Saturday, August 29, 2015

Ok, this is cute

These kinds of skits are usually meant to be cute but end up pretty derogatory towards teachers. 

But this bit pretty much gets it.

I’m also not ignorant to the market forces around why professional athletes get more attention than teachers. 

Day 14: Tucson, Arizona to Las Cruces, New Mexico via Chiricahua National Monument and the scariest hike.

Chiricahua National Monument is in southeastern Arizona.  I have no idea why the U.S. Border Patrol is all over the place down there but every few miles we would see a truck, SUV, or van for the Border Patrol just parked on the side of the road.  We are still many miles from the border.  Is it really this bad?

Chiricahua is a treat that now contains one of my favorite hikes that I will probably never do again.  Let me explain.

The drive across southern Arizona was fine and the temperature was surprisingly mild.  It was 80 degrees at around 5 a.m. when we left Tucson but the digits started to drop as we climbed east.  By the time we hit the Chiricahua Mountains it was in the low-70’s.  Chiricahua is like a combination of Bryce Canyon mixed with Pinnacles National Park, only the rock formations are much more organized.  There are fins, hoodoos, and plenty of toadstool formations mixed in with narrows and canyons.  We drove up to Massai Point and planned our nine mile plus trip.  The idea was to hike The Big Loop, a series of trails that wrapped around a few canyons in the middle of which there was a large bowl of rock formations called Heart of the Rocks.  We started the Big Loop in perfect hiking weather with partly cloudy skies and a cool breeze.  We made excellent time and hit the Heart of the Rocks loop in a couple hours.  The Heart of the Rocks now ranks up among my favorite hikes.  It’s a little over three miles to the loop, then you hike within the rocks along a bowl rim for a mile experiencing a geologic intimacy that’s unreal.  It’s steep.  There are narrows and some minor scrambling.  But the pace forces you to look around and take in the closeness of the rocks and sweeping vistas of the surrounding valleys.  It’s a real treat!

Then we started down the Sarah Deming trail into a canyon, a little under half way done with our Big Loop.  The rattle I heard was a little ahead of me but sounded fairly small.  I told my wife to stop and pointed using my trek pole to the small rattlesnake in front us.  The snake was about ten inches long and seemed to be travelling left to right across the trail while being annoyed by a lizard bouncing around.  In fact, the snake seemed much more concerned with the lizard than us.  It was my second rattlesnake in my life.  It was my wife’s first.  She was not happy.  I was happy it was small.  We proceeded down the trail talking about being-on-the-lookout for the reptiles when my wife somehow tripped over some stones and ended up face-down on the trail.  We cleaned up a bit of blood and made sure everything worked ok and promptly moved on.  Things were a little iffy but we were doing ok. 

Near the bottom of Sarah Deming we ran into a family that seemed to have come from Europe to visit America’s nature.  There was Dad, Mom, and two kids. 

“Hey, just to let you know there is a small rattlesnake up the trail about a half mile.  It’s probably gone by now but just be aware.”

The man smiled.  The wife looked annoyed.  The children, oddly, were totally silent. 

“Thanks for letting me know.  But I’ve got to tell you that there are two large rattlesnakes sitting on the trail about a mile that way”, he pointed down the trail, “and we had to work our way around them.” 

“What?  Are you serious?”

“Yes.  Hey, we’re not going to let some snakes ruin our time, right?” 

His European accent, maybe French, just didn’t fit the rattlesnake conversation.  By this time his wife was glaring at him and his kids still were dead silent.  They didn’t seem to be having fun.  Now we had a choice.  Turn around and hike a long up-and-down back to the car, or push forward, hope the snakes were off the trail when we got there (about 30 minutes) and finish the gradual climb back to the car.  We said good-bye to the family and elected to push on. 

Within forty minutes we reached a junction.  Turn right and we would go the snake direction towards our car and a gradual three mile climb on the Upper Ryolite Trail.  Turn left and we would head down the canyon 1.5 miles to the Visitors Center.  Then we would have to hoof it eight miles up the road back to our car.  Ick.  Then we heard thunder.  It was far off but we were seven thousand feet up and were a bit off by the potential snake encounter.  We turned right and hoped for the best. 

About a half mile down the trail we started an S-curve and were greeted by a loud rattle.  On trail about twenty feet in front of us was a mammoth, three foot long rattlesnake; now coiled with its head up and a huge rattle sticking up in the air.  It was yellow…or gold, hell it was straight out terrifying.  It looked mean.  We backed up and waited.  Normally snakes will part ways when you encounter them but this one had been here for an hour and didn’t seem to want to move now.  To our left, a canyon edge.  No way around there.  To our right, a sharp hill covered with brush.  There was probably another snake around too, at least according to the family.  What now?  We waited.  Our car was a few miles on the other end of that snake.  Then the thunder got louder.  The snake was no longer rattling but it wasn’t moving either.  I took a step towards it and a soft rattle started, and it didn’t move.   

