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A Week As Sleep Sponge

Sunday, 25 Nov 2018, 23:17 UTC

I visited my dad and Khadija last week. The school district had the entire week off, and it’s not often I have the luxury to travel to the Great White North.

And it was indeed white there, and cold. But I was prepared, with boots and mittens and a warm hat and a scarf and warm shirts and a pair of long johns that The Fair And Industrious Trudy reminded me were in the (very) bottom of my chest of drawers. Few of those things get worn here. But they did there.

Or rather they were put to use on one day in particular. On that day (and only on that day), I ventured out into the elements, taking the bus downtown and walking to the National Gallery of Canada (Klee, Anthropocene, Halifax Harbor). Past the Chateau Laurier. Beneath the Peace Tower as the Carillon bells played. Past the locks. Down a windy street or two. My rarely worn winter clothes served me well. As did a couple stops at Tim Horton’s for coffee (and yes, I confess it now — a donut).

Yet despite the fact that I had come prepared for the weather, it was only on that one day that I went out. Other than a few other outings for food and groceries and … Tim Horton’s with dad for coffee, I did little else than hang out with the two of them.

And I confess it here, a fair amount of said hanging out was in fact spent napping. Because last week until this very day, I was a sleep sponge. And now it is time to go soak up some more, because it’ll soon be time to make the donuts.


Sunday, 18 Nov 2018, 18:40 UTC

The second Pyracantha gave up the ghost this summer. The first one died years ago. Neither of them was in a good place, planted under the eves where even when it rained they probably got no water. The passing of the first one never bothered me, and the demise of the second was neither a surprise nor a disappointment. They are non-native invasives. Good riddance.

With a week of vacation ahead of me, I went outside to dig up the second one. I lopped off a branch. And then I leapt back. There was a creature lurking there. 

There behind a sprig that was still alive. There behind the non-native, invasive berries. There on the wall of the house, certainly taking advantage of the warmth to counter the cold front that had just blown in. There was a prehistoric eye staring at me.

I pulled back the bush thinking it was pinned to the wall. It didn’t move. I poked gently at it. It moved lethargically. 

So it was alive. But heck, it was cold. That’s what cold blooded creatures do when it gets cold: they stop moving. So I left it alone.

Hours later, Trudy returned from the store with a reptile cage. She wasn’t convinced by my point of view. She was worried about the lizard, thought it was hurt. She wanted to let it get better. So we put some mulch it the cage. And two sticks. And a Pine cone. And I went outside to get the lizard. 

I pulled back on the pyracantha and picked it off the side of the house. It didn’t flee, but after I had it in my fingers, the lizard started twisting and bending and turning its head and snapping its jaws. It turned and twisted, and each time the lizard managed to assess the geometry of the situation better. Each time, its snapping mouth seemed closer to my fingers. 

It is at this very moment that the Fair and Industrious Trudy came out with the reptile cage into which I promptly deposited the lizard, and we took him inside.

The story ends well, we think, for the lizard. As it warmed up, it became more active. And as it became more active, we convinced ourselves that there was nothing wrong with it. So although we’ve never seen a Texas Spiny Lizard ever sitting still on the side of our house, we figure that the lizard knew that the neighbor’s cat was on the prowl (much to our dissatisfaction) — that the cat had the lizard pinned down. And that since it was cold outside, the lizard couldn’t dash off in the way that Spiny Lizards usually do. 

So we release our guest into the undergrowth of the backyard, hopefully far enough away from that cat (for a while, at least), that a refuge might be found. It watched us warily from the cage after we opened it. It moved slowly at first, unsure perhaps of what this new turn of events meant. And then with a poke or two from some Pine needles, it dashed under some wood.

And we probably won’t see it until next spring.

Old, Bad Habits

Saturday, 17 Nov 2018, 21:25 UTC

In the mornings in his room, you’ll find boxes of donuts. They are available free for the taking, although you have to buy a napkin.

One morning last week, I walked into his room to fill out a form. Some kids were sitting at a lab table, huddled around a 3D printer. They were eating donuts, although to be honest, I didn’t watch them long, as my eyes were drawn to the boxes of donuts on the other end of the room and the prospect of a donut and a cup of hot coffee.

But here’s the thing of it…

My taste buds don’t taste sweet, anymore. It’s been a few years, but my brain won’t adjust. It keeps thinking that sweet things will taste sweet, but they don’t. And the donuts didn’t on that morning. It’s not that they tasted bad. But they just didn’t taste like my brain thinks they should. 

Old, bad habits die hard.

Driving Into the Darkness

Friday, 16 Nov 2018, 20:53 UTC

Tonite I drove into the darkness. Under the overpass. Around the turn. Past the corner where the street lamp shines. Up the ramp. Into the darkness.

The city was shining in the distance. Skyscrapers punctuating the black along the river.

Over the bridge. My exit approached. In no time, I was speeding back thru the darkness, across the bridge, over the river, back past the shining city. To the corner where the street lamp shines. And the driveway where Trudy’s car had beaten me home.

She arrived before me, because I had driven out into the darkness and back. And she had to feed the doggies. And she was waiting and laughing in the driveway when I came home. Because I was supposed to get home first and feed the doggies. Except that I didn’t. Because… of the driving into the darkness.

Group Work

Sunday, 11 Nov 2018, 22:25 UTC

We did nothing but work quadratic formula problems on Friday. I let the students self-organize. Some chose to work alone. Others worked in groups. I gave each group a different problem.

