Saturday, May 26, 2007

It’s Exhibition Season

All of my students complete a two part project as part of their work for my classes. This project, called an Exhibition, is based on the model for assessment endorsed by the Coalition for Essential Schools. Instead of measuring a broad range of skills over my entire curriculum, however, the Exhibition my students create is limited to a single topic. This topic is of their choosing, and only needs to have a clear and relevant connection to the language they are studying or the people who use it.

Students learn how to determine their topic through general exploration, then they engage in focused research using search engines and translation software. They produce a research document with sources and notes, prepare an outline and create over two drafts a formal 5-page research paper (in English for my first-year students; ½ in the target language for my second-year students; 100% in the target language for everyone else). That’s the “academic” part of the Exhibition.

The creative part comes in the form of their Demonstration Element, when they take a facet of the topic they’ve chosen and prepare a lesson on it for the class, including both a demonstration of their understanding of their topic and an exercise that actively and directly involves the class in learning something important and valuable about the topic.

The final month of classes for me is reserved for the students to present their Demonstration Elements. One student presents per day, and they fill up the full class period, so I don’t actually do any teaching of my own. I basically spend my time supporting my students as they do their thing. It eases some of the end-of-year stress because I don’t have daily work or exams to grade, but it does mean that my time during the school day is non-stop busy.

The payoff comes in watching what my students are actually able to accomplish. I had two Exhibitions just conclude on the Cuban Revolution that were outstanding! Each group talked about the event in general historical terms, introduced the major players (Batista, Castro, Guevara, etc.) and talked about some of the reasons why it occurred. This was not really what they wanted to teach the class, though. Joe and Aaron decided to explore just how 300 revolutionary guerilla warriors with no money and little modern weaponry was able to defeat more than 10,000 seasoned troops with tanks and missiles. They showed just what Castro and his followers went through to achieve military success by developing a board game to simulate the events of “Operación Verano”, which the class played for more than an hour. Sarah wanted to look at was what it must have felt like to be an ordinary citizen in Cuba during the time of the Revolution. She created a role-play game in which students had to make choices based on random events over the course of a simulated revolution. Students were tasked with simply surviving. Some decided to join the revolution. Some decided to help Batista. Some simply remained uninvolved. What they did determined how Sarah’s version of the revolution eventually concluded (Castro ended up winning), and a number of students suffered ill effects in the game. Both demonstrations led to a great discussion afterward on the complexity of the Cuban Revolution and its very real effects on people.

There will be others coming in the next couple of weeks, and I’m really looking forward to them. I’ll share some with you, if you like. For me, it’s truly inspiring to see what my students are capable of doing when given time and support. It sort of even makes up for the fact that they can’t get a lick of homework in on time from September to May!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Random acts of love at my school this week…

Someone wrote “I love you!” on a sticky and stuck it to me. I wore it on my shirt all day.

Someone gave me a note that said, “I heard you had a ‘low esteem’ day yesterday, so I made you some ‘high esteem’.” Attached to the note was a piece of key lime pineapple pie. It was scrumptious!

I got a hug from a senior who was having a lot of stress and who just needed to hear someone say it was all going to be all right. It will be. I’m with you every step of the way!

A teacher, with whom I’ve been having some professional tension, sat down with me and reestablished our bonds of friendship. We are still on opposite sides of the issue at the heart of our tension, but we’ve agreed that this will not get in the way of a good thing.

A parent, whose daughter I have been working with closely to help establish academic routines that will allow her to take responsibility for her own success, wrote me a note to say, in essence, “Thank you, and we really appreciate what you’re doing.”

These are just some of the reasons why even a bad day as a teacher is filled with things that make me glad I’m in this profession.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Thundering and lightninging

I finished today’s 20 mile bike ride just ahead of the first of several thunderheads to roll across the Pioneer Valley. I was locking the bike onto the rack of my car when the clouds, which had been growing ever darker and more ominous, finally shot their first bolt of lightening to earth. The sky flashed that brilliant blue, the pungent smell of ozone that always accompanies such events filled my nose and BOOM!

I love to watch thunderstorms. I love the energy that seems to charge the air when they pass over. I love to see nature, in all it’s splendor, remind all living things unequivocally that we are an insignificant part of a much greater universe. It’s humbling and empowering at the same time.

How does thunder and lightning affect you?

Sunday, May 13, 2007

A French Mother's Day Recipe


Take a teaspoon of tenderness
And a cup of cuddles
Add a ton of patience
Mix it all together
And top it all off generously with
Then you get:
The best mom in the world!

