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

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Justice University

"Academia is in a shambles. The “Education Industry” — the term itself is revealing — is geared toward persuading as many students as possible to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars they don’t have, to train for jobs that won’t exist when they graduate, and to assume a lifetime of non-repayable debt to do so. A liberal arts education is often ignored when it is not ridiculed. The idea that education prepares the student to “pursue the good” (what many people regard as the meaning of life) appears to have little or no currency on university campuses, much less in high schools or grade schools. Justice, while it is paid lip service on occasion, is often misunderstood, when it is understood at all. 
The inevitable conclusion is that today’s educational system is not helping students grow in wisdom or teaching them how to apply basic principles of justice and the other virtues to the problems of individual and social life. Education has itself become part of the problem. Not only are tremendous resources of time and money being wasted, lives and intellects are being destroyed to support an unsustainable and unjust economic and political system." (CESJ, 2014)

I thought I'd share that little nugget, quoted above, that appeared in my in-box from my dad, as the lead to a funding proposal for a new kind of on-line university. CESJ's funding proposal has sparked a little reflection that goes beyond the truly outstanding 6th grade math curriculum I am currently teaching during summer school. Anyone living in the 21st century is swimming in information. Why then, given the global, at your fingertips, low-cost diffusion of information via the Internet, to which virtually any American with a library card has free and unlimited access, are schools needed? Since the United States spends more per capita on education than any other nation, and since in theory, we live in a democracy, as stakeholders, doesn't it make sense that we need to be extremely clear about the purposes of education?

Having spent nearly two hours at Starbucks tonight with a mom who is highly concerned about her rising 6th grader who does not take his education as seriously as he takes his concerns about being perceived as a dweeb if he isn't wearing the latest tennis shoes, I get the sense that the question of how to motivate students, within today's anything goes cultural climate, is a question simmering in most parents' minds. I will be sharing my DVD of Donald Duck in Mathemagic Land, which during elementary school inspired a lifelong curiosity about mathematics in me more than anything else, which closed with an inscription from Gallileo, that "Mathematics is the alphabet of the universe," or something along those lines. Tonight, I compared math to a hammer, a tool that in itself is not necessarily useful, but is only useful when used to construct something. The question, then, is exactly what are we constructing and upon what foundation?

In 1986, the eminent Dr. Lawrence Kohlberg invited me to attend his conference on School Climate and Governance at Harvard University. Having studied Kohlberg's Moral Stage theory at Georgetown University in Dr. Jesse Mann's Moral Development class, as a recent graduate of the College of Arts and Sciences, I had the privilege of being seated next to Dr. Kohlberg at CESJ's annual celebration. After Dr. Kohlberg's Moral Stage Theory was effectively neutered when Dr. Kohlberg's significant other, Dr. Anne Gilligan, questioned the sample population on which Dr. Kohlberg's theorgy was based -- Dr. Kohlberg had originally studied boys only. Dr. Gilligan argued that girls think differently than boys and that more study was needed before any conclusions could be drawn from Kohlberg's original work. I don't remember hearing much about Dr. Kohlberg's Justice-Based curriculum after Dr. Kohlberg's belongings were shortly thereafter found along a beach. I have wondered ever since, why did Dr. Kohlberg decide to make that final swim? Was my cynical outlook, not unusual for a young person in his early 20's, the final straw that finally pushed him over the edge?

The adage, "begin with the end in mind," stands in stark juxtaposition to the moral drift and general alienation from political and financial institutions and business organizations many sense but cannot explain because of a lack of clarity concerning the meaning of justice and the purpose of getting an education. That's why I suspect that a market exists for Justice University and that somebody with deep pockets will ultimately fund this worthy endeavor.

Students who lack a sense of purpose are set up to fail, or in the imagery of Jim Rohn, soon find themselves adrift on a boat without paddles heading towards Niagara Falls. What seems missing from most conversations about education, in my experience, is any deep discussion regarding the question, what is the end-product of education? Most teachers I hear trying to sell young students on the idea that a good education is important argue that the purpose of education is to produce "skilled workers," more recently workers skilled in STEM areas (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). The problem, if Ray Kurzweil, Louis Kelso, and William Ferree are all correct, is that such jobs will soon be taken over by "intelligent machines" as early as 2028. Don't sleep on Watson. Don't sleep on what Google, under the direction of Ray Kurzweil has been doing. Wake up and smell the coffee! If the purpose of education is to produce skilled workers, might the business of education, as currently designed, be headed for an evolutionary dead-end? Might a paradigm shift, as suggested by CESJ, provide an intelligent, sustainable way forward?

