Tuesday, July 5, 2016

What's next?

Endy's trapeeze.  Because Youngest is a physical-primary kiddo and she can't reach Sophie's trapeeze.  And because my Dad level is high enough not to put two trapeezes on the same treebranch.  Heh.
Sophie's Treehouse
Barn Door
Front Screen
Front Gutter
Insulation out back
Window glass
Make all the things in the shop

Why does summer feel hard sometimes?

Monday, June 27, 2016


Sophie and I have a rare evening together at home tonight.  Her younger sister is in Portland with my folks and her mom is up in Norridgewock with HER mom helping with the knee surgery recovery.  Man it is good that summer vacation is a thing.  We'd never get it all done otherwise.

It occurred to me earlier this month that when I add it up I get about one fifth of the year to do work I choose.  20% (about 10 weeks).  What a gift.  That's commensurate with the time Baxter gives its students for their Flex Friday work (20% of the school year, so still less of a year than my summer, but 20% of school time!) and Flex Friday was, to my mind and in my limited experience, one of the best ways to maintain engagement and drive authentic student learning I've yet seen.

It is not a coincidence that Google, 3M and other tech innovators gave their employees that same 20%.  Those companies are all now looking hard at that practice and it's structure--as are we.  Baxter is taking a thorough look at Flex Friday with an eye towards what students have demonstrated that they need.

The real reason I feel so grateful for my summer is the same reason Sophie's kindergarten teacher loves summer so much.  Not for the break (she and I both worked hard this year, and we also both loved our kids) but for the unstructured time of growth.  Learning doesn't stop with school. I cannot know where the seeds I've done my best to plant will sprout, nor what strange and wondrous blooms will result from the unpredictable and fertile environment of the adolescent mind.  But grow they will, regardless of my intention and inevitably affected by my work.

Let them.  I've already got some plans for next fall.  And the girls and I need to go build a treehouse.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

It is SO good.

A lot to do this spring.  This post is mostly education.  More about fencing soon!

April break ends tomorrow and I can't wait!  I mean, I want more sunshine and spring time and raking the leaves time and mowing time and playing with the girls time.  But I get that.  It comes in longer afternoons and weekends and, soon enough, a summer break.

Tomorrow we get to roll out our final project for Modeling--our combined Math and Science class for 9th grade--and it's a doozy.  We ask each kid to fill out a detailed evaluation of all the standards they've had a chance to meet this year (and they have surely not all met all standards!).  That work, done well, will take our kids all of the first day back.  Then we ask them to create a project that will last them for the next seven weeks.  A self-designed experiment that will meet at least two of the standards--one math and one science--that remain to them.   Here are the standards with which we're working:

There are levels here too.  I'm in the process of making three off-the-shelf versions that need little or no revision for the members of our gang for whom executive function is still difficult.  A middle-of-the-road version with lots of leeway for alteration so that those of our students hungry for a particular kind of math or science can create a meaningful end to their 9th grade experience and pick up a standard or two as well.  And a highest-level version; still room for configuration to individual desires but with a focus on the Above Target work that some of our kids have been asking for.  A chance to put their studies where their mouths are.

This means, of course, that I'll have four vastly different content areas to support.  Even if a third of our kids take the off-the-shelf option there are still sixty students designing their own programs for the next seven weeks!  They will all need feedback, in detail, about both process AND content.  I'll need to schedule at least two mini-lessons on content focus areas each week for the rest of the year.  I'll need to communicate with the math and science teaching team--and the rest of the 9th grade team--a great deal to keep everything moving smoothly.  To keep it moving forward at all!

Lately I've been thinking of this job, and of teaching, as magecraft.  Not the deific gifts of a Gandalf or the carefully studied but almost quotidian work of a Potter or a Granger, but the true art and balance.  Like Ged, from Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea.  Worthy of all my focus and all my considerable talent--which will never be enough to do all the great work there is to do.

This is a vast and a difficult task but there is no part of this coming work that I dread; no part that empties my soul.  I am filled with this, called to it, drawn deeply into its mystery and complexity.

I should go on vacation more often.

Sunday, February 14, 2016


We write narrative grade reports halfway through each semester.  They are attached to progress reports which are sent out by advisers to advisees and their families.

With one for each student, the number of individual comments for any given teacher can get big.  Mine, for this trimester, is something like 85 and I'm not alone.  If each narrative takes no more than five minutes to write (mine feel like they take three to five, but I have not yet taken data) that's still  seven hours of work outside the classroom.  Add half an hour for formatting into delivery systems and I'm looking at an extra day of work.

We all do this.  Everyone brings work home with them.  Teachers more than most (no matter how hard we struggle to avoid this).  But I've worked in places where narratives are not required and I'd never go back.

Narratives, done well, tell parents what parents say they want to know about their kids:  How is he doing in class?  Is she happy?  Are they getting along?  Do they need anything?  Is what we started trying last month working now?

Narratives do this better than grades ever could.  The individual attention, connection and clarity that a paragraph about your student can contain--especially when supported by a set of clearly reasoned and recorded measurements according to explicitly laid out standards--leaves more traditional systems in the shade.  The best narratives I've read are *informed* by grades (my teaching partner is regularly the one to nudge me back to the grade sheet as a basis for commentary) but they function as a direct link to what the kid is thinking, doing and learning in a class.  They're a method for guardians to access the experience and intuition of a teacher as well as the direct measurement data that a grade report shares.

Parents ask me how their kid is doing in class all the time.  Narratives make me take that question seriously and answer it honestly.  And when I do my best work, the kid has written their own version of the narrative, which I include as a basis for comment as well.

Narrative take *hours* more work than a simple average or percentage.  They are worth every second.