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.   


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. 



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. 


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


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.  

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Day 10: Discovery Bay, California to Tucson, Arizona via a whole lot of damn miles.

Well over 800 of them in fact.  That’s a lot of miles.

So why drive from the Sacramento Valley all the way to the northern suburbs of Tucson?  Why not.  We save about 90$ in hotel costs and we get to spend extra time with good relatives.  The only negative is being in the car for over 800 miles in a day.  That’s far.  We left Discovery Bay at 4:18 in the morning.  The day went something like this:

-Why the hell is it 72 degrees at four in the morning here?  This sucks.

-Hey look, the moment we hit I-5 the temperature went down seven degrees. Too bad we’ll be on this road for three hundred more miles.

-Animal, Vegetable, Miracle continues in cd player.

-After the fifteenth “Congress Created the California Dust Bowl” sign, I’m starting to get irritated at farmers that plant water thirsty trees near a desert.

-Pull into Paso Robles cutoff McDonalds for a couple of Egg White Delights.   

-Up the Grapevine we go.  The temperature is heading up past 80 degrees now. 

-Los Angeles looks like something that Sauron runs with the help of a bunch of Nazgul.  It is 70 degrees on the 210 but visibility is less than half a mile and the smoke is choking us in the car.  It looks totally otherworldly and disgusting at the same time.  There has to be a wildfire somewhere but we are in this nasty soup for over an hour.

-Oh look, Palm Springs and the temperature is 100 degrees. And Flo Rida is playing at one casino while Boyz-2-Men is at another.  Which one would you choose?

-We stop at a Chipotle in Indio and eat lunch.  It’s now 105 and it sucks here.  We then get just enough gas to get us to Arizona (at $3.20 a gallon) and take off.

-It’s Sunday.  How in the hell is there so much traffic between Indio and Phoenix?  Sometimes we are crawling at 40 mph.  Drivers with license plates from Texas are assholes.  They either flip you off if you go slow or try and side-swipe you.

-Arizona’s first town on I-10 is Quartzsite, and we get gas for $2.69 a gallon. 

-I’m seeing thunderstorms on the horizon but it’s still 106 outside.

-This Goodyear, Arizona McDonalds is the most technologically sound Golden Arches we have ever seen.  It still took us nearly three minutes to get two extra large drinks. 

-Phoenix is packed with traffic and is 106 degrees. 

-A windstorm hits us in Tempe.  Just about the time when I tell my wife “hey look, that’s where the Angels play during Spring Training”, our car gets buffeted by crazy winds.  The temperature is starting to drop and the sky south of us is dark with clouds.

-Off the highway and on to the back roads for Oro Valley.  Just an hour south of Phoenix the temperature is now 73 degrees with a steady rain.  Yes NorCal’ers, rain exists.  It rains for the next 45 minutes straight. 

We pulled into the driveway at 5:37 p.m.  I don’t think I’ve been this tired from driving ever and I’m pretty much a zombie for the rest of the evening.     

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Day 9: Ukiah to Discovery Bay via preparation

Part 2 of the road trip began with a mellow leg to my mother-in-law’s house.  There was little fretting, rushing, or concerns about time since the drive was short and familiar.  Our house sitter was good, the Outback was packed more wisely, our audio books were ready, and we were out of Ukiah by about 11 a.m.  Bye, Ukiah!  See you in month. 

We have changed the way we shop for provisions so we didn’t stop for food at all with the exception of lunch.  Instead we stopped for t-shirts for me.  My standard hiking outfit consists of, from head to toe, a canvas-style breathable hat, a t-shirt, Dri-fit Nike shorts, basketball socks, and my Merrill hiking boots.  My t-shirts are the ultimate multi-purpose item used for basketball, lounging, hiking; they are basically my most comfortable piece of clothing.  But they have about had it so the afternoon was spent at Kohls finding some cheap Dri-Fit replacements from the clearance racks.

Discovery Bay, like the rest of Northern California, was damn hot.  But dinner was excellent and sleep was necessary because tomorrow we have one hell of a drive.

Monday, August 17, 2015

A woman on money is the kind of debate we like. Part 2: Who shall be worthy?

Not Wilma Mankiller. 

I appreciate Mankiller’s contribution to the Cherokee Nation and to feminism, and to the building of a stronger relationship with the U.S. Government.  However I have a problem with putting someone’s face on U.S. currency that was, in fact, an active proponent of not being part of the United States.  Advocating sovereignty from the United States gives you a “no” in my book.

And no Harriet Tubman either. 

Hi there!  Now that we have your attention, welcome to Part Two of the question of what important historical female should adorn what paper currency for the United States of America.  In Part One I advocated keeping Alexander Hamilton alone, why Andrew Jackson should stay, and why Ulysses S. Grant is probably still drunk and wouldn’t care if he was on currency anyway.  Now we look at my considerations for the important women in U.S. History that deserve to be on paper currency. 

What say you Hillary?

Looks like she agrees with me on the single lady on a single bill.

But I’m sure plenty of people bailed out when I said no Mankiller and Tubman.  I’m sure the racist moniker went full Duke and some people are wondering how a horrible human being like me teaches kids.  Well, let’s see.  If the idea is to put someone on the bill that measures accomplishments or influence to U.S. History, then Mankiller is out (for reasons listed) and Tubman suffers from bubblitis (she’s important but not Top 10).  So who makes it and why?

In no particular order….

1.  Harriett Beecher Stowe

Abolitionist, feminist, member of the Underground Railroad, and author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the book that energized the North in a ground-swell against slavery that set the foundation to the Civil War.  Stowe went beyond influencing feminism, she helped save the United States with her prose and was the model for the ideals that all Americans should incorporate.

2.  Eleanor Roosevelt

There might not be a more politically powerful woman in all of U.S. History.  Hell, Roosevelt probably ranks as one of the most powerful politicians in the 20th Century period.  She made the First Lady position a political powerhouse by attacking her political desires with action.  Civil Rights activist, communicator with the Bonus Army, opponent of Japanese internment, draftee of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,  and quite possibly the Chief Advisor to the President of the United States.  There is even a good chance that FDR’s presidency was a team.

3.  Alice Paul

Paul’s demand for political equality goes beyond admiration into legacy status when you take into account that her protests were during the First World War, and that she had a direct causal impact on the creation of the 19th Amendment.  She was a tireless advocate for women’s suffrage and equal rights until her death, from chaining herself to the White House gates to demanding that women’s rights be added to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

4.  Rosa Parks

So the argument could be made that the she was neither the first to refuse to sit in the back of the bus, nor was the act totally spontaneous.  That is irrelevant.  Parks was a symbol of the Civil Rights Movement and an active participant in events ranging from the death of Emmett Till, to the Montgomery Bus Boycott, to Martin Luther King, to Malcolm X, and so much more.  And she did everything with passion and grace; a calm demeanor that goes beyond action to legendary symbolism.