Joyeux Fêtes des Mères!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

13 Things Thursday--Don't turn around, oh, oh...

Caleb, who lives with Maeve in the upstairs apartment of Wayfarer House, enjoys games of strategy and battle. So do I. We both run Dungeons and Dragons® campaigns and, although neither of us plays it anymore, we still enjoy chatting about the many possibilities for fun that exist in Magic the Gathering®. The house gets together every so often to play Carcasonne® and Munchkin® (which is really funny, if you also play D&D).

Caleb and I have a standing Friday evening appointment to do battle on either the high seas (in Pirates®, which is a constructible strategy game) or on terra firma. The land-based combat is decided with Axis and Allies Miniatures®. I used to play the original board game years ago, and liked it. The rules in this miniatures version are pretty simple, but allow for good, complex strategies, and the entire game can be run in as fast as two hours (faster than a game of Monopoly®). This works for me, since I don’t have 12 hours in a single chunk to devote to gaming any longer.

I represent the Axis in the game because they are at a slight disadvantage in our collection (I’m the recognized better strategist of the two, and this handicap keeps the games appropriately equal). Even so, the Axis has been victorious in the last two battles we’ve fought.

Since any good battle strategy game must include a certain amount of psychological warfare, I’m taking advantage of my recent triumphs to impart a little Axis country popular culture on Caleb and the Allied forces. The following, then, represent 13 little tongue-in-cheek reminders I've been thinking about sending.

1. A poster size copy of this picture, which depicts Italy claiming the championship after beating France in the 2006 World Cup final. (A small caption on this poster will recall that the United States finished last in its group during this World Cup, while Italy finished 1st.)

2. A small book on how to write Kanji.

3. As the title of this post suggests, a copy of Der Kommissar, by After the Fire.

4. A copy of these lyrics to the national anthem of Japan (The music for which can be found [HERE]).

Kimi ga yo wa,
Chiyo ni,
Hachiyo ni,
Sazare ishi no,
Iwao to narite,
Koke no musu made.

May the Emperor's reign,
Continue for a thousand,
Eight thousand generations;
Until the pebbles,
Grow into boulders,
Lush with moss.

5. A recipe for Topfenstrudel (A yummy one with vanilla sauce is available [HERE]).

6. A five hundred Hungarian Forint note (worth about $2.71).

7. An email with a link to THIS SITE for a visual guide to many common kinds of pasta.

8. A Nadia Comaneci action figure.

9. А а Б б В в Г г Д д Е е Ж ж З з И и Й й К к Л л М м Н н О о П п Р р С с Т т У у Ф ф Х х Ц ц Ч ч Ш ш Щ щ Ъ ъ Ь ь Ю ю Я я
(Bulgaria is the birthplace of the Cyrillic alphabet)

10. A podcast from Planet Japan, which offers an offbeat look at life in Japan through the eyes of Amy and Doug.

11. A matchbox size copy of the VW Beetle.

12. A bid on this Lederhosen change purse from eBay.

13. A personal rendition of Volare, by yours truly (sorry, no online recording of this is available).

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Tag, I’m it!

Chili tagged me for a meme. Actually, I like being tagged for stuff like this. Most of the ones I come across are fun to do, and they make posting much less taxing on my brain when life is, as it is now, full. Here it is…

A - Available/Single? Not even a little. I have been thoroughly blissful as a married man for the past 12½ years. No, really. It’s been that good.

B - Best Friend? Number one on the list is Wifeness. The number two slot is reserved for all those who are, by conscious decision or happenstance connection, members of the Wayfarer Community.

C- Cake or Pie? The right cake (rich chocolate, with peanut butter frosting) wins over all possibilities for pie. Pie, however, has a great many contenders in the top ten. Blueberry comes in at number two, then apple, pumpkin, pecan and several varieties of cream pies. Cheesecake (technically a torte, which is a type of cake) is in the middle of the list somewhere.

D - Drink Of Choice? Coffee. See #4 on this list.

E - Essential Item You Use Everyday? #2 on that same list, my laptop, pops into my head first. Of course, #4 (the Internet) goes with that.

F - Favorite Color? Years ago, it was blue, but it has changed. I think it’s black now.

G - Gummy Bears Or Worms? It was tradition in my high school to stick gummy bears to the monitor of the computers in the lab to document who finished the most programming projects. Gummy worms are fish food.

H - Hometown? I’m a Navy brat, so I moved all over as a child. I spent most of my teenage years on a small farm in Topsfield, ME., but my family moved west from there shortly after I graduated from college and I have no other connection to the place. The place I’ve lived that most qualified as “home” was the Seacoast area of New Hampshire (Portsmouth and Exeter, specifically).

