Thirstday 07/11/13

It’s tiiiiiiiiime!

thirstdayProps as ever to David Etkin for hosting this fine meme.

Salutations from Maui! My beverages haven’t been terribly tropical, but they have been tasty.



I didn’t really care for this book, but I do like the tea.

And yes. There’s a Starbucks cup even out here. I just got the newest mug from the You Are Here series.

I attempted to take a photo for #bookaday that featured both my book and the #viewfromhere, but the lighting foiled my plans. Take a look at this lovely bird, though.

Photo2 (8)Off I go!



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?

Thirstday 02/21/13

Mad props to David Etkin for starting Thirstday!

thirstday022113I do, in fact, drink things other than espresso! Drinking caramel tea from Teacup, brewed in my rad glass teapot and sitting on my tea warmer from Remedy Teas. (Seattle has a bazillion great tea places.)

I’ll admit, I took the above picture and applied the vignette filter before I had read much of Jarrett Krosoczka’s The Frog Who Croaked. I anticipated a pseudo-film-noir book, kind of in the style of Chet Gecko.

Nope! Jarrett’s first chapter book (he wrote all the Lunch Lady books) has more of the tone of a buddy cop film. The urban issues he includes are LEGIT. The book takes place in the fictional Kalamazoo City, but it definitely reminded me of a different troubled city on the opposite side of Michigan. I would honestly include this book in a reading list for the MSU economics course on public policy.

I’m sure every single post about this book will include the following video, but there’s a good reason. It’s definitely one of my top five TED talks. Yesssss.

Thanks to the Walden Pond Press folks for the ARC and for being so kind to the Nerdy Book Club at ALA Midwinter.


Treat Tuesday 02/19/13

treatbadgeThanks as ever to Niki OhsBarnes for getting this snacky show on the road.


Today I’m planning my next social studies unit, which focuses on geography. I’m SUPER pumped because this will line up really nicely with our plant science unit — the culminating activity for the social studies unit is to create a community nature center guide, with each kid picking a different community in the US and discussing the plant life (and landforms) found there.

I’m hoping it might also be a good time to play around with Mystery Skypes, which I heard about from the inspiring, thoughtful Cheryl Steighner. This is my social studies unit for my National Board entry, so I’m hoping to make it really beefy and wonderful.

QUICK PLUG. Please PLEASE support Cheryl by liking her video so she can be a New Media Consortium K-12 ambassador?

Anywho, back to snacks. Upon discovering I’m officially, medically overweight (according to one measure), I pretty much eliminated sweets from our house. But I do still have AMAZING Michigan potato chips from my parents’ thoughtful Christmas prezzie. I have an entire CASE of Better Made BBQ chips. YESSSSSSS. (“What do you want for Christmas, Shannon?” “All of the Michigan things!” And they delivered. Because my mother is the best gift-buyer on the planet)

OMG speaking of which, look at what SANTA included with Toby’s Taco Bell gift certificate.


Yeah. So snacks. Salty > Sweet every time. Happy Treat Tuesday.

Oh! And so you should totally follow my mom on Twitter. She’s kind of seriously the best around. And she has mastered the art of ironic hashtags.

Screen shot 2013-02-19 at 12.22.32 PM

Happy Tuesday! Enjoy Midwinter break!


Moving Downstream

(Ryan Calme and Kelty. Photo by Jess Calme.)
(Ryan Calme and Kelty at a stream. Photo by Jess Calme.)

I asked Toby to walk through starting a webstream with me. He spends forever and always watching Minecraft streams and indie game streams and League of Legend streams. (I was going to link to all of the streams that are constantly being broadcast in the mancave, but Toby pointed out that most of the streamers use profane language. Which is another topic for another day.)

You can watch my stream heeeeere! Featuring NO profane language!

Anyway. So why’d I bother setting up a stream? I mean, I know I’m not going to be fascinating to watch, unlike my artist pals who livestream their sketching. WHICH IS AMAZING. But I have had a few folks ask me how I’m able to design units or assessments or write stuff so quickly, so I thought seeing what I’m doing might be useful. Plus, you get to listen to the sweet tunes I’m listening to. And eventually you’ll be able to hear my commentary too.

AND WHO KNOWS, maybe one day you’ll be able to watch me die a fiery death in Minecraft.

So here’s how I got everything set up. It took me less than an hour, and that included me getting grouchy and stopping briefly.

1. Acquire streaming software.

If you have Windows, you can use FFSPLIT and have a stream ready to go in two seconds. No joke. It’s crazy-fast. I don’t have Windows. If you have Windows, skip to step 4.

2. Cry because you’re using a Mac. Shake your fist at your father because you know he’s laughing at you for using a Mac.

3. Look at this article. Follow all the directions EXACTLY. All of them. (The only thing I changed was that I created a streaming account at Twitch rather than JustinTV.)

4. Click Start Stream.

Ta da!


It’s Monday! What are you reading?



