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

Monday, December 31, 2012

What is family?

Just before winter break, I did something highly predictable, according Made To Stick: I heaped generosity on a single flesh and blood child, rather than donating to some charitable abstraction. As Chris's impending move to Guatemala over the Christmas Holidays approached, as a challenge to a 3rd grader who hates to write, who avoids writing by wandering the room and generating little disturbances, I offered to give Chris a camera if he promised to send pictures and become M-19's pen pal, if he promised to share his story of meeting his grandparents in Guatemala for the first time, if he promised to send lots of pictures. I originally intended to give him an old digital camera, which I never use, but as the day of transition approached, I had forgotten that I had left my old camera hanging on the work station divider I use to hide my desk in my basement. Having made a promise to a 3rd grader on the cusp of a major life change, I did the only thing I could: I wrapped my newer digital camera and told him to not tell anybody about our secret, and had him promise not to open his present until he got home and his mother was present.

When I teach "the writing cycle," my primary goal is to teach young writers, "you are the author." To those who are able to understand, I tell them, "if you aren't the author of your own life, someone else will write your story for you, and you might not like the ending." For me, teaching writing is all about empowerment. Even if putting words on paper are difficult for Chris, at least he has the option of taking photographs. I wanted to challenge Chris to figure out how to download the pictures, how to find our school, and how to contact M-19, because I believed if he had a strong enough reason to write, and that's what he wanted to do, he would find a way. We will see.

Teachers often require students to write about subjects for which they have zero background knowledge or interest. For students with executive function challenges, the lack of interest or background knowledge discourages engagement in a task that requires high levels of focus. Is it any wonder why so many students with Learning Disabilities despise writing? One symptom of avoidance I often notice is a focus on surface level characteristics such as spelling or handwriting, to the exclusion of a focus on more important things such as ideas and feelings.

My first writing lesson was how to generate an interests list. The following day, I asked students to use their interests list to pick a single topic, and then hung up large Post-It chart paper around the room so that students could collaborate in generating ABC lists, to help students develop a list of subtopics for a few popular topics. There was a buzz as students collaborated, helping each other out in fleshing out ABC subtopics.

Food and family were not the most popular topics, but as a master writer, my intent was to guide students to stick to things they care about and know about intimately, so one day I asked students to write about a family tradition. One 6th grade boy described with great pride how he was finally allowed in the kitchen to help prepare chicken for the Thanksgiving feast. As he was planning, I asked him to draw a birds-eye map of his kitchen, had him picture who was there and what each person was doing and saying. As the break approached, I challenged students to pay close attention to family traditions surrounding the holidays. To prepare a model, hoping to find creative ways to engage students in the writing process, I made it a point to pay close attention to family over the holidays.

Tonight, Joe, Mabel, Karen, and I went to an annual New Year's Day Eve feast at my parent's home in Arlington. With my new toy, a Samsung Galaxy Rush, I began photographing the food preparations, for their cultural significance.

In Japanese culture, visual presentation of food is critical. My mom never serves a feast on paper plates or uses plastic utensils. Typically, I gorge myself on appetizers, but tonight I used my new Perfect Portions scale and was entering calories on my food log, which slowed me down, and forced me to be mindful of what I was eating. Joe was persuaded to taste the brie on a cracker with fig relish!

Mom broiled the lambchops to marinaded crispness, leaving the insides moist, meaty, and red. Even Joe ate one! Joe polished off much of the asparagus. Afterwards, Joe kept asking for slices of lemons and limes, so we had him cut up his own. He needed to be shown how, but he was receptive.

I fed Mabel wild rice and lamb scraps under the table.

Mom has always used food to attract and hold family together. Karen and I have been going to Arlington every New Year's Eve since even before we were married over 17 years ago. Seeking cultural artifacts, and armed with my new toy, looking for a story to tell, I focused on some of the artifacts.

The dollhead survived the Internment Camps, including Tanforan Race Tracks, Topaz, and Tule Lake. Somehow, my grandmother preserved it through postwar Japan, and the move back to the United States. The photo was from Tule Lake, after my grandfather was reunited with his family.

Mom showed Joe the Fortune magazine that I found one day in somebody's trash as a wandering teen. After Joe looked at the Fortune magazine, Dawn's husband Rowland was reading it intently, eyebrows raised, marveling about how incredibly preserved it was.

Later, dad shared old photos. That's him, 3rd from the right, back when he was in Officer's training. Last year at this time, he had recently been given a year to live, but thanks to my mom's intimate knowledge of the medical field, thanks to some great detective work by his medical team, and a highly skilled surgeon, today dad is cancer free, still fighting the good fight for Social and Economic Justice.As we were preparing to leave, dad pulled out his ancient 1950's movie projector, and was pulling out movies had taken at Nakashima. The smell of burnt dust from the projector was overwhelming, my lungs were burning, plus Karen, Joe, and Mabel were ready to go.

On New Year's Day, we will be at my brother's house, as we always have done. There will be over 40 people there. My uncle Isamu's family will be there, along with 3 generations, and my newly married youngest cousin Scott. I have Thank You Notes and some Christmas Cards that I never sent out to send, plus I have lesson plans to write, and a job interview for which I need to prepare, but family comes first.

Tonight, I decided to follow Dr. V.F. Ramachandran, the noted neurosurgeon, on Twitter. I know it was Dr. Ramachandran because of the location, La Jolla. He recently discovered Twitter and was trying "to figure it out." One of his Tweets mentioned that the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs hit Bombay. As my first ever Tweet, I Tweeted him a question, why the curiosity about the extinction of dinosaurs?

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Octane XR6000 Elliptical Trainer

What I like about Octane's XR6000 Elliptical trainer is the lateral movement, which differentiates it from a standard elliptical trainer, which only goes in a straight line. It makes sense to vary the kinds of movements done throughout the week so as to "even out the wear" on the machine. Back when G. Gordon Liddy was on 106.7 WJFK, Liddy reminisced about the source of his knee problems: he had been running around a track, always going in the same direction, while in jail. Another reason I like the lateral movements is to avoid boredom! The XR6000 is always a great workout!

Too bad, the data displayed on the screen doesn't automatically upload to myfitnesspall.com. I emailed this feedback to the company, and the service representative said that the data issue is being discussed. Oddly, none of the cardio machines at Audrey Moore Rec Center transmit workout data to Fitlinxx. Sounds like an opportunity to me, now that Smartphones are so ubiquitous.

After Christmas dinner, my niece, who manages a veterinary clinic in Burke, and I were talking about her efforts to persuade "Doc" to shrink their Yellow Pages advertisement and use the savings to get their business listed on the shopping center sign. The reference to the Yellow Pages led me to reflect: the Yellow Pages are going the way of the dinosaur. I then used the "Local" Google app on my new smartphone, and found their business listed with reviews, the latest of which was several months old, and there were a few other reviews that were over 2 years old, including some that were negative. To make a point, I then reviewed their business, a business that I love because they take such great care of Mabel!

The Smartphone is a highly disruptive technology. I smell opportunity.

Who knew that a "starvation" sized dinner was 580 calories!

Daniel Kurland

7:58 PM  -  Public
For my first trial on my brand new Perfect Portions Food Scale, I entered food code 0170 (ground beef, 90% lean, loaf, baked) for meatloaf. Apparently, while preparing a meal, a chef could get more precise data, but for my purposes, the display provided enough information to get me to pause before going back for seconds. I initially felt that I had been extremely conservative with my portion, so it came as quite a shock to see a readout indicating 460 calories! Another shock came when I saw the readout on my boiled squash: 120 calories!

A sticky idea, but why isn't it sticking?

I often get emails like this from my dad. Having worked for over 16 years for my dad's first client as Norman Kurland & Associates, Allied Plywood Corporation, even I get a little skeptical when I see articles extolling the virtues of Employee Ownership. The shares of stock I earned over these years dropped in value from over $100,000 just before I left the company, to less than half, still a substantial sum that I wouldn't have had had I not been a participant in an ESOP.