5.  Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Stanton was the first real suffragette.  She basically created the Women’s Movement and took it further because she brought to light issues of social injustice as well; property rights, divorce, employment, and birth control.  The Declaration of Sentiments is required reading and was an excellent way to remind the U.S. that all people are created equal.  Stanton also did the unorthodox move of not supporting the 14th and 15th Amendments.  Why?  They were not going to give women the right to vote. 

There are many, many other excellent possibilities but I’m sticking with those five.  Want to get the debate started?  Let’s get it on!

The pendulum has swung the other way

It’s a really horrible, hot day.  At one point the temperature hit 106 degrees, which is fairly sweltering for this part of the country.  On top of that is the smoke.  The winds have shifted south and the all the smoke from the Humboldt and Trinity County is socking in the Ukiah Valley.  My wife and I hiked at 6 a.m. and it was nasty.  Now it is an insane mix of grit and smoke, something that ends up in the back of the throat and on the surface of your teeth. 

We had our first meetings today and if I wasn’t a teacher that has been around the block, I’d be depressed. 

Cut down your content knowledge.  Cut it way down.

Meet Common Core reading and writing standards.

History content standards are not on the SBAC (Common Core) test, so they are not the focus.

The test, the test, the test.

It’s still the same message; teach to prepare for the test.  Only now the No Child Left Behind years that were full of the content standards are gone, and focus is the method at which you analyze any given content related to English and Math.  Basically it’s the same message. 

This was not a message given with any sort of joy but more resentment.  “It is what it is.”  I sat with a bemused look on my face because those old guard that said that these things go back and forth have been totally correct.  All that changes is the paperwork that needs to be done to justify what you are doing actually meets whatever standards are sexy for the current trend.  Fortunately we have been doing exactly what Common Core asks for, in one fashion or other, since I’ve worked in Ukiah.  Can we refine and improve?  Of course but that’s not a response from Common Core as much as it is teachers wanting to engage kids and create critical thinkers.  It’s part of the reason I’m so happy to be a part of my department.

I would tell you about my first professional development of the year but it would involve such negativity that Lucifer would pop out of the Earth and tell me to “chill the hell out.”    

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Day 8: Ely, Nevada to Ukiah, California via The Loneliest Road in America.

4:30 a.m.

Even in the  middle of a vacation there is a certain pleasure about the knowledge that you are heading home.  We were on Highway 50 by 4:30 in the morning pointed west, playing dodge the deer as we went up and own mountain passes along the road known as “The Loneliest Road in America.”  Making the journey early in the morning made a huge difference as we sprinted across central Nevada at daybreak and weaved through tiny towns that were barely waking up.  Austin, Nevada seemed like a town of a couple of hundred people that were dwelling in a crag of a canyon coming out of a summit pass.  The sprint from Ely to Fallon, the “loneliest” part, was only about four hours.  Then it was the Sierras, the Valley, and eventually home.  The whole trip from Ely to Ukiah was about 10 hours.

2,875 miles from the time I left to grade AP’s to home. 

Parks visited:   Arches National Park, Dead Horse Point State Park, Capital Reef National Park, Goblin Valley State Park, Little Wild Horse Canyon, Bryce Canyon National Park, Cedar Breaks National Monument, Zion National Park, Great Basin National Park.

And that was only part one of the summer roadie. 

Friday, August 14, 2015

Thoughts before the sport commences

I've been in my classroom at least four hours a day, Monday through Wednesday this week. Technically I don't need to be there until Monday but I'm in a great grove in totally revamping my class. I'm looking to dump my Economics semester/AP Comparative Government semester and combine them into a sort of International Economics/Comparative Politics year course. The ideas are there but the work is sizable. I use a lot of the same excellent stuff in regards to simulations. However now I need to advance the slant. Now Factors of Production need to include details of the AP6 countires. Now markets need to also emphasize corruption, and shadow economies that exist away from the normal economic structure.

Usually my morning starts around 8 a.m. with a small physical restructuring of the classroom. Then I go hunting for about 90 minutes. I take the list of AP Comparative Government teachers from the AP Reading and hunt for their websites. I then borrow/steal/appropriate information and lessons from them and start adjusting them for my class. I do the same thing with Economics. Then I spend a couple of hours planning our written calendars. Then I spend about 45 minutes at the copier, filling out paperwork for basketball, hunting for a freshmen basketball tournament, and talking with colleagues.

Unfortunately my vibe gets killed the moment I get my professional development schedule. Two days that, usually, I never get back. This year it's some kind of "Evidence Based Writing" workshop for about 1/3 of the time. Sounds great right? Except that I was taught this in the credential program and we do something similar over and over and over and over and over again. I couldn't teach any AP History or Government course without doing evidence based writing. Maybe I'm just being negative. The rest of the professional development is something called PBIS, or Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support. This is apprently being implemented in our district. I talked to three different people about PBIS and I got almost the same reaction; a smirk, followed by "Oh, you are going to LOVE that."

Right now I'm at an Economics teachers conference in San Francisco conducted by the Bay Area Financial Education Foundation and the California Council. Like the California Council on Economics Education the resources available to teachers are amazing, including a new Economics simulation book that is totally aligned to Common Core. Sure I was up by 4 a.m. for the drive to the city but being on the bay at sunrise and simulations on Comparative and Absolute Advantage are sooooo worth it.


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Day 7: Cedar City, Utah to Ely, Nevada via Great Basin National Park, caves, and ice cream sandwiches.