Jefferson, in harmony with CESJ, might have questioned, "What kind of citizens are our educational system producing?" Given our species' biological predisposition to neotony, which explains from an "adaptive radiation" perspective why an educated citizenry makes perfect biological sense, sensitive observers might worry that a general lack of preparation and overall sense of malaise might open the door for a tyrant, in blitzkrieg fashion, who might fill the political and intellectual vacuum? What if a tyrant, skillful in the art of Orwellian doublespeak, were able to present misinformation as fact to unwitting, unskilled consumers of information, in such a manner that free citizens willingly decided to put on the intellectual shackles that would enslave them? That is essentially the prospect that CESJ, in describing the system of "wage slavery," is warning about.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Paleo Food List

Total Cholesterol: 144
LDL: 37
Triglicerides: 334
Sugar: 149
A1C: 8.4

Having just shelled out over $80 for a copay of my first round of diabetes medicine, what seemed a mere annoyance has finally captured my full attention. Money talks. Okay, Diabetes, you have my attention. What are you trying to tell me?

My workout routine fell off completely during the school year, as the prospect of professional failure felt more immediate than long-term health problems. Today, I did my first installment of the Metabolic Aftershock workout -- in about 15 minutes, with rest included, I worked up a good sweat and hopefully began a process of boosting my metabolism. Tonight, I'll go for a bike ride around the lake with my neighbor. Hopefully, little changes done consistently will lead to long term health benefits.

I just don't have the patience for counting calories. I tried. During the school year, I felt as if I was at least somewhat restrained with what I ate -- except when I had a frustrating day and felt I needed Five Guys. Lately, it's been all about carrots and celery. It's been about Nutriblasts. What I like about the Paleo idea, as described by the Caveman, is these are the kinds of foods that I actually enjoy and would eat all the time if time were not an issue. When given the time, I naturally eat right.

I highly suspect, based on internet sources, which of course are not always reliable, that my elevated blood sugar levels have led to what is known as Candida Overgrowth, a systemic, parasitic fungal infection. Maybe a Candida overgrowth is actually causing my diabetes. Whether or not this is true, I have purchased a Candida Cleanse. After discussing the risks with my doctor to confirm that it won't kill me or lead to an adverse reaction with my existing medication, I'm going to give it a try. Can't hurt! I have life insurance.

One bit of stability has been my summer school math class. It almost didn't work out that way, since I missed the training session after leaving my smartphone at home that day. My smartphone happens to be the tape and gum which holds my schedule together. I went home that day instead and fell asleep on the couch with all my clothes on. As a result, I did not know how to access the materials which caused me considerable panic last weekend. Monday, fortunately, was a classroom management day: it was all about teaching rules and routines. On Tuesday, I assessed. When I finally gained access to the all of materials, I found the lessons to be way better and more comprehensive than I had expected.

With a bank of 20 lessons to fall back on, like money in the bank, I can finally breath. Since next week I will need to pick Joe up from baseball camp, I won't have the luxury of staying after school to prep lessons. I prepped a week's worth of lessons. Life is good!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

A special thank you from Mabel!

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Unite America Party has a candidate running against Mitch Mcconnell

I thought this was cool, so I copy and pasted a portion of an email from my inbox.

