One-Man Book Club: Copyrighteous

N.B – I make no pretense of objectivity in this post. I’ve had the chance to interact with Diana Gill on Twitter and meet with her IRL at the eVillageNWI conference the last couple of summers. She is the real deal. A fabulous human being and absolutely brilliant as a teacher, coach, and presenter. For full disclosure, she gifted me my copy of her book.

We lived in Vegas for a while at the start of my teaching career. It was a huge culture shock for a Region guy whose dad worked in a steel mill for 40 years. My world was What You See Is What You Get. Pick up your lunchbox and hard hat and go to work. Out there I felt like everything was Style over Substance – like I had to learn to see through everybody’s front. Ironically enough, teacher-wise I’m probably a mixture of the two. You can’t wring the blue-collar out of me: one of my colleagues in my first year commented to my department chair, “he’s a bit of a workaholic”. I think she even meant it as a compliment. Meanwhile, I buy what my UNLV methods teacher was selling us back in the day: “As a teacher you put on 900 performances a year. And you have to nail every one of them”.

In her new book Copyrighteous, Diana Gill leads with a recollection of starting her teaching career by being given a scripted curriculum that stifled her creativity. She eventually broke the mold, creating her own classroom experiences tailored to her students’ needs and interests. In the process she learned to remix existing activities, respecting others’ creations while putting her own stamp on them.

When I first heard the basic outline of her book, I was definitely intrigued. To the extent that I have a “brand” it is as “that creative teacher”, ditching the textbook and creating (or at least sourcing and serving) tantalizing learning experiences in my classroom. And from the jump I was sure to share what I had learned with others, and always give credit when I shared online what my students had done that day. We share a philosophy of teaching in that regard.

Things have changed for me from the neck up the last year or so. I’m losing my teaching mojo. Maybe my style just doesn’t play in my building. I’m teaching a new (at least new in the last 8 years or so) prep. As awesome as our LMS is, no textbook means I’m pretty much writing my textbook digitally as I go. Building a plane while I’m flying it. We are “encouraged” to plan together and use common materials, and in my building that means TPT. That’s not really my style. And besides, I had… concerns, based on the experiences of some of my online teacher friends. I reached out to my MTBoS connects, and they came thru with the goods. In the end tho, I bent the knee to the stack of worksheets. I felt like I was letting myself and my PLN down. But wait. Can I do both? Keep pace with and use the same pre-made materials as my teaching colleagues, while staying true to my creative self but more importantly continuing to use the tools and activities freely shared by my PLN to offer my students engaging learning experiences?

I’m trying. I needed an activity this week to give my students a chance to collaborate and get extra practice on proving parallelograms in the coordinate plane. And in like 30 seconds of searching, bam, there it was, via @mathequalslove and @mathymissgrove –> Two Truths & A Lie, Parallelogram Edition. It might be a really good mashup, and remind me again how to combine the two in my classroom – a common curriculum and custom goodness. I was able to make some slight tweaks to meet the needs of my kids, and to use some advice the creator of the activity gave in her recap of the activity on her blog.

I feel like I should do more of that. Copyrighteous shows the way. And it came along just when I needed it.

So here’s my 15 second recap of edtech since it came on my radar screen 10-ish years ago: We’ve moved on from “Hey look at this shiny new toy, what can I do with it?” to “How does this tech or this process support teaching and learning in my classroom?” Now add in, “How can I respect the rights of the creators of the materials I’m using, while still presenting lessons that fit my personality and meet my students interests and needs?”

That’s Copyrighteous in a nutshell.

  • Find the thing that works for you.
  • If it doesn’t quite work for you, remix it until it does.
  • Always give credit.
  • Make something if you can’t find something.
  • Share with your people.
  • Ask for feedback.

It’s been a long time since my days in the College of Education at UNLV. I don’t know if they teach this stuff at teacher school in 2020.

But I know they should.

One-Man Book Club: This Is Not A T-Shirt

There’s a thing I love about the local library – I’ll find books there that weren’t even on my radar. I’m a longtime non-fiction guy and love the new releases shelf. It’s pretty much guaranteed that every time I walk in I’ll find something incredible that I didn’t even know existed.

I consider myself pretty well versed in pop culture. Being around 16-year-olds 180 days a year has that effect. But I had never heard of The Hundreds. (Although it’s been a thing for the entire time I’ve been teaching). Streetwear-wise, I knew Supreme, my youngest is a shoe guy, and my boys and some of their friends are/were into Zumiez, but I’m glad the cover of This Is Not A T-Shirt caught my eye.

This Is Not A T-Shirt
Source

Bobby Hundreds (aka Bobby Kim) tells his tale of rising from an artistic nerd, bullied in his hometown of Riverside, CA to a jet-setting, fashion-making star.

Meeting his business partner Ben Shenassafar. Attending Loyola Law School. Starting up a t-shirt business and setting up plastic folding tables on the outskirts of trade shows, trying to get noticed. The Black Tarp Trick. An intern/fanboy named Scottie. Learning about fabrics in Hong Kong. Collaborating with brands from Disney to adidas to Casio to the estate of Jackson Pollack. Nearly selling his brand to Tommy Hilfiger. Setting up elite brick-and-mortar stores in LA, Santa Monica, New York, San Francisco.

And a summer spent in Los Angeles Superior Court learning from a dying research attorney that changed the trajectory of his life forever.


The book opens with a tale of Bobby’s interaction with a fan via Twitter.

What's Wrong Dude

“Hi Derek. What’s wrong, dude?”

As soon as I read that I knew I had a teacher book on my hands.

Of course I layer all of this over teaching. Because when all you have is a hammer, every problem is a nail. And when you’re a teacher, every book is a teacher book. I’m not necessarily sure there’s anything for me here in terms of lesson design or delivery. But what stood out to me was how Bobby Hundreds continuously assessed himself, challenged himself, worked to improve in his areas of interest, and actively looks to mentor other designers and entrepreneurs coming up behind him.

Kim knew from a young age he was skilled as an artist. He relates how his classmates (who typically shunned him, one of the few Asian-American kids at his school) would fall all over themselves to add him to their groups because they knew he could add a graphic punch to their displays. Eventually he grew to learn that his art would not be exhibited on canvas but instead on cotton. His advice to his readers: Figure out who you are first:

Find your thing


 

Finding your thing is one thing. Doing it is another. Sometimes we need a push. Bobby Kim got his push from Abe Edelman, a research attorney in the Los Angeles Superior Court, assigned to Kim as he interned during the summer after his first year at Loyola Law. On their final day of working together, Edelman showered Kim with praise.

