Sunday, November 29, 2015

All I really needed to know...

There's surely plenty to write about and this week (intersession and thus between trimesters at school) promises time for reflection that may help my thoughts mature into something publishable.  But all you need to know about my week, my weekend and my life these days is as follows:

I was leaving the house in the cool, thin light of this late November afternoon to walk the dogs.  In the car, prepared to start up and pull out of the driveway, my phone rings, and it's A's number.  She tells me that Her Wisdom, my eldest daughter, wants to come too, and asks if I'd wait a moment.  I accede, glad to sit in the warm and listen to a podcast for a bit.

Not five minutes later a bright young figure bursts from the side door of the house and runs pell mell towards the car, waving her arms and shouting.  She was moving as though her life depended on making it to the car before I pulled out.  Of course, I'd have waited 'til doomsday if she asked me to.  She was just so excited to be with me, outside, on an adventure together that she couldn't hold it in.  She was grinning as she piled into the car.

So was I.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Give me the Brain...

This past week held a lot for Baxter, and for the 9th grade team.  We got together to decide what to change about the team and what to keep heading into the second of three trimesters.  And I was really worried.  There seems to be a deep separation between Humanities and Modeling right now.  Separate curricula and even separate visions.  I feel like I've asked to connect back together and we've not been able to do so.  But rather than spend time there, in our frustrations and fears, the facilitator asked us to open up.  She gave us the chance to really look at the vision of the 9th grade team.  Three of the four of us are new to Baxter, though not to teaching, and this was the first time we looked hard at what we wanted and needed knowing some of the other factors involved.  I am grateful, because it let me look at the joys and challenges of this particular aspect of this job in a new way.

But I'm afraid, too.  It has become clear to me, over the arc of the past few days, that the visions for the 9th grade team don't align.  I see a blended group, with kids working on projects that partake of standards from each of our disciplines.  That's farther together than at least one of my colleagues is willing to go.  And I don't know what to do with that conflict.

The good news is that I do see the vision of the 9th grade team.  And I do think that we can do this work.  I do not currently see how, but I trust that the next week will bring us new and exciting plans.  Baxter reminds me that I can try new things.  Really new things.  I hope I have the courage to push for them.


[Period Fencing]
I have only two things to say here:  I've been asked to, in essence, apprentice to someone to learn more about how to attain the highest award that our game gives for fencing.  And I'm not at all sure, a month and a half later, what to say.

I'm not going to practice lately.  There are a lot of reasons, but they're not important.  At this moment, I don't feel driven, or called, to be there.  I think, with time, that will change.  I don't know how.  I do know that if I want to be a better fencer, I had better get to practice.  And that there's a lot of conflict in me about that process right now.

Give me the Brain.  I suffer a mix of emotions.

Monday, November 2, 2015

A Preview of Difficult Things (and some happy pictures)

I missed my post not only two weekends ago but also this past weekend as well!  I will not bore you with excuses.  I will apologize:

I'm sorry I missed two weekends of posting in a row.

And then move on.  This Friday, look for a post about three difficult things:

Being fully present on the 9th grade team.

Being absent from the 9th grade team.

Grades.  What they are, why we use them, and how they matter to us and to our students.

Talk to you Friday!

Value added pictures of my children, who are the main reason why I miss any posts at all:

See?  See why I never get anything done?  It's a rough life, I tell you.  More Friday.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

A dual duel post.

This week my posting will be evenly split between excellent education and musings about period fencing.  To find only the fencing portion of this record, skip down a bit!  If educational triumphs interest you, read on from here:

[Education]  On Weednesday the basement of the Baxter Academy's York Street facility flooded.  This was surprising (all of Portland for a block on either side of Commerical Street was surprised that day...) but not tragic.  We got all the students safely onto buses and homeward bound.  We took a look at the damages and caused them to be dealt with in appropriate ways.  What this *did* mean was that our school was closed both Thursday and Friday.  So we all took the days off and binged watched back episodes of The Flash, right?

Wrong.  We grabbed that opportunity and ran with it.  We did education right.

See, we, the 9th grade team, knew we would be expected to get something out there for our kids to do.  Everyone at Baxter expects that obligation.  But we took the chance to do more, to go deeper.  We created this assignment.  In it, we asked the kids to research and gather data on tide levels and rain events in Portland history, graph that data in a program with which we've been working at school, and then make a claim, based in their evidence, about how the pattern of rainfall or tide level is changing in Portland over time and what might have caused the flooding at Baxter.

In essence, we had the kids take a real event that powerfully affected them, research its ramifications and causes, take data about it, graph some of that data and then connect that research to the initial event.  The assignment had them hitting standards for Math, Science and Humanities, and they did it while away from school because of the very event they were researching.

This is good work.  From me, from my team and from our students.  Now we need to go dry out the walls downstairs.

