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A Leisurely Stroll

Friday, 27 Mar 2020, 17:21 GMT-0600

After a full day of environmental consulting from home, the fair and industrious Trudy headed out to Costco. I did not go along — no need to double the size of our target, and anyway, my contribution was in the 60+ line at Whole Foods and hour before opening this morning. (Age has its privileges. But I am not over 60 yet, so I am not yet in that demographic. I have two days left.)

Instead of a Costco run, Izzy and I took a leisurely stroll.

We saw two girls taking a video of a caterpillar climbing the trunk of a tree. We saw yellow and red Indian Blankets blanketing a neighbors’ yard. We saw Prairie Verbena with lavender blossoms and Blue Eyed Grass colonizing the soccer fields.

We looked for Oak saplings in the grassland that the middle school kids are creating in that field. Last fall, I did some guerrilla acorn planting there, but there was nothing to show for it except the grasses waving in the wind and a fluttering bird that we startled. That the little grassland is now an avian habitat is something, I suppose, but I was hoping for evidence of Oaks.

We saw a man throwing a frisbee. He threw it hard, and his barking dog would excitedly dash off only to stop well short of halfway from where the disc landed. Not much of a frisbee dog. Izzy seemed never noticed. Not much of a frisbee dog, either.

And finally, somewhere in the distance, I heard bagpipes. At least I think I did.

Ok, stop it. there are two days before I am formally over sixty. You may snicker at the bagpipes then. 

Friendly Friday

Friday, 27 Mar 2020, 12:02 GMT-0600

Here is the note I sent out to my students this morning.

Hi everyone,
Two things…
1) Spring Break extended further and Google Classroom.
Many of you already now, we’re now out until at least April 19.
My plan is to move to Google Classroom as soon as I’m given the thumbs up, which probably won’t be for another week. I will send more information later today. We will start slow to make sure everyone is comfortable with the tools.
2) Friends
Call a friend today. Or text them. Or do whatever you do. But do something friendly. :-)
I have a friend in Houston. He and I worked together years ago. We stay in touch. He’s was a (very good) Space Shuttle flight controller. He now works on the Orion program.
One thing flight controllers do (without thinking about it) is to plan for if things go wrong. I spoke with him the other night, and he told me how his kitchen has been fully stocked for two weeks. He explained that he’s going to start making bread, because you can’t stockpile it. He saw this coming, and he planned for it.
I shared our failed effort to find toilet paper at grocery stores in west Texas when we were coming back from camping last week. Here’s a link to a picture of his response. (For those of you who can’t see it, it’s a photo of me and a box of TP that he mailed to us. Now I think we can make it for a few weeks. :-)
We get by with a little help from our friends. You are awesome.

Working From Home

Thursday, 26 Mar 2020, 13:03 GMT-0600

Oh joy. A friend sent us seven rolls

Wait. How do I take a selfie with this thing?

The Leafing of the Pecans

Thursday, 26 Mar 2020, 08:59 GMT-0600

It got hot, yesterday — in the 90s. We kept the house open as long as it was cooler outside than in, but sometime in the late morning, we shut everything up, determined as we are to shun the AC as long as possible. (This exercise used to be one for late May, but here we are in March.)

So even though there are cold fronts projected in the forecast, the definition of “cold” in those projections means high temperatures in the 70s. Hardly a cold front. Summer is almost upon us.

Indeed, the Pecan trees next door have noticed this. A rule of thumb for local gardeners is to use the leafing of Pecans as a signal that the last freeze is behind us. So yeah. I guess there will be no more freezes.

Frankly, it seems that the conservative Pecans aren’t on board with this whole climate change thing, but then in this they are not alone.

There is perhaps some good news concealed in this leafing out. As the fair and industrious Trudy mused yesterday, perhaps the early departure of spring and the onset of summer will slow the contagion that is all around us.

Let us hope.

Singing to Charlie

Thursday, 26 Mar 2020, 07:50 GMT-0600

Here is “Thursday’s thought” that I sent out to my students this morning.

I have always identified closely with our older dog, Charlie. He was a “senior dog” when we adopted him a few years ago. He was so laid back, unlike that hyper puppy that was hopping in my wife’s lap giving her kisses. Charlie seemed to be meditating, sitting motionless, staring into the distance with half-opened (half-closed?) eyes. When Trudy looked at me, she knew who we were adopting.
Charlie is our Zen Dog. He’s mostly quiet (quieter as the years pass). He walks pensively around the yard. He wakes up stiff in the morning. He stumbles around for his first few steps. I sing good morning to him to help him wake up.
I wonder what he thinks about “the man” singing in a lousy, scratchy, low morning voice, the man’s chin against the dog’s head. I wonder what he thinks about that.
For that matter, I wonder what YOU ALL think about my scratchy, off-key voice when one of us has a birthday. My brother told me once, “You shouldn’t sing so loudly.” I should probably apologize for that (and to Charlie). But then, a sung song is a good thing. … Right?
That’s all I got. 
Students: expect a call from your 3RD period teachers today if they haven’t already called. In fact, it would make things easier for them if you EMAIL THEM with a phone number that you’d prefer to be reached at. We’ve got Skyward numbers, but I know those numbers aren’t necessarily the best ones to reach you. Let your teachers know what number they should use. It’ll make it easier for them to check in with you.
You are awesome.

