Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Let’s welcome new education laws in California!

While you’re kissing a complete stranger at midnight on January 1, 2016 there are some new laws that will go into effect for us educational folk here in California.  Shall we take a look?

Mandatory Vaccines (SB 277) Requires full vaccination for most children to enroll in school, beginning with the 2016-2017 school year, in order to attend public or private school regardless of their parents' personal or religious beliefs.

I’ve always thought that parents that don’t vaccinate their children are pretty much on par with bath salt dealers and ISIS.  They not only present a danger for their own children, they present a danger for society as a whole because they won’t remove the tin foil from their head to get the facts about immunization.  I’m a little safer thanks to this law.

High School Exit Exam (SB 172, Liu) Suspends the administration of the high school exit examination and removes the high school exit examination as a condition of receiving a diploma of graduation for each pupil completing grade 12 for specified school years.

YOU GET A DIPLOMA….AND YOU GET A DIPLOMA….AND YOU GET A DIPLOMA!

Good news for those that didn’t quite earn a diploma but managed to get an education that is somewhere below the level of eighth grade.  If you passed high school with good enough grades, and you graduated between 2004 and 2015, you will be getting a diploma.

Even if you failed the California High School Exit Exam.

There are three positive things that came out of the era of the mess that was No Child Left Behind. 

1)  The term “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”  This was important because it is true.

2)  The use of data showed that we are totally underperforming to our Black and Latino students.

3)  A minimum skills assessment to graduate high school.

The Exit Exam (nicknamed CAHSEE) was the bane of the existence to many teachers mainly because it was ANOTHER test to be given to students on top of the STAR test which measured the No Child Left Behind nonsense, and currently Common Core.  With the test contract expired, California decided to stop offering the Exit Exam (wanting to mix it with Common Core later) but was left in limbo because a lot of students that had graduated yet were still allowed to take it…now couldn’t.  So they suspended it……back to 2004.  This means that every student that didn’t pass a basic skills exam that any eighth grader should pass will now be given a diploma.  Why?  Probably because the test was racist, sexist, and discriminated against those in poverty because that’s a great way to bail out an education system that allowed students to take the Exit Exam once in 10th grade, twice in 11th grade, and up to five times as a Senior in high school.  Oh, and the English section requires a 60% to pass.  The Math?  A 55%.

Trying to meld it into Common Core is a great idea.  Simply granting a waiver to a decades worth of students shows that the government doesn’t really have confidence in its teachers at all.  With a small margin of error, about 10% of high school students could not pass the CAHSEE.  10%.  And those were disproportionately Latino and Black students.  But while the data shows that schools, parents, and communities have have along way to go in meeting the needs of these populations, Senate Bill 172 gives the whole thing a “meh, it’s good enough” approach.  The same approach that has plagued the system for a long, long time. 

Sex Ed Instruction (AB 329, Weber) Changes sexual education courses from voluntary to mandatory. Updates curricula to include, for example, more information about HIV and the spectrum of gender identity. Parents will need to specifically opt-out​ their children if they do not want them to receive the instruction. 

Mandatory sexual education courses are a good thing.  I remember when it was controversial to talk about HIV in 1991 in high school and I’m embarressed that it was even a thing.  Gender identity?  I have many feelings on the issue of gender identity, most of it revolving around the mantra of “I could give a shit.”  I always find it interesting and hypocritical about how most of society in all spectrums treats the issue of gender.  But gender identity taught in schools will probably cause enough controversey to remain entertaining, so be it.

Gun-Free School Zone (SB 707, Wolk) Persons with concealed weapons permits will no longer be allowed to carry a concealed weapon on public or private K-12 schools, universities or colleges. There are exemptions for certain appointed peace officers who are authorized to carry a firearm by their appointing agency and certain retired reserve peace officers who are authorized to carry a concealed or loaded firearm.

Police officers should carry guns on campus.  No one else should.  Those morons that believe that more guns create a safer environment that deters crime have no evidence that backs that up and are fools.

“Yes means yes” (SB 695): Teaching students about consent will now be included in high school health education classes. This law requires schools districts to include in their health classes, which are mandatory for graduation, lessons on the importance of consent for sexual acts, or that “yes means yes.”

This is disaster written all over it.  Just so I’m absolutely clear, we are going to tell high school teachers that teach health education, from dedicated health specialists to the 30 year veteren PE teacher that has to teach it and resents the hell out of it (and every spectrum in-between) that THEY are going to explain what consent is?  Oh this is gold.  Don’t get me wrong, I think the issue of consent should be discussed.  But this just has the potential of being a total and complete mess.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Day 23: Dinosaur National Monument

The day changed because of weather.  It looked like it might storm early on so we hustled the 35 miles out to the Canyon section (the east side) of Dinosaur that was actually back in Colorado.  After talking to the rangers in the Visitor’s Center we drove the 30 miles north to the actual park and started the hike at the end of the road; the Harper’s Corner hike.  The hike would take us out along a ridge about a mile and a half out to a point overlooking the Echo Park and the Green River.  The weather was not looking great but the drive was long and we wanted to get walking.  We grabbed a bottle of water and headed out.

We broke our own rules.  About a mile into the hike we heard our first thunder and the rain started.  Shit.  It sounded far off so we half jogged out to the point.  This is not what you are supposed to do, especially on an exposed ridge or a canyon point.  When we hit the overlook we were in a steady rain with a decent wind, and we could see the storm cell coming up the canyon. 

Not good.  And not smart to be here.

For the record, we have to come back here.  The views were great regardless of the rain and wind.  The Canyon section of Dinosaur is already on our list for a future trip and guess what; the views of Dinosaur to the south are as good as any that we have seen on our trip.  It’s out there but it’s so worth it.

Except that now the thunder was sounding sharp. 

We jogged back to the car and made it without incident, although we were not happy with ourselves because the trip back was fairly stressful.  We worked our way back down the Harper Canyon Road but couldn’t really stop because the wind and rain didn’t really let us out of the car.  By the time we reached Highway 40, the rain (of course) had stopped.  Instead of going back we decided to hit the western section of Dinosaur National Park.  This was the location of the famous dinosaur quarry. 

We headed back into Utah to the Quarry section of Dinosaur and first hit a couple of small hikes.  We walked two box canyons and started a canyon hike until we heard the thunder.  We went back to the Visitor’s Center and took a small tram to the dinosaur quarry.  You can either take the tram up or walk up.  We decided to take the tram up and walk down.  It was only about a mile and half.  The quarry is very interesting; a half excavated rock quarry of dinosaur bones that has been encased in a large building.  It looks unreal, meaning it looks really, really cool….if you are a child.  For adults?  Meh.  It’s neat for a little while but the fossils are petrified and only one really looks like the structure of a small dinosaur.  The rest are independent bones except for a couple of skeletons in a small glass case.  It was nice but we probably won’t be returning to this side of the park.  We walked done the hill from the quarry, watching the clouds move in and the seemingly ever present sound of thunder in the distance.  We stopped in a couple of locations to see fossils in the rock but eventually moved expediently back to the car, and headed back to Vernal.   

This was a quick trip to Dinosaur and we didn’t realize that it could be so big.  There is a strong chance we will be returning to hit the east Canyon section for a visit to Echo Park in the near future.  It’s just too awesome to pass up.

Trails Hiked:  Harper’s Corner Trail, Plug Hat Trail, Box Canyon, Hog Canyon, Fossil Discovery Trail

Miles Hiked:  5

Friday, December 25, 2015

Reinvention or revision or recalculation or reassess or whatever

Ever notice that this blog seems to disappear around the first two weeks of November, only to reappear around Christmas?  Yeah, didn't think so.

There is a direct correlation between posts and basketball, and my Christmas present is going to take care of that.  As usual the end of the year brings forth reflection and pondering about what life holds for me.  I'm already on the path to making that happen.  I'm already on a path to make myself a better teacher and a better husband.  It's a path that was really started years ago and much of what has happened in the last few years was about pulling the trigger.  Well, we are now off and running in another direction.

My teaching has to improve.  I drop into survival mode for four months of the year and I'm tired of the half-assness that is involved with something I'm passionate about.  On top of that I need to incorporate the "whatever" stipulations that are coming down the road from Standards and Practices.  They are annoying at best but still require additional human capital to apply, and that resource has been more and more stretched.

