A calling ...

"We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims."

"Make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone."

- Buckminster Fuller

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Man Card Validated

My family has been an educational casualty lately. If I had thought about how ambitious it was to enter a 1-year Master's program, I never would have tried. The level of commitment required to work full time while producing Master's level work is beyond normal, it is insane. Naturally, I have not been as available to my family, including my 13 year old son, who really needs a dad, as I would have liked. I've been the absent father and missing husband. Thus, I entered the break with equally ambitions plans to set up a computer for Joe, which involved building a desk, and building a shed. With the end in sight, looks like I get to keep my Man Card.

Instead of buying a desk at Staples, which would have been my preference, I built a custom 37x24 desk for Joe's room using 3/4 birch plywood and soft maple 1x2s that I purchased at the Home Depot. Karen felt that Joe might lose his temper and smash his fist on a glass surface. Nothing is ever easy.

The simple project involved four full days of joinery and finishing. It helped, ultimately, that the associate ripped my plywood to 24", which left one half of the sheet 23-5/8" due to the thickness of the saw kerf. Since the top is slightly wider than the sides, there is a nice offset on the back. I used the 1x2s to cover the edges of the plywood. These were biscuit joined, glued, clamped, then belt-sanded flush with the plywood. Sanded to 220 grit between coats of clear polyurethane finish, Joe's desk is as smooth as a baby's butt.

While I had hoped that Joe would participate in building his desk, Halo proved to be more compelling. Joe helped apply glue to the joints, but he disliked getting glue on his hands. He flitted away back to Halo at the critical moment, just as I was getting ready to assemble and clamp the unit. I hollered. He returned.

Setting up Joe's computer hasn't been simple either. When my computer crashed, Mike, my brother rebuilt it from scratch, including a new motherboard. He retrieved the data from my backup drive, and reinstalled XP Pro. I left the computer sitting for months, with a new 1 terabyte backup drive waiting to be installed. My hope was that Joe would take more of an interest in the project, but reality is no competition for virtual reality.

Since I want to network Joe's computer with my Windows 7 and Karen's Vista computers, I came to the unfortunate conclusion that Joe's computer needs Windows 7. Now, I need to use Windows Transfer to pull my files off the boot drive, install Windows 7, and use Windows Transfer to pull the files back. What a pain.

Since my old friend Ricky had built a wood foundation for the shed, at least assembling the shed has gone smoothly, but it still has become a 3 day project. I never knew that installing a shed required so many screws. Ricky called it an erector set. I had to call in Ricky after I came to the part of the instructions where it said, "Do not proceed further unless you have a full day and two people." When I asked if Joe might commit to helping me, obviously he said, "no," which I fully expected. I called Ricky, who only charges me the friend rate of $100 per day. Yesterday, we assembled the floor, walls, and roof trusses, and fastened the building down before quitting for the day.

Ricky and I discussed installing shelves today, so last night I went to Home Depot to buy materials. I found the perfect material for the shelving, 23/32 Arauco Plywood (Radiata Pine) at $25.97 per sheet. The face is sanded to 220, the core is voidless, and it has exterior glue. I asked if I could get somebody to help me rip it, and an associate tried to help. Thankfully, the manager of the department rescued the associate, who wasn't experienced working a cutting station. My shelves were ripped to 15-1/2", which will make the installation go smoothly.

When Ricky gets here, he doesn't realize it yet, but Karen is going to have him install a new 3-pronged outlet. I was going to "temporarily" use an adapter and pull the bookcase out a few inches. Karen insisted it be done right. Thank goodness, Ricky will be here.

With my domestic duties checked off, it will be a full go on the Master's program. On Tuesday, I will begin supporting a caseload of 14 3rd grade children. My plans are nowhere near ready. I have read their IEP's, but have not summarized their needs. I know we will be working on multiplication and division, but I have not revisited the 3rd grade SOLs. I know that I want to help them construct understandings of how to group and organize numbers, and I know that I want to use lots of manipulatives. I don't have enough time to do it perfectly. At least I got my Man Card validated!

Tonight, after working on the shed all day, we'll drive to Mom and Dad's for our traditional New Year's Eve dinner. Dad starts chemo on Tuesday. Thankfully, last week, Dad opened up a Home Equity Line of Credit to help me get past my impending cash flow crisis. Family to the rescue! Relationships are like equity. Properly nurtured, they can be drawn upon during a time of need.

Happy Birthday to Mabel, who is 4 years old today. When I was working toward getting my Teacher's License, I kept an image of a dog in my head as my reward for getting my first teaching position. We picked Mabel up from a breeder in West Virginia during Spring Break, 2008. She rode home on my lap. Karen calls me Mabel's Foop (Favorite Person).

At least, during the week, Joe thought about getting Mabel a present - that's progress. Joe was perfectly ready to forget about following through on his commitment when it came time to get up off his butt, but on Thursday I shamed him into driving with me to Dogma in Arlington. We bought Mabel a gingerbread man toy. Mabel will have fun unwrapping it. On Christmas, Mabel used her claws to rip the wrapping paper off her present. Joe needs to wrap Mabel's present.

Karen put away Joe's controller to ensure that he gets certain things done. Hurray, we're both on the same page. Having a Man Card has its privileges. Windows 7, $199. Seeing Joe's jaw drop when he sees his controller missing, priceless.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Stepping up to the Plate by Joseph Kurland, age 13

            I shared Joe's narrative because he wrote it without parental help. Well, actually I did intervene last week. Joe tried, originally, to write about video games. My reaction was, "No, Joe, that's Kindergarten Level writing. Not acceptable." When challenged, Joe admitted that he had been looking for the easy way out. 

           This morning, I learned about Joe's feelings for the saxophone. The benefits of playing: it looks good for college admissions. The problems: it hurts his lip to play, and the case is heavy. Yikes! The kid needs to hear some great saxophone playing, live. I told him that looking good for college admissions is not a particularly compelling reason to play an instrument. Over the holidays, I will look for opportunities to take Joe to see some live music.

           How many teens have been conditioned to set their sights low, just like Joe? As a parent, and a teacher, I do my best to emphasize raised expectations in a culture where mediocrity has become the expectation. If, as a parent, I hadn't stepped in, he would have written blithely about his first Gameboy! Arghh!
           “Boom”! The ball flew into centerfield like a lightning bolt. The cracking of my bat really started the season off with a very unusual, although amazing start. When the ball landed, no one was there to catch it because they thought I couldn’t hit a ball that far or even at all. My team and coaches stared at me in awe like I was a ghost as I trotted to first base.

“Wow”, I thought to myself as I tapped first base with my foot. There once was a time where that would seldom ever happen in a season. Last season I only had three or four hits. This was the first game of the season and I had already gotten a hit. How was I able to get a hit?

I can still remember those seasons a couple years ago where I was a beginner at the game and struggled to get a hit. My parents signed me up for lessons at the Virginia Baseball Club and I also practiced hitting with my wiffleball bat in the backyard. The vibration on my hands every time I made contact with the ball annoyed and pained me at the same time. Sometimes I went to the batting cages, but I still felt vibration and struggled to get hits. I mindlessly blamed my bat for my errors when I was frustrated and enraged after getting out. When I look back at that now, I see why I was so mad. I was missing the point. These lessons weren’t enough. I needed more of a challenge.