“Bobby, In all my years of doing this, you were one of the best interns I ever had. You’re going to be a successful lawyer. You’re going to have it all – the cars, the houses, the women…”

And then, the turning point of a life, and a brand (people before things, right?):

“But you should never be a lawyer. You don’t love this. Being skilled and being passionate are two different things. Look. What do we talk about at lunch every day? Do we talk about memoranda and statutes?”

Kim had to admit, as the mentor and mentee ate tacos in the food court at the civic center daily, he would show Abe his design idea doodles, his plans for a website, marketing ideas, branding concepts.

“Your heart is with The Hundreds. Do that! I have no regrets! I was the best at what I do, and I loved every second of it. And now look at me. How will you feel if you wake up one day and you’re forty and you’re dying of cancer? Will you be able to say you lived your life doing what you were meant to do?”

Oh man. I felt that in my chest.

And it reminds me that my students have skills and talents and interests way beyond my class. Yeah, I want them to do my math and do it well, but I especially want them to be great at the things that are really, really important to them.


In the epilogue, Kim relates his philosophy of work to surfing, the way seasoned riders will patiently wait for a wave while newbies frantically paddle to chase every ripple, usually missing out. He says ups and downs are inevitable.

“The secret: knowing when and where to position yourself when the pendulum swings your way and the moment hits. You can’t control the cosmos, but you can study and get in position for its curveballs. This is an education culled from time and experience and patience – those very things that neither money nor Instagram followers nor power can buy.”

He closes with a FAQ section. This might have been my favorite part. I imagine a kid with a dream, getting a chance to pick the brain of a guy who rose from humble beginnings to run multi-million-dollar, multi-national business. And Kim is very real, and at the same time, very encouraging:

Hundreds FAQ 1

Hundreds FAQ 2

I feel a little bit like that following the lives of some of my former students on social media. We got along well enough back then for them to connect with me on FB or Twitter down the line.(I’m pretty sure Snapchat is not for me). I enjoy when they share their great joys, the challenges and rewards of parenting, their work lives, their chances to travel, and opportunities to do great things and small things in their lives.

It makes the world feel smaller and more relatable. And yeah, it never gets old.

 

One-Man Book Club: (It’s Great To) Suck At Something

 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I must have read Jim Bouton‘s memoir Ball Four 50 times. In a sea of memorable quotes, one anecdote about an off-the-wall teammate came back to mind this week.

Steve Hovley was dancing to a tune on the radio and somebody yelled, “Hove, dancing is just not your thing.”
“Do you mind if I decide what my thing is?” Hovley said.

That seems reasonable to me. As I get older, and admittedly, worse at a lot of things (like seeing, and remembering), I find myself getting a lot less judge-y. Unless you are a bad driver. Then I will judge you mercilessly.


So then, it seems as if there are things it’s OK to suck at? As long as you enjoy yourself, and aren’t putting someone else at risk? Karen Rinaldi strikes that note in (It’s Great To) Suck At Something. The subtitle (“The Unexpected Joy Of Wiping Out And What It Can Teach Us About Patience, Resilience, And The Stuff That Really Matters”) is pretty epic and hints that this is more than a travelogue of a middle-aged woman humblebragging about surfing from her second home in Costa Rica.

In fact, as Rinaldi points out, the chance to suck at something is a universal rite of passage and we’re robbing our kids of opportunities for accomplishment down the line when we hover and don’t allow them to stumble and fall from time to time in school:


Number 18
In a snippet from John Feinstein’s 2014 book Where Nobody Knows Your Name, Triple-A umpire Mark Lollo learns he’s about to have to find a new career.

It’s probably important to point out that you don’t want to suck at your actual job. As Rinaldi writes:

“when you make a mistake at work, it matters. Oh, you may have a humane boss and a positive HR department, but every time you f*ck up, you have one less opportunity to f*ck up again. The laws of scarcity apply here.”

The book has its origins in staying with an avocation (playing guitar, writing poetry, surfing), that you are bad at (but enjoy) and are never going to be good at. But that doesn’t mean that the concepts Rinaldi leans on can’t be applied at work. Here are three:

  • “It’s Not About Being Cool, It’s About Not Caring What’s Cool”

I am, without a doubt, the least cool person I know. Rinaldi traces the origins of our cultural fascination with “cool” (citing Joel Dinerstein) and notes that the pursuit of “cool” actually keeps us from ourselves. Rinaldi published six books written by the late chef Anthony Bourdain, and gives him the last word on “cool”:

Bourdain on “cool” (1)

Yeah.

Like every other teacher ever, somewhere along the line I was advised to not let my kids see me smile until December. No thanks. Teaching is way too much fun, and my kids have so much to offer if only I open up enough to care about them, to hide behind a mask. Let it roll. They’ve seen me at my best moments, and at my worst. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  • Vulnerability, Gratitude, and Resilience Are Related

Rinaldi relates her battle with breast cancer, and eventually introduces the Latin root of the word “vulnerable”: vulnerare, “to wound”. She says the treatments forced her to consider the concept of vulnerability in a way most folks don’t:

“A wound in our body isn’t just a site of destruction. A wound is a site of healing, building, rebounding. At a cellular level, every little laceration or bump is being tended to by bucket brigades of material repairers. The violent action that left the wound is in the past. Every moment that passes is a moment closer to wholeness.”

Then, after months of working through her chemo treatments, Rinaldi laid on her couch and thought “this is what it feels like to die.” Her body was pummeled. And she says she found herself counting blessings.

“I became hyper-aware of the infinite circumstances worse than my own and self-pity vanished. In its place came an appreciation for my good fortune to have the care I needed, and the comfort, love, and support from friends and family – no matter the end result. Gratitude became the unexpected benefit of the extreme vulnerability I felt. Once my heart opened up to how vulnerable I was, a path cleared and gratitude was quick to enter. An open heart takes inventory. It’s also what you do when you’re on an adventure.”

Vulnerability led to gratitude, which led to resilience. She had a baseline understanding of the concept from her years of sucking at surfing – that there is always another wave on the horizon. She leaned on Andrew Zolli’s book Resilience, and internalized the concept when she noted how her New Jersey oceanfront community came together to help each other in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.

Which leads back to cool.

 

  • The Blessed Church Of The Open Sky

Rinaldi is a lapsed Catholic. Her oldest son is an atheist. Worship in her Costa Rican jungle village happens on the beach, the preacher decked out in “board shorts, an unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt, and flip-flops”. Not my kind of liturgy, obviously. But as she puts it:

“After my terrible-no-good-very-bad-year, I found myself more humbly worshipful when I went down to Costa Rica, or any time I could get near the water. Gratitude played a part, of course, but I was also starting to touch on something beyond psychology. Something metaphysical.”