I’ve been reading quite a bit in the past week, mostly before bed as I’ve been a slacker as far as taking the bus goes. Yesterday my iPad fell on my face while I was reading The Second Siege in bed. Whoops.

Here’s what I’ve been reading.

Screen shot 2013-02-18 at 9.58.52 AM

I was most thoroughly disappointed in Not My Bag, and most excited by Lincoln’s Grave Robbers.

Treat Tuesday 01/22/13


Lunch is a challenge for me. Most days, it’s not unusual for me to make it clear through until 4 in the afternoon before I realize all I’ve consumed for the day is a cup of coconut mocha coffee and 23439246627 cups of tea.

I’m fortunate that our office clerk Danielle is usually looking out for me and will sometimes force a tuna snack pack on me.

Me and Danielle last weekend. We ate LOTS OF FOOD after seeing The Book of Mormon.
Me and Danielle last weekend. We ate LOTS OF FOOD after seeing The Book of Mormon.

But look! Today I packed a banana WITH my yogurt and granola (and a stack of books that need to be added to our class library). I’m on FIRE!


Do you like that I used the “grunge” filter on my Camera+ photo to make my treat seem edgier?

Hope you’re eating something yummier than my overripe banana. Happy Tuesday!

Integrating Sound with Math

Time to rethink my integration of science with math. My attempts to connect proportions of the human body with measurement went down in flames in my entry last year, so I’m focusing on Systems, Order, and Organization related to sound this time.

I know sound, math, and science are all suuuuuuper tight. What I don’t know is how to adequately organize my sound unit so it includes great inquiry-based investigations. My guiding framework is an annnnncient curriculum from the National Science Resources Center (published when I was in junior high) that has such profound extension activities as the one featured below:

Ugh. Not helpful. It’s worth noting that there are a whopping two math extension activities in this entire unit.

The wise and enthusiastic Katie Weichert gave me some great ideas to chew on and think about. I wish I saw her more often. But in her absence, I had to get a move on.

So I started trolling the Internet.

This Aztec music lesson seems compelling.

I’m also interested in harmonics, but I don’t know how to build this into a full lesson. My students already use harmonic series as a procedure to line up from music class, so I wouldn’t need to go over the basic musical idea of third and fifth intervals.

THIS could be useful. It appears to be a sound generator. Could I have kids compose a song using fractions and then convert them to their frequencies? Speaking of composing music…

I imagine I could show snippets from Donald in Mathmagic Land and have students generate questions from that? Yesssssss, I could totally do that… That way the learning would be authentic and related to the curriculum we already have in place!

My only concern remains starting with a video. I want to make sure I’m looking for an introduction that inspires perplexity, not just engagement. After the 27-minute video was released in 1959, Walt Disney admitted:

“The cartoon is a good medium to stimulate interest. We have recently explained mathematics in a film and in that way excited public interest in this very important subject.”

(emphasis is my own) Now in looking at moving from merely interest to investigation…… I suppose that recording student questions will take care of that fear, right? Then having their questions shape the following lessons?

Hmmmmm. Of course, there are a wealth of videos available on sound and math, but much of the information is so complex that I can’t figure out how to simplify it.



I’m also interested in looking at the materials used in instrument strings and the number of strings included in different instruments. How do the number of notes an instrument is capable of producing related to its system? Can systems be different sizes? Is a larger system necessarily “better” or more “complete?”

Anyway. Let’s see how this goes.

Air Time

When you take time for yourself, good things follow. In this case, it was some REALLY AWESOME MATH.

Friday morning, I missed the bus (oops) and was able to drive to work at a legal speed.

I had an opportunity to drink some nummy nummy coconut mocha coffee and read my Wall Street Journal. And lookie what I found!

The art of the slow-motion soccer goal.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Dan Meyer commenting on how we spoon feed each step to a problem solving situation, and so today, I went out on a skinny limb and used this graphic to help us work on our measurement skills. I wasn’t sure where our work would take us, but we’re early on in the unit, so many of my students are still working to measure accurately using a ruler.

I showed them the graphic, and Samuel helped me pronounce all the players’ names. He was our resident expert. Then I opened the floor to mathematical questions.

Here’s what we brainstormed as our big questions.

 The questions with green dots to the left are the ones we decided to pursue.

Then, people started asking more “nitty-gritty” questions, which we identified as being the “questions along the way” you had to answer to get to your big ideas. We kept this poster up as we worked. I stayed near my computer so I could capture students’ comments.

“You need to know how big the field is,” Savanah spoke up. I handed her my iPad so she could find the field size. She paused. “Do I need to know like, how BIG it is or how long the sides are?”  “I think you’re asking me whether you need the area or the perimeter?” “Yeah… ohhhh, I need the length of the sides.” Here’s the information she found.

After checking another site to verify the accuracy of her information, we added the dimensions of the field to the poster. (Yes, I know I could have taken a screen shot of the iPad, and I did, but I couldn’t get the image sent to my computer. Hrmph.)