I went into this spring expectedly at the bottom of the batting order still using my tiny Majors bat. Our team did spectacular in the outfield. I was on an outfielder’s seven game catching spree and at the same time I was on a seven game hitless spree. I was usually glad going into the outfield knowing anything that came to me was catchable. When we were on offense I was terrified of being embarrassed every time I went up to bat. It was either strike three or a small tap.

As that season wrapped up, I still kept up with my VBC classes and I routinely went to the batting cages. The VBC instructors slow-pitched the ball to me and I would always hit it. Cracking that bat every time delighted me, but it didn’t help me improve on my hitting. I took a long break over the summer on traveling to the batting cages and taking VBC lessons. That didn’t mean I took a break from hitting altogether.

I got private practicing on an unoccupied field over the summer under the blazing ninety-five degree sun. I was given a very heavy bat that was high-school level and practiced swinging it. I could barely even lift the bat and I was hitting with it. The first couple practices, I wasn’t doing very well and I was failing to hit the ball. All of a sudden something inside me sparked. Something that could have only came out by pushing my limits on the field. I was actually doing it. Hits started raining that field like hail. I had become a hitter.

For the next season, I bought a thirty-one inch bat that was heavier and more effective due to a larger barrel on the end of the bat. I was assigned to my first game since the spring without practice with a team. I was immediately put into the cages with my new bat. My old teammates from past seasons told the coaches I couldn’t hit. Once I stepped into the cages their predictions were incorrect. I was hitting baseballs like I never could before. Once I got out of the cages everyone congratulated me on my hitting and wanted to see some of it in the game. I was in the bottom of the batting order thus I couldn’t hit in the first inning. Once it was my turn I confidently marched up to home plate. The pitcher threw the ball in a perfect zone where I could hit the ball without trouble. I just swung and I heard something like a loud ding and looked up. It was the baseball and it was headed for an open area in centerfield. I barely even walked to first base because I didn’t need to worry about anyone throwing the ball last second. Everyone on both teams stared in awe. The coaches, players, and parents looked at me like I was a ghost. The rest of the season was just hit after hit. I never struck out. I didn’t even have an at bat without my bat touching the baseball. I grew, improved, and had a very fun time just teeing off that season. Right now I’m working towards getting hits in a tough spring ahead of me. Besides, I learned that I can do anything if I work hard enough and want it enough.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Colon cancer, a laughing matter

About now, mom and dad are preparing for a drive to the outskirts of Baltimore, armed with a diagnosis. Since around Thanksgiving, a debate has raged about whether dad has lung cancer, or whether, as the chemical markers indicate, the peach sized lump in his lungs is actually colon cancer. Nobody could believe what they were seeing. Why hadn't the cancer spread to other organs? Why did the colon itself seem cancer free? While the debate raged on, the rapidly growing tumor with a sense of humor did not care whether or not colon cancer is supposed to develop only in the lungs. The deviant cells simply decided that normal rules did not apply to them. Now that the deviant cells have been exposed for what they truly are, not lung cancer cells, but colon cancer that has spread to the lungs, thanks to the same oncologist who cured dad's colon cancer before, dad might cheat death a second time. In a race against time, mom and dad have managed to secure an accurate diagnosis, and find one of the few doctors in the world who knows how to attack a rare form of cancer with a cyber knife that can cut in a minimally invasive manner in a place next to the heart where one slip would mean instant death. In an odd sort of way, dad is lucky that his cancer is so interesting, because if it were not so different, nobody would want to experiment on it.

As I was leaving their house last night, having dropped by after class, I told them about how Norman Cousins had cured an incurable form of cancer by laughing continuously for several days. Now, I don't remember whether it was Norman Cousins, but I do remember the treatment worked with somebody. Dad, who has seemed unflappable throughout this process, laughed as he was reminded of Father Morlione, who was the go between between Kruschev and Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Cousins had written a book about Father Morlione. A few years before Father Morlione died, Morlione was making regular pilgrimages to our house, engaging in serious discussions about Social and Economic Justice with Dad and Father Ferree into the wee hours of the night, chewing on Cuban cigars, staining his shirts brown from the tobacco juice, loving Mom's cooking, savoring our wine, and joking about how he convinced Niki how serious Kennedy was. Morlione had been working for Vatican Intelligence at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and Cousins wrote about it. Now, on the hour long drive to Baltimore, mom and dad will have something to laugh about. Father Morlione was a funny guy. He loved his cigars.

Mom pulled out My Cousin Vinny and for the first time in days, she managed to crack a smile. "We need to watch it tonight," she declared.

Happy Anniversary Karen. Sorry I didn't pick up a card.

Now, to the Final Demo, where I have fewer than 5 hours to cheat professional death, and live to fight another day. Why the hell am I writing on my blog? ADD sucks!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

General Custard

I was giving a spelling test to Chris, a brilliant 3rd grader who reminds me a little of Sam Kineson, when Synthia walked past, along with her PHTA, America, and brightened my day. Seeing little Synthia making her rounds on her "walker" this morning, getting her Orthopedic workout, brightened a bleak, rainy morning where I was feeling a little sorry for myself. Synthia is a beautiful child who is non-verbal, and uses a wheel chair. She loves music, especially Jason Mraz, as I learned yesterday, while substituting in her Special Education  class. She "sings" along with her favorite songs, and despite the choppy Internet connection, I found myself dancing yesterday.

Today, I started my day by driving to the wrong site because I didn't check my list carefully, and had to rush over to the correct site. My GPS was playing tricks on me. My body was aching from a lack of sleep, but watching my little hero doing her thing was like flicking on a light switch from the inside. I forgot about the image of General Custard that has clouded my mood and the rainy weather, and found that happy, resourceful state when I am at my best as a teacher.

By the way, happy Pearl Harbor Day. I don't think I'll call mom tonight.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