Shit.

We looked down the canyon and it was getting storm dark.  This means that it was only about one in the afternoon but the clouds were a color that brought a sense of foreboding.  We turned around and headed for the junction and eventually the Visitors Center.  We reached the junction and another rattle started up again.  I’m not kidding.  At our feet and to our left was a rattlesnake over a foot long, thankfully heading away from us but making us wonder if we were being punished for something we had done earlier in the year.  It was nuts.  As the snake moved off the rain started up and the thunder got louder. 

At this point we just pushed.  We were so focused on the last mile and half that we didn’t talk.  Eventually we made the Visitor’s Center with an almost cry of relief that was quickly overcome by the realization that our car was eight miles up the road.  My wife approached a pleasant couple in a small orange compact car and pleaded for a ride from the two ladies.  They were super kind and drove my wife up top while I told the rangers about the snakes.  They were thrilled.  I was exhausted.  Then the heavens opened up and for about twelve minutes it poured.  

It was quite the rush, yet I’m really not sure that I liked the experience.  My wife and I were tired but still had a three and a half hour drive to Las Cruces, New Mexico.  We passed car after car of Border Patrol on the way to I-10, then turned east.  The drive was mostly in sunshine but in New Mexico we encountered powerful thunderstorm cells, the kind that you felt the concussion through the car when the lightening touched down.  We powered through and crossed the very flat Continental Divide for the first time.  We arrived in Las Cruces in a light rain.

We are at a Best Western next to the railroad tracks but the hum of the air conditioner pretty much drowns everything out.  We are tired and shaken, and done with snakes. 

Trails hiked:  Over half of the “Big Loop” including the Heart of the Rocks, and the Lower Ryolite Trail

Miles hiked:  7.9

Week One done.

Believe it or not about 70% of stress this week was on basketball. 

Seriously.

*****

My classes are good.  I mean really, really good.  Maybe not academically good, maybe not always focused good.  But the potential for liveliness is everywhere and that is where the real learning occurs.  Are there going to be problems?  Of course silly, this is teaching!  But I’m watching some serious positive things happen in my classroom and I need to seriously tap into that energy.

*****

On Friday of last week, right before the start of school, I switched over from Edmodo to Google Classroom.  I did it for two reasons.  One, the school is now on Google Education Apps and many teachers have drifted to Google Classroom.  Might as well streamline for the kids.  The second reason is that Google seems to be fairly up on creating and actually implementing new ideas, and that’s a plus for teachers like me.  First impression; too early to tell.  Edmodo’s library function alone makes it better than Google at this point but I’m still on a serious learning curve with the G-Classroom.  It might take some time.

*****

I’ve had presentations turned in online before but not a standard written paper to be graded and returned via Google Classroom.  My first impression; online grading sucks.  It’s slower, period.  It might be environmentally friendly, and it might be nice to have those clear comments sections but online grading (in my opinion) takes twice as long.  Not good.

*****

By the way, I noticed that when you enter a district Google email into any app in your phone it pretty much becomes the default Google account on your phone.  This means that my district has spent the week having access to what I access on sights like Google+ (nothing), Youtube (the Star Wars Instagram trailer, videos about Grizzly Bears, something about BBQing a brisket), and Google maps (planning next summers trip, quickest route from the downtown Santa Rosa mall to Costco).  I have a problem when work becomes that invasive so my school Google accounts are gone from my phone.  No, I’m not grading any online Google classroom work from my phone or iPad. 

*****

Working at school on Sunday because why not. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Days 12 and 13; Golf and a note about costs.

These are lounge around days that include golf in morning and lot of relaxing and reading during the day. 

Just a note about costs on our trips. 

We road trip because we get an enormous bang for our buck by driving and hiking.  Flying anywhere is expensive.  Flying and renting a car is more, and flying, renting a car, and constantly eating out makes the trip cost prohibitive.  This year’s trip has a budget of about $5000.  That’s for everything; lodging, gas, food, everything for the anticipated 8,000 miles.  How do we keep costs down?

-Gas is cheaper nearly everywhere other than California.  Some places are a full dollar cheaper than Northern California, so that’s nice.  Our preferred app for finding cheap gas is Gas Buddy. 