As I listen to the Made to Stick audiobook while pumping iron or working a cardio machine, ideas about how to make my lesson plans more memorable percolate, and my mind often wanders to daydreaming about how I might help promote a great idea that for some odd reason just isn't resonating in the minds of everyday Joe's and Jane's, who struggle with the same problems as I do with how to pay the mortgage -- forget about retirement!

One of the C's in the Heath brothers' SUCCESS acronym template for purposefully designing sticky ideas is "Concreteness." The Heath brothers cite a number of examples in CD 4 where a communicator developed an idea that stuck and went viral using concrete examples. In my case, for my lesson planning purpose, I thought about creating M-19 Molly and M-19 Mike as fictional characters who might personify how we are learning instructional objectives in room M-19. In the case of The Industrial Homestead Act, perhaps we might create a parable of The Just Third Way using a fictional Lincoln, to personify someone within a true "Ownership Culture," or Wage Serf Wally, who is treated like a number by his employer, like the rest of us.

My sister Dawn has raised a great question, despite a working model that seems to prove the point, why isn't anyone paying attention?

You'll appreciate Dawn's point after you read this story.

Own or Be Owned,

-------- Original Message --------
Subject:No Wonder the JTW is Being Ignored by the Establishment
Date:Fri, 28 Dec 2012 19:18:14 -0500
From:Dawn Brohawn 
Reply-To:Capital Ownership Group: Louis Kelso's Binary Economics Discussion Group

Rowland located a great article on Lincoln Electric on the Motley Fool website (www.fool.com). The author expresses his bafflement that this remarkable ownership culture has been virtually ignored by the media and academia. Here's a little excerpt:
The Cleveland-based manufacturer of welding technologies and No. 1 in the world since the 1930s, announced the 2012 bonus for its roughly 3,000 American employees.
Read the following five lines slowly.
The bonus has been paid for 79 uninterrupted years in a row.
This year, Lincoln Electric shared $99.3 million of pre-tax profits with employees.
The average 2012 bonus was $33,915 per worker.
The average employee earned $82,300 (including the bonus).
No one was laid off in 2012.
Do you find that impressive? How about this?
In 2011, the picture was essentially the same. Ditto for 2010, 2009, 2008... 1997... 1979... 1956... 1948...
The article concludes:
Corporate America is suffering from a near-criminal lack of imagination.
Lincoln Electric presents convincing and reassuring evidence that it is possible to run a very profitable, very large multinational business in North America by respecting your customers, employees, investors, and society at large. All of them.
It need not be a zero-sum game, the delusion embraced by too many of the nation's business leaders, especially in recent years.

They owe it to America to do better.
If this successful model of ownership sharing and justice-based management can be overlooked by the gurus of business, economics and the media, it's little wonder that our ownership paradigm and systemic reforms are being met with such deafening silence.
In 2013 let's all make a joyful noise for the Just Third Way and Capital Homesteading for every citizen -- and drown out all the naysayers!
Best wishes to all for the New Year,
Dawn Brohawn
Director of Communications
Center for Economic and Social Justice
P.O. Box 40711, Washington, DC 20016
(Tel) 703-243-5155 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting            703-243-5155      end_of_the_skype_highlighting, (Fax) 703-243-5935
(Direct E-mail) dbrohawn@cesj.org
(Web) www.cesj.org

Highway Robbery

"We have one very powerful business rule.  It is concentrated in one word: courtesy"

These are the words displayed in front of the counter at Wells Cargo Bank, where I have been sitting for the past 15 minutes,  waiting for a manager to help close out my Essential Checking Account.  Today,  I actually sat down at my desk and begn going through a pile of mail that includes statements,  a ticket for expired tags,  and who knows what. I'd rather have been working out on Cybex machines at the Audrey More Rec Centre,  listening to Made To Stick, CD 5, but I knew I had unresolved business in my disorganized pile,  along with thank you notes and a few remaining xmas cards that I never sent after Karen asked me to verify the addresses. 30 minutes.  When I want to file away my statement, I happened to notice that the non-interest bearing account I haven't touched in 2  or more years had fallen below $500. Looking closer,  I noticed that the bank had started charging me $7 monthly fees. 40 minutes.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Jan Morrill's Doll in the Red Kimono

Finally, I have started to read Doll in the Red Kimono by Jan Morrill. Already, I have found a connection. My mom was interned at Tule Lake too, just like Jan's mom. Jan's novel is available on Kindle as an eBook, and contains links to her blog posts, including the mini masterpiece included here: http://janmorrill.wordpress.com/2010/02/24/rohwer-whispers/.

That  Doll in the Red Kimono is set in the South or at least begins there is also a connection, considering my love of southern literature, from Mark Twain, to William Faulkner, Cormac McCarthy, Eudora Welty, etc. I grew up in the South, albeit Northern Virginia. Part of coming to age was coming to grips with the vestiges of the Civil War, the unspoken attitudes, the subsurface racial consciousness, to which I was blissfully unaware as a child.

Earlier this week, after repairing shutters at my parents home, after mentioning to my mom all the books about brain science and motivational psychology that I have been "reading" audio books while working out at the gym, Mom reminded me that I should also be reading literature, to which I replied, "I don't have time for literature."

Jan has managed to "hook me," so I definitely will read on, because I want to know how the story ends. Already, I know I have discovered a master story teller, based on Jan's description of how it felt to drive down a country road in the deep South, with a gas tank nearly on empty, which captured a feeling to which anyone can connect. Considering my challenge of finding ways to hook students who hate to write, I can learn a few things about the writing process from how Jan has constructed her story, which perhaps I can share with a room full of reluctant writers.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Magic of Words

Words contain powerful magic. They have the power to shake empires from their foundations, sending towers tumbling into rubble, nations descending into anarchy, and the afflicted into a black hole of a personal hell; or, they can lift downtrodden spirits to the heavens on wings of angels.

The words "I believe" contain powerful magic. Simply repeating "I believe, I believe, I believe," and continually reinforcing that belief with action strategically aligned with that belief, can generate enough momentum to shift the course of the outcome of a sporting event on a single play, lift a nation out of a Depression, or change the destiny of child who has been told since his earliest days in school that he is incapable of learning or is unworthy of enriched learning experiences.

Regardless of religious affiliation, the "power of prayer" has been associated with miraculous outcomes for as long as people can remember, which is long as stories have been passed down around bonfires to rapt audiences, connected by a continuous conversation, heartbeats synchronized by focused attention. At the gym and while walking Mabel, I have recently been spiritually healing my soul to The Power of Intention by Dr. Wayne Dyer. Obviously, Dr. Dyer was an inspiration for Rhonda Byrne's The Secret, which expresses a similar philosophy, language, tone and tenor to The Strangest Secret by Earl Nightingale, Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, The Psychology of Winning, by Dr. Dennis Waitley, and Live Your Dreams, by Les Brown, some of my all-time favorites. Dr. Dyer's voice and Michigan style of speech reminds me of my dear family friend, the late Carolyn Mano, another product of Michigan, who worked some of her Jedi Mind Tricks on me 10 years ago when I seriously doubted I could continue pursuing a teaching career, which I feared was leading me on a path towards financial ruin and conflict with authority figures who expressed philosophies and behaviors more from a business mindset which I had walked away from, than from my developing vision of what a quality education should look and feel like.

The first "intention" expressed by Dr. Dyer was simply, "I want to feel good." He connected that intention linguistically to "I want to feel God," which carried with it a host of other powerful associations. So, I adopted that first intention, "I want to feel good." I texted a message to Yasmine, why became my study partner in Dr. Ball's class on Diagnostic and Corrective Teaching: "Something good is about to happen."