I also need to address this next generation of technology and teaching.  Look!  We have Chromebooks!  Look!  People use the Chromebooks instead of teaching!  Look!  That's doing it wrong!  In a world that has now espoused the glory in technology replacing everything, it looks like technology is being used as the answer; when it is supposed to be a tool.  Not THE answer.  A tool.  In a meeting with middle school teachers the first thing out of the mouth of a younger teacher was "how much do you incorporate technology in your classroom?"  The frightening part wasn't that I don't make a massive point to incorporate technology just for the sake of incorporating technology, the frightening part was that it was a meeting about writing.  The question should've been about teaching, not technology.

And there is too much going on in the world for me not to write.  I miss writing.  I think I actually write well and need to write to keep my mind from exploding.

So what's next?  

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Cotati surrenders, figures that kneeling to lower standards produces better results.

I’ve always been afraid of these kind of grading systems.  Now they have hit close to home.

“The new system is called the equal interval scale. Essentially, it makes it harder to get a failing grade. It departs from the traditional A to F scale in which students receive F’s for scores below 59 percent. Instead, the scale awards F’s only for scores below 20 percent…..

……Under the new policy, grades rise in 20-point increments. For example, scores of 20 to 40 percentage points earn D- through D+ grades — and so on, up the ladder. Students get an A- for scoring between 80 and 85, which traditionally is low B territory…..

…..Some teachers have tried to hang on to the traditional grading system but have been tripped up by a blanket new policy that students, even if they do not hand in homework or take a test, get 50 percent.”

The Cotati-Rohnert Park School District has fallen straight into the trap of giving up.  Instead of actually addressing the problems within the schools and teaching everyone how to work more efficiently, they simply moved the bar. 

“I would see students in my classroom who for whatever reason, they would see themselves get further and further behind and at some point you would see some give up and check out,” (Valerie)Ganzler said. “Having grades that are equal intervals, it is always possible for those kids to catch up.”

There is something so fundamentally wrong with that statement that I almost don’t even know where to begin.  It might be that the “for whatever reason” theory that a student is getting behind.  There is a reason and the school’s job (and the teacher’s job) is to find the support structure that can help that kid.  Lowering the bar just makes it less necessary for the district and all its components to remain accountable to the student.  Student is failing?  No big deal because the bar is so low that we can let the problem slide, and in the long run it will also save the district money because support programs actually cost money. 

Or maybe my horror at the statement is pointed towards the teacher that manufactures the blanket of “hope” as solution for not structuring the classroom around what’s going on with the students.  If a student is in my class working hard they will not fail.  Period.  That student will learn and progress and while the numbers may not totally represent the same academic outcome as, let’s say, a four-year college bound student, the struggling student that works is going to graduate.  That’s the system that’s built within the class and the student that desire’s the education will get one.

But Cotati has created an atmosphere that relies on hope and the image that if you lower the bar enough, less people will fail and the community will be oh-so-happy.  “Look, the new grading system has created more graduates!  Success!”  Except that the graduate simply didn’t show up and received a 50% for all the missed work yet still graduated because failing is at 20%.  Makes.  Perfect.  Sense. 

This kind of grading system does have severe consequences.  The “failure is not an option” mentality has created students that can’t seem to deal with everyday life.  This article from Psychology Today has been making the rounds on the Interwebz and has stirred up all kinds of conversation about the negative externalities creating grading systems based on false hope.

“Many students, they (the faculty) said, now view a C, or sometimes even a B, as failure, and they interpret such “failure” as the end of the world. Faculty also noted an increased tendency for students to blame them (the faculty) for low grades—they weren’t explicit enough in telling the students just what the test would cover or just what would distinguish a good paper from a bad one. They described an increased tendency to see a poor grade as reason to complain rather than as reason to study more, or more effectively. Much of the discussions had to do with the amount of handholding faculty should do versus the degree to which the response should be something like, “Buck up, this is college.” Does the first response simply play into and perpetuate students’ neediness and unwillingness to take responsibility? Does the second response create the possibility of serious emotional breakdown, or, who knows, maybe even suicide?”

We are failing all right; we are failing to teach students how to think, how to pick themselves up from negative experiences, and how to overcome adversity. 

And Cotati Unified is now the epicenter of this failure on the North Coast.  

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Day 22: Grand Junction, Colorado to Vernal, Utah via Colorado National Monument

The east gate to Colorado National Monument is literally in a nice subdivision in Grand Junction.  It was about a ten minute drive from the motel and within 15 minutes we were walking towards a waterfall that unfortunately had very little water.  The No Thoroughfare Canyon hike was done early in the morning and while the journey was just fine, the pay-off was dry.  No wildlife either for a lonely morning.  Just a couple of large lizards that would take an occasional dart at our heels. 

We then drove the Rim Road at Colorado and saw some spectacular scenery.  The park is up on a large mesa that overlooks a series of jagged, and beautiful, canyons.  Like many National Monuments it’s small enough to enjoy in a day but large enough to produce that sense of wonder that is fantastic.  The pinnacle of the trip is the Independence Monument, a triangle fin-like formation in the middle of Monument Canyon.  We parked at the trailhead of the lower end of Monument Canyon and considered our next hike, a five mile plus jaunt to the Independence Monument, around it, and back down Wedding Canyon.  The problem was that the clock was after noon and the temperatures were starting to rise.  Screw it.  There was a breeze, a view, and we were hydrated.  Let’s go!  The hike was fabulous.  We ended up coming up Monument Canyon (something different since we are usually going down into a canyon) to the mammoth Independence Monument and great views of the canyon interior.  The ascent into the canyon was moderate but had stairs, and the stiff breeze allowed for a great respite against the warming temps. 

Until our decent.  Wedding Canyon had great views but a punishing decent of rocky terrain mixed with steep gravel downslopes.  It was not easy.  At the bottom we still had a good mile or so hike when my wife started to mention that she was feeling off.  Uh oh.  Dizziness, a bit of nausea, the feeling of overheating.  Yep, sounded like heat exhaustion all over again. We stopped and consumed jerky and sports drinks and plodded on.  My wife is a trooper but she clearly seemed off.  I started thinking of possible ways to address the potential of this becoming serious.  I couldn’t see the parking lot and wasn’t familiar with Wedding Canyon so I was a tad nervous.  Plus, I knew what she was feeling and it was not good.  After going over a small bluff…..the car!  I turned on the air conditioner ahead of her and got her drinking more water.  Then we got ice out and put it on the back of her neck.

“I’ll tell you in a few minutes whether or not we should get to a hospital because I feel very off.”

The air conditioning and ice did the trick.  We also consumed our sandwiches, hit a McDonalds for a large Diet Coke, and kept the ice on the neck until my wife started to perk up.  Then it was hunger, irritation that it happened, and exhaustion so I knew she was ok. 

We left Colorado National Monument and head almost due north into a beautiful alpine ridgeline and then dropped down into eastern Utah and mile and miles of oil drilling.  Signs were everywhere signifying that a lot of land in northeastern Utah was owned by Chevron and that the operation was very much alive.  We are experiencing more and more gas/oil boomtowns and they are much more prevalent that we could possibly realize.   

That would include our new home for two days; Vernal, Utah.  Vernal is usually considered popular because of Dinosaur National Monument and the plethora of outdoorsy stuff to do locally.  And then I noticed the trucks and buildings for companies like Halliburton and Schlumberger.  That means there is petroleum or mining or both within the local geology, and we have here a gas/oil boomtown.  It must be a tad bit progressive of a boomtown because I didn’t expect the Sprouts.

Trails hiked: No Thoroughfare Canyon to the (dry) waterfall, Lower Monument Canyon/Independence Monument/Wedding Canyon Loop.

Miles hiked: 9.3

The week that suffers from pestilence.

I’m at a coffee shop in Rocklin at the moment.  It’s fall and I’m doing a little of the hoops thing with our local AAU team.  I’m coaching both the U-16 and U-18 teams so one game is down and five remain.