"On May 28th, the Unite America Party, a new political party consisting of thinkers supporting the Just Third Way, including our mutual friend Bob Crane, unanimously approved a platform which you may wish to read and send out to your members and supporters around the world.  You can download the national Party's unique platform for bringing together the Left, the Right and the Moderate Middle on the basis of sound principles of Justice described at http://www.cesj.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/UAP-Platform.pdfand the proposed Capital Homestead Act at http://www.cesj.org/learn/capital-homesteading/

Effective July Fourth, the Unite America Party of Kentucky became the first State Party activated and registered with one of the 50 States.  It has begun to reach out to independent-minded business leaders, farmers, peace advocates, human rights activists, union leaders, government and non-profit workers, the poor and moral leaders to support a charismatic green development leader known throughout Kentucky to run on the reforms in the Party's national platform in this November's election for U.S. Senator.  The Party's longer-term goal is to find a justice-minded billionaire who agrees with the Party's platform, has the leadership qualities to run for President in the November 2016 elections and will work to support Unite America Party candidates at all levels in all 50 States between now and 2016."
While the idea of taking on Mitch McConnell might be an exercise in chasing windmills on par with Don Quixote, the very idea that somebody would have the courage to directly take on a National Leader, and has a platform that deserves National/Global attention, is a little alarming, in a good way. I love my dad and how he attracts such interesting people. Makes me laugh!

While I personally know nothing about the candidate, what I do know is that he is a Cherokee Native American farmer / businessman who has is growing some space/age cash crop material with unique properties as a fiber that has NASA interested. Just who is this guy?

Pull Your Own Weight - Joe Lunchbucket

After a wonderfully wholesome cabbage and pork dinner with mom and dad, which as usual ended in a bit of an argument, which often happens between strong-willed, highly opinionated, creative individuals, after scarfing down the remainder of a bag of kettle chips followed by an ice cream sandwich chaser, then falling asleep on the couch for a few hours after unsatisfactorily not finding "Moneyball" on Netflix, before walking down the hallway towards my bed, so that I could use my Darth Vader apnea mask, at 3am, I glanced at the Rick Osborne's Pull Your Own Weight Organization video again and browsed the site for a few minutes. I wholeheartedly agree with Rick's simple method of building "intrinsic motivation." Love the concept! Two hours later, I am putting the finishing touches on a blog post in typically ADD fashion.

While the essence of Rick's message is brilliant, however, I am still not sure, specifically, about how I would implement a "pull up" at the door routine for a "traditional" classroom (for 6th graders) within a governmental agency, as an employee of the local school board. The videos and pictures I saw showed children doing their pull up in a gym with proper safety equipment or outside with equipment that "meets code," and properly trained staff. The devil is in the details. As Rick Smith wrote in Conscious Classroom Management, "Procedures, procedures, procedures"
I think an administrator might have a valid concern about liability and would probably shut me down if I simply installed a temporary over-the-door jamb pull up bar. I would be asked, certainly, "what if somebody had a heart attack, broke their wrist, got teased for being fat, patted a girl on the but, etc.? Whenever I install any component into my "clasroom management system," my procedures must be iron-clad. Otherwise I risk getting fired, getting sued, and losing my house. that is simply the rules of the waters within which I swim.
I've been warned by Dr. P about going the "easier to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission" route, which is exactly how I would have gone about it in 2008 when I was just getting started and viewed myself as a bit of a renegade. That renegade mentality, to which I am naturally inclined, I think, has held me back with every administrator for whom I have ever worked, with the exception of Dr. P, who has been extremely explicit about what not to do, which has kept me out of trouble with him. I think Dr. P is probably a "closet" renegade himself, which is probably what he likes about me.
That said, the summer is a great time to perform "research and development." and I will float the idea by Ms. England, my 6th grade administrator, who would love the idea and may have ideas on how I might borrow from Rick's concept (implement the core idea of building intrinsic motivation through a daily kinesthetic classroom, team building, life affirming daily routine. I might bring in Joe's pull up bar, since he is not using it, and sneak, do a pull up myself (lead by example) while entering my room at lunch or after school and sneakily allow anybody who might want to do it do it, provided I know it can be done safely without jeopardizing my job or attracting too much attention. Anyway, your question, why not try it, has gotten me thinking in another direction, sparking my creative imagination, which I definitely appreciate.

A life affirming, teambuilding classroom kinesthetic activity that I know I can safely get away with, and plan to implement, is calledBrain Gym (click the link). I would be open to talking with Mr. Osborne -- Joe Lunchbucket -- about his classroom management ideas sometime after I get a little traction going, possibly two to three weeks from now.