I - Indulgence? Eating out. For a long time, the quick fix was fast food. Now that I’m working to lose weight, it’s Subway or Panera. When there’s time to savor, I love to go to someplace that does food just a little differently than I’ve ever had it before. I really love to have my culinary palate widened in that way.

J - January Or February? Both are winter months, so they’re the last two months of the year on the list (July is #1). Of the two, January is currently the better because my school goes on intersession break for three weeks in January, so I get to do lots of fun things that aren’t part of my regular teaching duties. February has a week of vacation, it’s true, but it’s just to f***ing cold for me.

K - Kids & Their Names? Two. SiSi is 5½ and NiNi is 3½. Both are incredibly cute, and I am blessed to be their papa.

L - Life Is Incomplete Without? Time alone, new experiences, laughter, My family, the Wayfarer Community, my students.

M - Marriage date? New Year’s Eve, 1994.

N- Number Of Siblings? One brother, five years my junior. He makes me laugh, but we’ve never been terribly close.

O - Oranges Or Apples? I eat apples during the day because they’re convenient and not so messy, but they don’t stay with me very long. I’ll burn through an apple teaching in less than an hour. An orange lasts much longer, but it’s hard to take time out to peel them and deal with the mess when I only get to properly sit down once during a six hour teaching day

P - Phobias/Fears? Hmmm… Bugs crawling on me freaks me out. Psychological terror makes me lose sleep (Silence of the Lambs still makes me sweat).

Q - Favorite Quote? It changes. I think right now it’s, “Golly! That’s amazing!” (said in the falsetto voice of the big fish in Finding Nemo who hears about Marlin’s adventures).

R - Reason to Smile? Watching my girls do their kid thing, interacting with my students in the halls between classes and IMing with my wife when we’re sitting in the same room.

S - Season? Summer is waaaaay in front. Then comes Spring and Fall. Winter can kiss my ass.

T - Tag 3 or 4 people? I don’t know who hasn’t already been tagged, but I’ll do Suzanne, Kizz and SAHM

U - Unknown Fact About Me: Wow! Something that NO ONE knows?? Well, I’ll share this, because it’s on my mind. One of my greatest worries in the world is that I will spend my life working to be a really good teacher but, because of my conviction to do exactly that, I will never get there.

V - Vegetable you don’t like? Brussel Sprouts are about the only one.

W - Worst Habit? Putting things not important ahead of things that are.

X - X-rays You’ve Had? I’ve had several in my life. Most recently, I had one of my left hand to rule out a fracture or joint cause for a problem in my pinkie. I bruised the bone somehow about a month ago and it swelled up to the point that I couldn’t bend it. There was no obvious reason for it, but it is still tender even now.

Y - Your Favorite Food? I eat according to the mood I’m in most of the time, and I have a lot of foods that I like. Anything that can be grilled is high on the list right now because we are officially into grilling season at Wayfarer House. I use a charcoal grill to mix natural charcoal (none of that Kingsford stuff in my grill) with maple from our big tree out back to give all manner of meat a rich, smoky flavor. We had ribs the other day that were simply mouth-watering!

Z - Zodiac Sign? I’m a Leo, through and through, but my moon sign (Pisces) and rising sign (Capricorn) do a great job of tempering and complementing the less agreeable traits of my most central zodiac type.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

10 Things Tuesday*^—What is your identity?

So, how do you see yourself? Identity was the topic of an engaging and thought-provoking discussion during a recent faculty meeting at my school, and I have been thinking a lot about the topic since. Identity is different from stereotype. While the latter seeks to categorize individuals using simple labels imposed from the outside, the former establishes from the individual not just a label, but a context for it. Sometimes stereotyping is necessary, since our survival often depends on our ability to make snap judgements based on generalities. Understanding our own identities, however, gives us a key to appreciating the beauty and complexity of the many facets of who we are. All of us are the sum of a great many things. Our experiences, our relationships, our heritage and our geography are only some of what make us distinct.

This week, then, I offer to you 10 of the myriad identities that make up my unique brand of self. They are in no particular order.

1. Teacher. I have known I wanted to teach since I was 13 years old, and it is the only profession to which I have ever truly asipired. I enjoy preparing lessons, honing delivery, sharing my experiences and seeing students take something from them that they find valuable and relevant to their lives. I am blessed to teach in a school that matches very well my own philosophies of teaching, and I hope I am able to help create a school that does as well for others.

2. Papa. I love my children fiercely. I am so incredibly proud of them and the way they are coming into their own as individuals. It is an indescribably exciting experience to be part of their growing up. I feel privileged that they chose me as their papa. I hope I am worthy of such an honor.