*****

First sickness of the year.  Woke up with the sore throat and slowly but surely the energy level started to drop.  By the end of the day I felt so fatigued that it was starting to feel flu-ish.  Some teachers like the “movie and worksheet” route on rough days but I slog through.  I start slow to conserve energy and then try and end strong.  Now my head is just stuffy and I’m suffering from a consistent low grade headache.  I’m wondering if it is allergies.

*****

Peer counselors went to a camp thingy near Willits last weekend and came back with warm fuzzy feelings.  One of them gave me a purple yarn bracelet and told me that they appreciated me .  Usually I smile and move on without it really impacting.  For some reason this year made me smile and actually made me feel, well, nice.  I also took two pieces of yarn and told two students that I appreciated them later in the day.   One young man and one young woman.  Both are pretty awesome. 

*****

I was able to show the new Star Wars trailer in class because it totally relates to Economics.  So there. 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The week that was hung over from Homecoming

Students were sick and slightly depressed this week from the after-effects of Homecoming.  Now that it’s over the kids are realizing that the grind is real from now until Thanksgiving, with report cards heading out in a couple of weeks.  Absences were up as well as the weeks of eating crap and staying up late caught up with the teenage physiology. 

*****

IMG_1245

Here is the Homecoming scorecard!  There are over 9,000 potential points to be had in a variety of categories.  Now look at the one that actually matters to one’s education:

Attendance:  200

At least we have our priorities straight.  A paltry 2% of a school related event counts actually showing up for class.  And hey look; the Seniors won Homecoming, and they only had the second worst attendance. 

*slow clap

*****

Oh, and for those that say that Homecoming is about school spirit, there’s another 2% category.  What’s more the classes chose class colors to be worn on Friday instead of school colors.  Senior class color?  Black.  Junior class color?  Orange.

Colors of the Santa Rosa High School football team that we played Friday evening?  Black and Orange. 

You got to love the school spirit that is kind enough to have half the home bleachers actually wear the colors of the opposing team.

*slower clap

*****

Monday was Professional Development Day.  The afternoon meeting involved an ER doctor, a sheriff, and a former gang member.  What did we learn?

-Chlamydia is the most common sexually transmitted disease in Ukiah. 

-Ukiah is four times the state average for alcohol related crimes. 

-Parents are knowingly allowing kids to party at their homes.  Not just their own kids, all their friends as well.

-Parents think that current marijuana strains are just like the strains they smoked long ago.  Some current strains are 25-30 THC.

-Remember pot brownies?  I don’t.  I do know that honeyoil is about 80% THC and people are now putting honeyoil into brownie mix and taking it to school. 

-Meth is terrible.

-Molly is around and kids seem to insist that it is a safe form of ecstasy.

-Bath salts are not only in Ukiah but are being sold at smoke shops over-the-counter.

Happy Day!

*****

It’s fascinating to see where all your old high school friends are in life in comparison to you.  My best friend from high school was in town on a work issue so my wife and I had dinner with her while we reminisced about “the old days.”   The number one difference between me and my high school compadres is kids.  I have none.  My old friends have many.  Kids have dictated much of their existence since high school while I’ve dictated much of my existence until I got married.  Kids aren’t a bad thing, just not my thing.  I have kids every day and I enjoy them immensely, just like I enjoy my own time alone.    

Friday, October 09, 2015

Day 21: Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park North Rim.

Our 1960’s style motel is growing on us, probably because the owners care about their motel and we appreciate hard working small business people.  We enjoyed a nice breakfast and headed back south towards the Gunnison River.

The National Geographic book we bought listed the North Vista Trail as a must hike, so we headed east at the town of Delta, Colorado, weaved through the farm land of Clifford, and ended up on the unpaved roads to the ranger station on the north rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.  The ranger said that the trail had little wildlife activity and that we should enjoy ourselves, and off we went.

It was a dandy of a hike.   The trail followed the north rim of the canyon with fabulous views and ended up on the top of Green Mountain with stunning views of the entire park and surrounding valleys.  It was a great hike in great weather with no people and the Cottontail bunnies being the only thing that distracted us from the wonderful views.  Black Canyon of the Gunnison was a late addition to the trip, and was a real treat. 

We got back in time to swim at the pool.  Yep, we swam at the middle-of-the-parking-lot pool and we loved it.  The sixties style be dammed, we enjoyed the chill nature of the pool, the kindness of the owner, and relaxation we felt after a long hike and nice swim.

Trails hiked: North Vista Trail to Green Mountain.

Miles Hiked:  7.3

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Mr. Silva-Brown’s Report Card, Part Four: Analyzing the data; 2015 edition

I can’t believe that I forgot to post this!  Believe it or not I completed parts 1-3 about two months ago so this is a little late. 

But it’s also a really good update assessment tool.  So, I’ll leave the old text and add on current comments in bold.  Let’s see if I learned anything.

There is plenty to take away from my 2015 student reviews. 

-There seems to be a fine line between some students saying I’m fun and passionate, and some saying I’m mean.  I see two reasons for this.  First is that my temperament changes around November, which is probably connected to my energy level having to do with the start of basketball season.  I get a bit grumpier, a bit less patient, and my tolerance for tomfoolery and highjinks starts to wane.  The second reason has to do with the end of Homecoming, the holidays, and my attendance consistency.  Homecoming usually ends around mid-October, and at this point the students realize that school is not going to just be about floats, spirit rallies, insulting each other, and a bell.  They actually need to lock down and when the holidays show up, the academics start to slide.  Families take multiple week vacations, Winter sports start hitting student time management, and my standards remain consistent.  Push back commences and get labeled as mean.  Case in point; I had one student say that I was rude to students and colleagues, and that I had little or no respect for students, and that I was despicable.  That was the worst comment I got and was pretty much the only super negative one.  But if you read the rest of the students review one thing stands out over and over again.  Attendance.  I was power hungry with my tardy policy.  I was ridiculous with Attendance Contracts.  It was stupid that I would mark students tardy if they showed up ten seconds late.  It was an AP student that was pissed that past teachers didn’t hold the student accountable, probably because the student was in AP classes. 

So what do?  Well, I’m not changing my attendance policy.  At all.  We have become a culture that doesn’t want to pay attention to detail and the simplest detail is showing up on time and doing your work on time.  Ask around to businesses locally and they tell you that it is amazing that the youth labor pool expects the employer to adjust the schedule for the worker, not the other way around. 

The year is young and attendance is still an issue.  It’s clearly not being met with the same kind of anger as past years.  But grades will be coming out in the next few weeks and that will be an interesting first look at whether or not I’m a mean old bastard.

The second thing?  My summer trips have really gave me time to reflect on what it is to be a successful human being.  That sounds weird except that I can’t really describe it any other way.  I’m limited to the amount of human capital I can put to any one endeavor because I am, well, human.  Within that restriction I want to be the best husband, teacher, coach, citizen, person, advocate that I can.  But I’m suffering from scarcity, big time.  So the logical thing is to prioritize.  The problem is that I work in a job that has very interesting ideas on the concept of prioritizing.  I didn’t participate in summer basketball this year.  Instead (as you might have been reading) I took a summer long road trip to heal, strengthen, and engage my soul;  and I did it with my partner.  Well I took some criticism apparently, from some local coaches and some of  my program’s parents.  The commentary was that I wasn’t committed.  This is an insanely idiotic claim.  Here’s a little trivia; name the two active coaches who have coached the longest consecutive years in the North Bay League.  Go ahead, I’ll give you you a moment.

Ready?

1)  Coach Brown – Ukiah High School

2)  Tom Bonfigli – Cardinal Newman High School

That’s a little bit cheating because Coach Bonfigli was involved with Cardinal Newman for some 15 years, left for awhile, and has coached at Newman since 2007.   I don’t see myself in the same galaxy as Bonfigli, and I’ve spent 13 of my 14 years as the Frosh and JV coach.  However I’ve pretty much committed my life blood for years to Ukiah basketball.  So, that argument is bunk.  I’m a teacher and a husband as well, and when you rank those things against each other…..well….the other people are the ones that seem to have it totally warped.  But who knows.  Maybe I make the change or maybe the change makes me.

I’ve actually heard nothing negative about basketball since the school year began and the numbers showing up for Fall Basketball (AAU) are better than they have been in five or six years.  We’ll see how it goes when the season starts.