[Fencing]  There is a competition this coming weekend called the 'King's and Queen's Fencing Championship' in Massachusetts.  Not a real King and Queen.  In fact, friends of mine who are also members of the SCA, an organization dedicated to re-creation of Medieval and early Renaissance arts and culture.  But a real swordfighting competition.  Round robin pools at the beginning of the day which will end with 16 combatants in a double elimination tournament.  I am a capable man with a rapier (we use period rapiers and armor to the extent that safety allows) and I think I could do well.  But I have a problem

I couldn't fulfill the duties incumbent on the winner of the tournament.  There's a lot of travel involved and my family and work keep me nearer to home most weekends.  This means I'd compete in the round robin pool but I'd remove my name from the 16, if it got that far.  (The organizers ask that anyone not able to carry out the obligations attendant to winning let them know at the beginning of the tourney for just this reason.)

However, there's a new award in this organization, one that recognizes fencing prowess and service to that particular art.  It's a pretty high level award for this group (think like an Oscar, or the American League Pennant, or the Stanley Cup, but for sword geeks).  I find that I want it.  And coming to terms with that desire is hard.

See, I want to be a better fencer so that I'm a better fencer.  I want fencing to get better in the SCA because I believe that will make the SCA better.  And I would keep doing that work whether there were the prospect of a high-level award or not.

But now that there *is* this high level award, I have begun to question all of my motives.   Am I teaching this lesson to help this person or to be *seen* helping this person?  Am I at this event fighting to enjoy fighting or to be seen to be improving as a fighter?

I am considering avoiding entry in the tourney entirely and simply serving as a rules and safety judge (we call them 'Marshals').  And even then I wonder: am I considering withdrawal out of a sense of honor or because I don't want to be measured and found wanting?

I dislike how conflicted I feel when fencing lately.  I want to find a way to get back to the purity of line and form and struggle that first attracted me to the art.  Maybe I just need a chandelier to swing from.  That always buckles my swash.

More on this soon.  King's and Queen's is Saturday the 10th.  And while I'm not sure what I'll do when I'm there, I'm sure I will be there.

Wish me luck.

Friday, September 18, 2015

A strange and wonderful week

Hello all.  I promised more than I can deliver in this episode but I'm posting on time.   Barely.  Here's a recap of what I bit off:

"Hey gang.  Here are some teasers for the next post in this blog, dropping this Friday, the 18th!


See the places we work and some samples of the work we're doing!


Hear the gentle clicking of the keyboard as you leave generous and kind comments in the comments section.


Learn what Endelyn Rose (the youngest of my two daughters) says to ask to be excused from the table!


Marvel at the astonishing ability of the 9th grade at Baxter to plan, initiate and execute investigations!

Can you even wait 'til Friday?  Neither can I.  Stay tuned, Baxterians!"

Here's what I can chew:

The 9th grade team is working in four rooms in a building on Congress Street that used to house the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies.  We still see a couple of folks from Salt on a regular basis and they add a measure of thoughtful cheer to our days that is pleasant and welcome.  I have no pictures of kids working, or of work yet, and in fact that leads me to the kernel of this particular post:

This new stuff is hard.

By new stuff I don't mean the actual teaching.  It's been 13 years since I first walked into a classroom, and the educators with whom I'm working now are some of the best in the business.  I mean that the school is new, the space is new, ALL the 9th graders are new to the school and the space, and we four teachers (six if you count our guidance counselor and local admin--and I do) are new to one another.  The Modeling class is full of content that I've seen and worked with before, but I've never taught it in this configuration.

I love it.  It scares me but that's because this is important.

I love the challenge of getting all the kids' little rears into seats, and their brains into learning.  I love wrestling with content and tucking in inside of process and working to be sure that the students' experience is a well rounded one.

I love getting emails from parents telling me their kids can go faster and work harder.

I don't love those emails in the initial moments.  I'm as proud of my work as the next person, and can be initially defensive of even well-meaning criticism.  But I need it.  A parent who sends my team that email wants his kid to be challenged.  A parent who advocates in that way for her kid is a person I want on my educational team.  I read the email, breathe past my initial defensive reaction, and read it again.  These folks want what I want, and they are regularly asking how they can help me make class better (and harder!) for their kid.  When I write back, I remember that we're on the same team, and I think of what I'd want to hear from Her Wisdom's teacher (Her Wisdom is my 5 year old daughter, Sophia).  I'm a better teacher for those emails, and the 9th grade program is a better program.

I think we can do a better job communicating with our parents (and students) and I know we need to.  We have a web portal in the works and are planning a parent night to get some of the questions out in the open and answered.  That's a beginning.

I love how hard this is.  These are the right questions, the right problems.  Solving them will make these students' education better, and make Baxter a better school.  In my impatience to do these great things I can forget that beginnings are hard, and that hard work sometimes needs to be done slowly so that it can be done well.

I'm grateful that the folks around me remember that.