Give God an inch, He’ll take a mile. Every time. Which is good.

I know what she means about water. Any Lake Michigan beach is my happy place, and it’s not hard to feel small compared to this vast Great Lake. Humble, even.

15747841_10210289215279664_2097387408295977744_n
La Pieta, St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome. Our Lady of Sorrows, ora pro nobis. Photo cred: me.

I took that photo while chaperoning my youngest son on a junior choir trip to Rome at Christmas break of 2016. Moments later I stood before the tomb of St. John Paul II, and then made my way to the Eucharistic Adoration chapel next door where assembled worshippers prayed the Divine Praises in Latin. It was a profoundly moving experience. That’s something else I now have in common with the author. Rinaldi tells how she and her oldest son visited Rome, where she stood before Michelangelo’s Pietá, and had… an experience.

“I was imbued with the overwhelming intensity of the mother-child bond. I felt at one with Mary – in her pain and suffering, but also in her love for her son – in a way that all the liturgical practice and dogma of my youth could never have aroused. I surrendered to it and was overcome with a feeling of serenity and what felt like pure love piercing my heart.”

Rinaldi ponders this moment, the humility, the art, the “oceanic feeling”, and wonders if perhaps her encounter with cancer and the “uncertainty that comes with age” made her more open to belief. I’m not her, so I can’t say. But she tried to dial it in during a conversation with Serene Jones of Union Seminary. Jones told her:

“Belief is ultimately about love. Love makes you open to the world. It’s about radical openness and belief. Without belief, there is no love.”

“Radical openness” sounds like a good thing to practice. Especially as a teacher.


Leveraging her connections as an author/editor/publisher, Rinaldi writes a meticulously cited book chronicling her journey of sucking at surfing, and parenting. She knows some really smart people, and spends a lot of time picking their brains, trying to figure out what it all means.

What she found out is: it’s beautiful.

Ritual And Meaning, Beauty And Pain.

Being unexceptional at something I love doing. I can dig that. Shaka, brah.

Shaka Wave GIF
Source

One-Man Book Club: This Is Not A Test

I went off-budget on the morning of Teacher Work Day, putting in an online order for a book that’s been on my to-read list for a while. (Don’t underestimate the commitment that was – 13 bucks is kind of a big deal right now).

In my never-ending quest to read books five years after everyone else, I picked up This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative On Race, Class, and Education by José Luis Vilson.

I’ve been reading his blog for a while, recognizing that my thinking needed to be pushed in the classroom. His thoughts were as critical to my classroom survival in regards to my relationships with my students as my #MTBoS friends’ thoughts were to my evolution as a math teacher.

It was a hard read. I saw my struggles as a new (and not-so-new) teacher in his story. I mourned with him the death of a former student. I felt the knots in my stomach that developed this year as I read about him getting dinged on his evaluation for a sloppy bulletin board (the hell?). I’ll be pretty honest: I didn’t really know that part of the story. Kids get the best of all of us sometimes. I’m glad my failures are mostly private affairs. No one but my students see when a lesson bombs.

But that’s all selfishness on my part: “Here’s this awesome, brilliant teacher who stands up for his students and has forgotten more about classroom management than I’ll ever know, and look, he was bad sometimes too.”  It was a hard read because it showed me how far I have to go, still. I teach kids who struggle with math in a very traditional, results-oriented, suburban “college-prep” type school. Classroom-management-wise, I kind of got my ass handed to me this year. I thought I was better at it than that.

I feel like I’m pretty good at recognizing and encouraging my students’ interests and talents outside of math. I probably could get a lot better at finding ways to encourage them to have their maximum level of success in my class too.

I want to low-key let them know I support them. In every sense of that term.


The timing on this read was interesting. Just last week I attended a two-day conference in which I sat in on a keynote & breakout session by Ken Shelton. He talked about how he had only one male teacher of color in his entire K-16 school experience, and how he was often the only student of color in his classes. And how his teachers often did not understand his lived experiences, and made no effort to tailor their instruction with those experiences in mind. That sounds super-familiar in my current assignment. I’m fortunate enough to follow some folks on social media who help me to see why this is important, and I’ve taken their words to heart. Now I know better. But still, I can do better. My first 13 years I taught in city schools, so the importance of culturally responsive teaching is not a new thing for me. And I brought that with me to the Vale. But it’s a daily process of recognizing my shortcomings and committing to improvement.

For all of my marginalized students. We do an awesome job of supporting our elite students.  But I’ve felt for a long time we can do better for the 85% who aren’t 4.0 kids. That kid that doesn’t want to go to college, or does not have an Ivy League or Big Ten school as a goal. How do we support them? It’s one thing to recognize the problem. It’s another thing to call out the problem. And we do. At the district level our stated goal for the math department is to ensure all students are prepared for success in a livable-wage job or for their first college-level math class. But there’s more that is required.

Vilson relates the process of writing his 2012 TED Talk on Teacher Voice.

He felt that “teacher voice” comes down to four questions:

Four Questions

That last piece is huge. “Do you see yourself as part of the change?” What am I willing to do to bring about change for my kids, even if it’s just my kids? No district-wide mandate or program is gonna fix it. If I want my kids to be “college and career ready”, it’s gotta bubble up from the classroom level.

And actually our Secondary Curriculum and Instruction Director is on that. He led an effort with the English department to rebuild the curriculum from the ground up, starting with the question, “why do we teach English?”. It sounds like a similar effort is coming for math. I’m curious. And optimistic. Especially since he’s a Math Guy.


Also: added bonus value if you make the read interactive (mildly NSFW).

Went and put Eric B. & Rakim on the Google thing while I was reading and grilling yesterday. It was just about perfect.


My last takeaway was actually one of the first things that caught my eye: a comment by Vilson’s wife, a school principal, in a conversation about his middle school days. “You’ve been trying to create that Nativity experience ever since you started.”

It made me close the book for a second, lean back in my chair with the sun on my face and ponder what kind of school I’ve been trying to create.

I found myself nodding along to this section from the chapter, “Why Teach?”:

WhyTeach

“If a kid shows a creative side, teachers ought to push them to develop it and relate it to what they are doing in class.”

In preparation for a presentation at two Summer of E-Learning conferences I briefly toyed with joining the cool kids who have stickers made to hand out.

I pitched the idea to one of my artistically gifted students for the image, and one of my clever (smart-aleck?) students for the slogan. I unfortunately started the ball rolling too late and we never did manage to put a mock-up together, but I think they both were kind of honored that I asked them.

I’m down with relationship-building. I just need to be more consistent with it. And I’ll have José Luis Vilson’s closing words in my head as I do:

Go Hard Or Go Home

This year had me questioning my future in this profession. After a summer to recover, I’ll be ready to go in August. But not halfway. “If you plan to do, then do this. Go hard or go home.”