-Ok, so I don’t know if you have noticed but the assignment thing is absolutely a problem for me.  I’m taking too long, again, to get assignments graded and there is no excuse at all for the delay.  This year I wanted to commit on getting things done quicker, and I didn’t.  I’m trying to figure out why this is and I’m just not prioritizing returning all papers.  I prioritize some but things like quizzes are put off in the grade book until later.  Note, students really didn’t care about getting the work back as a method of assessing their progress.  They wanted to know grades. 

And I’m still getting behind.

-Speaking of grades, I hate make-up work.  Hate it, hate it, hate it.  Let’s do a little pro/con list for make-up work

Pro:  Students might learn the material from retaking quiz.

Con:  Everything else.

Make-up work has created more work for me, taken up my lunch time, inflated grades, and created an entitled culture that has students dependent on make-up work.  Don’t worry about doing it right the first time, the safety net is there.  That ends.  Now.  It is a two year experiment that has resulted in no real academic progress.

-There is plenty of room for growth here and the great thing about what I do is that I’m continually excited to make my teaching better and better.  I still get those moments when the ideas whirl in my brain and I need to sit down and brainstorm engaging ideas that students will learn from.         

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Hey, remember when the week was totally taken over by Homecoming?

Fall is here.  The mornings are now crisp, the leaves have started to change and drop, and we are starting to see more animals running around now that the heat has started to dissipate.  Sure, we will still get a couple of mid-90 degree days but the heat is short lived because when the sun drops, Fall is in the evening air.

*****

Homecoming was this week.  Because the theme was music genres and my Senior class had Rap/Hip Hop I tried to get into the mood.  It lasted three days.  Then I was fully prepared to take two days off because the whole process is a travesty of a mockery of a shame.  It’s also written like a reality television show.   I’ll leave it at that.  At least I got to listen to good music for most of the week.  The Senior skit had references to Easy-E, Fab 5 Freddy, and they played music from Que, Flo-Rida, Run-DMC, and Missy Elliott.  Ahh, the reminiscing. 

*****

Attendance contracts have started.  My tardy policy is sort of like work; “If a student shows a consistent pattern of tardiness they will be placed on an Attendance Contract.”  If a student is tardy now and then tardy again in a month, I don’t really worry about it.  But over the last two weeks I’ve had students begin to test the policy (like cell phones).  One tardy- I mark it down and don’t comment.  Two tardies- I approach the student and ask them if they are having some issue with transportation or special circumstances (since 95% of tardies are 1st period and after lunch).  Three tardies- I tell the student they are tapped out of freebies for the semester.  I think it’s a fair system and the students, for the most part, seem to accept it. 

*****

But not always.  1st period is one of my Advanced Placement classes every year.  Like clockwork, there is often a student (or two) that comes in late regularly and then if so furious that they are put on contract that it impacts the entire year.  That hasn’t happened this year but it happened last year, even to the point that the student basically called me a power hungry Nazi for issuing the contract.  See, AP students are never “sent to the office.”  Vice Principals often comment to me that the first time they see these students is their Senior year because of tardiness or cuts.  In my mind that means one of two things is happening.  One, students are reaching their Senior year and having a massive transformation to Senioritis mode, thus impacting their attendance.  Or two, someone is allowing these students to be late to class on a regular basis with no consequence.  It’s probably a little of both. 

*****

Another assignment turned in online.  Another assignment that is harder to grade online.  Another reason I don’t like paperless assignments. 

*****

It’s getting to the quarter pole of the year and my analysis of the overall year is that my classes are really damn good.  The number of students that are genuinely inquisitive is very high and more and more are starting to break out of their shells and contribute.  That’s a very positive sign going forward because the lessons get more and more interactive as the year goes on.  When they are involved classes are so much better. 

Day 20: Farmington, New Mexico to Grand Junction, Colorado via Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

We wanted to be gone by 6:30 and hiking some nice trails by 9:30 as our stay in the Four Corners, and the overall Southwest, was officially over.  We left Farmington and headed north along the Animas River into Colorado.

I love the mountains.  I really, really like the desert terrain of the Southwest but I love the mountains.  Durango is gorgeous in a way that makes me want to retire there but at the same time won’t allow me to because it’s too gorgeous.  Part of that gorgeous is expensive.  It’s as if someone wanted to put the ruggedness of the mountains on display for wealthy boomers and yuppie hipsters, then interspersed expensive stores and cafes in the mix.  We continued north and gaped at the mountains between Durango and Montrose, Colorado.  Waterfalls cascaded down snowcapped peaks with wildflowers in bloom and jagged peaks welcomed us to our new geography.  This stretch is known as the Million Dollar Highway and is considered by many to be the most beautiful road in all of Colorado.  We loved looking at it and researching it later, well, it makes sense that it is considered so fantastic.

Our destination was Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, which wasn’t even an option until a month ago when it showed up on a National Park calendar, and then received a seal of approval from a friend of my wife.   We had originally decided on a quick visit before Needles/Canyonlands but it changed when Grand Junction became the next stop.  We changed our lodging and made our way to Black Canyon.  Road tripping on the fly is awesome like that.  

What a nice treat.  The canyon is not necessarily wide (Grand Canyon) or super expansive (Canyonlands) but instead the landscape was a deep, short gorge that had fantastic black/gray coloring and steep spires.  We were tired of because of the drive and did a couple of short overlooks on the South Rim, saving the long hike for tomorrow.  One walk was by the Visitor’s Center and yet again we were accosted by a snake, although this time it was just a rather large garter snake so no worries.  All the views were fantastic, although both of us were very impressed with The Painted Wall; an immense cliff (the largest in Colorado) that was colored in black and grey, with veins of almost white running through it.  After hitting the outlooks we drove through a couple of thunderstorm cells to Grand Junction.

We are staying at a renovated 1960’s style drive-in motel in the middle of Grand Junction.  It came highly recommended by Trip Advisor although right now I have my doubts.  It’s cheap, that’s for damn sure. 

Trails hiked:  Oak Flat Loop, Warner Point, various overlooks.

Miles hiked:  4.5  

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The week that can only be reached by cell phone

Hey guess what?  We are a quarter of the way through the semester!  That’s right!  Cinch notices went out this week and that means we are going to get some of those students wondering were grades are at….when they aren’t thinking about Homecoming.

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Oh yeah, and Homecoming is this week.  It’s been less invasive than past years, mainly because it looks like some students are realizing that it provides limited benefit for the time people deal with it.  I’ve heard a lot of the “the popular kids” take over the situation from students, and that ends up turning off a lot of people.  Normally those popular people also have parents with money and that money often comes with strings, and that leaves the opinion of others on the margin. 

*****

The item of the week is the cell phone.  I have a policy that is simple and to the point; if it’s out when it’s not supposed to be out I take it for 24 hours or until the student’s parent comes and picks it up, whichever comes first.  I’ve dealt with about a dozen phones so far this year but this week was the real tester.  Four phones this week, three had parents actually come to my classroom to pick them up.  Mind you these are Seniors in high school.  About 70% of parent interactions when this happens are very positive.  The other 30% are angry but it seems more geared towards the student.  After this week I’m guessing phone use is probably going to drop a lot because the message has started to travel.

*****

Fall Basketball started this week and means late evenings twice a week.  It also means that I get to bed quite a bit later and have a better chance of being tired during the school day.  I was a tad flat at the beginning of 2nd period on Tuesday when a student came in an said “Brown, where’s the energy?  This is my favorite class because of the energy!”  That helped but it will take me a week to adjust.

*****

Speaking of Fall basketball….over 30 kids!  That’s a fantastic improvement over the last five or six years when we barely have had enough players to field a team.  It looks like the older kids are raring to go and a large group of young basketball lovers is heading into the high school.  Hoop life is good!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Day 19: Chaco Canyon National Park

Chaco Canyon is known for two things.  It is the greatest collection of Native American pueblo ruins north of Mexico, and road to get to it is a bitch. 

We woke to rain and decided to risk the nasty road and headed back south towards County Road 7900, the turn-off to Chaco.  The problem with the road is not the first eight paved miles.  Those are great.  It isn’t the next nine miles of county paved road.  That was well graded and was an easy 50 mph ride.  It was the last four miles that was quite a bit dicey.  At its best the road is washboard with groves and washouts, plus a crossing over a very large wash.  If it is raining at all you are looking at an ugly ride in which you might have a problem in the wash.  If it is raining hard there is no way you are passing that four miles, meaning you might be stuck in Chaco Canyon for awhile.  We got through but were constantly watching the clouds all day.