Just before the end of the first quarter, and immediately before grades were due, a young lady of about 30, Tara, told the other Special Education Teacher in her self-contained classroom, Jane, "I'm having some problems with my Baby Daddy and am going to need a few days off." She never came back. I happened to accept a half day a few weeks ago for a young 3rd grade teacher who exuded kindness in every word and gesture with her students. While preparing for the hand-off, like others, Ms. Park was wondering why I am still "just a sub," then suggested that I express my interest in the position to Anne, the Assistant Principal.

On Tuesday, I began working in the classroom that Tara used to share with Jane. Tara's children, categorized as Category B, had been doing worksheets for a few weeks, under the bored eyes of substitute teachers who had zero idea how to teach the neediest learners. After the first day in which I continued with the emergency sub plans which had continued for a few weeks, and saw the utter lack of value in the activities, I wrote concept building lesson plans for "regrouping", using the OPERA planning format that Dr. Melideo taught me at Marymount University, based on Universal Design for Learning (UDL), drew from my experiences working under the kind, but frustrated guidance of Kim Witteck, currently a Gifted and Talented Resource Teacher, who worked with me during my painful first year of teaching, as the Title I Math Coach, Responsive Classroom guru, and Mentor, borrowed from Raif Esquith's Teach Like Your Hair Is on Fire, and its recommendation of Marcy Cook's Math Tiles, applied the knowledge that I absorbed in a summer dissecting John A. Van De Walle's Elementary School Mathematics: Teaching Math Developmentally, worked the process described in Rick Smith's Conscious Classroom Management to teach two procedures per day, suggested by a classroom management coach, when I was struggling, and left Friday at 7 pm after "rebooting" the resource room.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Stupid me

I cannot thank my friend Ricky enough. Ricky is one of my oldest friends from high school, someone I trust with the key to my house, and would personally recommend to anyone who needs an honest contractor. He renovated my parents basement in Arlington, (with a ceiling height of less than 7' in some places,) and changed a dark space with painted cinder block walls, exposed vents, and old pine paneling into beautiful office space. With space at such a premium, Ricky framed the basement for drywall in a way that minimized the loss of ceiling height to an absolute minimum, finding clever ways to transition around the many oddball shapes. Perhaps more importantly, he often stayed for lunch, and put up with my mom's many special requests. Last week, I called to tell him about a horrible investment I was about to make, and Ricky was kind enough to suggest that I "nip it in the bud."

On Thursday evening, I was playing around trying to understand how my computer network works, and clicked on a link that brought me to an offer from Network Solutions to get a domain name for $0.99, so I got one. On Friday, while I was subbing, I got a call from a salesman with an offer to build a website for me, that included a payment gateway and email. Considering that I didn't have a business plan since, as I told the salesman, I was only in the dream stage and did not have a business, I should have been firmer with my no, but the salesman answered my objection saying that I could cancel the website at any time, risk free within the first 30 days, with the exception of the Facebook profile they would create for me. Network Solutions was so sure that they could generate actionable leads, they were willing to accept the risks, so I decided to go forward even without a business plan, thinking I would figure it out as I would go.

Rick suggested I would probably be better off with a few local customers, because students who needed the special help would need me to be physically present, at least part of the time. While I can use Skype and Skrbl and messaging programs, there is no substitute for actually being there.

I thought about Ricky's recommendation, and agreed to "nip it in the bud."

Friday, November 16, 2012

Moment of truth: When the Baby Reads!

My friend Mandee is a military mom and Speech Pathologist who lived in the DC area long enough for me to work with one of her sons. Mandee was kind enough to let me observe her on her job working her magic when I was working on my Master's Degree. Mandee does a blog to allow her family to keep up with them as they travel around the world as a military family. In the video Mandee shared above, her youngest son Linc is now reading.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Why an educated citizenry is so essential: Petitions to secede are filed for 23 states since election - Washington Times

Petitions to secede are filed for 23 states since election - Washington Times

The divisions between blue states and red states parallel the divisions in our classrooms between haves and have-nots. In the United States of America, education is compulsory. Reading is a national priority. Yet, despite vast sums of money, too often Johnny cannot read, and worse, Johnny does not want to read. But that is only part of the story.

Gunning cited Stanovich in identifying a root cause of reading difficulties, "the Matthew Effect," i.e., "the rich get richer and the poor get poorer," an allusion to Matthew 25:29. Gunning concluded that children who read well and have bigger vocabularies will read more, learn more, and read better. (Gunning, p. 543, 2010). In order to "read to learn," the major shift in reading instruction that occurs around 4th grade, students are expected to have already "learned to read." The national "achievement gap" is, in many ways, a by-product of students being herded into making the shift from learning how to read to reading to learn before they are ready. Like me, my son Joe learned how to read at age 3. Unlike me, Joe "hates to read,"

Last Sunday, my son Joseph, who is taking a 9th grade honors Biology class came to me after dinner and asked, "What is APA format?" At around 2 am, I finished helping him cite three journal articles and two web publications regarding his research question for his project for his school's science fair to be held this February. The research question he chose is similar to the one raised in the film Super Size Me. Joe was required to summarize journal articles and web publications to evaluate their relevance to his research question, which involves the relationship between the availability of sweetened drinks in school lunches and vending machines to childhood obesity. We have always pushed Joe when it comes to education, not to the extreme of the Tiger Mom I described in an earlier post, but enough to the point that he "hates to read." Joe never reads for pleasure, although I noticed him reading his Halo 4 instruction manual the other day, because he "needed" the information. Without parental intervention, Joe could easily spend 15 hours per day gaming. Without Joe's mom checking his school website for homework assignments, without her making him clean his binder every night, Joe would be totally lost, instead of earning straight A's.

Having worked with self-contained 10th, 11th, and 12th grade students in an English class during my internship last Spring, many of whom were reading at 4th, 5th, and 6th grade reading levels, and seen how lost they were as a group when it came to turning in their research papers and doing their citations, it became evident that the Nation has made little progress since Nation at Risk. The scary thing is many of these same students who I was teaching a unit on The Great Gatsby will be eligible to vote in a few years, eligible to vote on Constitutional Amendments, such as the one on Virginia's ballot regarding the restrictions on the governments ability to invoke "eminent domain." One of the students, Johnny, an 11th grader who had been assessed at a 4th grade reading level, with coaching, was able to read Tim O'Brien's novel about Viet Nam, and enjoyed working with me, having come to the realization that he was required to register for the draft.

The other day, I stupidly accepted a two day job with a Kindergarten class for 3 hours each day in the middle of the day, which made it impossible to work elsewhere that day. Another thing that made the job terrible was the way that the teacher was in the building, often in the room, and never bothered to ask my name, and all I did was observe. It was weird.

I accepted the job because it was an arts and science magnet school. The population was mostly children of hispanic descent of low socio-economic status, side-by with students of high socio-economic status. In those 6 hours over two days, these students were engaged by a master story teller, who comes once per year for her grandson, and by a dance teacher who taught the concept of vertical lines through dance. My notes are very extensive. Judging by what I saw in the student's writing journals on the second day, the story-telling "stuck." Having observed 5 and 6 year old children held to a high standard by the dance teacher as they acted out "vertical lines" with their bodies in various ways over a 45 minute period, I am quite certain that, despite a language barrier, every one of those children, who were engaged in a multi-sensory learning experience, came away with a "connected" understanding of the world vertical.

Lacking answers, despite universal access to education, after a divisive election, over 72,000 citizens in Texas have made the radical request for permission to secede from the United States. The constitutional question being raised, without being raised by name, is the "social contract," and the very basis for government. The purpose of government, the basis for a government, and the purpose of education are not the kind of questions routinely being raised in schools, because these are open ended questions, whereas all questions in standardized tests are of closed construction. Reality is not of closed construction. A high percentage of students nationwide are exiting schools unprepared to handle open-ended questions. Ironically, the fate of our nation rests on the ability of an educated citizenry to make informed choices every 4 years, and continue a tradition of peaceful transitions of power.