One-Man Book Club: Every Tool’s A Hammer

“Making” is the flavor of the month. And if you follow folks like Josh Stumpenhorst you know it’s seeping into schools far beyond STEM spaces into creative spaces. In really, really cool ways.

The famous saying goes “When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” My corollary is: Every book is a teacher book. I guess in a less flippant way, I’m always open to learning something about what I do, regardless of the source.

No really, I mean it.

But I read a lot. Probably too much. Some of it ends up impacting my practice, some not. I long ago left behind the section-by-section, textbook driven method of teaching for a more engaging, student-centered model championed by my online PLN. That kind of makes me a “maker” I guess, whether I’d use that term for myself or not.

I’ve never considered myself a Creative Teacher™ although that term is subjective too.

But now, a day short of finishing my 16th year, it’s what I do. I wouldn’t go back. It’s a tough sell in a very traditional building, but I’m down for life.


I found kind of a kindred spirit last week when I swung by the library and picked up Every Tool’s A Hammer: Life Is What You Make It by Adam Savage. Of course I knew him from Mythbusters. I didn’t know a lot of his background as a creative person tho.

So when he busted out a Matrix – inspired outfit for a shoot near where some of the movie scenes took place, it was the culmination of a life – long interest and a comfortable fit. The knowing nods from the crew confirmed it.Savage Matrix

Tracing his journey, Savage notes that there are places that will feed your soul, and places that will drag you down. Sometimes you just have to learn what you can in a place, and move on to a less toxic environment.

But he did some of best work when surrounded by like-minded people.


So what does any of this look like in a classroom? Do you have to be 3D printing your own custom-designed mobile device stand? You can, of course, but maker mentality sometimes has more to do with designing (lessons, classroom layout, Canvas pages) than with crafting a tangible “thing”. I mean, what does a standing ladder rack have to do with teaching?

Ladder Rack

Savage has a term for it: First-Order Retrievability. He built this rack so he could see all of his hand tools at a glance, instead of having to dig through a drawer to find just the right tool. The classroom equivalent is assessing what tools I need on the daily, and making sure they are accessible with a minimum of search. Dry-erase markers, Ladibug doc cam, pen, pencil, handouts, passes? I knew a teacher in my first year who wore an actual toolbelt in class, with markers and calculator and eraser and passes all stowed neatly away.

My other takeaways:

 

  • Lists

Oh my goodness did we connect here.  Actually Mrs. Dull is the Queen of Lists, so it’s not a new concept for me. We both make lists to help us organize our work, but for slightly different reasons. I’m old enough to worry about being forgetful, so my list-making started on the last day of a school term – a list of everything that needed to be done to post grades, and everything that needed to be done to set myself up for the start of the next term. I didn’t want to walk out the door only to remember something vitally important in the midst of the evening rush on the Borman.

Next up was tackling the flow of Thanksgiving dinner. A list of everything I planned to serve, in the order I needed to start it, so that everything could go on the table at once.

Then Adam Savage introduced me to checkboxes.

And yeah, I’m kinda hooked.

 

  • Loose Tolerance

“Every maker needs to give themselves the space to screw up in the pursuit of perfecting a new skill or in learning something they’ve never tried before.” That sounds a little bit like the Teach Like A Pirate mantra, or maybe a quote from Julie Reulbach’s “You Are Enough” address to a group of math teachers. And that’s definitely part of it. Savage talks about how book learning and hands-on learning are both necessary – “Doing puts the kind of knowledge in your body that can only be gained by an iterative process”.

To Savage, this means giving yourself cushion with material. If the dress you are trying to make calls for four yards of fabric, buy eight or twelve. If you are making dinner for 20, buy enough to make 25. There’s room for screw-ups that way. In the classroom, maybe that means piloting some new tech on a low-key Friday with your students before you invite your admin to come watch you roll it out live.

Or being willing to be bad at Three-Act Math enough times to get good at it.

 

  • Use Cardboard

If you’ve got any familiarity at all with Adam Savage, you have probably guessed that he was that kid who saw a spaceship or a racecar or a knight in shining armor when he happened across a cardboard refrigerator box out on the curb. As a professional maker now he swears by cardboard as his “material of choice” for any kind of mock-up.  The concept goes hand-in-hand with loose tolerance. Pixar’s Andrew Stanton says the laptop is his “cardboard”. It gives him room to mess up. He went from animating & storyboarding to writing for Pixar. And that’s a little intimidating. But Joss Whedon gave him some advice: translate the movie you see in your head onto the page:

Cardboard

“I can be messy” seems like a pretty good teacher motto, since the best lessons rarely are on point from the first iteration. Class Motto since I learned to teach different: Be messy. Tweak it and try it again. Keep what works and throw out the rest.

 

  • Super-secret special tools

To Adam Savage, there is a class of tool you cannot buy – it can only be gifted to you by someone more experienced than you. As he says, “you must be lifted up to it by your maker community, by your collaborators and coworkers and clients.” A good idea, tool, or technique spreads through a shop with lightning speed. He tells how he crafted a dozen mini radar dishes for a set in Space Cowboys in a fraction of the time it would take to glue plastic strips together – it involved a acrylic and a laser cutter and a wooden bowl and a heat lamp.

mindblown

He said: “By the end of the day most of my coworkers made it past my desk to take a look at this new technique and figure out how they could incorporate it into their repertoire.”

I’m on a mini-crusade these days to find a way for the learning that happens at summer conferences to come back to my building in August. I’ve been pushing for a way for the teachers who present or attend to share what they’ve taught or learned with their colleagues. And on a wider scale, I can learn something from every teacher in my department, and probably from every teacher in all the rest of the departments. How do we carve out time to make that happen? I don’t know. But I bet you it would set the world on fire.

 

  • And, Oh, yeah, Sweep up your shop every day

Or as I like to say, I’m not leaving on Friday until I’m set up for Monday.


So what does “the maker mentality” look like for a teacher? Well, specifically for me as a teacher? I’ll cede the floor again to Adam Savage:

“…the deeper I got into the writing, the more wary I became of speaking from a position of authority because my talent lies not in my mastery of individual skills, at which I’m almost universally mediocre, rather in the combination of those skills into a toolbox of problem-solving that serves me in every area of my life.”

I’m not sure I’d sit on a chair that I built, but I put together a pretty wicked pot of gumbo for when we invited the bishop of the Diocese of Gary for dinner last Mardi Gras day. And I think I’ve gathered enough tools and techniques to create some learning opportunities in my classroom. Some of them were even kind of memorable. I got an email over the weekend from a student who found something she wanted to share with me, and with my classes next year:

And yeah, I’m definitely in favor of letting my kids help me fill my toolkit. They know me better than I know myself sometimes.