This morning we were out of the hotel room by 5:30.  Earlier and earlier.  Do you see a theme here?
We finally headed west across the scrublands of western Utah towards Great Basin National Park, and eventually home.  There really is nothing between Cedar City, Utah and Baker, Nevada.  There were plenty of stretches of long, straight, barren landscape that had little except for the occasional deer and cow, and it was at this point that my wife started our first audio book;  Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  First impression; man it must be nice to have the money to do what she wants to do.
Great Basin really is in the middle of nowhere, Nevada.  We got an hour back going from Mountain to Pacific time, so we actually had to wait a bit for the Visitor’s Center to open when we arrived.  As soon as the doors opened we signed up for a Lehman Caves tour at the earliest possible time and went to saddle up for the days hikes. 
Lehman Caves is a must at Great Basin, especially if you have never actually spelunked before.  It’s a great hour long introduction to a small cave system that the National Park rangers do a fantastic job narrating.  A couple of notes about the cave tour:
-It’s paved on the whole tour.
-Yes, it’s the real thing.  You need to duck a bit in some areas.
-Yes, it’s cooler inside.  About 60 degrees in my estimation.  I went with shorts easy.
-It’s lighted but they turn out the lights to show you what darkness (with a couple of natural light holes) is really like.  They also light a candle lantern to show you what it was like in the 1890s. 
-We saw a bat. 
-We lost a member of our party in the first minute because they couldn’t handle, something.
-The scorpions of Leahman Caves are well done by the rangers, especially at the end.
Yes, you need to go.
There’s small cafĂ© in the same building as the Lehman Caves Visitor’s Center at Great Basin, and that’s where we found this creature,
THAT is God’s answer to the question, “How exactly should an ice cream sandwich look?”
That’s two huge chocolate chip cookies and a healthy dose of vanilla ice cream.  We could have had sugar or peanut butter cookies and all kinds of different ice cream but we went traditional.  They used a large chef’s knife to cut it in half thus making it a nice mid-day snack.
Back on the road we went to the higher elevations of Great Basin and a twenty degree drop in temperature.  It was a fantastic mid-70’s when we hit the top parking lot and began our hike to a glacier.  You heard that right, a glacier.  The name of the ice formation is called Rock Glacier in the park but is actually known as the Wheeler Peak Glacier everywhere else.  And yes, it is the only glacier in Nevada.  The hike was up the Bristlecone and Glacier trails.  We passed through the famous grove of Bristlecone Pines and marveled at the oldest living things on Earth.  Another mile after the grove we started the precarious hike through glacial rock up a moraine to near the bottom of the glacier.  There was basically a very slight hint of a trail on worn rock that was piled many feet off the ground.  The sound of walking on the rock was a cross between the sound of crushed glass and the sound of massive stones grinding together.  The glacier wasn’t much to look at (it’ll be gone within twenty years) but the view back down the moraine, thousands of feet into the Utah desert was stunning.  The return trip was made with a little loop detour through a couple of beautiful mountain lakes as we descended from our nearly 11,000 foot elevation.
Great Basin should be on your bucket list of national parks to visit.  The hikes can be a little brutal for the average person but feeling of being in the mountains in the middle of Nevada is pretty dang awesome, and the caves are the cherry on the top of the park.  The problem with the area is that it really is close to nothing, which is why we headed west for our hotel room in Ely, Nevada, about an hour away.  Although it is a small casino/motel, I highly recommend The Prospector if you are heading along Highway 50 and need a place to crash.  The rooms are nice and the people are friendly. 
Up early tomorrow and home.  A long way home. 
Hikes:  Rock Glacier, Alpine Lakes Loop
Miles hiked:  6.2

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Let’s discuss the dress code and the faux sexism debate

Student protest is not new.  For decades America’s youth have stood on the ramparts and decried mistreatment of minorities, gays, and women.  They have marched in civil rights rallies, they have marched against wars, then taken stands against major issues within our society that have serious repercussions to their future and their children’s future. 

Now, a new cause!

PLEASANTON (CBS SF) — A high school student  in Pleasanton has launched a petition to change her school’s dress code, saying it is sexist and unfairly singles out young women.

“It’s unfairly making girls change the way they dress,” said Foothill High School  junior Sanam Nawim. “It really isn’t a fair dress code or a fair policy.”

Dress codes are hardly new.  Let’s see the sexist dress code policy.

Clothes, apparel or attire must be sufficient to conceal undergarments at all times. Clothing, apparel or attire that fails to provide adequate coverage of the body, including but not limited to, see-through or fishnet fabrics, bare midriffs, tank tops, tube tops, halter tops, spaghetti strap tops, off-the-shoulder or low-cut tops or dresses, skirts and shorts, which are shorter than mid-thigh in length, sagging pants, and tattered or torn clothing, are prohibited.

Seems reasonable enough except that people fail to remember that the clientele in a high school are teenagers.  They are going to push the envelope because it’s in their nature to do so.  It’s also the job of us as adults to set the limit and say “hold up.”

Take the issue with Toronto student, Alexi Halket.

  Crop Top Protest 20150526  

In my mind that’s not appropriate for the classroom.  Since I’m the adult and my job is to create a learning environment that is best for everyone, I get to be involved in enforcing a policy that is appropriate.  Alexi (pictured above with the “offending” dress) is basically wearing a sports bra.  What say you Alexi?

“So today a MALE teacher spoke to the vice principal regarding the shirt I was wearing, saying that it looked "too much like a sports bra." First of all, what's wrong with a sports bra? It does it's job of covering boobs, and why is SKIN perceived as "inappropriate".”

The male teacher has already been publically vilified by the a female student, and has already taken a quite the risk asking the student to cover up.  The problem with a sports bra is simple; you don’t wear one to work unless the outfit is part of uniform for work.  Sports bras do have a place in public schools.  Basketball or volleyball practice for one, or even skimpier outfits when students are swimming.  But the line is, and should be drawn, at the classroom. 

“I even told them that I had a whole lineup of cute body positive outfits that made me feel beautiful because this week is my birthday!”

Positive body image has its merits.  It’s also the new and incredibly convenient method to hammer at teachers that set boundaries.  Girls are starting to go after teachers crying that male teachers are sexist, perverts, or are attacking the self esteem of a student that has a questionable body image.  And parents are buying into it.  Three years ago I had a parent call me and insist that her daughters clothes were appropriate and that I somehow felt threatened by her growing femininity.  I calmly stated that I maintained boundaries of professionalism in my classroom, that my actions were far from unreasonable, and that the student clothing was fine for other situations but just not my classroom.   After about 15 minutes the parent and I came to a mutual understanding that had to do, a lot, with acknowledgement that what her daughter was wearing was socially acceptable.  It was, well, fairly ridiculous.

And Ms. Halket?

“(The school said) this is a professional environment," Halket told The Canadian Press. "So I said, ‘yes, but the word professional comes from profession, meaning job, and this is your job, so I understand if you have to be professional, but I have to go to school and I’m going to wear whatever makes me comfortable.”

So there. 

I will make an observation that girls are more targeted with dress code violations than guys and the reason for that is really simple.  They wear more inappropriate clothing.  Period.  That’s not discriminatory, that’s factual.  Case in point; the backless see-through shirts.  The new fad at Ukiah High is girls wearing shirts that are see through and almost totally backless, then wearing bras or bikini tops to make it look like they are at the beach.  Some ladies knew I was going to pop them for it but started complaining of a double standard, that I didn’t enforce dress codes on guys.  I have yet to see any backless clothing by men, nor have I seen men wearing see-through clothing.  There isn’t a double standard.  Men and women are simply dressing different. 