3. Husband to my Best Friend. I am married to a woman who is, in every way, my partner. We have adventured, planned, created and realized in wonderful ways during our 12 years of marriage, and I thoroughly enjoy doing all that we do together. Our marriage has a motto: We got along so well we decided to get married. I choose the word “husband” for this identity because it implies the commitment that is the foundation of our marriage, but the word “companion” should definitely be understood as a component of our relationship.

4. Athlete. I haven’t felt like this identity was very strong in me for several years, but I’m excited to feel able-bodied again. I have always loved the comraderie of competitive team sports (soccer has been number one on this list for as long as I can remember), but I also love the challenge of individual endeavors like triathlons and distance cycling. I do not consider myself to be a fabulous athlete; I do not expect to ever be tops in any sport I practice. I ride and run because I enjoy it. I coach soccer and softball because it is exciting and a wonderful way to be social with young men and women I would otherwise only get to see in a classroom (and because it is wonderful exercise trying to keep up with them).

5. Linguist. I know six languages fairly well, and bits and pieces of probably another another half dozen (if you count ASL) but, more than that, I love the connection to other cultures that knowing these languages provides. It is incredibly empowering to be able to understand and communicate to someone from a different part of the world, with different experiences, opinions and ways of seeing the world, yet with all the same basic needs and feelings I have. I have a gift for seeing connections and patterns in languages, too, which makes exploring new languages fun. If only it helped me with my Scrabble® game!

6. Gourmand. I’m sure I’ve said this before, but food is my friend. I love to cook and prepare food, but I’m even more of a fan of savoring and sampling it. Yes, I appreciate refined cuisine, but there’s much to enjoy in the world of plebian fare. I make a mean filet mignon, for example, but little in the world beats good truck stop biscuits and gravy. I can eat a wide variety of foods (though I can’t see myself eating some of the stuff they show on Fear Factor) and I’m perfectly willing to try new things—especially if there’s garlic and olive oil involved.

7. Independent Thinker. I do not easily align myself with groups. I am not a member of any churches, unions, political parties, professional organizations or issue-based social groups, and have found very few such institutions that match my values closely enough to endorse. Part of the reason for this may be that I sit squarely in the middle of “moderate” on most issues, and I can appreciate and accept (and sometimes even reject) more than one side of an argument. I guess I just don’t see things the way others do. The things I often see as key points of an issue are just not what the mainstream is looking at.

8. Visionary. I am a big picture person. I see things as they might be, if their full potential is realized, though I also work hard to see their realistic side. I am concerned with the end result, and rely on the detail-oriented people to take care of the minutiae. That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate the process. I may be able to see the end product well, but I recognize the importance of the path I take to achieve it.

9. Problem Solver. If something is wrong, my first instinct is to fix it. This identity serves pretty well with toasters, cars and other such devices since I’m fairly mechanically inclined (and blessed with a good understanding of what my limits are). In interpersonal matters, however, this identity does not always serve people well. If you tell me something is the matter, I will probably remember to sympathize. I will try to be a good listener while you vent about it. I will do my best to offer my love and support, but I will always be thinking about how to make things better. Because people do not always bring problems to light for the purpose of having them solved, the drive to actually solve them can, on occasion, be a bit of a liability.

10. Adventurer. I like to challenge myself by stretching the bounds of my abilities. I’m doing a 400+ mile bike ride to Pennsylvania this summer in part just to see if I can do it. I love to push myself mentally, as well. I like puzzles, riddles and brainteasers of all kinds, especially if they’re of a kind I’ve never seen before. Why? Call it an affirmation of my belief in the capacity of humanity (myself included) to accomplish powerful and amazing things. Adventuring, for me, also means experiencing things that are unfamiliar. I love to travel for this reason, but this kind of adventure is one of those things that can easily be done without leaving your country. Have you ever been to a restaurant and put yourself in the hands of the chef? How about shopping for a suit or dress that highlights an identity you do not show very often (you don’t have to buy the outfit to enjoy the experience of having an experienced merchant show you what the possibilities are)? Take a walk or a drive to some part of your neighborhood you’ve never seen before, or go to an event you might never attend otherwise. I am often pleasantly surprised by the experience of just exploring the unknown.

What are some of your identities?

* I had this post started last Friday, but just couldn’t seem to finish it up. It’s done, and I’m posting it now. Sorry for the delay!

^ I’m thinking about changing the theme to 13 Things Thursday (Chili says the alliteration is important). I never seem come up with ideas for these until Monday, which leaves me scrambling to sit down and actually write it all out in time for Tuesday. If I change the day, maybe I’ll have more time to finish at least one (supposed to be) regular weekly post. Any bets on how well it works out?