Chaco Canyon is a community with different townships and a history that is unbelievably deep.  We spent over five hours just exploring the different houses on the loop road but never worked up the nerve to hike up the canyons, mainly because we kept hearing thunder throughout the day.  The Great Houses of Chaco are some of the largest in the entire country.  My wife and I read all the signs, bought the guidebooks, and walked all over the ruins trying to imagine the sights and thoughts of the inhabitants.  There is a feeling that overwhelms a person walking within the remains of such an ancient civilization.  What were they thinking when they looked at what I was looking at?  Why did they leave?  How did they manage to irrigate crops on only nine inches of water a year?  The entire afternoon was about investigating the massive structures of Chaco, and it was an experience. 

But the rain started around 2 p.m. and the thunder was closing in.  The road left us little choice; it was time to leave.  We were sprinkled on as we went across the wash and made our trek back to the highway, and ended up being thankful because a thunderstorm warning went into effect about the time we entered Farmington. 

After a small picnic on the Angus River we wine tasted some New Mexico bottles at a local place in Farmington and found that the bubbles were excellent, the Syrah was god-awful, and that the Cab Franc was very pleasant.  But none of it was really worth the Napa prices they wanted for it.  We bought a bottle of bubbles and a cheap Zin and called it a day.     

Trails hiked:  All those really neat houses at Chaco Canyon.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The week sure can’t make up its mind

It rained this week.  It wasn’t a warm, summerish rain that doesn’t give you any sense of real refreshment.  Nope.  This was a cool, fall rain.  It was a rain that was welcome along with the cold chip in the air that made me think happy thoughts of warm blankets, hot chocolate, and dark evenings. 

It was 101 today.

*****

The difference between an average teacher and better teacher could be something as simple as energy.  By now the students are in the unfortunate rhythm of school; the glazed looks complimenting the constant state of whining about boring classes and useless work.  What students are looking for is passion and energy.  I’m still at the door, the music is still playing as they enter, and I’m still whipping around the room being slightly loud, mildly sarcastic, and almost totally obnoxious.  Students are also engaged.  Don’t get caught up in normality.  Keep up the energy!

*****

Aluminum Overcast was in town this weekend.  No, not some kind of sleazy hipster college-radio band.  This is Aluminum Overcast:

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Over the last three days I’ve been hearing the roar of a B-17 over Ukiah.  It’s fantastic!  Unfortunately I can’t bear ponying up the $475 for twenty-four minutes in the air but watching it fly around the valley is a treat in itself.

*****

Two week long Short Term Independent Study contracts already.  Not even a month into the year and parents have already started to pull their kids for vacations because the two plus summer months, the week in November, the week in March, and the two weeks in December apparently are not enough.  Not that I’m bitter.  I’m to the point now where I have a pre-made slip of paper that says:

-You are responsible for the work.

-You are responsible to make up all quizzes and tests.

-Everything is on Google Classroom.

-This choice may not be in your best interest academically.

What will happen is they will go on vacation, do none of the work, come back knowing none of the material, and end up probably with a full letter grade lower.  My class is very intensive IN MY CLASS.  I don’t give a lot of busy work.  I’m selfish like that.

*****

Our department has found some energy again.  For a couple of rough years people sort of hunkered down in their rooms and kept to themselves while the trials of tribulations of the school and the economy had their way with society.  Now we are back out and engaging each other with new ideas and words of wisdom and support.  It might be fresh admin, it might be fresh teachers, and it might be that we are all tired of living in caves and would rather exist in communities. 

*****

Genetically I’m gifted in that I can pretty much play any sport.  I can’t play any sport great but I can go out and not totally embarrass myself.  I can still easily run with the varsity hoopsters.  I can play a good First Base while legging out a double here and there.  Golf?  I’ll do a little over 100 consistently.  Hell, I’ll manage in tennis and disc golf just fine.  Friday it was volleyball.  I had a blast partly because the students make me feel young again, and partly because it’s a competitive atmosphere.  Sure, the faculty consisted of mostly people that are not spiker proficient.  But who cares.  We had a good time and I got a couple of kills that made the varsity football players give an ohhhhhhhhh.  I’ll take it.  

Day 18: Bernalillo, New Mexico to Farmington, New Mexico via Petroglyphs National Monument and Aztec Ruin National Monument.

Today was not a rough hiking day.  It was an open day meaning that we really had no idea what we were doing except that we had to end up in Farmington. 

We were mellow getting up once again and started back towards Albuquerque and Petroglyph National Monument.  Petroglyph is actually four trails; three on the east side that contain petroglyphs, and one on the west side that is mainly volcanic.  The three trails on the east side are actually right next to subdivisions within Albuquerque, and yes, the city noise does make for a more subdued experience.  But we started on the least crowded and northern most trail, Piedras Marcadas Canyon, by about 7 a.m. and enjoyed it the most.  It had the least amount of people and you could get up close to many petroglyphs.  The middle trail, Boca Negra Canyon, also allowed for up-close-and-personal with the symbols but was more crowded and seemed to attract more of the city noise.  The most popular trail was the worst; Rinconada Canyon.  It was popular, hot, sandy, and you had a fence that kept you away from the rocks, thus the only we you could get a good view of the petroglyphs was using binoculars.  Done with our symbolic trails we headed north.

We were thinking Santa Fe today but Petroglyphs actually took up nearly five hours of our time, so off to Farmington we went.  Note to those wanting a really underrated drive; the views of the geology from Bernalillo to Bloomfield are excellent.  They are a combination of the Paria area in Vermillion Cliffs and the Waterpocket District of Capital Reef, just on a smaller scale.  We thought about taking the dirt trek out to Chaco Canyon today but the monsoon was already forming so we headed up to another urban National Monument; Aztec Ruins. 

I’ve got to admit, we were a bit disappointed when we arrived at Aztec Ruins in that it was basically in town.  We like rural.  We like “hard to get to.”  We like very few people.  But the ruins are fantastic, and the massive collection of rooms and Great Kivas got my wife and I really excited for Chaco Canyon tomorrow. 

Trails hiked:  Rinconada Canyon, Boca Negra Canyon,  Piedras Marcadas Canyon., Aztec Ruins.

Total Miles:  4.2

The Valley Fire

In California we worry about three types of natural disasters; earthquakes, floods, and wildfires.  Earthquakes are useless to be concerned about because they are so random and eventually, if you live in California, you will be in one.  You just prepare, prepare, prepare.  Floods only hit once in awhile and usually in areas around bodies of water.  The Sacramento Delta is probably the next Katrina style event and the government knows this.  However most of California will not experience flooding.  Fires?  Fires are frightening.  You never know where or when they will occur and with the drought creating conditions that are tinder-box dry, they move with insane speed and intensity.  Most of California is in danger from wildfires.  Remember the Oakland Hills?  San Diego? Lassen?  Mendocino County in 2008?  Wildfires can strike anywhere.

I’ve been to Middletown many, many times.  Usually the occasion is to golf at Hidden Valley Lakes Golf Course, a nice course that has a good variety of holes for a reasonable price.  My father and I often commented that the brush on the back nine was so dry and would go up quickly if it were to catch fire.  I guess I really had no idea.  The fire started at 1:30 in the afternoon on Saturday, September 12.  Within twelve hours the fire had consumed 40,000 acres.  Think about that.

40,000 acres.

The devastation in southern Lake County is brutal.  Around 600 homes destroyed, the lives lost (right now at five) will be determined over the coming weeks, and the psychological impacts will be felt for a decade.  I’ve been close to two stories from the area.  One was someone who had family that lived in the burn zone but their home survived the disaster.  The other was a staff member at Ukiah High that lost everything.  Both stories were harrowing and gut wrenching. 