There is a good chance that this issue comes up again next year because these things have a cycle and since it’s already a national issue, UHS is coming soon. 

Day 6: Mt. Carmel Junction, Utah to Cedar City, Utah via Zion.

We were not impressed by Zion National Park the last time we were here.  That was an error.  Maybe it was the crowds, the heat, the annoying kids on the busses that don’t follow the rules because the parents are enabling myopic assholes that don’t want to bother.  Whatever it was, this time Zion was a treat. 
We left the hotel at 6 a.m. with the intention of hitting one favorite trail we had from the last time before darting up to the north end of Zion for something new.  Once in the park we got stuck in traffic. 
My kind of traffic jam.  We had to slow to a crawl in areas of central Zion as Bighorn Sheep roamed the mountainsides and roadways. 
Zion is not a huge park so it took no time getting to the Visitor’s Center and catching a bus (the only transportation in Zion Canyon) to our trailhead to the Emerald Pools.  Without a doubt we will be returning to Zion in the future.  However, like Yellowstone, it might be a long way down the road during the off-season because there are just too many people.  The 7 a.m. bus up the canyon was already half full and while the Emerald Pools were not packed with people, there were enough loose kids to make the return trip a bit annoying.  My wife and I were lucky enough to be alone, at about 8:30 in the morning, at Upper Emerald Pond for a grand total of about three minutes before a steady stream of people poured into the area.  The three minutes were sublime and I highly recommend a trip to the three tiered Emerald Pools but we were already done with people and head down to catch the return bus (less crowded) to the Visitor’s Center.
We took off up I-15 to the northern end of Zion called the Kolab Canyons region.  We were excited to take a 5.4 mile hike to a place called Double Arch Alcove along the Taylor Creek trail, a meandering and mellow hike along a creek that you crossed about 50 times (no exaggeration) during the hike into the canyon.  Alas the highlight was the hike as the Double Arch Alcove had a nice alcove but no arch, and definitely not a double arch.  Too bad. 
After a quick drive through the Kolob section of the park we headed to Cedar City, Utah and checked into the smallest room ever at a local Best Western.  It sucked.  We strayed from the usual Cup-O-Noodles and had pizza from a local wood-fired joint.  It was ok.  It couldn’t make up for the awful room but it made it manageable. 
Hikes:  Emerald Pools, Taylor Creek Trail
Miles hiked:  7.5

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Vaccination law allows my job to be a tad easier.

Jerry Brown has passed a new vaccination law that eliminates personal and religious exemptions for kids enrolling in school.  Students must now be vaccinated in either kindergarten or (if they haven’t already) 7th grade.  This is a good thing.  A very good thing.  Even through Jim Carrey has gone full Twitter nuts about it, it’s still a very good thing.

Schools are massive germ factories, and teachers and students have the potential to spread all kinds of nasty things back and forth, things that could create all kinds of problems for communities.   In most cases those things are colds and flu, the latter of which absolutely destroyed my basketball team last season.  My locker rooms sounded like the Emergency Room with all the hacking and moaning going on.  But out here in rural NorCal we have some of those families that live off the grid and pretty much detest many of the benefits of modern society, including (in some cases) vaccinations.  We’ve actually had some cases Whooping Cough in the county, and that is usually from families that won’t protect their children from a disease that has been controllable for over 70 years. 

So props to the governor for protecting society by implementing mandatory vaccinations.  Those families that want to balk on the mandate can home school their children, thus not putting the rest of us at risk because of ignorance.  

Friday, August 07, 2015

Day 5: Torrey to Mt. Carmel Junction via Bryce Canyon, Cedar Breaks, and cows, lots and lots of cows.

Leave the cabin parking area at about 6 a.m. and turn left on Highway 12.  That’s how the day began.  We wanted to be hiking Bryce Canyon by a little after 8 in the morning because a small heat wave was hitting the area and Bryce can get a little stale in the middle of Summer.  But first was the climb over Boulder Mountain on Highway 12.
Being from California means that unless you are actually on a ranch, livestock being in the road is a rarity.  Here in Utah you need to actually plan extra time or be really, really careful if you plan on driving at night.  Since it was early in the morning the cows were all over the place; on the road, on the side of the road, wandering the roads.  The adult cows were less than interested about your presence and moved off the road when they were damn good and ready.  The younger cows were more skitterish and made this driver a tad concerned that one was going to take a leap on my hood.  The funny ones often sat there and stared down the car, almost daring it to go around them with a bored glare of finality. 
Bryce Canyon is almost a second home for us and it continues to impress.  This time we skipped the Fairyland Loop and did something called the Figure 8; starting at Sunset Point and hiking over to Sunrise Point, dropping down into the canyon on the Queensland Trail, meeting up with the Navajo Loop, and then cutting across to the Peek-A-Boo Loop.  After doing the loop you return to the Navajo Loop for the final straight up ascent out of the canyon to Sunset Point.  The Peek-A-Boo was a lot of up and down but had few people.  The Navajo Loop is packed with people because it’s small and the end is a slot canyon before the massive uphill switchbacks.  It’s impressive but the tourists are annoying. 
We were done with Bryce by a little after Noon.  Eventually the crowds defeat part of the purpose of the parks for us.  Hey, crowds are love/hate kind of thing; I love that people are enjoying the parks and witnessing something that needs to be protected.  However I hate that they do it in large numbers when I’m around. 
We headed to another stomping ground that had much less crowds, Cedar Breaks National Monument.  We were hoping for wildflowers but found ourselves too early (there was still snow on the ground) and had to settle for Bluebells and Indian Paintbrush (my favorite flora), and a walk around Alpine Pond.  Much fewer people at this National Monument than an hour down the road at Bryce, and tranquil mountain meadows and cool ten thousand feet temperatures make this place hard to resist for my wife and I.
We are staying the night at a fantastic Best Western room in Mt. Carmel, Utah, about 12 miles from the east gate of Zion National Park. 
Hikes:  Navajo/Peek-a-boo “Figure 8”, Alpine Lake
Miles hiked:  7.4

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Day 4: Navajo Knobs and a poor caloric intake

450 calories.

That’s 450 calories of instant oatmeal that was my breakfast for the day.  It was a mistake.

