if this might be an opportunity for Detroit to think about transforming itself, to think of more holistically redesigned than merely dealing with urban blight.

Please let me know what information I can provide to permit the restoration to be as accurate as possible. And for goodness sake, please get rid of the concrete garage at the base of the Wichita house. We both know it’s grossly unnecessary.



Hmmmmmmmm. All the thinks to think about!

Playing catchup on #TeachersWrite

One thing I miss about living in Michigan is the timing of their school years. If I were teaching in Michigan, I’d already be close to done with class and I’d be able to devote significant chunks of time last week to #buckybook. But noooooo. I still have a week and a half to go. Not that I’m one of those teachers counting down the hours, but I’m ready to fill my head with some non-school-related stuff.

Summer at Interlochen Arts Camp, in Northern Michigan.

Anyway, this week at writing camp I’ve been freaking out. I feel like the Tuesday and Thursday quick writes haven’t made sense for the nonfiction ideas I have rolling around in my head. I’m perfectly aware I’m just making excuses, but I’ve been a manic mess ever since Wednesday and it’s been hard to focus on anything for longer than about four minutes.

And that makes me wonder how Bucky Fuller managed to wrangle everything in his head. I mean, he was BRILLIANT, he must’ve been thinking a TON more than I’m trying to manage. Did you know he left literally behind TONS of information in the form of letters, clippings, drawings, videos, and models? He called it something space-age-y, the Chronolex or something like that, but I left the book where I got that information at school… Nevermind, just found it. It’s called the Chronofile, it’s housed at Stanford, and it’s massive. (ALL THE MORE REASON WHY I SHOULD GO GET MY ED PhD AT STANFORD, HMMMMMMM???)


Which brings me to a question about citing sources in kids’ books, esp. picture books. How do I cite quotes and things? How do I get access to photos if my WIP is just a WIP?

My goal this week is to contact the Henry Ford Museum research center, because a fabulous woman at the museum store said I needed to talk with them, and she promised they would be friendly to me.

OK. I need to make myself some valerian root tea and stop freaking out.

Seasons of Bucky (yes, plz sing it RENT-style)

Great nonfiction stories often start with great anecdotes. I learned that in my newspaper reporter days. But over time, some writers started thinking that ANY anecdote would work. This led to miserable newspaper stories that started out with something to the effect of “When so-and-so went to work that fateful August morning, she had no clue that such-and-such was about to change her life.” Or “Usually, people think that such-and-such happen when they do this-and-that. But New-Organization was ready to prove them wrong.” Ugh. The incredible Perry Parks taught me to be discerning with anecdotes, to wield them at just the right moment so they had the most power. He even had a name for the crummy versions of those ledes — the Wacky Contrast (thanks to Esther Gim for her SPEEDY RECOLLECTION of Perry’s wisdom).

Why is it always the brilliant ones who say things like, I will "dare to be naive." ?

So which Buckminster Fuller anecdote do I pick? The one about a 52-year-old Bucky dancing on top of a table at the Art Institute of Chicago, telling a colleague that the bebop steps he had just picked up matched a mathematical interpretation of the universe he devised? Or the one about him wearing three watches, one showing the time where he was, one where he was going, and one at his home base? Or the one where he calls himself the world’s most successful failure? Or maybe the one about how he wrote a freaking metaphysical manifesto for his daughter in lieu of a standard reading of Goldilocks and the Three Bears?

Bucky is going to give me a nice, long wait time so I can come to a decision on my own.

Laurel Snyder, in between saying, “Oh, SHIT, Shannon, I have to take this call, I’ll call back in ten minutes!” and advising me to be safe at the transit center, told me not to get too married to the idea of ONE PERFECT TOPIC that I must write about. She also told me I needed to try telling my story a variety of different ways. So, based on the facts, stories, and quotes I’ve gathered so far about Buckminster Fuller, there are a few ways I can procede. I can paint Fuller as:

  • Intense guy who didn’t care people thought he was weird
  • Most successful failure
  • Someone who thinks about the world holistically all the time
  • One of the first green people
  • A polymath! Explain Bucky through some people who “got” him – Frank Lloyd Wright, Isamu Noguchi
  • Collaborator – omg so relevant today, especially with crazy partisan BS

But look at me! I’m blogging instead of WRITING-writing! I have no clue what I’m doing! This is precisely what I feared. Well, I had other fears. Like getting sidetracked based on awesome stuff I’m discovering as I research and wanting to write about instead/in addition to Bucky! Such as:

  • Utopian/dystopian communities IRL. With the popularity of dystopian YA fiction, wouldn’t it be rad to revisit some of the communities/visions of the past? When I was at The Henry Ford Museum on Monday, they had a 1970s commune-type building based on the geodesic dome. Additionally, Bucky had a neat plan for Harlem that basically housed people in cylindrical high rises so the land in the neighborhood could be rehabilitated and turned into urban farmland.
  • Isamu Noguchi. You were briefly introduced to him in  Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan’s Sibert honor book Ballet for Martha. He was carpool buddies with Bucky, and had this AMAZING, DX-Arts-y plan in the nineteen freaking THIRTIES for Martha Graham to put theremin rods up around the perimeter of a stage so dancers would interact with them and create music with their movement. Also, last year’s I.M. Pei biography was pretty rad, so that’s been inspiring me lately.
  • Kid Lit Books and the World’s Fair. I’ve been thinking about the appearance of World’s Fair festivities in Wonderstruck and The Friendship Doll, and how much I would love to see, both as a reader and an educator trying to build schema, what the exhibits really looked like. I suppose I find the timing serendipitous because this year Seattle is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Space-Needle-creating 1962 World’s Fair.

Anyway. Those are some things I’m thinking about as I get this #buckybook business off the ground… Thoughts? Questions?

Gurrrrrrl, I KNOW you know what a buckyball is.


Mini-lesson Monday #1

Kate wants us to ponder “How do you find the time to write?”

For me, I have a well-meaning tendency to get sucked down into an Internet vortex of resources when I start a project and never wind up accomplishing what I set out to do. This doesn’t just happen with writing, but I anticipate it might rear its ugly head this summer as I explore comments and head off into a link-fueled rabbit hole.

So I guess the biggest part of making sure my summer writing doesn’t turn into summer-stalk-awesome-teachers is making sure my time on my computer stays productive. I’m sure Lifehacker has some widgets that keep me on task, so I’ll pester Toby about that this week. I was planning on using Google Docs to do my writing, but I could always turn off my wifi and just use Word… but the research I’ve been doing on Buckminster Fuller is mostly online, and I probably need access to that…

Hm. So the thing that needs to go is the random Internet dinking around. Twenty minutes a day. Got it.

Where? Probably at the kitchen table or at the bar where I can spread out relevant books and clippings.

I’ll end with a relevant song that I come back to whenever people say they don’t have time to read.

“You say there’s no time to study — people, look / you got time to take a ish, then you got time to read a book.”

“Southside Revival,” Blue Scholars