King Boo

            As an 8th grade student at George Lucas Middle School, Boo nearly made the Honor Roll during the first quarter, since he earned A’s and B’s in English, Honors World History, Honors Science, Spanish II, and Advanced Band. Despite earning a 599 on an 8th grade SOL in Math during 7th grade, however, Boo received a C- in Algebra during the first quarter of 8th grade. According to Boo, he avoided offers of after school help from his teacher, because the teacher is “scary.”
According to those who know him best, Boo has always been an unusual child. He has flashed giftedness, but there have always been signs of persistent social and functional delays. His parents and teachers have long suspected that he is a child with ADHD-Inattentive Type, but never took action because his inattentiveness never seemed to harm his academic performance. An only child, Boo’s parents were unsure of how he compared with other children, and were never overly concerned about him because he consistently performed above average on normed assessments and was always a strong performer on criterion-based tests.
After learning that Boo, a small, shy 7th grader, had been bullied while riding the bus during his entire 7th grade year, and that he had never told anyone, Boo’s parents “came to the realization” that he needed extra support in developing social and functional skills. They hired a professional Life Coach who had come highly recommended by a family member. Rather than taking Halo away, the unsuccessful method the father had been using, Rachel is teaching Boo to self-mange using a behavior contract, with Halo as the reward.
Boo’s assessment data has been consistently inconsistent. According to his Stanford assessment, taken at age 6years, 1 month, Boo was in the 99th percentile on Word Reading (40/40), but his Listening was at the 52nd percentile, noticeably lower in Comprehension, Recreational, Interpretive, and Functional listening domains. His Number Sense and Numeration was high average (12/12), with Geometric and Spatial sense at the low end of average (3/11). Boo’s parents were not overly concerned about the 47 point discrepancy between the highest and lowest areas from his first Stanford test. Boo’s 2nd grade NNAT, at 7years, 7 months, revealed similar discrepancies (105 Comprehensive). He was in the high average range in Pattern Completion and Spatial Visualization and the very low range in Reasoning by Analogy. Believing that Boo was obviously Gifted and Talented, Boo’s 5th grade teacher had Boo take the NNAT. Once again, he was deemed ineligible for the GT program. His Composite score of 111 was unremarkable, but nobody bothered to take a closer look at the discrepancies in the data.
Boo scored 600’s on his 3rd grade Math and History SOL’s, with unremarkable Reading scores. In 7th grade, Boo earned 599 on the 8th grade Math assessment, but experienced wide discrepancies in performance displayed throughout the year.
Having learned to read at age 3, Boo has always been an unusually fluent reader. His spelling has always been excellent, and he has displayed a consistent ability to recall details. He has flashed an ability to make broad connections and rapidly identify verbal and visual patterns. He has strong mental math skills, with an ability to quickly solve complex problems in his head.
Boo first displayed a talent for performing when he grabbed the microphone during a preschool play. In 2009-2010, Boo was voted Class Clown and Most Energetic by his peers. He possesses nearly perfect musical pitch and timing, with a higher than average memory for songs. While Boo avoids practicing his saxaphone, he still manages to win band seating challenges. Boo earned a Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do, progressing through his belts slower than many of his peers, but eventually “getting it.” He earned a Presidential Reward during PE in 5th grade. Boo joined his first baseball team at age 12. Within 3 seasons, after numerous hitting clinics and trips to the batting cage, Boo went from the bottom to the top of the batting order. During this past season, Boo had zero strikeouts, getting on base more than 70% of the time.
The leader of his church’s Youth Group has invited him back to work with some of younger children, because young children like Boo. Although his 4th grade teacher warned his parents that Boo should never have a dog, because “he lacks empathy,” Boo is scheduled to volunteer at a local animal shelter.
Boo’s reading comprehension scores have been consistently unremarkable. Despite learning to read at age 3, Boo has rarely ever read just for fun. Boo’s parents and various teachers have long suspected that Boo is a person with ADHD-Inattentive Type, but since Boo has always performed better than average academically, he has never been formally diagnosed. Boo has never called a friend on the telephone. On the other hand, Boo has always gotten along well with others in familiar settings such as Tae Kwon Do or on sports teams. He enjoys playing with cousins or when invited to play with peers. He has expressed a desire to do volunteer work with the elderly and read to small children, but Boo is a person with a gaming addiction. According to his parents, Halo seems to have crowded out his needs for anything else in his life.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Cat out of the bag

Today, loved ones will learn the identity of an important person who has recently received an expiration date. Since some of us, myself included, have already secretly told our children the sad news, the announcement will likely come as no surprise, but there will not be a dry eye in the house. Like an Alfred Hitchcock movie, we will all be familiar with the agent of death, lung cancer, but the exact time will remain somewhat of a mystery, so the rules of drama will still apply. With a feast carefully displayed on a long formal dining room table, spilling onto a sidetable and into the living room, with the kitchen table filled with hors d'vours and an array of beverages, with football games blaring on the widescreen television in the family room, and rooms spilling over with wacky children who continue to play the same game of hide-n-seek, despite the somber mood and tears, the home will be filled with laughter, full bellies, and only a little bitterness.

Wisdom from a long and productive life in the service of core values will be imparted to the children, as always. Some like Joe, who is 13, might pause to consider how much time we waste playing Halo, or otherwise engage in non-productive activities. Perhaps the drama from this Thanksgiving will help Joe generate a larger vision of his life, which will help me as I work with Joe to draft a Transition Plan as a project for 545 this weekend. Those of us like me, at age 48, will reminded to be thankful for every opportunity we have been given, and will find the inspiration and energy needed to continue pursuing the impossible. As my dear friend the late Caroline Mano once reminded me in one of our secret final conversations, "you must have fire in your belly," for she understood better than most that a life of mediocrity would be soul crushing. Caroline, like Prometheus, wanted to give me the gift of being able to rekindle that fire whenever it wavered.

So I accept pain as a privilege of life, because without pain there would be no life, no growth, nothing of value. So I accept the possibility of failure, the reality of death, and become numb to pain since failure is not the worst thing in life, death cannot be avoided, and since pain is the spice that makes deep appreciation and belly laughter possible.  Zig Ziegler calls the alarm clock an "opportunity clock," and when I finally heard the 4th set of sequentially set alarms, I got excited about constructing my IEP for 539 and working on that Transition Plan for 545.

I often worry about the resilience of young people because of how we educate them about what it means to be successful. With bling and vanity so pervasive in the media, the wrong things are repeatedly glorified, so it is easy for children to be led astray and remain blind to the things in life that truly matter. A child's grade point average, the amount of money somebody has, that corner office, the toys people display as trophies, are all poor substitutes for happiness, but that is not the message we are teaching in our schools.

I remember how, as a child, seeing my father's father from across the room at my Aunt Sylvia's house, thinking to myself how much he looked like my dad. Nobody went to Ruben's funeral. "He was not a nice man,"Grandma Lena often told me when I visited her.  Ruben could not have died a happy man, despite career success.

When Socrates chose the hemlock over isolation, he taught his learned judges that death is not the worst thing in life. As Tony Robbins might ask, "how can I use this?" Time, when there is an expiration date, becomes invaluable.

As I was reminded at Future Quest last weekend, today, I will set measurable, specific goals related to my coursework in 539 and 545, in 15 minute increments, since these are the most urgent, and present existential dangers.

Around 2,500 years ago, Aristotle described happiness as a life lived to the fullest potential. Today, we will raise our glass to someone who has lived life to his fullest potential, someone who gets to say "good-bye" surrounded by loved ones, someone who has come to terms with his own mortality. All who are present will be left with an impression not of sickness, but of vitality.

Could there be a greater Hell than to have lived a life full of regrets? As all who will be present will be able to testify, today we will celebrate a man who has lived according to a moral compass of absolute values; under no circumstances did he ever comprise the absolutes; he need not fear the Hell of a lifetime full of regret. All present will be able to testify that this amazing person has earned the privilege of dying a happy man. That, to me, is what Heaven is all about.

Today, as the drama unfolds, I will silently recite the Lord's Prayer, having learned it from the late Michael Foley, who used to always say it quickly and quietly before every history class:

Our Father, who art in Heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name,
Thy Kingdom come, thy Will be done on Earth as it is on Heaven.