One-Man Book Club: The Grace Of Enough

Spring came early. At least for a day, on this weekend before Back-To-School. In January, man.

We hiked, we let the sun shine on our face, we grilled lunch, we sat out on the back porch and ate chips and salsa and shared a drink and toasted the day.

And talked. Kind of Spring Cleaning meets New Years Resolutions.

We’ve been making plans to de-clutter ever since I don’t know when. I do know when, actually. When I got a little lazy about keeping house, and when pretty much every electric appliance in our house died in rapid succession. It’s become a source of frustration within our family. Time to do something about it.

With actions not words. Mrs. Dull’s love language is “show me“.

So I’ve been developing a plan to start getting things squared away. A realistic, manageable, long-term plan. Two hours every weekend. Tackle one room at a time. Make use of Fr. Bruno’s One-Year Rule. In our Vegas days, when virtually everyone kept like a whole ‘nother house worth of stuff in a storage facility, he said in a homily one Sunday morning:

“If you haven’t used it in a year, you need to ask yourself if you really need it.”

But as Mrs. Dull pointed out, sentimentality has its place. It’s OK to hold on to some things just because.

It’s a plan we can agree on.

I told her, “By the end of the year, you’ll have your house back.”

That earned me a smile.


st. basil (2)
St. Basil’s feast day is January 2. So, if you were thinking about turning over a new leaf, his advice is quite timely.

So: How much is “enough”? And what would our lives be like if we chose the things around us intentionally? What if we were really radical in deciding what was important to us? What if we took care of the world around us and loved the people around us authentically?

They are all worthwhile questions. Questions that Catholic blogger Haley Stewart and her husband have pondered. She tells the story of their journey in The Grace Of Enough.

Grace of Enough
Yeah, it’s already a little dog-eared, if that tells you anything. Haley Stewart is also a pretty good follow on Spotify, BTW.

I could relate. I bet you can too. Not to the part where they sell their house, get rid of 80% of their stuff, and move to a nonprofit, sustainable agriculture farm in Texas for a year. Only thing I know about cows is they taste great with sauteed onions, a side of potatoes, and a cold beer.

But the part where she finds that more stuff doesn’t change her life, where her husband finds that working more hours at a job he’s not in love with and has some serious moral misgivings about does not actually make them better off.

That part resonates with me.

The book is divided into three parts: Returning To Our Roots, Reconnecting With What Makes Us Human, and Centering Our Disconnected Lives At Home. As you might have guessed, none of it is exactly new. And maybe that’s the idea – it’s ancient. Also: none of it is easy. But many of us are finding out that taking the cheap, easy way out is leaving us empty in all the ways that matter.

 

nothing new

The chapter on rebuilding broken communities (with the emphasis on community) will stick with me for a while. Despite my people-facing occupations, I’m a bit of an introvert. I’ve never been great at small talk, and the neighborhood we live in has just enough turnover that there is always someone new to meet. I’m pretty stellar at a wave or a chin nod to a neighbor as they drive by or walk their dog, which is a start. I could be better at community-building. Way better.

I’m definitely an action item guy, and helpfully, Haley Stewart has included a list of tips at the end of each chapter. That could also benefit from my “one-room-at-a-time, two-hours-a-weekend” approach.

Baby steps, people. Baby steps.


 

How does that relate to school? The day I left Gavit I packed up 13 years worth of stuff in an afternoon. Some of it had traveled 1800 miles to get here. About 95% of it is still sitting in boxes in my basement.

boxes of stuff

Through the course of last summer we received a shipment of new furniture for our renovated school. We all have less storage space now. A small desk with a couple of integrated shelves. A wardrobe with two file-sized drawers. That’s it. I think the intent is for us to travel light. For my first year at my new school I was on a cart, traveling from room to room. I had a small desk in my fellow PLTW teacher’s room and a couple of boxes of stuff and that was it. I moved into a new space last year and moved again this year. I’ve taught in 16 classrooms in 16 years. In three of those years I made mid-year room changes. Honestly, I’m willing to pare down my teacher stuff considerably.

So a bunch of paper things could live on Google Drive, yeah, but Don Wettrick is in my head right now too. As his dad advised him long ago, “Teach 20 years, fine, just don’t teach one year 20 times”. What am I holding on to that I could let go of? What activities, what handouts, could go? A bunch of stuff in those boxes was awesome when I used it in like 2010, but does it still work now?

It’s part of the ethos of the math department: we want to be on the forefront, the department that leads the way in our school. The first to fully build out Canvas, the best, most user-friendly Canvas pages, the department that plans its curriculum and works that plan, and constantly re-assesses to see that we are doing the best at teaching and learning for our students and our community.

Case in point: Our department chair is planning a day-long in-service this spring semester for our Algebra II PLC to dive into the class and re-build it for a 1:1, de-tracked environment. We may think it’s pretty good as is. But, could it be better? Keep what works and toss the rest, and fill the empty spaces with practices that support our students.

But the three sections of Haley Stewart’s book might make an interesting thought experiment for teachers: Returning To Our Roots, Reconnecting With What Makes Us Human, and Centering Our Disconnected Lives At Home. Like, I’d attend that session at a conference this summer.

Could that look like sharing a love of learning, leading with curiosity, centering our classrooms on our students, developing activities and lessons that encourage taking time to unpack concepts?

Just like in my day-to-day life, The Grace Of Enough has left me with questions to ponder in my teacher life as well. “Pursuing Less And Living More”. Yeah.

 

One-Man Book Club: One Beautiful Dream

Sea Sassi Balance Macro Colors Stone Stones
Source

There’s a lot of brain cells being rubbed together in my world right now around the idea of Work-Life Balance. I can’t open up social media without seeing the term “self-care”.

There’s even a whole “40-hour teacher workweek” program out there (for a fee). Believe me, as a guy who just finished grading a stack of 90 Algebra II quizzes and is running the wash machine at 11 pm while setting the coffeemaker for the morning, I get it. It only took me like a week to finish grading that stack. My Monday, Thursday, and Friday are very overscheduled.

I don’t feel real good about myself when I stand in front of my kids and have to say, “Yeah, you know that quiz I gave you last week? Still not graded. I had football, and did Pack-a-Thon Saturday, and it was my birthday this weekend, and, and, and, and….”

I’ve said for years that when I’m elected POTUS, there will be a whole 12 hours inserted into every week in between Sunday night and Monday morning.