“But what’s a yard?” “Who can answer that?” “It’s three feet,” Ivy answered. “How can you check to see if you agree?” “Well, I could look in my math book, but I remember what yard sticks last year look like, and I know there are three rulers.” (I knew we’d need to convert from yards to feet to inches so they’d be able to convert the lengths they measured on their papers into the actual lengths)

“Well, then you need to multiply by three to get the length – 120 times three.” “Woah. How’re we going to do that?” “Use a known fact, 12 x 3.” “36?” “Yeah, 36.” “So it’s 360 feet.”

They did the same for the other side. Then a group of students wanted to determine the linear distance the ball traveled for each player. I asked how many inches long their picture was, and Marcos stopped us all.

Marcos: WAIT. You blew up the picture from your newspaper article. So our picture isn’t the same size as yours and the distances will be all different. (I photocopied the graphic at 121% so it’d be easier to read than my original copy of the newspaper.)

Me: Nice. That would be a problem if the image were STRETCHED like a rubber band and warped, but since it was enlarged to scale, we’ll be okay AS LONG AS you don’t let me use my original copy, okay?”

Marcos: Okay. So the field is 11 inches long.

“You know, if they would have just included a map scale on this picture, we wouldn’t have to do ANY of this measurement.” “I guess that’s why Miz Houghton wants us to be able to use map scales in social studies.”

Then a few of us worked to create this poster.

We knew the field was 11 inches in our image, but we wanted to know how far just ONE inch would be because then we could find out how far Jone Samuelson’s 6-inch kick actually went. We also knew how long an actual field was, so we tried to find the relationship between the two.

Using a fact family (the triangle drawn above) helped us figure out the ratio. Or. What I initially THOUGHT was the ratio. DO YOU SEE MY GLARING ERROR??? I didn’t notice until lunch. I neglected to convert the 240 feet into inches so the units matched. Drat. I frantically called AP Calculus teacher James Brown to make sure I didn’t make any further errors.

So after lunch we converted 240 feet into inches, THEN used the ratio and found out that one inch in our picture equalled approximately 33 feet.

Some students switched to using calculators for these larger computations, which gave us a chance to talk about how calculators represent 1/2, equivalent fractions (5/10), etc. Above, Alejandra calculated how many feet David Villa kicked the ball (5 inches, according to her measurements, making the kick 165 feet). I asked her about the “33 in. in a inch” she wrote, and she said, “Oh no no no, it’s not 33 INCHES or that would be like a mini soccer field.” So she was also looking at reasonableness of answers.

Another group wanted to know how far the balls would have gone if they were kicked on the moon. Again, I told them to ignore the parabolic motion and just look at linear distance. I know the physics of this aren’t entirely correct, but I didn’t think it  hurt the integrity of the original problem situation.

Oh, actually! Selam originally asked how far the ball would go in SPACE, but Maya pointed out that if the they were in space, the player and ball would both push off each other and the ball would never land (AMAZING INSIGHT, RIGHT???). So we clarified that the ball would be kicked on the moon, where there was still a force acting on the ball, but a lesser force than what we’d find on Earth.

Adam went to the classroom library to find out what the gravity was on the moon. Here’s the passage he found, from the DK Eyewitness Book UNIVERSE.

Eayn: It says the gravity is one-sixths of Earth!

Me: So the gravity is 1/6 of the gravity on the Earth. So if we are converting from the moon, what would we have to do to the distance we calculated for the ball kicked on Earth?

Adam: Multiply it by three?

Me: Where did you get three from?

Adam: I dunno.

Milena: Multiply it times five.

Me: Five? Where did you get that from?

Milena: If the moon’s gravity is 1/6, then the rest of the fraction that’s left is 5/6.

Me: Ohhh, I think I see what you’re picturing in your head. But think of the gravity on the Earth as being one whole, and the gravity on the moon being 1/6 of that whole. You’re not looking at the other 5/6ths.

Vy: You’d multiply it times six.

Me: Where did you get six from?

Vy: If it’s dividing by six to get the pull on the moon, then you’d multiply by six to show how much further the ball would go when it has a sixth of the gravity slowing it dowwn.

Me: So you’re saying that fractions can be a way of dividing.

Vy: Yep. And then the opposite, er, inverse, is multiplying, so you times by 6.

(It is perhaps worth noting that Vy has not voluntarily spoken in front of the class in the past year and two months)

Wow. So now that we knew how to find distances on Earth and on the moon, we plugged away, with at least three people needing to agree on their measurements to the nearest half-inch before we would post the results. (reviewing our estimation and rounding unit from earlier in the year)

As we approached second recess, we posted what we’d come up with so far.

We also reflected on what we’d learned over the course of the day, and on the math we used.

As you can see, we didn’t finish everything, so some students asked if they could finish the calculations during Math Daily Five. UM, YES OF COURSE.

What suggestions or modifications do you have to offer me and my students? Where can we take things from here? Other thoughts?