Give us this day, our daily bread,
And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,

And lead us not unto temptation,
For thine is the Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory forever.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Paradigm conflicts

Did you know that the Ptolemaic Map of the world was the accepted view in 1482, 1300 years after it was produced? Why are "accepted truths," which happen to be false, which hold back progress, so blindly accepted? Education is historically a source of ignorance. When truths are not adequately reflected upon, and process becomes the end, falsehoods are perpetuated.

A perfect example was the notion that segregation would last another 100 years, which was the view when my dad was in law school at the University of Chicago. After Law School, my dad came to Washington, became a lawyer at the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and began developing relationships with Civil Rights leaders. Dad was more interested in justice than practicing law. Once, dad tipped off Julian Bond that an important principle was being compromised by the US government, and Julian Bond organized a demonstration in front of Sargeant Shriver's office. Dad often traveled to Mississippi, where he developed relationships with groups such as the NAACP and SNCC, leaders who had "guts," knew how to organize, and were willing to risk their lives to shame the Nation about Jim Crow laws.

Interesting people were always staying in our home. I remember Eddie Brown, the brother of the Black Panther Rap Brown, who ultimately became a disappointment to my dad, because after the success of the one man one vote movement, he wouldn't buy in to the ideas of Kelso, because "they would never allow it." Dad never compromised on principle.

One of our family treasures is a letter from Medgar Evars, who was assassinated in Mississippi because he was the anti-Jim Crow, thanking mom and dad for their hospitality. My father's first hand account of the factors that led to the assassination of Medgar Evars is one of the best examples of investigative journalism that nobody has read.

In 1979, when I was a sophomore at Yorktown High School, I remember when a group of angry farmers drove their tractors to Washington to protest the loss of family-owed farms. Dad was in contact with Tommy Kersey, a Cajun from Louisiana.. Dad recommended that they surround the Federal Reserve Building. There was a blizzard that Februrary, and Tommy drove his tractor and plowed us out so that dad rode into DC with Tommy, and the farmers surrounded the Federal Reserve.

Dad has always seen things a little differently, and has always been a little ahead of his time.


My math case study is due tomorrow, which is worth 30% of my grade - that's what I should be writing, but I have something I need to get off my chest. Last weekend, while I was getting inducted into an honor society, all I could think about was the dire possibility of flunking grad school because of this math case study. Before and after the ceremony, my plan was to keep the whole matter about the honor society secret. My parents live at the bottom of the hill from the campus, however, so I decided to swing by and show them the special cord.

Earlier this week, I learned that somebody who I love very much who was diagnosed with Stage 3 lung cancer. When I heard the news, I was on I-95. I cried the entire commute, but gathered myself. I told Sandra about the news. We had been talking about cancer last week, and she shared with me how she once had to teach after learning her Instructional Assistant had just died. We laughed. Then, I sat in on an IEP Reevaluation meeting. Later, I was formally observed by my university professor.

It has been a rough week, there is a strong possibility for failure, but as Agent 86, Maxwell Smart used to say, "and loving it." Maybe I am the sort of person who is comfortable with things being out of control. What I can control is how I respond to living under "the sword of Damocles."

The tough thing is that I want to write a book about the person I love, while he is still alive. He has received a second death sentence (he cheated death the last time), but I can't. I need to write this case study.


Sunday, November 6, 2011

Paper folding model of multiplying fractions

Multiply a whole number by a fraction

My "Math Takeover" is in full swing. Of course, I forgot to bring the textbook home.

I read the SOL and the pacing guide, however, which clearly indicates a need to develop concept understanding through models, manipulatives, visual representations, and a linkage of these things to symbols.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Good Week, Bad Week

First of all, I'm going to blame it all on my ADD.

"Mabel, what are you doing? Stop scratching on my office divider. How nice of you to lick my toes."

I have no business writing now, because I am late on every assignment and legitimately fear that I'm about to fail out of grad school since I am late on every assignment, and since there is so little tolerance in teaching for late assignments, but I have to. How weird did it feel yesterday to be invited into an honor society yesterday because my GPA is in the stratosphere, when I was feeling the entire time I was writing the check that all the wheels were falling off the bus? Definitely, it feels like I'm losing it. Last night I used my Apnea Machine and got more than 4 hours of sleep for the first time all week, and slept through the greatest World Series of recent memory. Now I'm rested. Now I'm dangerous. (If you want to know why I love to read about sports, click on the link to Dave Sheinan's article in the Washington Post.)

Last weekend, I attended my 30th High School Reunion. I can blame that on my ADD too! Have you ever had that feeling of attraction that is so strong that you are attracted to it like a moth to a flame? That's ADD. I knew that the head of the Special Education Department of my university would be observing my lesson on character traits. I knew that I had two math lessons on ratios and lessons needed to be turned in two days ahead of schedule. I knew that John Beck would be starting his first game. But I still went! That's ADD.

Do you know how it feels to be recognized for a brilliant performance, and held up to an undergraduate class as an example of a "best practice lesson" and get stoned by your mentor on your mid-term evaluation because of a weakness with organization? That's ADD, and that's the story of my life.

Now, I'm going to shift topics.

I wanted to share with the audiance an email that I found in my box this morning, which contained the text of a handwritten letter that was written to President Obama this week. Given my 15+ years of working in an model employee-owned company, the letter offers a glimpse of why I never blindly follow anyone's lead ... if we all did that, nothing would ever change and we would all be led down the primrose path ... like lemings!

Now, before I get back to the hell that is my life right now, I will share with you the inspiring words of Barbara Olson. Be warned, it might make you cry!

2291 W. Horizon Ridge Pkwy, #1101
Henderson, NV 89052

Oct. 22, 2011

Dear Mr. President:

I want to write you, not about my situation, but about my “almost-situation.” Because, if my husband had not been attacked on the job and died as a result, I can’t imagine how in God’s name I could have lived this long or how I could sustain myself.

My husband, Leonard, had a world-class singing Bass voice that he once used to sing in his minister father’s Swedish Baptist church. With it, he won full vocal scholarships at one of the finest music schools in the Eastern United States. He was highly intelligent, brilliantly talented and fortune provided him with a fine, tall appearance. This would seem to have assured him a great musical career and a fine future.

But life is more complicated than that. As luck would have it, all these wonderful gifts and attributes were undermined by some — also very human — drawbacks.

Leonard was manic-depressive — not the worst form of this condition, but bad enough to, perhaps more subtly affect his life. When he turned 18, he was drafted and was a foot soldier, seeing combat in the European Theatre — in France and Germany — during the last six months of World War II. He returned, seemingly unharmed, but suffering from what was then known as “shell shock.” This condition is now called “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD); it is a life sentence.

There was yet another problem — completely hidden and stemming from, not only his good character and sensitivity, but also from his gentle father’s good character and Faith. Pastor Olson truly believed that it is easier for a “camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into Heaven.” He therefore accepted Pastoral duties in small, poor churches, rejecting all offers of bigger churches with higher pay. This meant his family, which included four children, living simply, with no frills.

Leonard, the oldest of four, absorbed this somewhat knee-jerk negative response to money — though not consciously. The result of all his problems resulted in a life of poverty. No great talent, no greatness of country could rescue him. He truly had three strikes against him. He was driving for a San Francisco limousine company when he was attacked on the street. His blood pressure then rose so high that he suffered a Hemorrhagic Stroke and died less than 24 hours later. He was 68 years old.