Gunning, T. (2010). Assessing and Correcting Reading and Writing Difficulties, 14th Ed. New York: Allyn & Bacon

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Conspiracy Theory

I sure miss Jack Bauer. That was some great conspiracy theory television. In order to share a calendar from Outlook to Hotmail or Google, there seems to be a requirement that it be made public or searchable. Welcome to the brave new world of the ubiquitous network.

Truly, I am not so concerned that "Big Brother" might want to have an interest in my schedule ... nothing to hide here, although it is not much of a stretch that some spook could turn on my laptop's camera if he were really clever and had nefarious purposes. What's the worst that could happen? Hmm, maybe I shouldn't go there.

What brought Jack Bauer to mind was the odd thing about how my Hotmail Calendar now works beautifully today, while my Google Calendar and Gog Tasks mysteriously became disabled inside Outlook, after I blogged about it and commented on a message board. While I was able to turn the Gog Task Add-in back on, so that my Outlook Tasks sync, whereas Hotmail, for some dumb reason hasn't stolen Remember the Milk's idea the way Google did, my Outlook seems to suddenly be missing some key components. Shocker, I have no way of syncing my schedule for the week that I inputted into Outlook to Google Calendar.

Considering the Calendar may be the "killer app," maybe my Jack Bauer connection isn't so far fetched ...

A few weeks ago, I was subbing in a 6th grade class and had to lead a discussion on the first chapter of A Wrinkle in Time. To avoid embarrassment, I read the forward, the back cover, and the chapter during independent reading periods and while students were at specials. It was fun using the character from Family Guy to clear up a misconception about the odd five year old who sounded nothing like a five year old.

A few days later, I dug up an old copy which I had never read and polished it off in a sitting. In this classic, the villain is a character called IT, which is a huge brain that controls an entire world. On some level, in describing IT, the author anticipated the shift to the cloud away from the desktop, and some of the more frightening aspects associated with the increasing intrusion of technology increasing into everyday life.

Technological Aggravation

I woke up falsely believing I had the answer to why my stupid handheld Windows Mobile 6.5 Pocket PC, (a basically obsolete piece of garbage, but my basically obsolete piece of garbage,) worked perfectly for handwriting recognition (amazing), was working great as a media player, and was storing all of my contacts, but was not syncing my calendar. Sure, I could retrieve my calendar on my obsolete piece of garbage using Google Calendar, but doing so would require an Internet connection. I wanted to be able to sync my Outlook calendar via Active Sync as seamlessly as Google handled the issue. I had read on one of the techie forums that Outlook 2010 "likes" digital certificates and installing a certificate solved a similar problem, so this morning I went to work getting a digital certificate (highly sensitive file containing personal information -- not something that you want bad guys to get ahold of), believing that installing the certificate (digitial ID) would enable my handheld to retrieve my calendar from Outlook. Seemed like a reasonable assumption! In the process, I learned how to get a free digital certificate and figured out how to import it on my handheld.

Unfortunately, the changes I made made my Outlook unresponsive and only resolved that issue several hours later.

I tried killing the partnership between my laptop and handheld and setting up a new partnership ... several times.

I give up.

I was hoping to avoid getting a new smart phone. All I really want is my stupid calendar. I was hoping I might ask for a new grill instead, so that I can cook that stupid piece of frozen salmon that has been sitting in the freezer for weeks. The lack of money breeds insanity. Maybe Freud was right, that the weak minded devolve into cavemen as cash dwindles to zero. If I don't respond to the train heading my way, maybe I will devolve into protoplasm ... Ha! (It's okay, I'm sitting at a desk, not standing on train tracks.)

Yesterday, I was handwriting notes in cursive from Brain Bugs, a really well-written book on neuroscience, lovingly using my obsolete piece of garbage. The handwriting recognition of my cursive was heavenly. The notes from my handheld even transferred directly into Outlook upon syncing. Ahh!

That little bit of success suckered me into believing that it was worth the trouble figuring out why something as simple as syncing my calendar was causing me so many bloody problems. There had to be an easy solution, I figured. Somehow, the memory of working on old cars while in high school just popped into my head -- I was never much of a mechanic. I am also reminded of how I felt like I was getting a bargain at the Asian Supermercado up the street recently by showing up at 6:55 pm and getting a real bargain on sushi and quesadillas -- half price! I left with a s-eating grin, falsely believing I had gotten over them. After I reached my truck and greedily digging in, I was reminded in the most unpleasant way that you get what you pay for. One of the problems predicted in my reading last night was that, since I know based on past experience that there must be a solution, I might not properly assess risks vs. rewards ... that's an ADD / OCD thing. Fell for it, hook, line, and sinker!

The obvious solution is just to print the agenda each week. I knew that, but was overconfident about my abilities to resolve an issue best left to the technological elite.

As I pump iron tonight at the gym, I will be listening to my angriest head-banging music. Nothing subtle, real caveman stuff!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Outlook, Google Calendar, and Hotmail

As somebody who struggles with organization, long ago, when I was in the logistics business, I learned to depend upon Outlook as a "cognitive prosthesis." Since events flashed when I needed them, I was able to avoid forgetting to place orders, call back customers, etc. My customers were blissfully unaware of any organization problems I suffered from, because I never missed a beat. When I started in teaching, I had not used a handwritten calendar in years and rediscovered that my brain got overloaded by visual clutter, particularly when my entire focus was on the students and delivering lessons, and especially when at my most sleep deprived, or after an Apnea episode. I missed a few important meetings. My need for organization as a teacher is what has driven my obsession to have my calendar and tasks at my fingertips, and having purchased an inexpensive second-hand Windows Mobile  personal data assistant, I thought all my organizational issues were solved. Outlook synched with Windows Mobile, but then it didn't.

After one of my numerous computer crashes over the years, I discovered that I could sync Outlook with Google Calendar, but my major problem Google Calendar was that I was unable to sync my Outlook Tasks. Another thing that happened when my computer crashed was that my little handheld pocket computer no longer synched, which meant I could not charge the battery. When I purchased my laptop before attending grad school last year, I waited a day too long and let my full version of Outlook expire, and purchased a Student Edition, hoping to save a few dollars. Hated it! Then, I had the hardest time figuring out how to upgrade ... eventually, I gave up, and settled for what I considered a disappointing Google Calendar.  After the crash, my Windows Mobile phone no longer synched. As grad school was coming to a chose, I discovered a College Edition of Office, and had my beloved Outlook again. Unfortunately, when I tried to sync my Windows Mobile Device, I was forced to upgrade the phone's operating system, and in the process lost all of my contacts. Horrors! After blood curdling scream, I got over it. Then, I figured out how to upgrade the operating system on my handheld device. Happy days again ... until they weren't!

Recently, I upgraded to Windows 8, because it will enable me to automatically back up my laptop to my son's Terrabyte drive, which I can't do now, but I will be able to do after I upgrade his computer to Windows 8 later today ($40). After I upgraded my laptop to Windows 8, I started getting "conflicts," which prevented the calendar on my handheld from syncing with Outlook. That's when I started getting serious again about figuring a more permanent solution to my problem of making my Outlook data more portable, in order to keep all my critical scheduling information at my fingertips, minimize cognitive overload, so that I can remain focused on the needs of my students.

Since my Windows handheld was no longer syncing with my PC's Outlook calendar, since my wife Karen has told me that she wants to buy me a new Samsung Galaxy III for Christmas, and since I had stupidly picked up a two day sub job that involved only 3 hours each day -- in the middle of the day -- I had a nice block of hours that I could devote to fixing my "cognitive prosthesis". First, I tried to figure out how to sync Outlook with Hotmail's calendar. In the process, I learned how to publish an Outlook 2010 calendar to the web and how to enable a web service to "subscribe" to a published calendar. When I subscribed in Hotmail, my events were listed as "busy" instead of showing any detail, and my event notes were not displayed. Useless!

Then, I tried Google Calendar's subscription service. My events synced perfectly, including all of my notes, such as driving directions to various schools. Ironically, Google Calendar handles Outlook data to perfection while Hotmail doesn't ... unless one wants to pay a $99 per year subscription fee to Microsoft.