-We almost never eat an expensive meal out.  We might, MIGHT, have one fairly pricey meal per trip.  But we are so often disappointed that we have stopped really trying local food.  Hell, Northern California has excellent food.  

-We ask for Chipotle gift cards for Christmas and holidays, and that becomes are primary method of eating out.

-We do eat McDonalds but only for quick breakfasts and a Diet Coke.  So in the afternoons we have a large $1 Diet Coke with lemon.  We order separately.   Then we take the receipt and do the online survey, where we then receive a code for a buy-one-get-one Egg McMuffin.  We do it for both receipts.  Then we go into McDonalds and order the Egg McMuffin but with egg whites only.  Then we take those receipts and do it all over again.  Easy, cheap breakfast. 

-Lunches on the road are Costco.  $3 for a two dogs and sodas.  If there is no Costco we make sandwiches and eat while driving.

-But most of our food is taken with us.  Breakfast is Starbucks Via coffee and the big Costco Quaker Oatmeal.  Lunches on the trail are sandwiches that we make from supplies from Wal-Mart.  Dinners are a salad and Cup-O-Noodles.  Believe it or not our bodies are screaming for the salt of Cup-O-Noodles in the evening after a long hike.  We add different hot sauces and lime to them to change them up.  Snacks are chips or cracker in portion-controlled packs, usually from Wal-Mart.

-Yes, Wal-Mart is awesome.  Super Wal-Marts are everywhere, they are cheap, and they are easy. 

-We buy a National Park Annual Pass at the beginning of the month and it will last a year to the end of the month.  We bought our pass at the beginning of July 2014.  It will end July 31, 2015.  It gets us into all National Parks, Monuments, BLM lands, Refuges, you name it. 

-Lodging is the most expensive thing.  We don’t camp.  We stay some time with relatives.  We use points and free nights.  And we research the hell out of places.  I’ve racked up a lot of points from all the basketball player rooms for tournaments and I got points for my Marriott room when I graded AP tests.  That gave us four nights of free rooms plus with the Best Western Summer Promotion, we will have enough for free nights later on.  The most expensive hotels are free to us with points.  We also research a ton.  Most hotels are under $100 until we get around Glacier National Park, in which case we simply have to pay up.  We also look at cabins and VRBO.  We also book early and change when we find cheaper fares.   

-We save for the trip and buy throughout the year for the trip.

-There are plenty of free audiobooks and podcasts for the drive, and plenty of books to read while relaxing at night.

-We take wine with us in the car and it must be cheap.  Our preferred include Meridian Chardonnay from Safeway, Trader Joe’s Box White, Trader Joe’s Riesling, Beringer Chardonnay, Trader Joe’s Sangiovese, and any local wines we come upon. 

Costs spread out over the year make this kind of trip doable.  And every year we seem to be able to do a better and better job saving money.    

What does a Day One look like?

I get up at 4 a.m.  This is going to be pretty normal for the next half year until probably March.  By that time I’ll be trying to get a little more sleep to recoup from basketball season.

I head into the kitchen and my wife and I make coffee.  She checks work e-mails as Ms. Coach Brown begins her new job at, well, my school.  I look at twitter and notice that the Asian markets are in a tailspin.  I take a mental note.  I have breakfast; two eggs, two bacon, two pieces of toast.  Then I look at blog post; Giants blogs, retail deal blogs, Mashable, and finally teacher blogs for a couple of pearls of wisdom or a link. 

My wife goes to work out and I pick out a shirt and tie for the day.  Shower, shave, and I’m ready and out the door by six.  This is about thirty minutes from normal but I want to leave nothing to chance in the classroom.  Oddly enough I forget to check simple things before the day begins. 

I’m not the first one in my building.  This is a good thing.  It means I work with people that care.  I unlock my door and immediately start arranging desks in a more workable fashion.  Then the hour plus dance.

-Set the Newshour on the laptop.

-Bring up the video clips and Power Points I’ll use for today.

-Check Twitter again.  Dow is down 500 pts and I need to be prepared to discuss it. 

-Print out new class rosters.  Shit, printer is out of paper.  Put in paper.  Shit, it won’t print.  Make sure printer is found on my laptop.  I is.  I go and turn off and on the printer.  Hit print again.  Still won’t print.  Class is 45 minutes away and I’m starting to get concerned (which is stupid).  I find the printer properties and hit the Refresh button.  Printer now prints four copies of my class roster.  Happy Monday.

-I turn on my iTunes play-list and put it up on the big screen and music starts….30 minutes before class. 

-I head to the Admin Building to make sure no last minute things  are in my box. 