Needless to say, I was left with nothing but memories of a good man, a wonderful man — with, as his father would have put it, “feet of clay.”

I was in shock and recovering from major surgery. Our daughter had to take over the funeral arrangements. Len’s boss voluntarily made out an application for me for Worker’s Compensation. (I then discovered how vicious Insurance Companies can be — but that is another story. I won the case anyway.)

All of this took place some 17 years ago.

By being frugal and, with the help of a clever friend, I have been able to stretch the money, though it’s almost gone now. My primary income is Social Security. It is a very low income and, at 81 years of age, I am in the position of hoping to die before the money runs out and I cannot take care of myself.

Mr. President, mine is a “happy” ending compared to so many millions of others. And I must tell you that human labor — jobs — is not enough. In 1973, we discovered Louis Kelso — from an article about him in Time Magazine. His powerful ideas and unique changes in our economic system can make it possible for every man, woman and child to own wealth-producing capital. This is in addition to their jobs. Implementation requires changes in monetary (tax, banking, etc.) laws. But once in place, we would not need to rely on transfer-taxes-money to help people’s living expenses. People are poor only because they own little or no capital. This subtle but powerful concept can change our world — perhaps even end poverty, attacking it at its root cause rather than merely attempting to relieve its symptoms. I hope, Mr. President, that you find out more about this miraculous “Eureka” concept and how to use it in the support of liberty and justice for all. You can do so by contacting the Center for Economic and Social Justice (CESJ).  Their headquarters is in Arlington, VA — just a “stone’s throw” from the White House. Their number is (703) 243-5155. Speak to Dr. Norman Kurland, president. They are on the web at: www.cesj.org. It can not only save your presidency — one of the most important in our nation’s history — but it may save our country, and perhaps the world.

I thank you for your kind attention.


Barbara P. Olson
(702) 616-2685

Saturday, October 8, 2011

A few years ago, I did a career switcher program and got a license in PK-6 Elem Ed. My first teaching job was as a 3rd grade teacher in a Title 1 School. My second teaching job was as a 4th grade teacher in an even tougher Title I School in the heart of gangland. Lacking student teaching experience, I had no idea how difficult it would be to set up a class where extremely needy students, predominantly second language learners in reduced cost lunch programs, could successfully access the curriculum. I received support from a few wonderful people who recognized my ability to personally connect with students, and willingness to differentiate instruction, but the learning curve was incredibly steep. A few people along the way weren't particularly supportive. Some were downright hostile. The data collection process and discussions about the performance of every subgroup on every test frustrated me. I learned the hard way that teaching, in the era of accountability, is a profession with  little tolerance for a learning curve.

Last summer, I was getting ready to call it quits when I got a call and was asked whether I'd consider taking over a Kindergarten class in a Title I School. Heather had the baby just before the 1st day of school. I stumbled upon a team that respected my unique strengths, plus was willing to help me overcome my deficiencies. Stacy, the lead Kindergarten Teacher had 17 years experience and I could pop in for 5 minutes after school and be pointed in the right direction. From day 1, Stacy invited me to fully collaborate with both the Math and Reading Specialists. That was awesome! The parents surprised me with their level of appreciation and support for their children. Nadine, the Reading Specialist, strongly suggested that entering ***'s program would be a good career decision. Now I'm in the PDS Program and am working on a K-12 Special Education Endorsement. I'm doing my initial student teaching at *** ES in ***, which has a different kind of demographic than I'm used to working with. I have two mentor teachers, Sandra and Chris, who are job sharing. I'm working in the 6th grade resource room. We have all boys, and just received a girl who transferred from another school on Thursday.

Lucky for me, Karen, my beautiful wife, has accepted my decision to take some risks in order to do something important with my life.

Friday, September 9, 2011

No Need To Reinvent the Wheel


Not that the Library of Congress does not want to promote the people's online library, but most people honestly do not know about the treasure trove of knowledge that lies right at their fingertips. A revolution in the way people learn how to learn is possible, from "stand and deliver" to a "student centered" approach to inflaming young minds with a passion for learning essential skills and knowledge. Spread the word, your taxpayers and the blood of patriots paid for these online resources.

As a student of the latest approaches to Special Education, Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an approach that dovetails best with the style of learning that enabled me to overcome my own executive function challenges and succeed at Georgetown University and beyond. Universal Design for Learning is based on an architecture metaphor rooted in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) -- if we enable people with learning disabilities to more easily access the General Education curriculum, we facilitate access to all people in the process. Just as curb cuts make access to a building easier for everybody, making the people's primary sources more easily accessible to people with learning disabilities makes them more accessible to everybody.

Universal Design for Learning is technology-oriented, whereas there was no Internet when I was growing up. Similar to the many ways curators of the online Library of Congress have made primary sources universally accessible, I was taught how to hunt-down primary sources in DC to complete personally meaningful projects. In high school, I took a bus ride to the National Archives in Washington. Today, students can ride the Internet.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

New Lyrics

This song is for someone I care about who recently told me her sad story. While walking Mabel this morning, the lyrics kept evolving, so had to write them. Not like I have any time to strum my guitar or write poetry, but my ADD wouldn't let these lyrics die.

It wasn’t you

I was as blind as I could be.
It wasn’t you, it was me.
I had to find a girl more like me in the bars.

I was the guy who was corporate-clean.
My star was rising up AT&T.
Then I saw you in your blue jeans.

I had to know what I could buy you that night.
Your curls looked so heavenly in the moonlight.
I had to build you castles in the sand.

You were the cool girl I could never understand.
You were the darling of everyone in the band.
You stretched me like a rubber band until my heart snapped.

You never came. You never blamed. You never cried.
You just sat there stone faced when I dumped you.
Now I’m texting you again from the bar.

I’m going far. I’ll buy that car. Do you still miss me?
I’m on my way to that corner office.
In five years I’ll be worth my weight in gold.

Please never unfriend me on Facebook.
I wasn’t just some one night stand.
You were nothing I ever could have planned.

Follow me on Twitter. Please don’t be bitter.
Have a good life, but I'm moving on.
I have to find that girl who's more like me.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Summer's Close

Thanks to some really cool teacher friends, neighbors, and family memeors, I managed to survive the summer semester, where I was taking 6 courses, 5 of which were master's level. Without the support of several people who gave me access to their classes, met with me at Starbucks, and allowed me into their homes, I wouldn't have had anything to write about. In the process, I refined my view of early childhood education, a hot field that is increasingly being seen as an antecedent to special education, the field where I am specializing.

After the school year was over, I took a short beach vacation to Donna's beach house. Mabel, my beautiful pooch, was a great travel companion, but she was happy to get home to her familiar scents. Karen, Joe, and Donna stayed for the full two weeks, and Joe seemed to grow 2-3 inches while I was gone. I needed to rush home to work on the yard. The wild grape had taken over a corner of the yard, so that eyesore needed to be removed. My old friend Ricky and I tore down the old shed, and we weeded, trimmed, and gradually brought some order to the yard. Over the next few days, we'll put the finishing touches on our landscaping project.