Next, I searched for a way to sync my Outlook Tasks to Google Calendar. In the process, I discovered that GogTasks (free 30 day trial, $9 one  time fee) used the identical strategy of translating Tasks to Lists used by the Remember the Milk ($25 annual subscription). Although GogTasks process wasn't particularly intuitive, after fiddling with it for a few hours, I learned how to click on an icon in the bottom right corner of the to-do-list to display all of my "lists," which synced from Outlook, instead of merely the "default list." Problem solved!

Hoping that my Windows Mobile handheld computer might sync again, I turned off the partnership between my laptop and my handheld and reestablished the partnership. As a result, all of the contacts on the handheld vanished. Then, I learned how to export my Outlook Contacts to Hotmail and GMail via a csv file (comma separated value). After some tweaking, I was able to get my contacts to display on my handheld computer again, but I still was unable to display my information from Outlook on my handheld, except through Google Calendar. Google Calendar displayed my Outlook 2010 published calendar, notes and all. Google Tasks, however, did not include the notes from Office on the Mobile device, although the notes did show up on the laptop, just like they did on Remember the Milk. My handheld has wi-fi, but it does not have cellular service, so Google Calendar is not a great solution for keeping my critical scheduling data at my fingertips.

When my wife buys me a Samsung Galaxy III Smartphone for Christmas, once again all my critical scheduling data will be at my fingertips. I will have already have figured out how to sync Outlook with Google Calendar and Tasks. Truly, I will have no reason to go for a more expensive Windows phone. My handheld, despite its many shortcomings, still works great as a media playing device.

After using my handheld to listen to The Psychology of Winning again, by Denis Waitley, the other night at the gym, I've decided to get back to focusing again on putting the pieces of my life together again, i.e., get meaningful employment. According to Denis Waitley, the number one quality of a winner is "incurable optimism." Today, Joe came home with all A's on his report card -- first time ever! Since good things usually come in threes (an old wive's tale), maybe along with my Samsung Galaxy III, and the great news about Joe (a classic under-performer), maybe I'll be able to share good news about a new job for the new year. Lacking anything positive to say, my voice has been muted recently.

Having spent the night addressing my organization problem then blogging about it, I guess I should get a few hours of sleep. I'll need a clear head to remain focused on making sure that I'm fully prepared when the opportunity comes up for taking over a classroom. Oh, and by the way, the sub job that I picked up stupidly gave me some great stories to tell ...

Monday, November 5, 2012

She cried: November

She cried: November, herald of discontent,
Why bring the North Wind here, why seed despair?
You sow a bitter mood. You snap wills bent
By hunger, swoop on wings from branches bare

To prey upon the weak rapacious souls
And pick upon the bones of broken dreams.
Why mock the sheep, the meek who know their roles –
Sad actors drifting by on mortal streams?

November calmed: to fully feel content,
Appreciate the sting, the entire year,
Not just the birthday cake, the thrill of goals

Achieved. Accept the knowledge darkly sent
On winds that cold brings contrast needed here.
The price of warmth is tortured winter souls.

The springtime feast isn’t all it seems.
Embrace la difference which colors dreams.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Dogwalk through November leaves

Love walking that dog,

Trudging through November leaves,

Briskly in the breeze.

Education Animation

I'll comment on this once I've watched the full show. No, I can't wait until the full show is over. This animation and its analysis is dead on about about everything that is fundamentally wrong about education today and why "Johnny doesn't want to read," a conclusion that I reached last spring in my case study of a reader with a Learning Disability. I'm going to keep watching this video after my son's baseball game.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Windows 8 Upgrade $39 through Microsoft

Yesterday, I upgraded from Windows 7 Home Premium to Windows 8 Pro Edition. The main reason I upgraded was because I had a "low level threat" virus called "Zero Day," which was virtually impossible to eliminate without reloading Windows. None of the solutions offered via the net, for which I think I invested about $120, eliminated the virus. The protection programs allowed me to clean up my "registry" on a daily basis, clean up the junk files that were continuously being created by the virus, and delete personal information that was at risk because the zero day created a "back door" that somebody could have used to steal personal information.  Everyday, I wasted 10-15 minutes checking and cleaning my computer, which I felt was necessary since I knew the virus and could not be eliminated. What a hassle!

Having read about Stuxnet, which was used by American intelligence officers to destroy Iranian centrifuges, and annoyed on a daily basis by how the virus ate up my computer's memory resources, I was reading to invest in a $39 download plus another $10 for a DVD to be mailed to me as an insurance policy. Having installed Windows 8, I cannot be happier than I did.

Microsoft's Upgrade Assistant worked seamlessly, although the process became confusing when the program demanded that I delete the antivirus and registry programs because of compatibility issues. Based on what I was able to see when I went to the Windows website, it seemed as though I needed to repurchase the program, when all I wanted to do was restart the installation process, but I played around with various options until I found my way back to the next step in the installation process. Very confusing! Good thing I am so persistent. I explored my way to desktop, where I noticed an icon for the Windows 8 Installer program positioned next to the recycling can in the top left corner of the screen. When I clicked on that icon, the installation restarted where I left off. From there, it was smooth sailing. Voila!

I'm not sure why anyone would fuss at the "changes." The look and feel of Windows 8 is not so different than other versions of Windows. Itt just requires a little getting used to. For me, upgrading to Windows 8 for $39 directly from the Microsoft website provided an easy way to rid myself of an annoying and potentially underestimated threat. Today, the upgrade price is artificially low. The price will rise considerably in
February, so I strongly recommend that any Windows user upgrade now! It is a no-brainer.

Monday, October 22, 2012

What exactly is a statesman? The Jefferson Conundrum

Eventually, I promise to get back to Mr. Five, a middle school counselor who brings Positive Behavior to a whole new level with his raw enthusiasm, but as Dan Pink has suggested in Drive, when minimum needs are not being met, motivation has nothing to hold onto, and my motivation for blogging has been, well, in the toilet. Here's why: while I made the decision to try to become a teacher in 2003, with two years of classroom teaching experience and a Master's degree earned last June, after nearly 10 years, what do I have to show for it? Daily substitute teaching gigs.

While I would love teaching without pay if I could afford to do so, I cannot afford to continue to be doing what I am doing much longer -- to do so would be selfish and irresponsible to my family and my creditors. Moreover, since I am still pursuing a teaching position, despite having made the tactical decision to focus on preparing myself for my next opportunity rather than preparing myself for "selling myself" in an interview, an approach that hasn't worked, or "getting help" from my university professors, an approach I refuse to try until after I have completed consolidating my "Master Teacher's Tookkit, (a.k.a., "Master Mechanic's toolkit"), which was my primary goal in earning a Master's Degree, which is something the pace of earning a Master's Degree in a year did not allow, I have a hard time justifying the investment of time in blogging, beyond the cathartic aspect of venting, which makes the effort seem almost worth it.

The most frustrating thing about being, essentially, an unemployed teacher -- which is what a substitute teacher really is -- is that I know how to teach and recognize so many needs. When a student is asked to round 78 to the nearest ten and is asked to find the number on a hundred's chart, I can immediately spot the misconception when he identifies the number as seven, eight. When that same student is asked to go along the side of the chart and is asked to count by tens, and he goes "10, 20, 13, 14, 15," I immediately recognize that the child does not understand the base-10 number system. When a student is learning how to write words, I know that teaching word families is best practice, e.g., if you know "ball," you also know "fall" and "tall." When a student is in the "trigger" phase of the "acting out cycle," I know how to look for signs of "agitation" and use "high probability requests" (HPR) or "differential reinforcement of low rates of behavior (DRL) strategically to change the trajectory of behavior and get some momentum in the right direction, and head off behavior problems before they "accelerate" out of control. These are not the kinds of things raised in interviews. Instead, interviewers seem to only be looking for flaws in past performance. My motivation to write about my experiences with Mr. Five and his passionate approach to Positive Behavior just is not there now, because my minimum needs are not being met, even though the Mr. Five story deserves to be told because this wonderful man makes me wonder how he is able to remain so incredibly positive, while remaining so incredibly real with middle school students when they need to hear a little reality. I'll probably run into Mr. Five later this week, so maybe the spirit will move me later, but the motivation to write about Mr. Five is just not there today.