After Googling Joe Lunchbucket, I am left to wonder, exactly who is Joe Lunchbucket? I am reminded of a similar question, "Who is John Galt?"

One reference I found was to a reference to a Joe Lunchbucket cartoon character who ran for President, but I was unable to positively confirm the identity of this person or pinpoint a Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn Account. Naturally, I am a little skeptical.

Nothing in the classroom is ever "easy." The idea that incorporating a "simple" routine in a classroom "would be easy" is a misconception shared by most people when they offer suggestions about what to do in a classroom to do it better. Procedures, procedures, procedures.

On that note, I will send this post and put on my Darth Vader Mask. 5:24 am.

Friday, July 11, 2014

A message to the universe

If I were to get 5 tablet computers for my classroom, I would add a learning center where I could rotate students through self-paced technology enhanced activities while I facilitate differentiated small group direct instruction and guided practice activities. I am a Learning Disabilities Teacher and I work with a population of students with an extremely rate of high free and reduced lunches provided, in other words, students of poverty, and many of my students also are second language learners. One of my students experienced experienced a 200 point gain in his state testing in math, and went from a pre-primer to a 5th grade reading level last year, and passed advance in US History. Another student had a full-time aide throughout elementary school -- I called him "The Poster Child for Learned Helplessness" -- but after I intervened with his parents, we helped him to become a far more independent learner and he was able to pass his state testing in math.

My students come to me lacking both core skills and essential knowledge (place value and base-10, multiplication facts, fraction concepts, and academic vocabulary). Despite possessing average to above average intelligence, in general, my students typically come to me lacking general problem solving ability, and lack habits of mind such as stamina, persistence, and creativity. Our nation faces a critical shortage of talent in the areas of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Marketing).

By developing a Guided Math Framework similar to the framework developed by Ann Richardson and others in Guided Reading, I hope to fill in the gaps and correct some of the critical misconceptions that lead to repeated errors. As Jim Rohn expresses, "failure is caused by a few errors in judgement repeated daily," whereas "success is no more than a few simple disciplines repeated every day. In short, I hope to be able to make more effective learning interventions and help students develop the habits and skills so that the Learning Disabilities program becomes a way station, rather than a destination.

By strategically incorporating technology, I will be able to do a better job of collecting data, plus the software will often provide students with immediate feedback while they work independently. Also, technology enhanced activities will both generate interest and excitement. Meanwhile, I will be able to provide explicit instruction to small groups of students in concepts, vocabulary, procedures, and gradually release responsibility so that they can solve rigorous math problems independently, both in game formats, as well as more open-ended mathematical inquiries.

Students with gaps in their learning need hands on experiences with mathematical models such as base-10 blocks, arrays, and other tools that help students develop operation sense. The also need repetitive practice with immediate feedback so that they know whether or not they are doing the work correctly and don't repetitively do the work incorrectly. They need to be shown explicit procedures for representing their thinking so that they know that they know and what they don't know (metacognition). Students need to be shown that mathematics is both beautiful and incredibly useful in helping them evaluate and solve practical problems (life skills). Unfortunately, interfering behaviors, often a result of frustration with models, concepts, and procedures that lie outside of their "zone of proximal development," or sweet spot for learning, where the material is neither too difficult or to easy, tends to reduce learning engagement. By incorporating a Guided Mathematics format, I will be able to more effectively eliminate the majority of interfering behaviors, which should result in a dramatic improvement in classroom performance.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

FitnessSyncer - A Preview of the Internet of Things

One of my great frustrations which has accompanied the proliferation of smartphone apps and smart appliances has been the inability to automatically summarize all of the useful data I am able to collect from all the various data streams collected from diet, exercise, and other lifestyle improvement tools. The Internet of Things, in short, has become a cluttered, unsynchronized cesspool. My attention, given my short attention span, has tended to shift to more important things, such as the score of the latest baseball game, etc.