Next week, I will begin student teaching about an hour away, and will be taking three classes. Life is about to get very painful, but as the Dean of the Education reminded me, I need to keep repeating to myself, "I'll have my Master's in a year, I'll have my Master's in a year." On the reading list is Harry Wong's The First Days of School.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Field Experience

Throughout my life, the most enduring lessons have tended to be the ones that have brought me the most pain. My frustration with Field Experience nearly brought me to tears several times this semester, but men do not cry. Throughout the process I had the nagging feeling I was being set up for failure. Having followed the example of William “the Conqueror,” having allowed zero room for retreat, I was feeling overwhelmed by the paperwork. Then, as if angels started opening doors for me, relationships I had long nurtured began bearing fruit. First, the secretary at the middle school where I had done a lot of subbing found me a student for my Curriculum Based Assessment project. Next, Mindy, the mother of one of my Kindergarten students, a Speech Pathologist, responded enthusiastically.  Then, Harriett, the teacher for whom I had launched a kindergarten class in September, invited me in. Eventually, my relatives, some dear old friends, and some neighbors helped me rally so that I could finish strong.
Universal Design for Learning provides an architectural metaphor for the barrier I faced in getting field experience: a lack of access. Despite long-standing personal connections, trying to get into schools in May and June this spring was like trying to make cold calls as a salesman. It felt like constant rejection. Carla, a secretary at a local Title I school, who had called on me in desperation early in late August to see if I might launch a Kindergarten class, had become a gatekeeper. My former colleague, the Reading Specialist who had recommended that I go to Marymount, became impossible to pin down. The lead Kindergarten teacher, who had gone out of her way to set me up for success, who had always been available for a few minutes, never checked her email. The special education teacher, who had sent out glowing emails around her school about me, never returned my emails. The long tenured principal at our neighborhood elementary school had retired. My son’s current principal, an amazing educator, never returned my email. Even my relative and her best friend could not give me a firm answer. I’m not sure what I would have done if the Jedi Academy Middle School, where I had often subbed, had not found me a student for my Curriculum Based Assessment (CBA) project.
With the end of school quickly approaching, with zero time to spare and with only the faintest idea of how to do a CBA, I launched myself into the classroom with the task of teaching scientific notation to a child with autism. Having taught math to 3rd graders and 4th graders in two Title I schools, having been formally trained in Math Investigations, I had strong convictions about why a 7th grader might struggle with scientific notation. First, I reviewed the SOL. Next, I pulled out my 3rd grade fraction unit, with which my Title I Math Specialist and another 3rd grade teacher had guided me. Then, I grabbed my tattered of Elementary School Mathematics. After reviewing Van de Walle’s strategies for connecting models to language and procedures to models, I scoured websites for the right assessment. Unable to find the right assessment for Luke’s instructional objective, I developed one for him. After compiling a set of core problems, many of which were extracted conceptually from IXL’s website, I incorporated base-10 and fraction representations in Luke’s interactive notebook pages using special math fonts. Lastly, I picked up a set of base-10 blocks from Lakeshore Learning and met Luke, a child with autism with a passion for Star Wars. A mutual passion for everything Star Wars provided an immediate bond. In building rapport, I shared with Luke how my son, also a 7th grader, had read every Star Wars book he could get his hands on. While producing the graphs for the CBA, I had an Aha moment! I finally understood the power of using data to drive instruction. A Jedi Master at Excel, I now saw how a tool that I had mastered long ago in practicing the dark arts of accounting could be used to actually help people rather than an annoyance. Data from the CBA allowed me to identify the wide discrepancy between Luke’s strengths and weaknesses. Based on the data, we could develop a plan to scaffold step-by step processes that he could use whenever solving math problems. In order to become a designer of computer games, Luke needs to master fractions and other problem solving skills.
Sparked by what Dr. M had taught us about the work of Jim Cummins, I was excited about my upcoming meeting with Mindy, a Speech Pathologist, at a local Child Find school. During morning meeting at a preschool Autism class, I witnessed a child who had entered her classroom during the spring with zero expressive vocabulary, in June, experiencing a language explosion. Mindy shared with me her notes which documented how she had worked with Barry hand-over-hand to get him to speak his first words, connecting words to physical objects and pictures. She explained how the child’s grandparents were supporting the child in every way imaginable. Meanwhile, the lead teacher was using a felt board with pictures of the children, plus representations of the home, bus, and school to welcome every child to school with a song. The Instructional Assistant was sitting with the neediest children. Mindy pulled me aside and shared with me the life of another little boy in the class who was not thriving. Likely the product of an incestuous relationship, she observed, his uncle looked and behaved, strikingly, more like a father than an uncle. Afterwards, Mindy took me to a 3-6 grade self-contained classroom that she supported, where the teacher had disappeared without a word just before the testing season. There, a child with burns over every inch of her body, moaned and groaned every time her teacher asked her to do any work. Mindy confided that this child’s difficult behavior had sent the teacher over the edge. I watched how, as the long-term sub delivered a scripted Read 180 lesson, a paraprofessional compassionately moved the moaning child to a seat away from the table, where she immediately calmed herself. Mindy found a moment to point out all the great things the long-term sub was doing, quietly moved next to a child, and helped him with his word sort. Later, Mindy invited me in to meet with the Child Find director. We had a brief conversation about Child Find’s role in early intervention in the Director’s office.
Before I left, Mindy shared an anecdote about a home visit she had recently conducted. The child’s father had called the Child Find number because, at 3 years old, his child was still not speaking. She had been knocking at the front door for a while and was preparing to leave, when a large man from Ghana finally came to the door. He had come to the door not wearing a shirt, looking completely disoriented. He had forgotten their appointment. In the living room, several men were sleeping on the floor. A small child was sitting alone in a dark corner with a pile of toys. The father worked all night. The mother worked all day. Having recently completed a Psychology Course at ...College, I was reminded of the importance of early exposure to a language rich environment.  I glanced over at Mindy and uttered, “Isn’t that neglect?” She nodded and shuddered. That night, after class, I visited Mindy’s blog, considered her wonderful record of everything her family does together, and reflected, “No wonder her son Allen is such a gifted writer!”
As a pen-pal, I had remained connected to Mindy’s son’s Kindergarten class after Allan’s teacher Harriett returned from maternity leave. I was committed to be there at the year-end Kindebration. In our emails, when I broached the subject of observations, Harriett told me just to show up any time during language arts, so I did. Carla, however, was far more formal about sending me back to the classrooms than I had expected. She turned me away. Even when I had a scheduled appointment the next time, I was made to sit out in the hall for over an hour before Rosanne, the Accountant, finally grabbed me and brought me back to the reading room, where I waited another hour for Noreen, the Reading Specialist. Noreen asked me, “Why didn’t you just come back?” She broke for lunch and returned an hour later, only to head off to a series of meetings about the summer school classes that she would be running. Afterwards, I emailed Harriett, who was surprised to hear about the problem and sent Cara a note that I would be coming at such and such time. Finally, a few days before the end of school, I managed to observe Harriett conduct a lesson. Harriet is one of the strongest teachers I have ever seen, and would have been a great person to shadow, since I had launched her classroom in September.