We started the Navajo Knobs hike at 7:30, fully aware that the hike was going to be very exposed but hoping that the angle of the sun and the morning temperatures were going to spare us a solar wrath.  We were going to hike to the Navajo Knobs, two geologic formations nearly five miles out along the cliff bluffs that ran along the northern central portion of Capital Reef.  It was 4.7 miles straight up getting there and 4.7 miles down coming back. 

450 calories.

I’m 6’2”, about 265 pounds, and a dumb ass.  The hike was primarily slick rock going up with some areas having quarter mile long slick rock fields that even at eight in the morning felt like a small broiler plate.  I actually felt fine until near the top of the knobs when it started to get really difficult to ascend to the very top.  Once I got there I felt fine but my wife noticed that something was off.  I was nibbling on some beef jerky and drinking a ton of water but I didn’t seem to have my energy up.  She tried to get me to eat a protein bar and more jerky but I wasn’t hungry and just wanted to start the decent.  I was already too tired for the hike I was doing.

And it was getting hot.

And 450 calories.

The decent started down the slick rock.  Believe it or not the decent is harder than the climb as the stress on the knees and the focus on where you step is a lot sharper.  We had to got down four long slick rock decents with some minor ups along the cliff face.  The first one was ok.  I was feeling the breeze, my camel packet was keeping me going, and I was enjoying the feeling of going downhill.  Then we hit a tiny uphill. 

My God it felt long.  And steep.

My body didn’t feel right. 

Holy hell I have a long way to go.  

We rounded the first cliff bend near a radio tower and I was tired.  Really tired.  My wife was doing just fine and I was trying to play the macho face because I couldn’t get why my wife was doing great and I was struggling so damn much.

Second major slick rock decent.  I was doing ok but the grind is starting to make my legs feel like rubber.  That’s ok, I’ll handle it.  I’m now starting to look farther down the trail and thinking about the distance.  Actually I’m trying not to.  We hit the second minor up. 

Why is this so damn hard?

My wife is way ahead of me.

How much water do I have left in my camel pack?

I don’t understand why this is so hard.

We stop at the Rim Overlook, which means we have 2.4 miles to go.  I have to stop.  I’m feeling totally out of sorts and I can’t figure out why, although my wife is telling me to eat something.  I just want water.  It’s so hot. 

We start on the third decent that is partial slick rock and partial rocky trail.  I’m wobbly.  I’m hot.  I’m starting to have thoughts of stopping a whole lot but I don’t want to disappoint my wife who looks back at me a lot more often.  My breath is starting to feel really hot coming out of my nostrils.  The back of my neck feels like it is conducting the sun.  I’m a tad dizzy and really tired.  About half way down we stop and I sit in some shade.  My camel pack runs out.  We had just passed the Hickman Natural Bridge Overlooks so we have about a mile left.  We start up again. 

I’m starting to feel nauseous. 

I’m angry at myself for feeling this way so I press through it.  

My camel pack runs out of water.  I have three extra bottles but it still feels like the end of the world. 

We hit a wash which requires us to go down and then up, and the up seems like a cliff.  It’s only about fifty feet.  I stumble down into the wash and the climb out seems like an eternity. 

At the top I get nauseous again and crazy dizzy. 

What the hell?

I tell my wife I need to rest, only about a 1/4 mile from the car.  I sit on a rock and start guzzling water, shaking my head at why my body is reacting so poorly.  My wife is now shading me while reminding me that I had only 450 calories this morning and I refuse to eat.  She’s seems genuinely concerned while being genuinely irritated that I’m a stubborn mule.

I get up and head down the final 1/4 mile almost in a daze.   It’s a lot of slick rock stairs and I’m trying to maintain balance while wanting the air conditioning of the car. 

We make it to the car and open the back.  My wife is pouring water over my neck while asking me if I want her to start the car and get the air conditioning running.  I stagger into the car and turn it on myself.  I do the driving back to the cabin but the whole 15 minute trip seems in slow motion.  Once in the cabin I hit a cool shower, eat some food, and rest for about 15 minutes as my body comes back to normal. 

I have no idea what happened.  It was mid-morning and the temperature could not have been much more than 90 degrees at the worst at the end of that hike.  I’ve hiked in much worse.  My wife said that it was a little heat mixed with not enough food and a lot of dumb assery.  She probably has the diagnosis correct.  We drove back to the cabin were I took a cool shower and rested a bit under a fan until I felt back to normal. 

We drove out later in the afternoon to look at some petroglyphs and I felt fine.  Man, what a day.

Hikes: Navajo Knobs

Miles hiked: 9.4

Mr. Silva-Brown’s Report Card, Part Three: What were things that Mr. Silva-Brown did well? 2015 edition

Next, all the things, word for word, that the students thought that I did well.

-Knowledge about things.  Despite my dislike of his overall character, he occasionally taught well.

-The projects, quizzes, attendance requirements and contracts.

-Playing Jeopardy to study for tests.

-You are good at engaging your students in your lectures and your teaching style is effective.

-Projects and hands-on learning since the textbook is useless.

-Jeopardy before test days, warning for tests on reading.

-I learn better hands-on and Per Se Courts were really good even though I never won because I would get nervous and forget all I learned.


-Getting the class involved with games and events to learn the material better.

-Jeopardy really helped.  And lectures.


-Taking notes and explaining what we can and can’t do.

-The first extra credit activity at the beginning of the year, Supply and Demand, Personal Finance, Factors activity, and Politica.

-You made things interesting with videos, etc.

-Politica, the lectures with the Power Points worked well in helping my understanding the countries, Jeopardy helped a lot, keeping up with pop culture in class.

-Politica, the bargaining market thing in Econ (hectic and fun). Also felt like Economics was easier to teach.

-Puns, lectures, Jeopardy

-Politica, news, video integrated lectures, Power Points, Killer Vocab was actually helpful although I didn’t like the concept initially. 

-The videos, lectures, Per Se Courts, Politica

-Different projects we did (propaganda) were really fun.  I liked that there wasn’t homework besides reading so we can study on our own.

-Politica and hands-on activities

-Per Se Courts really helped with understanding the information in relation to real life.

-Politica worked well.

-The way you explained the subject and let us take notes on everything

-Teaching Supply and Demand.  Keeping the class entertaining.

-Graphs and examples, enough so that we understood.

-Making sure that everyone was understanding everything, being clear when speaking and showing examples, which always helped.

-Taught, filed five cut slips, was fair and followed the rules to the point of annoyance.

-Helped me a lot with understanding and did it in a way that made sense.

-You teach well and have great lessons that I simply understand.

