Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The long, short first half

The winter break is almost near. Only four school days stand between me and more than a week and a half off of teaching. Like I am any year, I'm somewhat exhausted, and I feel just a bit in over my head, fatigued by the nature of "this year."

But this is an annual exercise for me. I walk into every winter break filled with the motivation to do something different the next semester. And I believe that's true because, by falling before the true midpoint of the year, there has enough time to infer lessons from the administrators and the students about how to proceed for the remainder of the year. And, there is enough left to the year to justify trying a new approach.

Last year, around this time, my educational guru started sharing ideas with me about differentiation that slowly but surely transformed the atmosphere of my class. I hit the second semester with those ideas in place. I also mulled over how to rearrange content of a politics and civics class I taught then, and approached semester two with a distinctly different approach. I remember spending time a few years ago mulling over how I needed to be more transparent online about my lesson planning (okay, that's a very nerdy revelation).

The good news is that my middle-of-the-year revelations are stemming more from what I perceive the kids need rather than what I think my higher-ups want. I'm glad to know that I haven't lost my ability to read and hear the students. In short, I know at mid-year how I need to push my students but the manner in which they need that push is more subtle. It's not as much about expectations of content mastery as it expectations of use of time and nimbleness of mind.

This job remains exciting. Every class is a puzzle, and one has a given amount of time (9 weeks, 18 weeks, 27 weeks) to figure out what works for them. You're reading the post of someone who, in week 14, figured out how to make a group of students work and think and contribute in the way he's been looking for.

I'm very proud of what my administrator saw when observing me today. He saw a teacher who knew how to keep a group of 11th graders moving, both intellectually and physically, for 90 minutes. He saw a teacher who knew how to blend instruction and assessment so fluidly it was a bit hard to tell what the kids were doing when. He saw a teacher able to improvise and laugh and adapt. And he saw kids honoring the atmosphere the class needs.

I chuckle a little bit when I think on how different my room and lesson looks now than it did half a career ago, when I came to the high school. I'm lucky that I have a career that challenges me to keep things fresh.

Monday, December 8, 2014


Eight weeks in a row. Big Kahuna will be devoured on Advent 4. I wish I could say my time at church got me any closer to making up my mind on a few difficult decisions. It didn't. Still, eight weeks is a good streak.

Some more Mojo . . .

I might have just created a board game. Holy cow. More, later . . .

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Getting one's mojo back

The first two days of this week were defeating: days on which it seemed I couldn't find a groove teaching, coordinating, parenting, husbanding . . . you name it, I felt like I was off. I was due for a good day teaching, and I think I got it today.

At least in two of the three classes I teach. The other, okay, I'm still off my game a little bit.

Back to Macro. I came across a great column written by Catherine Rampell in The Washington Post. It did a very good job summarizing the health of the U.S. economy, and therefore served as a good review of recent course content. Moreover, her column contained a rich assortment of references and allusions. Good writing is filled with references that intrigue, inspire, and offer meaning on different levels. If one doesn't get those references, one cannot appreciate what they're reading. Heck, one might not even understand it.

So, I challenged my students to take her column, and use their phones to Google three references. Here's what we learned . . .

  • "mojo" has its origins in Voodoo
  • my students have the tact to not read out loud the definition Urban Dictionary offers for "mojo" (I praised them on respecting the PG boundaries of a classroom in a world that is sometimes Rated R)
  • most of my students had no idea who "Mr. Magoo" was . . . until today
  • the "one-eyed man" reference has possible roots in Genesis
Some students' learnings. 
More learnings.
We categorized their learnings according to how jargon-ish the terms were. 

In an attempt to light a fire in my one history class, I've decided to enlist my students in an endeavor to create a contest like Twilight Struggle relevant to the 1860s. There is a chance it might actually work.

Students drafting the cards. We're now up to fifteen. 
Boy, wouldn't I love to see a class playing cards with titles like "Freeport Doctrine" and "John Brown's Raid" while vying for control of the border states' loyalties?

On the motivation front, I ended a long day yesterday looking for a tome that would most certainly put me to sleep. So, obviously, I reached for . . . 

Doesn't everyone have this fine work of scholarship on their nightstand? 
It worked. Within two paragraphs I was getting sleepy. In closing it up, I noticed an inscription inside the front cover. Then I remembered, this book was a gift from a student nearly five years ago. 