On the way back to Harriet’s classroom, I noticed something that disturbed me. Jeanie, the Counselor, waved me over to the teacher’s workroom excitingly. There, I greeted all of the class’s struggling learners “working” with Mr. T, an Instructional Assistant with a gift for making everybody comfortable. My little friends had been coloring a worksheet with little apparent instructional value. Donald, whom I had referred for language screening, who we could never leave out of our sight because he might bite, push, or otherwise bother the lovely Lori, a child who spoke three languages fluently, greeted me warily. Ricky, a twin, with street smarts, whose perfectionism hindered his acquisition of academic knowledge, but whose drawings reflected artistic talent, hugged me. Allah, whose drawings were mostly scribble scrabble, who rarely paid attention at the carpet, during math, reading, or writing, but who always seemed to find another gear at recess, high fived me.  Little Jimmy, who had suffered a broken arm just after he had his appendix removed, who for three weeks had been unable to run around during recess, and had missed out on gymnastics, who was constantly popping up during naptime with his little frog blanket, smiled up at me broadly. Narnia, who loved to recite Silly Sally, but who still could not write her name, gave me a big hug.
In the classroom, Harriett rewarded children during a quick game involving phonemic awareness as she released them from the carpet. It occurred to me that Mr. T’s group had been regularly removed from the class for the sake of the others. Mr. T’s group returned as snack time was starting. Lola, the Instructional Assistant, passed out Ant Journals as the children sat down for snack time. Harriett proudly pointed to her new Smart Doc camera, which she was using to project the Class’s ant farm. Then, as the students were snacking, she presented a science minilesson that connected what was occurring on the screen to the kinds of things they could be writing. She held up Allen’s journal, which had sentences and detailed drawings, as an exemplar. A few days later at the Kindebration, each child was given a role in the ceremony. Harriett handed me the clipboard, and like old times, I released the children to their parents.
I have been focusing on language acquisition this semester, both at __ and __ College. My burning question has been, what are some of the advantages of a child like Allen, who seems headed for the gifted program, that are missing in other children’s homes? To get some clues, I visited the home of a relative, whose 3rd grade daughter recently won a national science competition. I was there to do a language observation of O. O was 6 years, 6 months, and 20 days old when observed. The first setting was alone with the observer in a homework room. The other was in the kitchen – her sister was getting a cooking lesson from her dad, her mom was in the background, and I was talking with O and her dad. Highly imaginative, O referred lovingly to her stuffed animals, “Floppy, Fluffy, and Lucy,” to which she had referred in drawings, but could also describe real-world details about her ballet recital, vacations, plus experiences at school, playing the Wii gaming system, plus everything that was going on in the kitchen. While O overgeneralized irregular endings, e.g., “growed,” instead of grew, and  “shrinked”  instead of shrunk, and mixed tenses, e.g.,  “was” instead of “were,” she often self-corrected. O’s command of prosodic elements of stress, pitch, duration, and tone made O sound to me more like a little adult than a typical 6 year old. The following is a snippet from our conversation: “I love whisking the pancakes when he makes it–banana chocolate chip pancakes. Her father handed her a spice jar to read: “Smoked Spanish Paprika.” How does evaluating the difference between regular paprika and smoked Spanish paprika, or tasting what happens when a dash of imported sherry vinegar is added to melted cheese, affect the brain? O cooed, “Mmm, yummy!” I left wondering how the cooking lesson had changed her.
I caught up to my relative Deena in a coffee shop later that day, where I interviewed her about her experiences as an instructional assistant with 20 years of experience.  Deena uses computer labels to record how every child she works with during language arts does on a daily basis. Her notes become an integral part of her teacher’s notebook of anecdotal notes. Although now classified as a Special Education Instructional Assistant, she has been working with a K-1 team, where rising kindergarten students become 1st graders, and serve as mentors to incoming kindergarten students during the fall. After the interview, Deena shared with me what it was like to have a child who was twice exceptional, GT / LD. Deena went back and located her daughter’s Individualized Education Plan records for me, giving me a window into the entire history of how the eligibility process unfolded, and why the process had been so frustrating to her.
Sara’s best friend, Sara, responded to my distress signals by inviting me to hang out this summer at an institute for the fine arts. Like she does every summer, Sarah is teaching 7th through 12 graders how to do tessellations and cartooning. Through tessellations and cartooning, students learn to identify character traits and apply that knowledge to find unique characters. They practice sequential planning, develop fine motor skills, and synthesize elements of graphics and language to create original imaginative stories. Of particular interest to me was how Sarah adapted lessons for students with disabilities, because I want to make cartooning more accessible to every student in the classroom. While there, a cadre of top county officials paused outside of Sarah’s door, oohed and aahed at the displays of student work, and introduced themselves. I wondered how I could borrow some of what I learned about cartooning into my classroom.
Wally liked to pop into Sarah’s room, and I knew him as the Social Worker who had run the Child Study meetings when I was teaching 3rd grade. I interviewed Wally about his role in the eligibility process at a Title I School. After a child is referred to the local screening committee, he told me, the Social Worker and Psychologist look for things that either rule things in, or rule things out. In background research, as the Social Worker, Wally looks to see whether there was a “funky birth,” what is happening in the home life, whether there is an ill parent, whether the child is staying up too late at night, etc. Factors in the child’s environment that might be impacting the child’s learning might help rule out a learning disability as the reason why a student may be having difficulty accessing the curriculum. Is the child tired, sick, are there other cultural and linguistic factors, or is it a learning disability? My 3rd graders had rudely awakened me to the issue of the instructional match when I tried to use James and the Giant Peach as a read aloud and I saw them looking back at me with blank expressions.
A neighbor, whom I had helped move a bookcase on the day he had moved in, repaid the favor tenfold by allowing me to administer the KBEA-II Achievement test to his son. James Neutron, age 9.8 on the test date, who has been living abroad, most recently on a military base in Germany, has been home schooled by his mother, a former teacher. James’s composite score registered in the upper extreme on all test takers.
What began as an exercise in frustration became a series of burning questions. Why did Narnia’s mother not use the textured letters I made for her daughter so that Narnia could practice with her letters?  How could Luke struggle so much to keep track of procedural steps but remember every detail of every Star Wars episode? How did an ordinary cooking lesson, given to a sibling, affect a younger child’s language development? How were poverty and delays in language development related? These are questions that continue to burn in me. With no going back, the way forward challenged me to go out and explore in ways I would never have anticipated.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Sarah's Class