If only I had more time…

Here’s the thing tho. There’s never enough time. There’s never enough money. The house is never clean enough. Meanwhile, there’s perfection (so-called) all around. Social media doesn’t help. I don’t even need to get Instagram shamed. Honestly, even the real-life teachers in my building are all better than me.

All this sounds like a recipe to be perpetually miserable.


I’m that guy that has a lot of unformed ideas floating around in my head. Things I know I should be doing, but I need someone to show me the way. Then I get it.

Enter One Beautiful Dream.

One Beautiful Dream
Yeah, I read Catholic Mommy Bloggers. Sue me. Image via Goodreads.

The book is the latest from Jennifer Fulwiler and it details how one woman, her husband, her six kids, and a support cast of thousands made a dream come true.

I’ve been reading Jennifer’s blog for years. She’s brilliant and funny. Her first book is a must-read conversion story.

But wait. I thought you just said she has six kids. When did she have time to write a book? Much less two?

It turns out that life is messy, your house and mine aren’t gonna show up in Sunset magazine or on an HGTV show anytime soon. And God laughs at your plans. So maybe, just do your thing.

The Fulwilers gave up a glamorous power-couple ATX life to move to a house in the suburbs and raise a family. The family got bigger, the house stayed the same size, and Jennifer received an offer from a literary agent to rep her for a book. Hilarity ensues as she attempts to pound out thousands of words a day during her childrens’ nap time while the neighborhood middle-school-girl clique targets her house for Ding-Dong-Ditch and her judgemental hired babysitter recoils in shock at the kids jumping on the couch.

Fortunately her best friend and fellow faithful-Catholic-mom, along with her Texas-tough mother-in-law help her (somehow) survive some of her most challenging moments.

She and her husband plan for how to replace their aging vehicles and keep a roof over the heads of their ever-expanding family, while he pursues a less-pressure-filled career to be active in his role as husband and father.

Hyper-focused, Jen powers down the tracks trying to complete a re-write of her manuscript under deadline pressure when a life-altering health condition forces her hand.

Let it go

Watching the dream… the thing she had wanted since she was nine years old… evaporate in an instant. It was intense for me as a reader. I felt like I was watching Ray Kinsella try to convince Moonlight Graham to come to Iowa.


Maybe you read this and say, “Wow, that’s easy for Joe to say. It wasn’t his dream he was giving up”. Except…

A Yale-educated lawyer who once could have written his own ticket, he already had made the decision about his career and its proper place in his life, and in his family’s life:

There goes the dream

That sounds a lot like the convos I see on my TL regarding teachers with Pinterest-perfect classrooms or who spend 18 hours in a weekend planning a unit. What’s the cost? This year’s #eVillageNWI Day Two keynoter Kim Strobel likes to talk about the “Minimum Effective Dose” – boiling water at 265º isn’t any better than heating it at 212ºF. We all want to give our best, and do our best for our kids. That’s normal. I don’t trust anyone who’s in the teaching game for a paycheck. But: Maybe it’s worth pondering when enough is “enough”. Mrs. Dull is in a sales/recruiting job that routinely has her working 12-hours days. So it’s not just teachers who are looking for balance. It’s literally everybody.


What if?

Turns out Jen Fulwiler offers a decent template: Let it go. Lots of outside the box thinking. Unorthodox problem solving. Faith.

What does that look like for me?

What if “good enough” was good enough? What if once a week I met with some guys at my parish at 6:00 am to have coffee and talk and figure out how to fully live our vocation as husbands, fathers, grandfathers? What if it was OK to carpool with some guys from the neighborhood and get to school at 7:10 instead of 7:00? What if I could leave to carpool back at 3:30? (Unpopular Opinion Alert: Yeah, I know, no good teacher leaves at 3:30. Most days I take stuff home. Turn me in to the EduTwitter police). But it’s forced me to make some hard decisions about how I spend my time.

After conversations with her closest friends and family about her role in this season of life, Fulwiler ruminates over the tension between duty and passion:

“Now I wondered: What if all desires to create – both with children and with work -are, in fact, all pointed in the same direction? What if both are different but complementary ways of getting in touch with the same ultimate Source of creativity? What if following your God-given passion is not just okay to do during the baby years, but actually something that has the potential to enhance your whole family’s life?”

That sounds like balance, rightly ordered, to me.

I’m still working on it. I work at a pretty hard-driving school, with parents who expect a Four-Star education for their children, and a department filled with outstanding, relentless teachers. My life for the foreseeable future will be filled with take-home work and weekends and summers built around my job.

Feeding a family is important. But we’ve also got a solid commitment in this house to not miss the things that build a family. So that at the end, I can look up and look back at a life that truly was one beautiful dream.

One-Man Book Club: The EduProtocol Field Guide

I hang around online with a group of runners who call themselves the Sub-30 Club. It’s a group started by University of Florida professor and Runner’s World writer Ted Spiker. Every now and then he’ll throw out a new challenge to himself and invite group members to join in. A couple of years ago it was the 100-day Burpee Challenge. Insanity.

I completed it, by the way.

Sub 30 Burpee props

So the other day, looking to make a breakthrough in his training, Ted was curious about a set number of burpees for time. Like, say, 25. And the race was on.

38156675_10215007693118661_5413713166011990016_n
My baseline. For comparison, one of my local Sub-30 runner friends knocked his out in like 70 seconds, and he’s trying to get under a minute.

Ugh. I’m not good. How did that happen? I mean, I know how that happened, but, damn.

Numbers Never Lie.

It’s good to get a check on yourself from time to time. But then, what do you do with that? I know where I want to go. How do I get there?

Let’s make a plan.


 

Sixteen years. You’d think I’d have this “Start of the School Year” thing nailed by now. But every year I want to get better.

Just like going sub-3:00 for 25 burpees, “Wanting to get better” and “the concrete steps to getting better” are two different things.

That’s where EduProtocols come in.

I first heard the term when Jon Corippo guested with Matt Miller on the 2017 Ditch That Textbook Virtual summit. He was talking “The Fast and the Curious” and “Iron Chef” and definitely got my attention.

I got the gist of it. It sounded like a routine, or a habit of quality lesson design. Eventually, after hearing Corippo again and reading a variety of stuff and checking out some slide decks inspired by his work, I got the implementation piece: “EduProtocols” is how Corippo and Marlena Hebern refer to the idea of a “shell” activity that is student-centered and can hold any content.

It sounds right up my alley. So I stuck the book in my Amazon cart, waited for payday to hit, and pushed “buy”. (Full disclosure: I don’t have any affiliate links. When I link a book on here it goes to Goodreads. I’m not trying to sell anything and I don’t make a cent. Just sharing my thoughts on stuff I read. So click away.)

EduProtocols
The EduProtocol Field Guide by Marlena Hebern and Jon Corippo.