Here is something that moved my motivation meter enough to blog today: a history lesson that popped into my email inbox via my dad. My dad sent me an article about Thomas Jefferson that raises important questions about what and how students learn about this enigmatic figure who famously authored the Declaration of Independence. What bothers me about the teaching of history is how few difficult and open-ended questions are raised in curricula that are a mile wide and an inch deep. Facts, schmacks. When we talk about statesmen, Thomas Jefferson for example, rarely does anyone ask the question, "What is a statesman?" Answer: "a statesman is a dead politician." Here is a link to one of my favorite Bloom County cartoons, where Opus discusses statesmen. Considering the portrayal of Jefferson in

“Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves” by Henry Wiencek, commented upon by Jonathan Yardley in the Washington Post's book section, the real Jefferson was a terrible person, which is too often the case with brilliant people who become famous. If I ever become brilliant, I promise not to become a terrible person.

The issue of slavery raises so many interesting questions, it makes me wonder why the social studies is not studied in more of an exploration format. The method of evaluation by which "essential knowledge" of social studies is typically measured, with predominantly simple right or wrong answers, communicates the subtle message that the source of truth is the all-knowing state, which knows which facts to include, and more importantly, which facts to leave out. Given the complexity of 21st century decisions, including the decision about who to vote for in the Presidential Election, the perpetuation of a view of history that involves simple right or wrong answers is exactly the wrong way to prepare students for a post-industrial future, where tough choices loom right over the horizon. In a country where elementary school band classes, in poor schools, are conducted in the teacher's lounge, something seems a little lacking in our nation's priorities. Oh, and by the way, playing musical instruments has been correlated with higher math scores, which remain so low, we have no time or money to teach music.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Dogwalks Through Accotink: Mr. Five

Mr. Five's is the kind of man who would leave the war room for the classroom. His desk used to be located in an office at the Pentagon, directly where the plane hit on 9/11. That fateful morning, he probably would have been serving at the pleasure of his commander, who was one of the unfortunate heroes who lost their lives on that awful day, had he not already left the Pentagon a few years before to pursue a softer kind of mission. Instead, Mr. Five had already left our Nation's war machine to become a school counselor at a middle school. Everyday, Mr. Five greets students at the door who experience extreme poverty, students of military families, students of a second language, students of middle class families, some who want to learn, and some who are already convinced they are failures and are unable to meet high academic standards, and anybody else he feels may need a hand or positive influence. The other day, Mr. Five was wearing orange, and captured students wearing orange as they walked in the door for a group photo and quipped, "Orange you glad you're here today?" On another occasion, he noticed his Principal carrying several heavy bags from her car, rushed to help her, and held the door for her. One morning, he rode his bike to work.

On another morning, Mr. Five pulled me aside and told me a story about a great thing that had happened to him earlier that morning. Mr. Five runs every morning. On his route, Mr. Five had noticed that there are a few assorted widows and retirees. As a random act of kindness, he had been putting their newspaper inside their screen doors for a while. That morning he had found a card addressed to the "Mystery Deliveryman." Mr. Five was so touched and tickled that he had received a thank you, and he was pulling aside people in the hallways as they entered the building to show people the good news.

(To be continued)

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Dogwalk through Accotink Reflection: Tiger Mom

Note: I edited out "Crazy Chinese Mother" and changed it to "Tiger Mom" at my sister Dawn's recommendation. I had heard of Amy Tau's description of a "Tiger Mom" but had forgotten it. Mine was a real encounter and I was simply describing what happened from my perspective, but my sister felt that my descriptions might be interpreted by some as racism, which were never the intent, so I made the editing change.

Most of my experiences with parents in education have been with parents of lower socioeconomic status or of the middle class. Virtually every parent I have ever spoken with in a classroom has expressed sincere gratitude and shown a high level of deference to the teaching profession. That was not the case with a "Tiger Mom" who surprised me at the end of the day in a 4th grade classroom in an elite public elementary school where I happened to be subbing. Her blood was boiling, having concluded that her daughter was not being adequately challenged in an Advanced Academic Program classroom in an elite public school. She was seething because the teacher was not there to defend herself against her biting criticisms, enraged by the polite response she had received from the teacher who had sought to reassure her via email that her daughter was doing fine, regardless of the fact that school had been in session for less than a month, that back-to-school night remained a few weeks away, and that her daughter was, in fact, doing fine. Had I noticed how agitated the mother was, and realized that this crazed mother seemed to want her daughter's teacher's head served on a platter, I would have politely declined the engagement.

When I arrived at the elite public school last week, a violinist was pleasantly performing in the hall. The Principal considerately invited me to get a mug from the kitchen and get a cup of coffee in the office so that I would not have to wait in the line for the special breakfast that was being served to the Staff, since all I wanted was a cup of coffee. The lesson plans warned of a "hectic day." I crossed out "hectic" on the plans and replaced it with "exciting." A special ceremony was being held later that day to induct the recently elected officers of the SCA, where members of the Army Fife and Drum Corps would be performing in front of the entire school, plus VIP's. Additionally, the community was celebrating the awarding of a prestigious national award to the school from an environmental group for the school's truly remarkable green initiatives. A message from the Principal communicating expectations had been included in the plans. A member of the 4th grade team came in to warn me that a parent would be by the school to drop off popsicles during recess for her son's birthday. Everything about the day had been unusually positive. At the end of the day, since every assignment had been completed so efficiently with so much cooperation, the class had extra time at dismissal, which led students to become move the noise meter upwards. One of the students suggested that we find the teacher's Brain Quest game, which is an activity that the teacher often does at dismissal. Unable to find Brain Quest, I noticed some multiplication flashcards. Having noticed that a number of students had expressed a desire to become more automatic with their multiplication facts, I started up a game of Around the World. Mistake One was not communicating my expectation that students remain calm and by their own desks during the game, which I had assumed would be the case since the students had so calm and cooperative for the entire day. The class got a little too excited. Meanwhile, the Chinese mother was waiting, growing ever more impatient and scowling while waiting outside the door for her daughter, who did not want to leave the game. I told the daughter she should go with her mother. Before I noticed, the mother was in the classroom. I ended the game, apologized that the classroom had gotten a little rambunctious, and pointed to the television, which showed an instruction that "silent dismissal" had begun. Students complied without complaint.

After the students had been dismissed, the mother was still there wanting to engage me, and expressed her unhappiness that the classroom teacher was not adequately challenging her daughter. I told her I was just a sub, and that this was the first time I had been to the school, but having seen schools from across the county, this was one of the most impressive classrooms in which I had ever worked. Having seen clear evidence of a positive classroom environment, where students were handling the responsibilities of the classroom economy, with classroom jobs and daily double entry bookkeeping entries for credits and debits, where every student had handled their classroom assignments with aplomb, where children were unfailingly polite and treated each other respectfully, I unfortunately made the foolish attempt to attempt to help a mother notice the many positive things about the class that I had noticed. First, I shared with the mother that the students had written letters, which would be going home to parents, explaining their SMART goals for Citizenship and Academics. Unimpressed, she replied that everybody does SMART goals. Then, I showed the mother an inventory of her daughter's reading that her daughter had completed that day, and explained to her that all the students had taken the assignment seriously, since it would be factored into how their reading levels would be determined. I shared my opinion that the reading assessment the teacher was doing was a great assessment, in fact a far better assessment than SOL tests, adding, SOL scores have been consistently rising while SAT scores have been falling.