-I come back, look over the room, nod in satisfaction, and check Twitter.  The market is not looking good. 

-I walk out of my door with 15 minutes before class.  In my class songs from the Rolling Stone to Lorde James Brown to Prince are playing.  I help Freshmen find the right rooms and greet my students as they filter in.

Here we go.

1st Period-

My classroom is stuffy because the AC won’t kick in for another hour.  I’m already warm.  The class is an Economics/AP Comparative Government hybrid and it is already engaged.  News is well received and I get into character.  I read the attendance as Ben Stein, then show the clip of Ben Stein, then talk as Ben Stein about the misconceptions of Economics.  I then slowly change my character into character from the boring Stein to Morphus from The Matrix, complete with robe-style jacket and sunglasses.  I do the whole “red pill, blue pill” speech but with an Economics bend.  We do a simulation that shows self-interest and then start into the Eight Core Rules of Economics.  A very good class.

2nd Period-

I head out and greet my next class, American Government.  Again music is playing as they come into the room only this time I concentrate on the Introductions.  These students are going to be less intrinsically engaged with the academia so I want them to know who I am.  The news elicits a lot of good questions and engagement is high.  I have them write opinion pieces on utopian society, capital punishment, and if they know if people can be arrested for possibly committing a crime in the future.  We talk about it and the discussion is great.  I show a clip from Star Trek, The Next Generation in which the group is on a planet where all crime is punishable by death, and Wesley Crusher falls through a planter thus breaking the law.  The conversation is fantastic.  Another very good class.

At break I consume a nutrition bar and talk to the Athletic Director about basketball stuff.  Then I hustle back and greet my third period.

3rd Period-

Again American Government, and this class is very eclectic.  There is massive debate potential here.  I start by discussing Silent Reading (the first 20 minutes of this period, added on) and why I find it valuable.  I also show them my library of books, talk about each magazine, and they tell them that I’m happy to buy them books.  They we conduct the class much like second period only this class is very chatty, and in a good way.  I cut back some of the writing portion of the questions and make them flat out discussion, which is usually the most important part.  We end a bit behind but just as, maybe even more so, enlightened. 

4th Period-

Back outside and back to the AP Comp Gov-Econ hybrid.  This time my boss shows up and engages the students about the music and some post-secondary institutional advice.  This is nice because it shows that the principal clearly “gets it” and we have a nice banter.  The problem is now we are behind.  I do the Ben Stein/Morphus shtick  but I end up about ten minutes off the previous class.  I’ll have to make this up in two days since tomorrow is the Google Classroom log-in day.

Lunch is quiet and I surf the net looking for news of the markets.  I’m back outside to greet students. 

5th Period-

Fairly large class for a 5th period and back to American Government.  This class is the first one that shows signs of Seniors that are no longer enamored with the concept of being here for the next nine months.  Body language from a few choice students is not good.  But most of the students are still very engaged and overwhelms any negativity.  The engagement is so good that we are also behind (only a tad) in this class at the end. 

6th Period is my prep and take stock of day one.  I’m tired but happy that everything went well.  But day one is easy and most teachers are good on this day.  It’s the next 186 that really make the difference.  I wander to A-Building and watch the lines of students trying to make changes to their schedule.  The building is totally alive and in action.  I ask some of the staff for stickers for the computers in my Chromebook cart.  We are totally out of stickers.  That’s not good.  I need the computers numbered to match their port in the cart.  I wander over to a teacher that I have found extremely resourceful and he shows me a label maker that works perfect for marking the Chromebooks.  It takes most of the period. 

The bell rings for the end of school but I ignore it and start grading some papers and prepping for tomorrow.  The technology portion is going to be full of hiccups but that’s par for the course when dealing with machines.  I want to have it totally down by 3rd Period.  I end the day by cleaning up my desk.

My wife lets me know that she is leaving and I follow her home.  We take a three mile walk and decompress from the day; she spent all of it helping kids with schedules.  She’s been a teacher for 15 years and is now a program head and administrator. Her new adventure is just starting.  It’s low-90’s outside but the walk feels good. 

We end the night with pizza and a salad, and we are in bed by about 8:30.  The night will be a little noisy as they are harvesting grapes really early this year and the vineyard behind my fence doesn’t have the Cakebread level vines.  They are harvested by machine.  I read a little from a book about Nigerian culture and drift off. 

My fifteenth year has begun.     

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Day 11: Saguaro National Park East and West

We finally relaxed upon waking up on our trip.  We took our time, enjoyed the conversation and the coffee, and promptly paid for it with our first hike. 