The authors are up-front right from the jump: It’s not a “read cover-to-cover” kind of book. Unless you want it to be. Then you do you. Otherwise, take what you need now, come back for more later. Good strategy. But I had like two weeks till the start of school when the book hit my mailbox and I definitely wanted to wedge some of my plans into the EduProtocol shell.

The book starts with about a dozen “Smart Start” protocols that are designed as ways to start the year (or a new semester). Some are familiar such as the Frayer framework, or a paper airplane design challenge. All are designed to create a culture in your class, and offer tweaks for younger grades. As far as I’m concerned, it’s “The First Days Of School” for the 21st century.

(The interview embedded above is part of the CUE Craft Ditch Summit and goes away after August 10. Sorry.)

The following chapters outline EduProtocols that have a familiar design such as the Great American Race or Cyber Sandwich. My math people who are familiar with the Three-Act Task will find a chapter contributed by John Stevens, co-author of The Classroom Chef. The common thread in all of them is the 4 Cs and the use of technology in service of learning. Many of the ideas themselves are not new (go google “Iron Chef” and “jigsaw”) but in particular for teachers in a 1:1 classroom who are trying to get more student-centered, these protocols will bring about that “lightbulb” moment when pondering your lesson designs.

4Cs Throwdown
Hey, adults can have that “ah-hah” moment too. Corippo and Hebern drop the 4 Cs on a group of principals in the book. Hilarity ensues.

As an added guide, each section includes a list of Academic Goals and Teacher Big Ideas to help match up activities with learning outcomes. And Marlena Hebern has helpfully loaded some templates onto her website. It’s a gold mine. Your kids can be Iron Chef-ing or Cyber Sandwich-ing tomorrow.

I know for me, it always helps to have a planning partner, a sherpa who has been up the mountain to help me find my pathway to accomplish the goals I have for a class or a year.

Over the summer, one of my go-to members of my PLN tweeted at me that the book was definitely worth the money. She wasn’t lying. These EduProtocols will be part of my lesson design toolbox for a long time.


Three years ago I followed through on a commitment to begin blogging as a way to reflect on my practice. I’m not really even sure that blogs are a thing anymore, but I’ve got a handful that I read on the regular (Blogroll is over there to the right).

My online PLN is blogging their way thru August in the #MTBoS Blaugust2018 challenge. Check out the complete list here. While you are there, sign up to join in the fun. I’m waiting to read, learn, and grow with my Teacher Twitter people.

MTBoS Blaugust2018

One-Man Book Club: Room 24

I kinda stumbled across my latest summer read. Because sometimes the driver don’t pick the car, the car pick the driver.

Mrs. Dull facilitates the middle school youth ministry at our parish. Last weekend I was riffling thru a stack of EDGE curriculum boxes, looking for something else, and there it was.

Room 24
Image via Goodreads.

I was not familiar with the book at all, but I am familiar with the author, Katie Prejean McGrady. I follow her on twitter and think pretty highly of her (which makes me a member of a not-so-exclusive club):

Room 24 Number 4

So in a split-second decision, I added it to my summer reading list. Helps that it’s a quick read at 138 pages. She’s pretty up-front that it’s not a “teacher book” but as the saying goes, when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And when you are a teacher, every book is a Teacher Book.

Prejean is that teacher who absolutely loves her subject area. Now before you click away because she’s a theology teacher, her travails apply equally if you teach Algebra or World History or Literature. We fall in love with our subject and then wonder why our kids think we’re weird. And this book hit home because I’m human, not because I’m Catholic.

She relates the story of deciding on a major during a study-abroad semester in Rome (with the help of a trusted advisor)

Room 24 Number 1

She found that doesn’t always mean that her students will instantly love her content. In fact, many times the opposite was true. On the positive, she works hard (with some stumbles along the way) to build a relationship with her students, and she does it by being her authentic self. Teaching at her alma mater (and using the same textbook from her student days), she took a Ditch That Textbook approach to theology class. That allows for some flexibility when her 14-year-olds come to class with a stack of questions – thus the genesis of the days known as “Stump Miss Prejean”.

Room 24 Number 3

That Musical Cue is right up my alley, BTW. And “Stump Miss Prejean” is a brilliant way to honor student voice and curiosity while staying true to the curriculum and schedule.


 

Litany of Humility, in musical form, via Matt Maher:

Prejean is confident, and quick on her feet, but not every moment in class works out as well as “Stump Miss Prejean”. She relates a moment when she learned a harsh lesson in humility, driving her to resurrect a prayer devotion, the Litany of Humility:

Litany-of-Humility-
Image via His Mercy Is New

 

Earlier in her career, in her pride, she drove a student not only out of her class but out of the school altogether. That tale hit me like a ton of bricks. I had a student transfer out of my class after three quarters this year. Her style and my style just didn’t mesh. I felt bad that she wasn’t getting what she needed from me in my class, but privately I thought to myself, “Oh well, her loss. Let her go photomath all her homework in some other teacher’s class, and fail the final.”

Nice, huh? What a condescending, passive-aggressive jerk I am sometimes. She used to like math, get pretty good grades (as her mom told me) for most of her school career, and I probably poisoned math for her for life. When I read this from Room 24, I saw myself:

 

Room 24 Number 2

Yikes. Like Sully watching himself scare on video.


 

I’m constantly torn between “My Way Is Best” and “What Could I Have Done Different For Her?

Or is it best that she found a teacher that fit her better? I know intuitively that giving students a chance to discover is the best way for them to learn, and that in the world they will walk into they need critical thinking skills more than ever. I’ve picked up so much awesomeness from the #MTBoS that I can’t imagine teaching any other way.

So how do I stand my ground, doing what I know is best, without being a jerk about it?

I mean, true, we are the content area experts, and the pedagogy experts in the room. That’s why they pay us the big bucks, right?

Two of my classes this school year are Algebra I Lab, a second block of algebra for our struggling freshmen. (My people, by the way). When the class was pitched to me, it was with the expectation that I would break out everything I’ve learned about creating a student-centered classroom, with Desmos Activities and WODB and Three-Act Math and everything.

I’m looking forward to it. But I’m reminded in Room 24 that my students come stamped with an invisible “Handle With Care” instruction. And that going into the year a healthy dose of humility for myself might be a good starting point.

From the desire of being preferred to others, Deliver Me Jesus….

 

Everything Is A Nail

The old saying goes: when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything is a nail.

My corollary:  when you are a teacher, every book is a teacher book.

Yeah, I love Matt Miller‘s and Alice Keeler‘s stuff. And John Stevens and Matt Vaudrey. Rafe Esquith and Dave Levin and Frank McCourt and Mr. Rad. Lots of good Xs and Os stuff in all of them.