One positive has been the attitude of Northern California in helping the fire victims.  On Sunday one of my students took a horse trailer into the disaster zone trying to rescue horses and livestock.  People opened up homes, campgrounds, restaurants, hotels…..you name it and people are donating like crazy.  My classroom raised over $100 in pure cash donations in four days by simple charity box style.  On Friday the school held a really awesome volleyball fundraiser that allowed different Fall Sports teams compete against each other and the staff.  It was a blast to play in and we raised $8,000 to help out Middletown’s athletic programs.  The vibe was a good one and I was proud to be a part of something positive for southern Lake County.

With the news cycle over, now the focus needs to be on maintaining a compassionate vigilance to the fire victims of those devastated communities.  That area of Lake County has been absolutely hammered by wildfires this year.  The Valley Fire has currently burned over 75,000 acres.  A month ago the Jerusalem Fire, just to the west of the Valley Fire, burned 25,000 acres.  And at the end of July the Rocky Fire, both north and west of the Valley Fire, scorched another 70,000 acres.  Being one of the poorest counties in the state makes recovery and reconstruction vital to any socio-economic viability for the citizens of this area.  Not only should we not forget, we should make a mission to reinvigorate Lake County with help from Northern Californians; from construction help to grief counseling, from rebuilding roads, homes, and resorts to rebuilding the spirit of those that lost all that they owned.  

Let’s get to work!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Week gets hot, makes me wish I lived in Montana.

Damn it’s hot.  Like your typical Northern California in September hot.  Like triple digits easy hot.

Meanwhile..

That’s Upper Grinnell Lake and Grinnell Glacier in Glacier National Park.  That was this past weekend. 

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That was taken by me a little more than a month ago.  Not gonna lie, I miss the hell out of Glacier.

*****

I play music every day, every class as they mosey on in to start the period.  I was shocked at how positive the reaction was to C & C Music Factory “Gonna Make You Sweat”.  Occasionally this happens; music that we think has been dead and buried in the psyche of American youth makes a small resurgence of viability.  There are the usual stalwarts of music that gather attention (The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty) but C & C Music Factory?  Go figure. 

*****

Thursday was Club’s Day.  The idea is that the different clubs take over the quad and hock there wares and food for exposure and income.  It’s a fairly popular beginning of the year tradition that is a favorite of mine because of one thing; the food.  A diverse high school that includes nearly half Hispanic students and a significant Native American population means that I walked back into my classroom with a cold cup of horchata and a fantastic Navajo Taco.  And I mean they make the fry bread right in front of you and it is still warm Navajo Taco.  Better still, some of the Native students are in my class and on the basketball, thus they hook a brotha up. 

*****

I still stop what I’m doing on September 11 of each year and do a whole short discussion about the event.  We watch many of the videos of the day and those that came out afterwards.  We watched some of the video from the Naudet brothers’ documentary, the crashes into the buildings, the collapse, the work on The Pile, and the scenes of the debris field rushing through the streets of Manhattan.  We talk about the history behind the attacks, the planning, and the results of that have culminated into a post-9/11 world.  It’s important to remember that my Seniors were 3 or 4 years old when the event happened, so they have little to go on even though society seems to expect them know.

*****

From my JV Football announcers perch:

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When people see smoke in these parts people get concerned.  Very concerned.  Luckily the bombers hit the fire pretty quick and it was doused without incident.  But trust me, we were all looking that direction to see if there was a larger smoke plume or some signal on rate of travel.  And we still have a good month left in fire season.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Day 17: El Morro National Monument and El Malpais National Monument

We are starting to slow our roll, chill out, not rush.  That’s a good and a bad thing because our places to visit are constantly changing with our mood and it is impossible to satisfy all our curiosity with the limited amount of time we had.  Today we used Bernalillo as our home base and headed west. 

About one hundred miles west of Albuquerque is El Morro National Monument, an out of the way destination that happened to be in our book about the Colorado Plateau as a must see, and one of last of our Parks/Monuments on our Colorado Plateau checklist.  It was a total treat.  The monument is tiny but has a large amount of variety and plenty to see.  We took the two mile trail around the entire monument looking at petroglyphs, old Spanish explorer inscriptions (some with calligraphy-like signatures), U.S. military inscriptions, excellent geologic formations, a box canyon, vistas, and old Native ruins that included a square and round kiva.  It was a total treasure find and we were beaming with happiness as we pulled out of the parking area heading back east towards El Malpias.

El Malpias National Monument is basically a massive lava flow bordered on the west by craters and caves, and on the east by vistas and an arch.  The sky was clouding up and the ranger at the Visitor’s Center warned us that being on lava flows during thunderstorms was really dangerous because they are chock full of iron.  Point taken.  We decided to do a loop hike anyway and it ended being a fairly shitty hike, partly because there was an entire half mile that was on a lava field, and partly because the last mile was a hustle back to the car because the thunder started to roar.  Walking on a lava field is like walking on the worst loose, jagged stone you can imagine.  It’s a horrid experience.

So the west end of El Malpais was a suckfest, plus the thunderstorms had arrived.  Unfortunately the ranger also told us that we shouldn’t even bother going to the east side of the park if it was raining because the roads easily wash out.  What do we do?  Drive to the east side of course!  By the time we got to the east end we were in-between storm cells and the Sandstone Bluff views were beautiful, and the La Ventana Natural Arch was well worth the near 40 mile detour.  It made the end of the day a good one as we headed back east on I-40, blasting through thunderstorm cells and torrential downpours. 

This day is kind of the official end of our real Southwest U.S. experience as tomorrow we start to drift up towards the Four Corners and the transition to Rocky Mountain territory.  

Trails hiked: Mesa Top Trail Loop, El Caulderon Loop, La Ventana walk.

Total Miles:  6.5

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Week goes boom at the end, makes the weekend that much more thought-provoking

When you have a week in September that is in the mid-high 80’s in Northern California, you soak it in.  I actually had to wear a jacket out to the car on Friday night because the wind was chilly.  That’s unusual for this time of year.  This week?  Back to triple digits.

*****

The alarm was pushed ahead to 4:30 this week.  A clear sign that I must have at least some control on the year.

*****

Chromebooks.  Yeah, they are good for some things and not so good for others. 

Good for:  Research, quick online discussions, in class work for bigger assessments, overall creation.

Bad for:  Turning in work, anything to be done “in the moment”, anything that has a lack of structure for one minute, creating engaging and deep discussion.

Some of this could be structural.  My Chromebook cart is small and the line to distribute and put back ends up long and slow.  The kids are fantastic at putting them in the correct slots but they take four-five times as long to get out and prepare for the lesson, and a lot longer to put away.  I can teach to the bell with paper and pencil.  Not so with Chromebooks.  Chromebooks can’t print but again, that’s structural. 

Oh, and I officially hate online work.  It’s clumsy and takes longer to grade.

*****

The Homecoming Theme was announced this week.  I recommended “Different Methods to Kill Famous Disney Characters” but for some reason it was denied.  Instead; music genres.  This is actually fantastic.  I’m promoting that the classes use Happy Hardcore, Gangsta Rap, Death Metal, and Brian Eno’s ambient music.  I may yet become a Homecoming fan!

*****

Much of this last week involved searching for a new coach within our basketball program.  What’s entertaining is the look on people’s faces when I describe the requirements to coach and the time and money commitment necessary to actually manage a team.

“You mean you don’t have busses?”

“Only for league games.”

“You have to drive where?”

“Everywhere.”

“You have to deal with motel rooms.”

“Yes.”

“Do we have to practice every week day?”

Seriously, I’ve been asked that question. 

*****

I’m my own worst critic.  Part of the reason I keep this blog is for self-reflection and on Saturday evening I made some comments about an APUSH Facebook group and a moderators actions leading up to the post.  I’ve turned inward and read the post a couple of times, and the comments many times, and wondered if the post was the right way to go.

Absolutely.

It would have been easy to say “meh” after being told no.  And I was going to until, after one question, a fellow educator blocked and banned me.  For a question.  Eventually a person gets tired of hypocrisy and excuses and calls out what needs to be called out.  Sure, I do it with the grace of a bull trashing around a china shop but hey, it is what it is. 

Monday, September 07, 2015

Day 16: Carlsbad, New Mexico to Bernalillo, New Mexico via Carlsbad Caverns National Park

We woke up to rain.

That’s fine since we basically went to sleep to a lite rain but the night was not a good one.  The bed creaked every time we moved, the noise outside our room was idiotic at one in the morning, and the room had signs everywhere saying that we were responsible for anything we stole.  There were three signs in the room that were supposed to be a deterrent from stealing.  That’s didn’t make us safe.