Good Thing / Bad Thing

Wednesday, 25 Mar 2020, 20:30 GMT-0600

It was a writing day. I had scheduled three of them in the last two weeks — a requirement levied by the state to assess where our English language learners stand. The writing hadn’t taken much time, although I credit the early finishes of some of the speedier ones to the liberal use of whitespace between their words.

 “Is this all we’re doing today?” someone asked.

“That’s it.” 

It was hard to tell whether the question was a complaint or a celebration.

“Is that a good or a bad thing?”

There was loud acclaim that it was a good thing… except for a voice in the front.

“Bad,” she said, barely audible.

I walked over.

“Why bad?” 

“Because we’re not learning anything new today,” she said, staring straight ahead. She had spoken in a mildly sarcastic tone and had a look of mock disappointment on her face, but we both knew her words were sincere.

Oh, I live for such moments.


Wednesday, 25 Mar 2020, 09:49 GMT-0600

This was today’s daily note to my students and their families.

Hi folks,
We (CCHS) will be trying to contact students (yes – TALK TO YOU) today or tomorrow. We have a few questions that we’ll ask to help us figure out how to plan for the future.
In the meantime… Here’s a word for the day: “wend”.
This word means to “proceed toward” or “move in the direction of” or “make progress toward”. You would “wend your way to the finish line,” which is not the same thing as WINDing but rather MOVING GRADUALLY FORWARD. I’ve used it… like… twice  :-)  but it makes me think…
Years ago I ran marathons: Chicago six times, Austin once. I was a “mid-pack runner.” PR: just 3:42. Marathon running taught me two lessons which could be useful now…
1) One step at a time. You can’t think about the entire race all at once in a marathon. It’s 26.2 miles, and that’s just too far to grok (a word for a different day). Heck, 26.2 is too far even when you’re at 18 miles and the skyline of Chicago seems to be very far away! You take one step. Then you do it again. And again. – For now: Let’s not worry about when we’re going to be back at school. You shouldn’t worry about grades. We should just keep ourselves well and take it one day at a time.
2) Hold your head up. A long distance run is hard if you stare at your feet. Even if you’re committed to taking one step at a time, there are so many in 26.2 miles. If you dwell on each step, it seems like it’s taking forever. I found that my long runs and marathons went by faster (and more enjoyably) if I held my head up, and looked into the distance. – For now: Even though I’m taking one day at a time, I’m holding my head up. Sometimes I go and sit outside. I feel the sun and see purple spiderwort and verbena. I hear the wrens and robins. I talk to the dogs. And the days pass quickly. 
If you can see this picture, here’s what I’m talking about.

(If you can’t, it’s my cartoon dude running along a very long number line, head held high.)
Be well. You are still awesome.

Let It Be

Tuesday, 24 Mar 2020, 09:12 GMT-0600

I now send my students and their parents/guardians a message each day. I sent this out this morning. Perhaps it applies to a wider audience, too.

Hi y’all.
When I was in middle school (a long time ago), I recall a running controversy. “Who do you like better, The Beatles or The Rolling Stones?” 
At the time I couldn’t imagine why there was even a question… of course The Beatles were better. How could anyone think otherwise!? Still… with the passing of the years, I find myself tuning out The Beatles and turning up The Stones. Not sure what that means, but there you have it.
However, there is “Let It Be.” 
So for today, here’s a link to a remastered recording of Let It Be. If you don’t know it already, you should. :-) Lyrics here.
(I know that not all of you have internet data. So not all of you can play it. Ask me when we get back, and I’ll play it loudly in class.)
...when the night is cloudy… there is a light that shines…
Be well. And if you can, try to spend some time doing that math I talked about the other day.  :-)
I’ll be in touch again soon. You are awesome.

Oreos and the Folly of Sarcasm

Tuesday, 24 Mar 2020, 06:42 GMT-0600

1. Do You Remember

Kevin is always the first person into the classroom. He waits outside until every single student from the previous period has left and then comes in, announcing his arrival with a loud, “Mr. Hasan!”

One day, when he got to his desk, he said it again, this time as a question, “Mr. Hasan?”


“Mr. Hasan, do you remember yesterday you told me and Nolan that we could make a stack of Oreo cookies?”

I shook my head and squinted, as in… Wait. What?

“No,” I said. “I don’t remember.”

I had no recollection whatsoever of any discussion of Oreos.

2. Giving In

It was a slow day. I build these days into our schedule in case we run into trouble and need to go back over something that just isn’t sinking in.