My offhand comment that the books the mother's daughter had listed were not particularly challenging compared to what others in the class had been reading was like tossing a match in a tinderbox. The infuriated "Tiger Mom" replied that her daughter was capable of doing much more challenging work. I shared with her that the teacher was doing assessments in preparation for setting up reading groups. She complained that her daughter was "not getting 12 pages of homework per night," as she had gotten during 3rd grade and that other Advanced classes were getting. Nothing had been coming home, the mother bitterly complained. In response, I expressed my opinion that her issue might be with the curriculum, which comes down from the state, and expressed my opinion that the 3rd and 5th grade curricula were far more interesting than the 4th grade curriculum, where students are required to take an SOL in Virginia history, which as constructed requires, primarily, lower level thinking, i.e., memorization, as opposed to higher level thinking such as evaluating, analyzing, or creating. I observed that the students in the class had beautifully demonstrated knowledge of SOL facts when I questioned them during Social Studies. When I pointed to the map of Virginia on a bulletin board in order to highlight the primary placement held by Virginia History in the 4th grade curriculum, the mother complained that the bulletin-board was empty, that no student work was hanging outside of the classroom, and that she had seen no evidence of higher level thinking coming home. I advised the parent to speak directly to the teacher, because many of the great things happening in the classroom such as the classroom economy and system of double entry bookkeeping may not be entirely obvious, and that I was just a sub. The mother emphasized that her daughter had gotten 600's on all of her SOL's. She complained bitterly that, based on her experience with Advanced Academic Program classrooms, and based on discussions she had been having with other parents of students in the class and other schools, she was completely disappointed and dissatisfied with the teacher.

The concept of a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), a hallmark of Special Education legislation, applies to this scenario, even though it was originally intended to apply to students with disabilities. The question is or should be, to what quality of education is an Advanced Academic Program student entitled? The Cadillac or the Chevrolet?

Next: Mr. 5

Dogwalk through Accotink Reflection (Introduction)

One of the great joys of writing a blog post is feeling the hair tingling excitement of walking that fine line between going viral with a self-destructive rant in front of a world wide audience, and creating a short masterpiece, raising penetrating questions that might lead others to consider simple, obvious, and creative solutions to seemingly impossibly complex conundrums. The hard part is where to start, because typical narratives have a clear beginning, middle, and end, whereas I do not really have a clear beginning, only a swelling level of frustration that has been building over many years like magma welling up from beneath the bowels of Yellowstone Park. Imagine how Cassandra must have felt after she read in advance the fall of Troy, when all her frantic warnings of impending doom were mocked or fell upon deaf ears. Imagine the frustration Columbus must have felt as he sailed from kingdom to kingdom trying to sell his proposition that Cathay could be reached by sailing in a different direction, only to face rejection time and time again. Imagine Galileo sitting before the Spanish Inquisition trying to defend his scientific observations, his tightly crafted logic based on those observations, against the highly refined, cynical scholasticism of the Establishment. Lacking the credentials or family connections of a Cassandra, Columbus, or a Galileo, imagine my sense of powerlessness when I try to present who I am, a unique thinker approaching education from an alternative perspective, to prospective employers when I try to sell the proposition that difficulties I faced early in my teaching career led me to Marymount University, where I earned a Master's Degree from their Professional Development School, that I am in a far different place professionally than when I started. When the conversation starts with failure, I have a hard time selling the proposition that repeated failure is often a precondition for great success. In an educational climate where the steady rise of SOL test scores has been trumpeted, celebrated, placed upon a garish billboard for everybody to see,while SAT scores have been consistently dropping, it has been difficult to get a word in edgewise.

(Next: Encounter with a crazy Chinese mother of an Advanced Academic Program student)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

National Writer's Block

Courtesy of Center for Exceptional Smart Briefs, here's a link to an article about the poor performance of students with disabilities on a national writing test.

Professor Roger Slakey, one of my English professors at Georgetown University, used to say that sloppy writing is a reflection of sloppy thinking. I was in a 7th grade English class recently, where I witnessed sloppy thinking firsthand. Instead of clearly responding to a question, for example, "Johnny bought the Parrot because he was lonely, the majority of group reading responses went something like this, "Because, he was lonely." Somehow, the concept of always including a subject and important details in a sentence never sunk in during the primary and upper elementary grades with many of these students.

While coaching my son Joe over the summer with his summer reading project, The Alchemist, I was appalled at the low level of many of Joe's responses. Fortunately, I was there to ask penetrating questions that forced Joe to elaborate and think about what was missing from his sentences. Fortunately, I knew that Joe has always been a classic under performer, someone with far more ability than he often demonstrated. I've seen enough flashes to know better.

Why are students performing poorly on writing assessments? Following Slakey's logic, sloppy writing is a reflection of sloppy thinking. Considering Dan Pink's recent observations about the core human needs that have been overlooked in Motivation 2.0, -- Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose -- perhaps the pervasiveness of sloppy thinking reflects a pervasive lack of motivation among an entire generation of students. For young people like my son Joe, who much prefers Minecraft to his studies or even to baseball, education has been sold as a pathway to "good jobs," as opposed to being naturally good.

For those who can write, the power of the pen is the ultimate form of autonomy: with my blog, I am my own boss. Even though my blog generates zero cash, I get to share my observations with very few restraints. For most students, on the other hand, writing is boring, and the quality of thinking is often not carefully evaluated beyond lower level remembering or understanding responses. Forget about the upper levels of Bloom!

Dan Pink observes that mastery is difficult. Having studied the violin under Ellis Chasins, a 30 + year concert master of the Arlington symphony, I experienced the benefits of practicing scales and doing bowing exercises at a very young age. Natural talent led to a rapid ascent, but it could not get me past middle school, when practicing and doing boring drills became a chore. I made a series of incredibly poor decisions, and squandered a promising musical career. At 49, I am left to wonder what might have been. Dan Pink cites the same 10,000 hours to become a master at anything number I have seen in numerous writings on neuroscience. Writing in school has become a little too closed-ended to allow students the freedom to develop the skills to respond creatively, which may be at the root of the poor writing performance seen in recent testing. Here's a thought: maybe if students actually wrote more, with higher level questions with which to wrestle, students might get better at writing, provided teachers were actually holding students accountable to 6-trait writing rubrics, instead of low level multiple choice writing assessments.

For Dan Pink, the third leg generally missing from Motivation 2.0 is purpose. Teaching to the test is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Zig Ziegler once described people with low motivation as "flea trainers." He said that if you put fleas in a jar and close the top, the fleas will become accustomed to jumping a little lower than the height of the jar; when you unscrew the top, the fleas will have conditioned themselves to not be able to achieve their maximum potential. When I think of purpose, I think of my mom sitting in a library inside an internment camp at Topaz or Tule Lake reading the entire library. I think of my grandfather, an orphan living on a small island in Yamaguchi prefecture, who earned money at age 9 by writing letters for people who couldn't read. When I think of purpose, I think of a 4th grader, who floored me with a passage she wrote about being carried across a river by her father, who cried every day before her SOL, because her father was about to be deported, then earned a perfect score. When I think of purpose, I think about promise that my mom made to me that if I became serious, I could go to Georgetown University with free tuition. With just a pen, a powerful writer can change the world. A good writing teacher can make a difference. That is why I continue to put up with the abuse that comes with trying to become established as a teacher.

Monday, September 17, 2012

AMP: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose

Some time ago, I posted a link to a Dan Pink You Tube Clip on motivation. Needing to restore my sense of motivation, which has taken a bit of a beating recently, I went to the library to pick up a DVD entitled, The Joy of Mathematics. Seeking therapy in the form of an audiobook, I browsed the audiobook collection, hoping to find a CD of Napoleon Hill's sometimes plagiarized Think and Grow Rich, one of two books Jim Rohn recommended as a much read, along with Mortimer Adler's How to read a book, which I purchased last year from Max Weissmann's organization. I came across a copy of Dan Pink's Drive, and ripped and synched it to my little ASUS626 handheld immediately after coming home, so that I could listen to it while mowing the grass. In Drive, Pink presents a highly lucid, evidence-based challenge to what he calls, Motivation 2.0. Motivation 3.0, or a system based on intrinsic motivation, is presented as a software upgrade to the form of motivation which has predominated in schools and businesses since it was codified by Frederick Taylor in the early twentieth century and expanded upon by B.F. Skinner.