On our way to Carlsbad Caverns I noticed something looking south into Texas.  I noticed fires.  Not regular fires or plains fires.  It was flaring.  Gas flaring.  All over the horizon were brilliantly lit gas wells with permanent flames shooting in the air.  On the bluff where the park Visitor’s Center was built, the Texas landscape looked like….well it looked like Kuwait in 1991.  Gas flaring and smoke and blah.

We got to Carlsbad Caverns nice and early to avoid people.  You can get down to the caverns two ways;  take the elevator or take the 1.25 mile hike down the Natural Entrance.  Since our tour was at 9 and the Natural Entrance didn’t open until 8:30, we opted for the elevator ride down, down, down.

The common area of the cavern (food, gift shop, elevators) is touristy and fairly unremarkable.  The rest of the caverns are absolutely amazing and I give it my whole-hearted recommendation for a visit.  We first took the King’s Palace tour; a 90 minute walk on paved trail through some excellent large caverns with a great ranger (Ranger John) from Kentucky.  Then we took the time to circle The Big Room, a massive (try many football fields massive) cavern that had a 1.3 mile loop that satisfied many senses.  Have claustrophobia?  Carlsbad is going to be great for you because the cavern is enormous!  I’m already hassling my wife for a return trip to do two things.  One, I want to take an off-the-beat-path cave tour that includes some ropes, headlamps, and bouldering.  And two, I want to stay for the evening Bat Flight event where hundreds of thousands of bats leave the cave after dusk. 

Upon leaving we had a choice.  We could walk to the elevators and take the quick and easy way up.  Or we could walk up and out of the Natural Entrance; a trail that warned people of potential health risks if they attempted the hike up to the top.  It was about 850 feet of elevation gain in 1.25 miles or so, and my wife and I could not figure out how it was going to kill us.  There was no sun beating down on us and the temperature was around 57 degrees.  It was humid so we were going to sweat but what else was new.  So we started up.  It was a little steep and we got looks of horror from people on their way down the Natural Entrance but we made it within 40 minutes easy, and it really wasn’t that hard.  My glasses fogged up because of the humidity but the trail was paved, not that steeply graded, and had a couple of points that were interesting anyway so we would stop for thirty seconds or so to view the sights, not that a rest was really needed.  Seriously, the ascent up Navajo Loop at Bryce Canyon is a lot harder.

Then it was car time as we drove back through Carlsbad and across New Mexico towards Albuquerque.  The drive sucked.  There is really nothing in central New Mexico except scrub plains and Roswell, which is a lot bigger town than I thought and full of kitschy alien figures.  Yes, Roswell really plays up the story of the UFO.  We avoided the thunderstorms today until we reached Albuquerque and then a small one stalked us for the rest of the trip.  One stop at a Trader Joe’s for some supplies and off to Bernalillo, a northern suburb of Albuquerque and our home for a couple of days. 

Trails hiked:  King’s Palace, The Big Room, up the Natural Entrance. 

Miles hiked:  3.5

Saturday, September 05, 2015

The Great Internet Blackout of 2015

During 3rd period my Newshour video went out within about a minute.  I glanced at the screen with a frown because it had been fine for two classes and figured that maybe the page just needed refreshing.  But a second glance made its way to the lower left section of the screen to my Dropbox icon, and it was no longer connected.  That was a sign that the Internet was totally down.  The wireless was down and the wired was down, since I always plug in just in case the wireless gets wonky.
This year I’m more online than ever and today was a perfect example of that.  It included the Newshour summary, a clip of an interview the Edward Lawson from the Kolender vs. Lawson court case, and the use of Poll Everywhere to conduct a pre-assessment survey.  Whelp.  That doesn’t seem to be happening.  I adjusted my plan on the fly and reverted back to the days of no Internet.  I actually reviewed the current situation with the Kentucky clerk and her actions (or lack of) regarding gay marriage and then brought up a Power Point that dealt with qualifications of a state.  The period went just fine.  It as hardly off the rails in terms of pacing or scheduling and the students went along as if everything was hunky-dory.
But my Dropbox icon remained empty and the Internet was flat down at the end of the period as well.  This was unusual.  Our district has learned that down Internet in the age of demanding teachers to use it is a bad thing so outages usually last a very short period of time.  It was now 45 minutes and I needed to plan for a day with no Net.  Poll Everywhere was a huge part of 4th Period so I moved assignments around and used some shtick to fill in the holes.  It was going to work only now I was curious about what was up.  Then a couple of students piped up;
“Cell phones don’t even work.  Teacher X said that it was a massive cyber-attack!  The Internet is down across the country and Europe!  And stoplights are out all over town!”
I frowned.  I checked my cell phone and sure enough it didn’t work.  But this didn’t sound right.  Even if national networks were down that shouldn’t have anything to do with stoplights.  And this is Ukiah, not Fort Bliss.  We are important to just about nothing in the world except for our own myopic sensitivities.  I joked about the whole issue using the Zombie Apocalypse as an example and went about the day.  Then Ms. Coach Brown (now an admin at my school) came in and confidentially told me what was being bantered about.  The Internet was down everywhere.  There were no phones.  All admin had radios so emergencies went through them.  Rumors abounded about a 9/11 style cyber-attack.  AT&T was down.  Comcast was down.  Verizon was totally sporadic.  But T-Mobile was fine.  Apparently most of Europe was totally Internet dead.  Stop lights were out in town.  I told my wife that the situation sounded bizarre and that more than likely there was a localized problem.  She asked me if I would go out to the car at lunch and listen to the radio to make sure.  Good idea. 
I told the kids about the stop lights and to be careful, then the bell rang and I wandered out to the car and turned on KCBS out of San Francisco.  News was sports, weather, and traffic on the 8s.  Turned to KGO.  Some wonk was furious about, hell I can’t even remember but it had nothing to do about the Internet.  KNBR was talking about the Giants woes.  I flipped about and hit KCBS again at the bottom of the hour and the top story was the Kentucky court clerk and the contempt of court charge.  Nope, this was not a large scale event. 
I went back and told Ms. Admin that there was nothing at all on any news, and that something was being overblown.  But the damage was already done.  Parents were beginning to pull their kids out of the elementary schools due to the lack of communication.  Banks were starting to get lines at doors because ATMs and computers were down.  Stores wouldn’t take credit cards.  It was getting a tad bit nuts. 
5th Period was actually full and my new adjusted lesson went off without so much as a hiccup.  Students said that it was true that stores were not taking credit cards but stop lights were working and everything seemed to be fairly normal.  I went home a tad bit early to check the news on TV and found nothing at all about an event.  When 3:30 p.m. rolled around 4G data started to trickle in about a construction accident south of Ukiah, and that the accident shut down the system in Humbolt, Mendocino, and part of Lake county.  The rumor mill was bad today.  It was not Armageddon.  Cell and Internet was out the rest of the night with sporadic data coverage on 4G.  I sent out a Remind text telling students that the online reading would be adjusted to fit class tomorrow.
It was vandalism.  AT&T put out a statement saying that a reward was offered for a group that cut the lines looking for copper, an activity that is much more prevalent that people might think.  In 2010 my wife and I came upon a fire in Riverside Park in January where someone had literally just started to burn through rubber tubing to get at some copper wiring.  The fire department said it was actually more and more common.  Sad.
I’ve now been in class through 9/11, the Iraq War, Katrina, the 2005 floods, the Japanese tsunami and Fukushima, the 2008 Mendocino Lightening Complex wildfires, and a variety of local police actions that were quite scary.  But as a teacher my number one job should not be to inform the students, it should be to calm the students down and get them to understand that all is going to be ok.  And before you pop off with “what if it isn’t ok”, 99% of the time the problem is false panic and not a crisis.  What’s nice about being Social Studies teachers is that we are not programed to be experts on one thing or be dependent on one source.  We want multiple sources, multiple perspectives, and a rational step back into what the sources are really saying.  The Internet was down.  But it was only two counties.  A few stoplights were out.  But that was because of street construction on a main thoroughfare on the east side of town.  The information was incomplete, people guessed, and much of the day was wondering if ISIS had executed a cyberhack on Facebook that automatically programed people to vote for Kanye or Donald Trump’s toupee.  We have a greater responsibility when things go astray to make sure kids are all right.  Let’s make sure we don’t forget that.   