The kids would be practicing whatever it was we had been doing the day before, and I figured there was no harm in letting Kevin and Nolan do whatever they planned with their Oreos. After all, I let them eat in the room normally (with some rules applied for not making a mess).

They explained their project to deconstruct Oreo cookies and reassemble them into “tall” cookies with multiple white frosting patties between two chocolate cookies on either end.

“Fine. But no mess. … And you still need to finish the practice problems.”

“No mess,” they promised.

Nolan had come in by now, and between the two of them, they had three or four packages of Oreos.

It was disgusting, what they did that day as the other kids worked on the math. The two of them assembled Oreos towers with many inches of white frosting in between two chocolate cookies. Even the other students were visibly repulsed. 

I turned the other way, since they seemed to be keeping their desks clean and I had grades to enter. 

Let’s just say it was a down day.

3. Scraps of Black Rubber

The following morning, I was walking around the room straightening the desks and picking up the random flotsam and jetsam that accumulates on the floor of even our math department classrooms (which have a reputation for being clean).

There were some scraps of black rubber on the floor near my boxes of paper and plastic recycling. They caught my attention, because I’d never seen that particular kind of jetsam on the floor before, and I was curious what device had disintegrated and been abandoned.

I picked up the scraps and realized that they were in fact fragments of chocolate Oreo wafers.

Later that day, I told the kids in that period about the black rubber scraps I had found. I looked at Kevin and Nolan, lowering my face and squinting at them.

“What?” Kevin said in sincere innocence. “We cleaned up everything.”

I faux-rolled my eyes.

“To be honest, I don’t know what I said originally that made you I approved of your project. It must have been a moment of unguarded sarcasm.”

And I told the kids a story about teacher sarcasm gone wrong — about the perils of saying “Ok, sure” sarcastically to some obviously crazy student proposal.

4. Sure. Go Ahead

I told them about a time in eighth grade when we were on a retreat at George Williams Camp and all the seventh and eighth graders somehow got the crazy notion of running around Lake Geneva.

I explained how in Wisconsin all lakes and rivers (including shorelines) belong to the public, and that somehow we students knew this (and that the walking path down by the water would therefore go all the way around the lake). I explained that we had begun running on that sunny day down to the shore joking about going all the way around. 

“Let’s run around the lake!” one of us said.

“Oh sure. Go ahead,” one of the teachers said in mock sarcasm.

And with that, I explained to my students, this mass of middle school kids dashed down the grassy hill.

We ran and we ran, dozens of us. And we ran some more, a few dropping back in ones and twos. And we ran, the mass continuing to dwindle. And we kept running, until there were only three of us left.

The kids in my room chuckled at the imagery of these dozens of students gradually dwindling down to three.

So eventually it was just the three of us, and we kept on running. And since this was Wisconsin, the path kept going. So we ran. And we ran. And we ran for a very long time. And when we stopped running, we walked fast. And then we walked not so fast.

Now, I told my students, we hadn’t had breakfast. And we had run and walked for so long, that it was now lunchtime, and we had nothing to eat. We were hungry, and by the time we realized the folly of our project, we figured we were halfway around the lake.

“We were halfway,” I said. “So we just kept going.”

“Right,” one of my kids said. “You might as well.”

Then I told my kids that perimeter of Lake Geneva… (See how I squeezed some math in, there?) …is 30 miles. Their eyes widened.

I told them how we just kept going. And the path kept going. (I didn’t tell them about how even to middle school kids, it struck us as unjust that the Wrigley mansion is somehow except from Wisconsin’s constitutional provisions of riparian access.) I explained how the day got old. And we got very hungry. I told them how dusk was settling as we finally came around on that same path from the other direction… ten hours later.

“So,” I said, looking now at Kevin and Nolan. “I’m not quite sure what I said originally about your Oreo project that made you think I approved. And no harm done. But I need to remember the folly of a teacher sarcastically saying Sure. Go ahead!

I smiled and turned to my projected notes. 

“So here’s what we’re going to do today…”

Finding A Mistake

Monday, 23 Mar 2020, 14:05 GMT-0600

The two girls sit next to each other near the front of the class. When I created a new seating chart after the holidays, they asked to stay next to each other, and I gladly complied. They always work hard. They always get the work done before the end of class. I like to think that they enjoy doing the math.

He came up to the front of the class and sat at their desk. 

“What did you get for this one?” the girls asked him. 

“Um… Let me go look at my paper. I solved it, but I worked it in my head.”

He returned to his desk in the back of the room.

“See?” one of the girls whispered to the other. “We’re getting help from a smart person.”

The two of them giggled.

He came back and was soon teaching them how to solve the problem. But after a few moments, there was some commotion. The two girls had evidently found an error, a mistake a smart person made.

“Ohhh,” he groaned, slapping his forehead. “I’m so stupid!”

He got up and ran back to his desk to fix his paper.

The girls looked at each other. They smiled, winked at each other, laughed, and then gave each other a high-five.