Even if we had been to Tucson many times we had never visited Saguaro National Park, which is divided between the Tucson Mountain District west of Tucson, and the Rincon Valley District an hour away east of Tucson.  We decided to drive out to the east end of Saguaro because most reviews stated that the east end had better hiking.  This means a lot of driving because Tucson and the burbs around it are very spread out.

At the visitor’s center we stopped to take a look for some stickers my wife is hunting for when we found about a half dozen javelina dozing underneath the large windows looking out from the building.  Javelina look like boars that have been flattened sideways between two large stones.  They are not particularly cute and cuddly, and golfers in this area hate them because they often tear up the course foraging for food.  Most patrons of the visitor’s center found the creatures mildly interesting and the park rangers didn’t seem all too concerned with them at all.  Then a couple of more Javelina started to wander into the clearing from the desert scrub.  Then more.  Finally a mother appeared with two tiny babies in tow, both with part of their umbilical cord still attached.  The place went bananas.  People started with the “ohhhhhhh, so cute” and madly flashed pictures.  The rangers immediately stopped what they were doing and started to oogle over the little Javes.   “They can’t be more than a couple of days old” one of the older rangers exclaimed.  The energy was quite impressive.  Me?  I was stoic as usual. 

IMG_0492

Just kidding.  It was actually a pretty damn cool moment.  The babies were introduced to the rest of the javelina clan and the whole thing became a celebratory mood within the building.  It was kind of a special moment.

We drove to a different area of the east end of the park and hiked a nice series of trails that wove through a thin Saguaro forest within the hills of east Tucson.  It was nice, it wasn’t terribly hot (mid-80’s), and the trail was fairly simple.  The problem?  It was 10:30 and it was unbelievably humid.  By the end of the hike we were whipped only because the air was thick and we were sweating like sponges.  It ended up being a hike that shouldn’t have been difficult but was. 

We decided to head to the Tucson Mountain part of the park on the west side of the city to hit a couple of very small, mellow hikes.  No long ones.  The west side of Saguaro doesn’t have the great plethora of hiking trails but it did have a much more dense saguaro forest, and much more natural looking areas being farther away from civilization.  We hit the Visitor’s Center, the Desert Nature Trail, and a series of petroglyphs on a rock pile before we were ran off by approaching thunderstorms.  Since the petroglyphs were on a dirt road we didn’t want to be caught off in the wilderness in a flash flood or in muck. 

We are whipped.  Damn humidity.

Trails hiked:  Garwood/Carrillo/Douglas Springs loop, Desert Nature Trail, Signal Hill petroglyphs.

Total miles:  6.3

Friday, August 21, 2015

PBIS

It stands for Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support.  I’m not going to lie, I was insanely skeptical.  The half dozen people I talked to said it was inconsistent in terms of dealing with school culture, and it hid some of the overarching problems by focusing on a small population.  Many reviews online said that while the number of referrals within schools was way down, the culture didn’t really change. 

I left the two and a half hour presentation with a much better feeling, although there are plenty of questions I have about a systemic implementation at the high school. 

Things I liked:

-This program seems to really target kids that have suffered from traumatic childhood events.  This group is probably a higher in school than most teachers think. 

-The program starts in early childhood and stresses the necessity of providing information to teachers and stakeholders later in the child’s academic career. 

-Data.  More and more data and greater access to data, thus a greater ability for educators to make rational interventions.

-Creation of multiple levels of incentives while maintaining appropriate disincentives for behavior.  We can teach and model social skills but in the end there is still rules that need to be followed. 

Things I Question:

-The program really focused on what is probably about 10% of the population but wants change the culture of the entire institution.

-There was a strong amount of “a lot of kids don’t have a choice about how they act, they are a product of the environment.”  Well, yes and no.  By the time a student reaches me the “product of your environment” tag, while legitimate, will not transfer out into society.  We need to talk about choice, and making the right choices.

-When subject of tardies came up we were shown a dance number from a school in Wisconsin.  Positive school atmosphere.  I get it.  But the problem is not necessarily student buy in, it’s will the teachers be consistent.  That has been a problem. 

-Stop using Norway as a comparable country statistically.  “Look, Norway has a lower recidivism rate.  Why can’t we be more like them?”  Because Norway is a nearly completely homogenous culture of five million people with a massive welfare state supported by petroleum and natural gas.  Bring a little more diversity and increase the population by over 300 million and you might see something different. 

When we debriefed later in the day it was evident that many of my colleagues shared the same hopes and concerns about PBIS.  The data and interventions were much welcomed but some fundamental philosophies had a long way to go.