(All names have been fictionalized)
By Daniel Kurland
July 19, 2011

            Sarah has been teaching art in public schools for over 20 years, mostly in elementary school. This summer, at a Summer Fine Arts institute in a local high school, Sarah is teaching tessellation and cartooning to students aged 7-12. Through tessellations and cartooning, students learn to identify character traits and apply that knowledge to find unique characters. They practice sequential planning, develop fine motor skills, and synthesize elements of graphics and language to create original imaginative stories. Of particular interest to me was how Sarah adapted lessons for students with disabilities, because I want to make cartooning more accessible to every student in the classroom. I was looking for ways that classroom teachers might adapt some of Sarah’s cartooning ideas to provide students an alternative to traditional pen and paper response tools.
Sarah’s tessellation lessons start with the work of M.C. Escher. To build background knowledge, she exposes students to cartoonists such as Herblock, Charles Addams, and other cartoon masters that might inspire them, but she teaches pattern first. In both tessellation and cartooning, each character emerges from the same shapes, repeated across the page. To find the characters within the free form lines of the pattern, students tap into three things, knowledge of character, emotion, and story. According to Sarah, “find the eyeballs, find the character.” Characters are most differentiated by eyes and mouths, which are used to show emotion. In characters created by students with autism that Sarah showed me, the eyes tended to lack the differentiation and vitality of cartoon characters shown by typical students. Stories develop in sequence, often through subtle changes in expression. The tessellation format is ideal for helping students learn the process of making sequential or themed changes.
Sarah reflected, “The hardest thing for young children is to not to want to copy what they already know. They need to get past that.” Some students get stuck on an image, so Sarah is constantly looking for ways to move them along. In using cartoon cells, Steven, a child with Autism, was producing the same robots over and over. She noticed that the animation cel structure was confining Steven’s ability to create a longer sequence, so Steven was encouraged to work on a larger sheet of paper to create a series showing the evolution of the robot. Although emotion was lacking in the eyes, the child produced an image that eerily echoed a famous image Sarah had showed him that showed the evolution of people. Sarah explained, consistent, focused attention is necessary in order to attend to subtle details about the eyes and mouths and demonstrate changes in character. One strategy Sarah uses to accommodate people that miss the emotion or gesture is to teach them to draw the reaction, since people often rely on pre-planned responses.
Another way cartooning and tessellation helps is in story development. Cartoon bubbles enable students to create dialogue. Even the cartoon method of making strong exclamations is highlighted: *%#!! Cartoon bubbles help children identify the most salient details of speech, which makes it a great way to teach summarizing skills. According to Sarah, children with learning disabilities often have problems getting pictures into words, and cartoon bubbles help learners visualize conversations and story development.
All students in Sarah’s class are exposed to strategies of professional cartoonists, which Sarah has adapted to simplify the process even for younger children. Rather than a full page 11x17 or larger strategy used by traditional cartoonists, Sarah teaches students to work within a cel structure, with pre-cut cells numbered on the back as an accommodation. That encourages students to draw bigger, and keeps them organized. Drawings must touch all four sides of the cell, which helps bring lines out and improves line quality. Students are taught cross-hatching, stippling, and negative space to develop the illusion of texture. Mark, a student with blindness, who had a full-time interpreter, explored the concept of developing texture in his tessellation. At one teachable moment, Sarah took a moment to explain the importance of copyright protection: “The Internet has blown the lid off the issue. I have had students have a strip in circulation before they were 18.” Ernie, Sarah’s intern, told a story about how a band had stolen his image, which raised student eyebrows.
If a teacher went through the process of cartooning, children could be given an entire process for expressing ideas in different ways – which is consistent with Universal Design for Learning Principles we have been learning. “They have to understand what is going on in the cel emotionally,” Sarah explains.
Generously, Ernie, a recent graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, and a talented cartoonist in his own right, suggested some ideas I might use to start a cartoon center:
1.      Provide preset panels (Page layouts: 3 panel, 4 panel, and Sunday).
2.      Provide materials including light box, cartooning pens, prisma colors, t-square, good erasers, and light pencils.
3.      Draft, edit, and publish procedures:
a.       Write out a script in a sketch pad (draft)
b.      Setup 1st panel (drawing out panel, starting with light pencil drawing, to be later lined over with ink
c.       Change facial expressions (eyes, eyebrows, mouths) over following panels.
d.      Add close-ups, talk bubbles, and other tricks of the trade.
4.      Response activities: Read, and respond with a cartoon summary. Show examples:
a.       Kafka’s Metamorphosis in cartoon (10 pages)
b.      Pride and Prejudice
c.       Fahrenheit 451
5.      Scan cels into computer and incorporate into multi-media presentations.
Through the repetition of cels, and through subtle changes, students learn advanced characterization strategies. Cartooning and tessellating offers unique response options. Judging from student performance, proudly displayed on walls outside the walls, which a group of high powered local administrators stopped to notice, these strategies are clearly working

A new haiku

Whole cities have burned
In flames like these, breaths searing
Dust silenced, blown cold

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

I Love Lucy Chocolate Factory

To develop prescriptions for how set up a classroom that accommodates children with ADHD, I was thinking of ways to incorporate asynchronous, differentiated response opportunities, into a project based, student-centered classroom model. In reality, classrooms are too often stuck in the outdated factory model, which spawned hilarious classics such as Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times and the following memorable scene from I Love Lucy:

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Insanity

I thought I'd take a break from my Web Surfing for ED503 to announce my new Wiki tool and catch my readers up on my journey in education.


The concept of making collaborative tools more available in the classroom is in total alignment with Universal Design for Learning Principles, which is a wondeful philosophy that is emerging in the field of education. Just as curb cuts, which were intended to make buildings more accessible for people with disabilities, also make buildings more accessible for typical people, the same principle applies to education. If education is made more accessible to people with learning disabilities, it becomes more accessible for all. Adaptive technology is a driving force behind UDL. Today, when I zoomed through a book on adaptive technology, I felt better about life, because technology is an area where I am comfortable.

Here's what I love about wikispaces. A teacher can set up a free Wiki at www.wikispaces.com, which allows a teacher to set up a safe and private site for collaborative group projects -- the teacher can set up permissions for 100 users, (I think that's right), even in a free site! The sample project, which remains under construction, is being assembled for a class in Collaboration and Adaptive Technology. Let me know if you want to "join" the class and do something creative and post to a project. Also, feel free to take the poll.


While my paperwork for my Field Work has been somewhat of a disaster -- I neglected to have any of paperwork signed for any of my Field Work -- the curriculum based assessment project that I worked on with a 7th grade student with autism was amazing! While I didn't get the paperwork signed for my field observation of a brilliant Speech Pathologist, I got to see how her targeted hand-over-hand interventions have led to a non-verbal child with autism experiencing a "language explosion;" plus I heard and saw some horror stories of children who lack sufficient experience expectant stimulation to develop speech normally ... I wanted to cry. On the flip side, I did a Child Language Observation with my cousin's brilliant 6 year old daughter ... a 6 year old's Mean Language Unit (words per sentence) should be 6, but her verbal skills are well above what is normal). The opportunity to develop language normally is far from equal, because some families share rich language experiences in the kitchen while others sleep on language development. Poverty sucks! Another cool thing that I've done recently was to administer a practice KBEA-II standardized Achievement Test with a 4th grade student who has been home schooled -- my young friend has far better listening / short-term memory skills than me -- he was testing consistently above an 8th grade level in all areas.

My presentation on ADHD was well received by my Foundations of Special Education Teacher, despite the fact that embedded videos and sound are not portable in PowerPoint. Guess what, based on what I learned about the diagnostic criteria, I might be ADD! Shocker! The paperwork may be my downfall. If I crash and burn, at least it's been fun,