But I get my best thoughts on teaching from some very non-traditional sources.

 


 

One of the first times I drew a connection between a book I read and classroom life was in my very first education course at Calumet College of St. Joseph. Dr. Elaine Kisisel assigned us to read Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom. I never remember the quote correctly, but 20 years later it’s still the first thing I recall from reading the book:

“So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they’re busy doing things they think are important. This is because they’re chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”

–Morrie Schwartz, Tuesdays With Morrie

Maybe it just stands out because I was making a career change, but that line spoke to me. I remember reading once that at one time a person’s last words were considered admissible in court because no one would willingly commit a mortal sin by lying with his last breath. Facing death, Morrie was handing down his life’s wisdom to his friend and former student. This moment felt really important to me.


Amir Abo-Shaeer started the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy and Team 1717. The D’Penguineers were one of the FIRST teams featured in Neal Bascomb’s book The New Cool. I’ve always thought it would make a great movie (“The Feel-Good Story Of The Year!”). The story begins with the reveal of the FIRST robotics competition game. The hype video shown at the event included an anecdote from the story of the Apollo program, pointing out that when Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon the average age of a NASA engineer was 26 – meaning that eight years earlier, when John Kennedy laid down his challenge to put a man on the moon within a decade, those men and women were in high school. Where my students sit.

Woah.

So, what incredible things will my kids be doing 10 years from now? I can’t wait to find out.


In a roundabout way, I owe my teaching career to baseball. That was my game coming up, both to play, and to obsess over. I was that guy who spent every summer day all day playing sandlot ball with my neighborhood buds, played Strat-O-Matic for hours on end (keeping reams of statistics along the way), memorized averages, collected baseball cards, all of it. More than most, I was drawn to the numbers that described the game. And when Bill James and sabermetrics came in vogue, yes, more please.

When it came time to pick a subject area to teach, I thought back how I loved that math helped make baseball come alive for me – gave me insight into the game. I wanted to be able to help students see math making their world real too. So, math it was.

After teaching a few years, Big Data Baseball hit me right where I live. The once-proud Pittsburgh Pirates had fallen on generational hard times. Led by down-on-his-luck manager Clint Hurdle the team was unable to compete with big-market teams and their near-unlimited ability to spend on talent. The team’s braintrust recognzed they couldn’t outspend their competition, but they could out-think them. Using advanced metrics and unorthodox stategy, the Bucs battled back to respectability. Two things happened. Hurdle, facing a firing and the likely end of his career in baseball, was willing to put his old-school methods aside and roll the dice with the plan proposed by his young quants in the front office. Second, the front-office number-crunchers brought everybody to the table… coaching staff, scouts, bean-counters all had their say. And they built a playoff club out of the ashes of a laughingstock.

I’m reminded of the comeback story that needs to be told at my former school. Struggling along with low state accountability grades, and facing state intervention, my principal convened a group of teachers, laid out the plain truth of the situation, and challenged them to come up with a plan to turn things around. Given the chance to design their own plan, rather than having something imposed on them from above, my colleagues in the middle school responded, and not only improved, but earned national recognition.

There’s probably a message there about student voice, too. No limit to what our kids will be willing to try when they are looped into the decision-making process. I could get better at that.


Grant Achatz is a rock star. Not the twitter kind. The real deal. His Chicago restaurant Alinea has earned its Michelin three-star rating. Achatz famously battled and beat cancer, as recounted in his memoir Life, On The Line. But before he was Chicago’s hottest chef, he was a kid like any other. He and his dad bought a beat-up Pontiac GTO which they rebuilt from the ground up, giving him an appreciation for how things work that most folks don’t have. Eventually he learned to make magic happen in a kitchen, learning from Charlie Trotter and Thomas Keller. He was diagnosed with tongue cancer in 2007, chillingly ironic for someone whose livelihood depends on his ability to taste. He rolled the dice with his treatment options, taking the path that was most likely to result in him staying in a kitchen versus the one that virtually guaranteed he’d stay alive longer. But in the meantime, he had a business to run. He had to teach his chefs how to taste what he tasted, how he tasted it. It’s a little like Picasso teaching someone how to copy his greatest works, and then create more.

Damn. Sometimes I just want my students to show their work like I do solving an equation. That Grant Achatz turns out to be a hell of a teacher in addition to a guy you wouldn’t mind having over for dinner.

As long as he cooks.


We just passed the 16th anniversary of 9/11. For my students it’s one more thing that happened before they were born. For people who remember that day, it’s hard to bat down the feelings that bubble up each year on the date, even as the attacks and the images and the aftermath recede into the distance. Many heroes were revealed that day, famously including Todd Beamer, a software salesman who was on board Flight 93 that was retaken by passengers and forced down in a Pennsylvania field before it could reach its target in Washington DC. He’s the guy who made “Let’s Roll” a rallying cry. The phrase also became the title of a memoir penned by his widow Lisa. With uncommon grace she recounts the story of their lives together and how she dealt with unimaginable heartache.

One anecdote of many that stays with me to this day was Todd Beamer’s Friday morning breakfast group. A handful of guys who met before work every Friday to talk and hang out. But it was more than that. These guys held each other accountable, making sure they did not prioritize the things of this world, jobs, money, status, above their families. Every business trip, every promotion, every accolade was put under the spotlight. Was more money in the paycheck or a title worth the time it would cost, the late nights, the missed birthdays and anniversaries? A professor of mine at IU used to call that “finding a worthy opponent”. Someone who will call BS on you, and not just tell you what you want to hear.

Secretly, if you gave me a chance to wave a magic wand and receive one thing, I think I’d take a group like that. As teachers we are pulled in a thousand different directions. Things we do in school, side gigs and hobbies, all eat into time with our families. My son had the memento mori discussion with our high school youth minister today. He was relating the conversation to me as we were walking back to our car after a middle school youth group event. I told him, yeah, I know what you mean. I’m gonna wake up someday soon ready to sign my retirement papers, and I’ll say “damn, wasn’t I just 50, like, the day before yesterday?”

Tempus Fugit. So read a good book today. Teacher book? Fine. Not a “teacher book”? I bet you learn something from it anyway that you can use in the classroom tomorrow.


mtbos-sunfun-logoThis is my small contribution to a larger community of teachers who write, tweet, and share and call themselves the Math-Twitter-Blog-O-Sphere (#MTBoS). In an effort motivated at Twitter Math Camp this summer and boosted by Julie Reulbach, teachers are sharing around a single topic each week. Look for the collection every Sunday under the #SundayFunday or #MTBoS hashtags, or at I Speak Math. And don’t be bashful: there’s a google form there so you can jump in too.