-Great at teaching

-Taught economics well

-Lectured and showed good videos that had to do with the topic he was teaching.

-Did a good job attaching what we were learning to real life.  I enjoyed the shortcuts of TIPSE and RATNEST.

-I like all the activities and Politica

-Explained things well, spent enough time on each subject.

-Did slideshows very well and was open to questions all the time.  Caring.

-Taught me at least one thing every day.

-Did a good job making students understand topics and taking time to understand what his students were going through.

-Dressed well and explained things good and made sure we understood what was going on.

-Taught well and did a lot of practice with different subjects which I liked.

-Very well invested into the class and did a great job teaching the material.  Also being a sarcastic ass to everyone and not having a soul and being a miserable grinch who likes to pick on short people.

-Overall the classroom is structured well.  You did well at making sure we understood by breaking things down.  That made it seem easier. 

-Teaching economics was much easier to follow because you went over it so much so it really got in our heads.  You never let it be a boring class and always kept it interesting.  I really liked debates in Government.

-Very focused, good at explanations, helps prepare for tests, let’s us make up quizzes.

-Teaching us in funny and creative ways.

-Taught really well and looked the part too.

-On not focusing on things for more than 15-20 minutes.  Gave good explanations on every new subject.

-Did activities to understand how the subject would play off in real life.

-Explained subjects well.

-Everything.  Got the classes attention.

-Very knowledgeable on everything.

-Kept class interesting while teaching at the same time

-Not too much overwhelming homework.  Very passionate and involved in teaching the material.

-Did well with keeping our attention by the way that you would half yell, half speak.  It worked.

-Power Points, arranged activities to go with lessons, Jeopardy

-I enjoyed lectures for the first time in my life.  They were informative and not presented in a super dull way.

-Jeopardy, Politica, the study of incidents like Wukan, Persepolis, make-ups.

-Morning news and the world news we watched.  Made me so much more globally aware.

-I always like the fact that we were expected to read by ourselves and take quizzes every 2-3 days.  That was really helpful.  And we didn’t do much of the group activities because at this stage we are more confident about ourselves.

-The Last Week Tonight and PBS clips

-Jeopardy was very useful for studying.  And the quizzes were also helpful because they made me study harder.

-Jeopardy was a great way to review for tests.  Any type of simulation were students were active worked. Watching certain videos also helped.

-Per Se Courts, watching the news.  As much as I hate it, I feel more informed.

-Mixing lecture and activities.  Keeping class interesting and relevant.

-Jeopardy, constant quizzes make us keep on top of reading.

-Managed to keep students focused, was very entertaining with teaching style, very clear with material that was taught.

-Gave good examples.  I liked the news.

-Your teaching was great and understandable.

-Explained material in a way that was memorable and that everyone would understand.  You were very interested and the class appreciated it. 

-Explained the information well so I could retain it.

-Explaining.  Keeping kids focused.

-Everything honestly

-Very good speaker, very good at explaining things, made the class fun and educational.

-All around, well balanced teacher.  Never stuttered once and always knew what he was talking about with confidence.

-Made sure people understood things before testing them on the material.

-Made class enjoyable while teaching.

-Did well in holding our attention and teaching the material in an interactive manner.

-Per Se Courts were wild and interesting.  Jeopardy is always the best.

-Great lectures, Per Se Court is beneficial, and news keeps us up-to-date.

-Politica, Per Se Courts, Jeopardy

-Everything.  It’s a solid learning environment.

-Really enjoyed Per Se Courts. 

-Explained things well with many examples and didn’t make it boring.

-Teaching wise he did really well and even though I always said I hated this class.  He actually made this class fun and did a good job on getting and keeping us focused.

-Thoroughly explained each lesson and made a lot of jokes. 

-Teaching, lecturing, rules, being funny, quzzies, Power Points, Jeopardy, and learning activities.

-Making lessons interesting.

-Great fancy slide shows, kept us focused, made our class laugh, made us understand if we did not quite understand.

-You put a lot of work into the Power Points.  And you let people retake quizzes, which is really helpful.

-Teaching the material, concepts were clear and reviews were helpful.

-Make people cry, fight, call you out.

-You are very funny and was a great teacher.  He can relate to the students and overall it was a fun year.

-Making learning interesting and teaching well.

-Teaching us in an interesting way and not all out of the book.

-Everything?  I loved the news every day.

-Hands-on activities, they were fun but I learned a lot.

-Per Se Courts were very helpful.

-Jeopardy, Politica, and the frequent quizzes were really helpful.


-Per Se Courts were always interesting.

-Per Se Courts gave a good perspective on both sides of a controversy and also helped with debate skills.  Jeopardy was a great way to review for tests.

-In the classroom all was clear and you are a very good teacher. 

-Politica, Per Se Courts, Jeopardy

-Lectures were very animated and encouraged me to pay attention.  Thanks for no monotone.  Overall the class had good energy.

-You made the class fun.  There was rarely a day I didn’t enjoy class.

And there you have it.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Mr. Silva-Brown’s Report Card, Part Two: “What recommendations would you give Mr. Silva-Brown”, 2015 edition

Here are all my recommendations, live and uncut, from my students. I'm leaving none out, however some students did not fill out every category, which is why the numbers will not be the same. My comments are in italics.

-Lighten up. Take it easy.  It’s good for you.

-Get grades out sooner so people can stay on top of them, and create a comfortable environment for students that haven’t had you before. (I have a reputation of being a hard ass.  This intimidates some students but most evolve and thrive when they get that class is fun, and that the rules are fairly simple.  This year there were some that just resisted everything.)

-Be a kind person.

-Not everyone cares about basketball. (Interesting.  I intentionally stay away from a lot of basketball conversation because I hate the Coach/Social Studies stigma)

-Prefer that you lecture on new material, not review material we already read.  Want reading to reinforce what we learn, not other way around.  (This was from a high level student and I’m still working with which way is more effective.)

-Don’t cram so much on a test, grade things quicker, don’t lose shit, don’t bore us with notes.

-Honest to God (not trying to be a kiss ass) I think you are a great teacher and an understanding teacher.  But if you could updates grades more often and with faster make-ups it would be nice.

-Listen to Mexican music!  (I’m trying to branch out and add some Mexican music to my playlist but can’t find something catchy.)

-Realize that people have lives outside of this class and be more accommodating.  (Big time theme of the year that I’ll address in Part 4)

-Be nicer.


-Treat good students as good students and respect them because they attempt to respect you.