It was a smashing success. The students were mostly engaged and focused non-stop for fifty minutes. The room was noisy. But the talk was (mostly) of math — music to a teacher’s ears. When they had problems, they’d call me over. (“Mister, should we get decimals?” “Yes, on this problem you’ll get fractions.”) I’d show them my answers and let them compare their work to mine, asking them to see if they could find their mistakes.

“Ohhhh, that’s what I did wrong!” I would hear behind me as I walked over to help another group.

When they finished one problem, they’d move on to another. (There were plenty to choose from.)

After class, a student came up to me.

“That was easier than I expected!” the student said.

Group work is magic.

On Reading

Sunday, 11 Nov 2018, 15:27 UTC

I was observing another teacher’s classroom a few weeks ago. They were studying forms of government — anarchy, theocracy, monarchy, democracy, … The discussions that flowed in that class were nothing like what we get in mine. After all, how excited can students get discussing how the discriminant in the quadratic formula determines the number and types of solutions — whether they are rational or irrational or complex or… (You see what I mean?)

Anyway, they were talking about absolute monarchy. The teacher had some notes in her power point that the students were dutifully copying down — clearly a procedure that is a standard part of every day.

A girl raised her hand.

“Is Lichtenstein an example of an absolute monarchy?” she asked.

Someone in the back of the room said, “Geez, how do you know so much!?”

The teacher paused for a moment and then suggested, “…because she reads!”

Noticing the Pens

Sunday, 11 Nov 2018, 14:05 UTC

“Mister, where do you get your pens?” someone asked. Later that day, another student asked the same thing.

They’ve seen me using these for some time, now. When I’m at the document camera writing guided notes, I use colors to emphasize where things come from — to show what’s being substituted where. And I use them in the table of contents to highlight when we have tests, so that they know which lessons are in scope for upcoming tests. 

So these pens were nothing new. It’s just that on this day, I was also using them as a visual aid. 

I was making a point about how long ago, zero as a number was completely foreign concept. Numbers were for counting, after all. And I grabbed a handful of my Staedtler triplus fineliner 334s (red, orange, yellow, green, light green, blue, light blue) and asked them if they could see how many pens I had. And then I asked them if they could see anything when I held nothing in my hand — so that if numbers were things you could see, then how could zero be a number? Roman numerals, after all, didn’t even have a symbol for zero — it just wasn’t a thing.

And so it is, I said, with complex numbers. How can there be complex solutions to quadratic equations that in fact do not cross the x-axis at all? Like zero (or negative numbers, or irrationals numbers), they take some getting used to.

This seemed to work, to a point. Although most of them instinctively said “Zero!” when I asked if they could see any pens in my empty hand, many of them were more interested in the pens themselves. Hence…

“Mister, where do you get your pens?”

They notice even the little things.

Turning in the Extra Credit Problems

Sunday, 28 Oct 2018, 17:32 UTC

A student of mine had been struggling. He knew it, and he would come in for help during tutorials. He asked good questions. He tried hard. I sent some links to Khan Academy to give him additional background and practice. Since then, he’s been more comfortable with the material, and his grades have been inching up.

It was Friday. It was the end of the day, and there was a beach-themed pep rally in the gym. The freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors were arrayed in their quarters of the bleachers. I was standing in my Hawaiian shirt among the seniors, periodically scanning left and right — letting them know I was there, letting them know I was watching. Sometimes this is successful. Sometimes it is not, and I have to step into the middle of a mass of boys horsing around a bit too much. (Nothing like a teacher in your midst to dampen the fun!)

Thi student I mentioned was off to my left. He saw me scanning. He smiled and then his eyes went wide. He reached into his backpack and pulled out a piece of paper and ran over to where I was standing, handing me the sheet. It was a set of problems I had assigned as extra credit. 

I smiled and took the paper. He smiled back and then dashed back to where he had been standing.

Then he looked back at me and held out a thumbs up. 

I smiled, nodded, and folded the paper and put it into my pocket.

That Was Interesting

Sunday, 28 Oct 2018, 17:07 UTC

It was Friday. We were studying how to solve systems of equations with three variables by substitution. And we had finished the lesson 10 minutes early. I was bushed. (I had been sick earlier in the week and was still fighting it off. My voice had barely lasted.)

I stopped writing at the document camera and looked at the students.

“I don’t know about you, but I’m tired!”

There was a murmuring of agreement and consent for the statement that they suspected was coming next.

“Let’s call it quits,” I declared. “It’s Friday, after all. And the lesson’s done. I give you back ten minutes.”

They all immediately took out their phones. A still silence descended on the room.  I turned on the lights.

One of the students was still looking at the board. He had been following closely during the whole lesson — quite a feat, since there was a lot of … algebra… involved.

“That was fun,” he said.

“It was fun?” I asked. “Hey that’s great.”

He quickly walked it back.

“Well, not fun fun,” he said. “It was interesting.”

Good enough for me.

Being Mean

Sunday, 28 Oct 2018, 16:08 UTC

I was disappointed with all the zeros in my grade book — a lot of homework never turned in. So I stood in front of the class and gave them a lecture.

“Don’t ask me, ‘Mister, how can I improve my grade?’” I said, “when you can see as well as I can that you’re missing assignments. Turn in the homework, and your grades will improve. It’s as simple as that. I assign work at most twice a week!”

“And I can promise you,” I added, “that if you don’t do the homework problems, you won’t do well on the quizzes and tests.”

One of the students smirked. I looked at her and cocked my head in a “what” kind of way. Her smirk broadened into a smile, and she slowly shook her head.

“What?” I asked.

“You’re not being mean,” she said.

“I can be mean,” I said. “Let me show you…”

So I walked to the middle of the room and stood still. 

“Listen!” I said loudly. “Do your homework!”

She shook her head. “That’s still not mean.”