Apparently, a few super smart people at #Microsoft have anticipated or perhaps has been hearing complaints similar to mine that some of us are more easily overwhelmed than others by unconnected, unsynchronized data. An unintended consequence of this generalized data alienation, I think, has been market confusion. Sadly, the public perception of the utility of all this data collection and wonderful gadgets has probably been getting lost in the clutter. How many billions of dollars in lost revenues has Microsoft squandered because nobody gets Microsoft's long-term vision. Developments surrounding the Internet of Things have become like the tree falling in the forest analogy. I read somewhere the other day that Google is developing a fitness app. In this case, perhaps, I get the sneaking suspicion that the "Neanderthal" Microsoft has actually beaten the "Hipster" Google to market? Is this truly possible? Why aren't more people talking about this remarkable development?

I've been trying to prepare for the coming school year, with summer school starting for me next Monday. Part of that process has been to try to gather resources, a process I need to accelerate because I am quickly running out of time. While "borrowing" (mass downloading) all of the 6th grade common core assessments so generously made available by Becky Berg through her Google Site at BPS K-6 Common Core, (nothing like collecting free documents that align perfectly with my curriculum), I started rearranging my Windows 8 Live Tiles. In playing all day with the Live tiles, I gained new insights on the zeitgeist underlying the evolution of the Internet of Things which is about to take control of all of our appliances, like the all-knowing brain from The Wrinkle in Time.

Today, while walking Mabel along the stream behind the Audrey Moore Recreation Center, I was listening on my smart phone on my bluetooth headset to Oliver Sack's The Mind's Eye. Dr. Sacks, a renowned neuroscientist was describing how, after he lost foveal focus in his right eye after contracting a melanoma, the portions of the brain deprived of sensory stimulation started filling in the missing space with reasonable representations. That reminded me of V.S. Ramachandran's descriptions of phantom limbs, which sent continued to send feedback even after amputations. When I think of The Internet of Things, I am reminded of a graphic of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's noosphere. which I recall from a philosophy course I took during my Sophomore year 30 years ago. I remember how all the psychic streams from humanity were shown converging as if towards a mystical omega. The philosopher anticipated digital convergence but came up with an unfortunate, awkward name for it, which may explain why so few people took notice, and why not more of us did not invest in Microsoft after graduating from college.

Microsoft has always wanted to position itself at the heart of everybody's lives. Windows 8 Live Tiles represent an artifact representing just how close Microsoft, and Google for that matter, are to realizing this desire, ironically, at a time when tablet sales are about to overtake sales of PC's, with the operating system increasingly no longer at the center of things.

Windows 8 Live Tiles display streams of dynamic content from various feeds, kind of like a stock ticker, which it can provide, but in a much broader and more innovative way. Live tiles provide a stream of pictures, my events from my Task Manager, social media pictures, data from my Bing Health Health Tracker, etc. Great concept, which nobody really got, which is why Windows 8 has been universally bashed by critics, who nearly universally have badgered Microsoft to "return to the desktop." Many critics just don't get it. After playing with Live Tiles for a day, it makes perfect sense to make the desktop just one of many tiles.

In exploring the Bing Health Diet and Exercise Trackers, I discovered Microsoft's HealthVault. Many many hours later, I finally finished "borrowing" all of Becky's common core assessments, and about the same time, I began to see how everything connected through the HealthVault / FitnessSyncher ecosystem. Too bad Fitlinxx hasn't joined the party. That would make way too much sense.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A time for reflection

It's hard to communicate the level of overload that I feel, 2-1/2 weeks into the summer. Intellectually and by training, I know that the trick to overcoming feelings of overload is simple. As Tony Robbins would say in a deep, breathy voice, "All you've got to do is chunk it down."

A major source of overload is the amount of clutter I have accumulated, having put aside worries about what to do with all my stuff in an effort to focus on tasks right in front of me. In a sense, my clutter has caught up to me like the blob from some 1960's horror flick. Another source of overload is a feeling that I am running out of time, but with Summer School starting next Monday, that feeling will diminish once I have a class of students in front of me.

If I discipline myself to chunk it down, I won't feel guilty about finishing the other cedar chest that I started building so many years ago. I won't feel like I'm leaving some critical thing undone as I finish the cabinets that just need a few weeks of finishing work. Yesterday, I used my router to cut a groove for the piano hinge on the cedar chest. I sanded using 50 grit. I then used hundred grit sandpaper. The next time I work on it, I will work from 150 grit to to 220 grit, to a final 0000 steel wool as I apply Watco. I need to feel like I've accomplished something.