-Please give the last countries more coverage.  We spent nearly a month on the UK but only about a week on Mexico.  How about equal time on countries?  And more Politica, seriously.  (Politica is my post-AP project.  Students usually love it. The country issue is totally valid.  We started the year a week later and I totally bungled the amount of time for the countries, and Mexico is usually last.  That was a big boo-boo for me.)

-Spend more time on Mexico.

-Maybe don’t be so specific on quiz questions because sometimes there we details I truly could not remember.

-Please space out the AP6 countries better.  Felt like we had little time to study Iran, Nigeria, Mexico.

-Better organization on quizzes.  Better review on news.  Clearer schedule for end of the year.

-Finish Comp Gov earlier for a week of review. Make Econ bigger/faster/stronger/deeper.  AP kids can handle it. 

-Be less strict on tardiness, don’t teach a country during AP test week, grade faster, actually answer kids questions.

-Be nicer please

-You are beautiful the way are and don’t need recommendations.

-Stay you and keep Edmodo!

-You could grade quicker.

-It would have been nice to have known my grade.  It actually came to me as a surprise, and not the good kind.

-If the majority of the class gets a low grade on a quiz, cover the topic a little more.

-Please enter make-up work earlier.  It makes it easier to figure out our actual grade. (Make-up work is the bane of my existence.  I hate it.)

-I don’t have any.

-Learn how to shoot.

-Be a little more serious at times and don’t make things a joke.

-New shoes

-Make first semester more interesting

-Less notes and more hands on

-I think you are doing a good job.

-Don’t wear clashing tie-shirt combos.  Just don’t.  Otherwise you’re pretty alright, kid.

-Include different genres in music but otherwise I enjoyed the class.

-Include country music

-Watch Brother Bear

-Watch Brother Bear (That’s not a typo.  A group of Disney crazed students insisted that I watch a movie called Brother Bear.  I told them I would do it if they watched Pulp Fiction.  We have yet to break the stalemate.)

-I recommend not being so sexy all the time.

-Maybe not so tuff, a little softer.

-Learn to dress better, get new shoes, no ugly ties, stop stealing other people’s water bottle.

-Wish you wouldn’t let students talk as much or let students talk smack about you.  It was sometimes fun but sometimes annoying and got a little crazy.

-Remember my name when I visit or you will have to buy me another milkshake. (For some reason my mind was having trouble around the name Raquel.  I kept saying Rachel.  So I made the deal that for every time I called the student Rachel I would buy her a milkshake.  My wallet is now lighter.)

-Update Edline more often (grades).

-Wear less clothes, like maybe shorts and a tank top.

-Try and connect more with the students.

-You’re doing fine.

-Can’t think of any.

-None, keep it up.

-Start showing more soccer news stories.

-Less lecture and notes and more hands-on.

-make a better way to give out information about future quizzes and assignments

-Be nice.

-Your quizzes are hard but if I devoted more time to studying, I could have helped myself.

-Accommodate to busier schedules

-Maybe less quizzes.  People who do poorly on them die.  And random two-day group projects aren’t great.

-More independent presentations.

-Put in grades earlier.

-Please answer questions properly, especially before a quiz or a test.

-Don’t be devil’s advocate all the time. I would have appreciated human-to-human honesty.  Fix slideshows!

-Sign stuff for people so they don’t hate you.  You signed stuff for me, so I don’t hate you.

-Be faster on grading and feedback.  Give a little more homework in order to keep students involved.

-Don’t be a meany and don’t wear a print tie with a print shirt.

-Spend more time being organized and updating grades.  Time management is sometimes lacking.  Group projects are not fun or beneficial.

-Warn kids that Econ is not a part of the AP test, and that the AP portion is immensely harder.   Non-AP students need to get out while they can!

-Same as always;  grades, grades, grades.

-grade papers promptly.

-You do you. The class is well structured and enjoyable.

-Consider time management.  Maybe a calendar.  Also consider priorities.  Grading > cats.

-Make projects and Per Se Courts more obvious.


-Lecture before quizzes

-Stay cool


-None, keep doing what you are doing.

-Everything you did this year was good.

-Nothing, you are perfect.  Except let students eat in class.

-Hand things to people.

-Mention Edmodo more often

-Don’t hit the table with a stick.

-Let students eat food in class.


-Remember that although we do always have a choice, we might chose wrong and you can’t always be mad about it.  I missed school because the benefit of not being there was worth it.

-Getting new shoes and not being so harsh

-Keep doing you.  I really enjoyed this class and having you a picture.

-Watch more Kyrie highlights.

-Stay cool.

-Try and update grades more frequently.

-When I’m sleepy don’t wack my desk with a stick. It’s rude.  I mean, I don’t wake you up.

-Give practice quizzes a few days before every real quiz.

-There were times that seemed like torture by Power Point.  So less of that.

-Keep on doing what you’re doing.  I looked forward to this class, had a good time, and learned a lot.

-Lower your voice.  It doesn’t allow me to sleep second period.

-I would have like assigned homework because I learn better with homework.

-Country music.

-Keep as is

-You know what you are doing

-Please get new shoes

-Nothing honestly.  It’s all great.

-Don’t be so intimidating.  Students are scared of you. But I think you are super cool.

-You’re a little intimidating, which I’m sure you enjoy.  But you’ve done a great job as a teacher.

And there you have it.

Mr. Silva-Brown’s Report Card, Part One: “Ratings Game”, 2015 edition

I present to you, part one of a four part series that looks at the "graded" Mr. Silva-Brown. At the end of each year I give out a report card with questions about my performance during the year.

The questions are:

-One a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being excellent), rate Mr. Silva-Brown's teaching this semester.

-Was I well organized?

-Did you understand what was going on?

-Do you think I have improved since September?

-Did you feel safe?

-Were students treated equally with respect?

-What grade do you think you earned this semester?

-On a scale of 1 (didn’t care) to 10 (total focus), how would you rate your effort put towards this class this semester?  Explain.

-What did I do well?

-What recommendations can you give Mr. Silva-Brown?

-Give one piece of advice for next years students.

Today, I'll give you the numbers rating. The rating is first, followed by how many students rated me at that level.  .

Here are the results from question #1:

Ten- 32

Nine- 41

Eight- 23

Seven- 9

Six- 3

Five- 1

My average is an 8.8, a B+. This is lower than last year and the first time I’ve gone backwards in five years.  Here are the contrasts from past years.

2005-06: 8.3

2006-07: 8.9

2007-08: 8.3

2008-09: 8.7

2009-10: 8.2

2010-2011: 8.5

2011-2012: 8.5

2012-2013: 8.8

2013-2014:  9.0

Summertime is about over

Posts are going to be a tad bit odd because I’m including trip posts from the summer right now.  I don’t like to post when I’m on vacation for obvious reasons so if things seem like they flip between a month ago and now, that’s because the post do flip from a month ago to now.