The "bugs" in Motivation 2.0, A.K.A., Behaviorism, have surfaced widely in workplaces and classrooms, according to Pink, because Motivation 2.0 fails to account for three fundamental human needs, Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose, which must be accounted for in the 21st century workplace, which demands creativity, over rote procedural compliance. Throughout my journey in education, I have struggled to reconcile "behavioral" techniques rooted in Skinner, which predominate in probably most schools, with a feeling that, perhaps, intrinsic motivation was a far more effective approach to helping students want to become lifelong learners.

During the first week, I substituted for an Instructional Assistant in a local Kindergarten class, where I met Kimmy, a strong-willed 5 year old Korean American who had never been in a gym before. When the class filed in along a black line, Kimmy was feeling overwhelmed by the huge open space. She began to cry, "I do not want to play, my parents said that I do not have to play." All the other students followed the gym teacher's instructions to get into their color teams except Kimmy, who just bawled more insistently and louder. Despite his best efforts, the PE teacher was unable to calm her, so he asked me to take Kimmy out of there.

I walked her back to her classroom, and since her teacher was having a meeting with one of the specialists, I walked her back toward the gym. I told her, "You won, you let the adults know that you did not want to be there, and you got your way. Nobody can make you go. You are a tough girl and your parents must be very proud of you." I asked her about whether she had ever had PE. She had not. I confided that PE was my favorite thing to do in school and shared that I thought it might become her favorite subject too. When we got back to the gym, I asked the teacher if it would be okay if Kimmy could just watch the other children as they did their running activity. While she peered in through the door lite, I asked Kimmy how she thought her friends felt about PE. Noticing how much fun her friends were having, Kimmy became more curious. Finally, the PE teacher asked if she wanted to try. She was not ready yet, but she was willing to sit down with her team after the running activity, and agreed to join in the next time. Later, as her class was lining up to go, the teacher asked one more time if she wanted to run across the gym by herself. Kimmy ran from one end of the gym to the line on the other side and then ran back again. Her gym teacher gave her a high 5.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Elephants and ice cream sundaes

From a motivational standpoint, the use of data can either help, hinder, or do nothing to aid progress. Pictures are probably the best way to make numbers meaningful. Pictures tell a thousand words, and when I get my Fitlinxx summary in an email, my weight and calorie numbers are communicated with pictures.

During August, my total workout hours and calories trended slightly downward. Bottom line, my weight has plateaued between 168-170 pounds, which is still 15 pounds from my goal. Lifting 3-4 times per week has virtually eliminated the daily shoulder pain from which I suffered for probably 20 years. The tingling in my fingertips went away after I took a half week off late in the summer. The tingling fingers I experienced in July and early August were probably workout related, not diabetes related. Julie had noticed on more than one occasion that I may have been over-training (not surprising for someone with a type A personality).

I need to improve my approach to cardiovascular conditioning. Julie from Audrey Moore Recreation Center suggested that the best way to overcome a plateau is to vary the workout. During August, most of my cardio time was spent in hour-long sessions 2-3 days per week on an eliptical trainer. She recommended that I include more "interval style" training into my routine, short bursts of high intensity. I was attempting interval training, but I had a high blood pressure scare in August, and I was concerned that perhaps I was doing something wrong and raising my heart rate up too high and too long.

When I asked Julie about how interval training is done, she explained that the high intensity bursts do not have to be for 10-15 minutes, which I had been doing. My concern was not knowing what would be a safe target heart rate, how intense, how long, etc. This is an area where I need to do a little research, and if I can earn a little money, I would love to get some coaching from a personal trainer.

Another way to get more variety into the workouts -- boredom is a huge issue for me -- is to possibly add mountain biking into my routine, as there are great trails all around me. Unfortunately, I killed Joe's motivation to bike when I pushed him too hard when he was little, so he unfortunately does not like to ride with me. He couldn't keep up with me anyway at this point.

Joe's personal training sessions with Jerod, unfortunately ended. Joe made nice improvements over his 6 sessions, and I wish we had the money to continue sending him to Jerod. Although Joe is not nearly sufficiently self-motivated enough, he is happy with his increased bat speed, as measured by the radar which we received recently, and by his improved performance at the plate during batting practice. At this point, Joe continues to hope for rain instead of looking forward to batting practice, which is a byproduct of his gaming addiction -- I don't know whether such a clinical diagnosis exists, but I know addiction when I see it. Hopefully, I can drag Joe to the gym this afternoon when I go to do a cardio training session. If I could only get Joe addicted to working out at the gym ...

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Master Plan

In Paulo Coehlo's The Alchemist, Santiago, is a young Spanish shepherd who wants to travel. Santiago decides to become a shepherd after his father tells him that he can travel from town to town if he becomes a shepherd. His father gives Santiago some gold medallions, which Santiago uses to purchase his flock. While herding his sheep from pasture to pasture and town to town, Santiago is bothered by a nightly dream. He visits a fortune teller. The fortune teller tells Santiago that if he travels to the pyramids in Egypt he will find his treasure. Instead of charging for her services, she insists that Santiago must promise to pay him one-tenth of his treasure before sending him on his way to seek his "Personal Legend." Santiago encounters numerous hurdles on his way, but at each obstacle, the "Universe conspires" to help him do whatever he needs to do to achieve his Personal Legend.

After a night where Santiago sleeps under the stars with his sheep inside an abandoned church, Santiago has a chance encounter with the King of Salem, who teaches Santiago how to interpret omens and instructs Santiago to sell his flock to pay for his passage to Africa. The King takes one-tenth of Santiago's flock as payment for his information.

Liberated from his responsibilities to his flock, Santiago arrives in Tangiers and wanders into a bewildering, noisy market place, where trade is conducted in Arabic. In a bar, Santiago meets a boy his age who promises to take him to the Pyramids, but instead of purchasing a camel for the journey, the young thief disappears into the crowd with all of Santiago's money. A resourceful fellow, Santiago offers to dust off the crystal in the window of a crystal shop in exchange for a bite to eat. While Santiago is dusting off the crystal in the window, customers are attracted to the shop and buy some crystal. The owner offers Santiago a job as a salesperson with a small salary and generous commission. Since Santiago does not want to forgo his quest, he hesitates to accept, but the shopkeeper explains that Santiago will need considerably more money to pay for a journey across the desert to reach the pyramids, so Santiago agrees to work at the crystal shop. Santiago enjoys considerable success as a salesman and the business prospers, Santiago never loses sight of his Personal Legend, and within a year, he earns enough money to continue his journey. While at the crystal shop, Santiago learns about the difference between the owner and himself: the owner is comfortable where he is, whereas Santiago is driven by the need to seek his Personal Legend, so Santiago finds a caravan and continues his journey ...

The other day, dad offered to speak with the president of a building supply company that is one of his clients. I also noticed in the paper that the company needs a kitchen cabinet sales person, a  job that I know something about and could easily do, but like Santiago, I don't want to get stuck there. While speaking on the phone with my good friend Ricky, who spent the summer painting our house, Rick told me that I should go get the job at the supply house, which happens to be five minutes from my house, and that I could advertise tutoring services on Craig's List after I secure an income stream. Like Santiago, I am extremely hesitant about working for another supply house customer of my dad's, because the last time I did that, I ended up the company for 16-1/2 years.

Today, I heard that over there were over 30,000 applicants to the county to which I applied, for about 1,000 jobs. The fact is, had I been better prepared, I should have gotten one of those jobs. Having stopped feeling sorry for myself, I have dived back into my professional development projects, so that if an when another opportunity presents itself, I will be better prepared the next time.