I am excited about a desktop Task Manager, gTasks HD, which integrates nicely with Google Tasks. It's under $5.00 on Microsoft's online app store. A great feature of gTasks HD is that tasks can be scheduled to 5 minute increments. In conjunction with Google Tasks, the app also generates smart phone notifications. Thus, notifications are forever popping up on my smart phone, and I am constantly moving tasks around, changing dates, times, etc. I like the All lists view, which provides an overview, the same way that gTasks provides on my smart phone.

Assessment is probably the area where I most need to grow as a teacher, which I realized when putting together my Value Added Spreadsheet after the fact. I need to be able to communicate to students more quickly and more specifically where they are and where they are falling short. That's, in short, the purpose of the Value Added Spreadsheet, which I unfortunately scrambled to put together after the fact.

Everybody needs feedback. Receiving timely and specific feedback is key to becoming intelligently responsive and making smart adjustments. One of the things that flashes into my mind is Tony Robbin's description of how Coach John Wooden could tell you what every player he ever coached did and what he did to help his players do in every practice he ever coached. With John Wooden as an inspiration, to help keep score, I put together a Google Doc that I shared with my son Joe that has three columns: Affirmations, Achievements, and Adjustments.

Joe wants to be a varsity baseball player, so the affirmation is "I am a varsity baseball player." I have been somewhat inconsistently tracking how often he comes with me to the gym, how many swings he does, etc. The scope of Joe's affirmations, I noticed, was too limited. I was becoming increasingly frustrated by the amount of time he was spending playing Mine Craft instead of reading and annotating Jane Eyre. The affirmation needs to be adjusted to "I am a student athlete." Tonight, after Joe finishes reading the first 5 chapters of his horrible summer reading book (why would anyone force 16 year old boys to read Jane Eyre?), we will celebrate his achievement by going to watch the Nationals versus the Orioles at Nationals Park.

In my case, my affirmation that "I am healthy" is totally inconsistent with my continued weight gain. Since I finally started stepping on the scale every day, I noticed the gain occurring even though I have started working out 4-5 days per week. With this negative feedback, I became open, as a matter of urgency, to the need to raise my metabolism by making a subtle adjustment in how I work out -- I paid $37 for a 15 minute, 3 days per weekend workout plan with videos, a results tracker, and a Facebook community. Let's hope this isn't another video or ebook about diabetes and diabetes that goes unread, because the weight gain and lethargy are inconsistent with my goal of becoming a better teacher. It's hard to teach when you don't feel good. Time to call Dr. Prinz, schedule that blood test, quit backing up the task.

Another of my affirmations is that I am financially responsible. Having taken the time to do a cash flow analysis, I know that I will have a $2500 cash budget shortfall in September. Knowing exactly when I will run short on cash, I have a few option, and if I adjust my payments just right, I won't have to get anyone else involved, including my wife, who I was considering asking to co-sign on a home equity line of credit. One of the things I realized in running the numbers is that I just need to come up with a creative solution for earning an additional $25 per month. All I need is one or two tutoring clients or find some other personal service somebody might need. I am willing to do just about anything. Somebody close by must need a service that I could provide them for just $25 per month.

My core affirmation is that "I live a disciplined lifestyle." In The Five Major Pieces of Life Puzzle, Jim Rohn asks rhetorically,
"Now, we may have to work hard at the daily discipline part of the equation, but reaching out with our talents to embrace success and its rewards is very easy to do. But if it is so easy, why don't more of us do it? Because while it is easy to do the things that success and happiness require, it is also easy not to do them. (Rohn, J., p. 41, 2013).
Well, on that note, time to get back to assembling number sense activities. While searching for multiplication subitizing flash cards -- 6th graders, as a whole, were terrible with their multiplication facts, I found exactly the kinds of materials I need. Becky Berg has put together a very comprehensive set of resources on her website. Over the next few hours, I'm going to mine Becky Berg's website, and review the excellent fraction and base-10 resources I borrowed from school. I'll get dinner started at 5:00. Then, I'll take Joe to see a baseball game. Somehow, it will all work out.