It was a pleasant, and timely, reminder of why I do what I do. Teachers occasionally receive great compliments like this, and it keeps us going on rainy days. 

Sunday, November 30, 2014


I write this post in the hopes of updating my faithful followers as to our experiment with the cherpumple over Thanksgiving. This 2014 Thanksgiving will be the remembered for being the year we made the churpumple and odds are that it will be the only Thanksgiving featuring that dessert. This endeavor isn't for everyone. And I don't mean to say that in a menacing I-dare-you-to-try-it tone, I say that because, frankly, it might not be worth repeating.

At the end of they day, one must remember that it's three frozen pies in the midst of those cakes. Frozen pies! Sherry has made superior versions of each of the pies in that monstrosity. But it would be a waste to put the time and effort into pies just to have them baked into the Godzilla of desserts. In essence, cherpumple forces us to visit the logic behind Papa John's slogan: better ingredients, better pizza. In this case, frozen mass-produced ingredients, mediocre dessert.

Frankly, the pumpkin-spice combination was disappointing. If I were to do this again, I'd replace it with blueberry.

Okay, away with the gloomy Gus portion of the review. Here's the fun stuff.

The basic ingredients. Stacked in order of final assembly. 

The pies on the way into the oven. 

Sherry and Anastasia did establish a rotation to ensure even cooking. 

Cooling. That description takes on more meaning given that Sam accidentally called the cake (see below) the "Chernobyl." The name has stuck. 

Cherry pie atop 1/3 of the white batter. 

Covering the cherry pie. 

Anastasia removes air bubbles before baking. 


She's such a talented baker. It's a shame Sherry was talked into this charade. 

A complete, un-iced layer. 

Before final assembly. 


More icing.

Nearing the end. 

We contemplated a few means of actually cutting the thing.

An exquisite presentation. 

After serving the first slices. It was at about this point that Sam likened it to reactor 4 at Chernobyl. 

Catastrophe! At approximately 7:00 pm the top two layers began and epic slide off the serving dish. 

The serving dish after we moved the remaining half of the cake to a cookie sheet. 
Approximately 1/3 of the cake remains. Sherry and I both think the refrigeration is enhancing the cake's flavor, and we see no shame in eating the good parts while ignoring the not-so-good.

As our Thanksgiving concludes (and as I try not to succumb to pessimism that we all return to work and school tomorrow) I am thankful for having ate at three holiday meals for three consecutive days and didn't repeat a single menu item at any: a ham feast Thursday, a traditional turkey dinner Friday, and an Italian feast yesterday.

Enjoy the holidays, readers.


We stretched our streak to seven today. We also made it a fairly busy morning. Sherry and I played handbells at 8:15, which meant we had to get to church at 7:45. Sherry then volunteered to sell singing telegrams, a fundraiser for the youth choirs, at 9:30. She completed her hat trick by playing flute at the start of the 10:45 service. I enjoyed getting to see her perform up front.

The service is making more sense to Sam. I see him engaged with more of what's going on, following the bulletin more actively. It was the first Sunday since he received his Bible, a Bible he promptly left on a shelf with the coat hangers during the Sunday School hour. Ah, baby steps.

Three more Sundays and we're eligible for the Big Kahuna. Oh, we were on time so we stopped at Yum Yum. I had my normal. Sherry, however, had something new that looked fantastic: something covered in cinnamon and filled with cream (creme?).

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Six. Six weeks now. Six.

A whirlwind weekend ended today. That weekend included a sixth consecutive week at church, on time, too (but we ran out of time to pick up the donuts). Readers might want to see what all we did.

Friday night: hosted some family over before seeing my nephew in Once in a Lifetime.

Saturday: ran a 5k, saw a friend in a play, took in the Lansdale Mardi Gras parade (yes, in November), ate out

A bright sun made a good selfie impossible, not that that stopped me from taking a selfie. I posted a pretty good time: 7:50 per mile, which is a minute-per-mile less than the 5k I ran in March.

I actually finished in the first sixty. I was more than a little surprised. 

I even tried to sell this car in between events this weekend.
Okay, so this selfie didn't turn out too bad. I loved that Hatfield Quality Meats brought out the retro delivery van. 
Sunday: attended church, performed in a concert.