APUSH Facebook group bans prospective APUSH teachers because screw you that’s why.

I’m included in a variety of Facebook groups.  They are:
-AP Economics
-AP Comparative Government and Politics
-AP U.S. Government and Politics
-History and Love of Ukiah
-National Parks and Monuments
-The Mike O’Meara Show Fan Page
-History Geeks Unite
I lurk in most of them and offer up ideas when teachers need some help with lessons and content.  The Advanced Placement pages (especially AP GOPO) are gold mines for ideas and lesson plans.  Even better the ideas are at a higher level and thus I end up teaching my standard Government and Economics classes at a higher level.  It’s a total win and a great example of collaboration and support. 
Unless you request membership to the AP United States History group.
I taught AP U.S. History for about five years until last year when I took over the Varsity Basketball position, and the administration thought that teaching four APs (APUSH and Comp Gov) plus coaching equaled serious misery.  At our school most teachers teach APUSH for about four-five years before handing it off to another teacher because of workload.  I’m one of the few teachers that would actually like it back eventually.  This was part of the reason that I requested membership in the APUSH Facebook Group.  That and APUSH lessons often go with standard Government lessons all the time, especially when you deal with Constitutional Convention era issues and Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. 
Well, my request to join the group was denied and this conversation actually happened.  The gatekeeper of the group was XXXXXXXXX.
“You have requested to become a member of the APUSH teacher only group. Only APUSH teachers are granted membership. We do not grant membership to anyone who cannot prove that they are a APUSH teacher. The best way to prove you are an APUSH teacher is to take a screenshot of your audit approval from College Board. We look forward to your response.”
That’s…interesting.  Not very welcoming at all.  And while I get the idea of keeping out unsavory characters, this is pretty much telling a whole lot of teachers to go away.  My response…
I taught APUSH for four years at Ukiah High School and I'm not teaching it this year but may in the future. Any reason why you boot teachers that want collaboration from any group?
In an area where teachers are begged to collaborate, where the College Board is clamoring for teachers to share and model and create connections this particular group seemed to be rather exclusive.  XXXXX’s statement?
Yes, because the guidelines for membership state that you have to be teaching APUSH. The years that I do not teach AP European History I withdraw from the group and then rejoin when I alternate back in.
This makes no sense at all.  And I asked for clarification.
And that benefits teachers how? You censor teachers from the group that might be teaching APUSH in the future. That makes no sense at all.
Just to be clear, you are denying teachers just because they don't teach the subject, correct? Prospective teachers...veterans....Honors teachers.....all "no"?
XXXXXXX never answered me and that was the extent of our conversation.  Within two minutes XXXXX blocked me from the conversation and from even viewing the front page of the APUSH group.  So much for the positive message for teachers.
In fact what kind signal does this send to teachers?  APUSH teachers should be some of the best resources for Common Core instructors because the class does exactly what Common Core wants; critically analyze primary sources and write and write and write.  But this generation’s future APUSH teachers on Facebook won’t have the ability to collaborate with veterans because rules are rules.  Or something. 
Unfortunately this is another example showing that teachers are part of the problem.  In a time when the nation is desperately short of good teachers, a small group of them has gone exclusive and creates the exact attitude we DON”T want the next generation of educators to have.  We don’t want to be exclusive.  We don’t want to keep resources to ourselves.  We don’t want to deny access of the best to the newest.  And we don’t want to stay in our classrooms while living in fear that new energy might just be pretty damn good for education.
PS,
Here’s a screen shot of the conversation.  I really couldn’t believe it was happening. 

Update 9/5/15:

So I took down the screenshot and removed references to the teacher's name.  I'm not interested in making someone's teacher life, especially if they are a good teacher, more difficult.  But a word to the wise, if you are going to create a forum for teachers, create a forum for teachers.  And when a colleague asks for knowledge, asks for your help to add to the well of passion for education, don't bullshit them with "well, you don't teach it" and then make up some idiotic excuse that you can't maintain security within your own group.  If you are actually exchanging sensitive material on a Facebook page YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG.

The people in the comments should remove the moderators name too.  But they should really leave the comments because they are frightening in their reasoning.  Get a grip here people, you are supposed to make kids passionate about history, not live your life in mortal fear that John the hack is going to take a lesson found on EdSitement and sell it on the Dark Web.  And seriously, if you are exchanging files with sensitive materials; email, Dropbox links, Google Docs, carrier pigeon, there much better ways than closing off to everyone else.  

Day 15: Las Cruces, New Mexico to Carlsbad, New Mexico via Guadalupe National Park

We were mellow getting up because, quite frankly, we figured we had no chance at hiking Guadalupe Mountain’s summit because of thunderstorms.  So we were very mellow, very reflective of the rattlesnakes, and very done with ever seeing them again.

We drove south and entered Texas and we weren’t really impressed.  We didn’t really enter El Paso, we just took a highway loop road that went around the north end of town and through Fort Bliss Army Station.  It was boring, desolate, and well, Texas.   East of El Paso we hit a Boarder Patrol checkpoint. 

Yes, we are American citizens.

We are from California.

No, I don’t mind waiting.

Wait, what’s that dog doing behind my car.

Have a nice day!

The amount of border security we’ve seen in the last two days is almost laughable.  We aren’t bordering North Korea you know.

It was probably 100 miles from El Paso to Guadalupe Mountains National Park, and in that span we saw a dozen Texas State Police and half of them were pulling people over.  We did our research yesterday that said that Texas was nasty on speed breakers and it paid off today.  Cruise control, a smile, and patience. 

Guadalupe  Mountains is a neat sight in the flatlands of Texas but we realized that we were still not going to be able to climb it.  South of the park looked dark and ugly and the worst possible feeling is being stuck on a mountain with lightening.  We asked the ranger at the Visitor’s Center about the ascent and she simply looked at us, smiled, and said “There’s a 50% chance of thunderstorms.  Wanna risk it?”  I love park rangers.  They’ll subtly tell you that you are stupid but let you make your own choices.  We opted for another hike.

We decided on hike up McKittrick Canyon to an area called The Grotto, a formation that was in the side of a riverbank that looked like the inside of a cave.  Our immediate concern?  Rattlesnakes.  The ranger told us that the chances of us running into one was extremely slim.  But the weather was not hot (low 80’s and a tad humid) and it was still somewhat desert.  We even thought about letting a family go before us to shoo any snakes away but shook ourselves, got our focus going, and made the hike.  It was a nice, mellow hike with wide trails and it meandered along McKittrick Canyon.  The Grotto was fascinating, and it’s really is a cave formation in the side of a riverbank cliff.  It has columns and dripping water and all.  It was worth the walk and fairly easy.  On our way back we ran into the family we were going to let go before us, a nice family from Texas. 

“Yeah, we heard you guys talking about snakes.  Funny thing, we saw a two foot rattler on the trail where you passed just outside the trailhead, about ten minutes after you left.”

You have got to be shitting me. 

We hiked back now under stress, waiting for the rattlesnake that would block us yet again for our car.  I was so focused on the trail that it gave me a headache.  But no snake was seen and we got back to the car, relived that there was no encounter. 

Until we started driving.

IMG_0533

That’s from the safety of the Outback, and that’s number four.  A little shorter and a lot thinner than the trailhogger that we saw at Chiricahua.  We are done with rattlesnakes.

We wanted to finish with one more quick trail called Springs Canyon Loop but it started to rain on us and we heard thunder about a quarter of the way up the trail.  Off we went, out of Guadalupe, past Carlsbad Caverns, and into a driving monsoon.

It was the flooding, crazy thunderstorm that made you wonder if the world was ending.  The driving was down to 30 mph and the lightening was never ending.  We made it Carlsbad in one piece but ended up soaked as we unloaded during Noah’s flood or whatever the hell monsoonal moisture this storm cooked up.  We are soaked and tired, and tired of snakes. 

Trails hiked:  McKittrick Canyon to the Grotto, Spring Canyon to Manzanita Springs.

Miles hiked:  7.2

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.