And what do I do two days after I return from my summer trip.  Classroom.  It’s like an old friend that waits for me and every time I come back to the four walls I feel like something that was missing is returned.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my vacation.  But while some people return to school really saddened that the summer is over, I return refreshed and ready do a bit better than last year.  The classroom is my tool and the first day back is about getting the tool ready to go. 

Remember that I left about three days before school got out to grade AP tests, and that means I’m coming back to shenanigans.  First order of business was to clean up from a senior prank.  I like good, creative senior pranks.  The normal one over the years is gluing the locks of classroom doors shut.  That was done this year too in a few buildings.  It’s destructive and unimaginative so poo on that.  However this year I walked into my classroom and immediately saw that some of my Dodger fan students had left me a gift.  Around my room were dozens of Dodger flags on paper covering my Giants wall, my shelves, my lights, my board, you name it.  Some were way up the wall and I don’t even want to know how they got there.  It made me smile big.  No destruction, good creativity, annoying but good natured.  My first order of business was to clean the classroom of that filth.  Then the roaches.  Ukiah High School has a roach problem.  It would be an understatement to call it disgusting but, well, what do you do?  In the mornings I would turn on the lights to my classroom and the scattering began and throughout the day the roach reports would come in from students.  The school is trying to deal with it but as you know, roaches are tough little creatures to eradicate.  The only roaches I walked in on today were dead ones so I swept out the carcasses and started to readjust my room back to working order.  This involves a lot of moving and “spring cleaningesque” work.  No real curriculum work was done.  Just puttering around the room and getting it ready so I can walk right in and start prepping.       

Day 3: Chimney Rock, Waterpocket Drive, more pie.

We were on the trail by 7:30.  

The idea for today was to hike the Chimney Rock Loop and then drive the famous Waterpocket Fold loop, considered by some to be one of the best drives in all the country. 

We started the Chimney Rock loop early because it was basically straight up for the first 3/4 of a mile or so.  Once we climbed to the top of the mesa overlooking Chimney Rock we casually made our way along its edge while taking in views of Capital Reef, and a three foot long gopher snake.  We eventually made it to a small canyon junction that pointed east towards Spring Canyon.  Once again, there is something liberating in being able to just go somewhere because it’s there.  No rush.  No schedule.  No problems.  If you have enough water you go for a hike.  We turned right and headed down towards Spring Canyon.  We probably hiked for about a mile and a half, enjoying the massive canyon walls and shade before we started thinking that the canyon could go on for miles. 

A quick return to the Visitor Center and we were off on the Waterpocket Drive.  The drive headed down the southeastern spine of Capitol Reef National Park along the Notam-Bullfrog Road for about 40 miles.  The views were phenomenal and the Outback took the washes along the road just fine.  Near our junction with the Burr Trail Road we stopped and hiked both Headquarters Canyon (neat little hike with a small narrows) and Surprise Canyon (blah, skip it) before heading up the Burr Trail Switchbacks. 

After entering the Burr Trail Road, one sees this..

That’s an insane set of switchbacks.  Nearly 900 feet in the course of one-half mile.  At the top of the road, we turned around and saw this…

That’s the Waterpocket District of Capitol Reef.  It was one of my favorite views, ever.  We then headed to finish the Burr Trail Road through Escalante National Monument and end in Boulder, Utah.

Um, quick note about Boulder.  Stop at the Burr Trail Trading Post and have Caramel Apple Pie.  Not even kidding, the Apple Pie ranks, easily, in the top three ever.  It was flakey, buttery, and the pie was warmed in the oven, not a microwave.  My wife and I each ordered a slice and savored our $8 masterpiece.  Yes, we were also shocked at the price but if we want the best, fork it over.  Then the quick drive up and down Boulder Mountain and we were back to the cabin, a long days worth of driving and hiking complete.

Hikes: Chimney Rock Loop, some Spring Canyon, Headquarters Canyon, Surprise Canyon.

Miles hiked: 8.2

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

College Board changes almost nothing to “give in” to idiotic Red States and the RNC

To reinforce my statement that the whole furor over the Advanced Placement U.S. History is full of idiots like Ben Carson, I give you the College Board.

The 2015 AP U.S. History Course and Exam Description


Today, the College Board is providing educators with a new edition of the AP U.S. History Course and Exam Description. This edition is based on feedback gathered over the last year – including through the public review period we initiated – and includes improvements to the language and structure of the course.

It looks like the College Board may have capitulated under the pressure of morons who have an insanely narrow view of what actually happened during the history of the United States.  Let’s see what changed.

Q: What are the main changes in the 2015 edition?

In response to feedback from teachers about the 2014 edition, the structure of the CED has been improved in the 2015 edition to better serve teachers as they move through the course. Key updates include:

  • The concept outline has been reformatted to be easier for teachers to use, learning objectives are now printed alongside the corresponding content in the outline, and more blank space makes it easier for teachers to write in examples of the historical individuals, events, topics, or sources they use in their classrooms.
  • The 2015 edition streamlines and consolidates the learning objectives from 50 to just 19, making them broader in focus and ultimately more useful for teachers in structuring their courses.
  • Content at all levels (Key Concept, Roman numeral, and A-B-C levels) has been refined and clarified. The degree of change varies across different components of the outline.
    • Statements are clearer and more historically precise, and less open to misinterpretation or perceptions of imbalance.
    • Some key individuals (such as James Madison, Jane Addams, and Martin Luther King Jr.) and documents (such as the Gettysburg Address and the Federalist Papers) are now explicitly mentioned.

Oh.  That’s it?

They reformatted the paper and added names of people and documents that every history teacher is going to discuss anyway?  Wait, I get what the College Board did here.

They dumbed it down.

To satisfy the childish insistence that you must have the name of every American figure in the curriculum in order to learn about that figure, the name of every important American has been added to the outline!  It’s like APUSH For Dummies has been released for the Republican National Committee to sift thru and nod their heads while thinking that they are actually smart enough to comprehend what American Exceptionalism entails.  What an embarrassment.

So the controversy ends with a whimper.  The party whose president once complained about the bigotry of low expectations has made the College Board publish the APUSH pop-up book so Red State governments can see the words George Washington and get a nice warm feeling underneath their U.S. flag pins. 

It is nice to know that 99% of APUSH teachers have pretty much ignored the controversy and will continue to teach U.S. History in its totality, not through the lens of simplified rhetoric.