(Oh!  To be excused from the table after dinner, Endy, also known as 'Youngest' or 'Her Brilliance', usually says 'Coooo Meee Peeees Daad!'  I'll see if I can get you a recording.  It's pretty cute.)

The 'Marvel' piece will have to wait until next Friday.

Innovate On, Baxterians.

Monday, September 14, 2015

A post to tell you to wait for other posts:

Hey gang.  Here are some teasers for the next post in this blog, dropping this Friday, the 18th!


See the places we work and some samples of the work we're doing!


Hear the gentle clicking of the keyboard as you leave generous and kind comments in the comments section.


Learn what Endelyn Rose (the youngest of my two daughters) says to ask to be excused from the table!


Marvel at the astonishing ability of the 9th grade at Baxter to plan, initiate and execute investigations!

Can you even wait 'til Friday?  Neither can I.  Stay tuned, Baxterians!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Capitain Peloquin is the first post!


This is a blog about lots of things which all have to do with me.  I suspect there will be professional and personal content here, but you only have to read what you want.

This post concerns our attempts at a medieval recreation rapier practice (with the USM Blade Society in Portland, Maine) to use the drawings and translated text of a fencing manual that dates, roughly, to the late 1500s, or perhaps a bit earlier.  More about the dates in a moment.

The manual, "Le Cabinet d’Escrime de Capitaine Péloquin" has only one extant copy, in the Hague.  This copy purports to be a gift from the scribe who recorded it to the Prince of Orange, Count Maurice (who should certainly be either the next Disney villain or the next hero in one of J.M Aucoin's historical fiction swashbucklers.)  The scribe wanted a job (he says over and over that he'd like to 'live by the feather' which is the best translation evar of the French 'par la plume'.)  This is quite an audition piece.

The text and basic layout of Capitain Peloquin's system are pretty straightforward.  Four guards, (high, low, left and right) and various attacks which originate from these guards.  The fascinating part, at least for us right now, is the manner in which the movements are illustrated.  Here's a picture of the plate with which we were working last practice:

Crazy, right?  It's called 'Cavade in second guard,' and this thing illustrates the following movements:

Begin in a high hanging guard (Peloquin's 'Second')
1) Tap your sword foot (right in the illustration) and feint towards your opponent's eye. (See how the two drawings there are labeled with the number '1'?)
2) Disengage below your opponent's parry, sweep their sword with your dagger and step forward with the rear foot (left in the illustration), changing your target to the heart.
3) Cross your sword foot (right in the illustration) behind your dagger foot and finish the strike while pressing towards your opponent's sword, which is still held by your dagger.

That is a LOT of detailed information in one illustration, and we found it quite interesting to work with.  Here's a link to the video of Mariel Di' Aria and Doña Rowan working through the motions.   The video is embedded below. The last few seconds focus solely on the footwork.

We discovered that what we loved about these illustrations was their clarity.  They're like a code, see?  We found three key things that led us to the beginnings of understanding here.

1) These are from the point of view of you the fencer.  FPS for the sixteenth century.  You're looking at your opponent's eyes and heart, but those are your swords and your feet.  The other guy's weapons do not appear in the illustration.

2) There are two planes here, smooshed together.  The vertical plane, which we see best when we look at the eyes and heart of our opponent, is divided into one-foot increments by the horizontal lines and is bisected vertically by the center line.  The horizontal plane is defined by the illustrations of our feet (we're the attackers here) and is likewise divided by the horizontal lines into increments of about one foot and similarly bisected.

3) The numbers happen in sequence.  1 for feet is 1 for blade, 2 for feet is 2 for blade and so on.  These numbers also appear to basically define tempi, but we've only just begun to look hard at this and there are a LOT of things that are still unclear.

There's text accompanying each illustration (which is how we got as far as we did) but the best thing for us was the working of these movements out with sword and dagger against a similarly armed opponent.  I refer you again to the video.

We love:
--the clarity of the illustration (once the code was cracked)
--the perspective of the illustration.  These movements are marked from the perspective of the wielder as opposed to Tallhofer or Fabris, where the plates are from the side and illustrate before and after positions.  Peloquin's perspective helps us to see what we're supposed to do and those lines describing the movement of the blade (or, in other pictures yet to come, the hilt b'god!) are like the missing piece for many of us.

We wish:
--the accompanying text were a bit more broken open and a bit more detailed.  We learned a lot by doing the movements we thought the picture said to do rather than just what the text said.  I want to read the original French.  I bet there's some missed nuance.

This plate was really fun to decipher.  We can't wait to do more!

 Two last things:  The actual text is ok to pass around as long as you keep the copyright info attached to the text.  My illustration is part of the larger text under the link above and also here, which contains said copyright info.
Rowan and Mariel were super helpful (Ivan was hep' ful) and I appreciate their willingness to have their moving images displayed for all y'all.

Thanks!  More to come soon.

L'honneur avant la victoire.

Capitain Jean De Montagne

(Jonathan Doughty)