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Avatar Fail

Tuesday, 29 Dec 2020, 14:21 GMT-0600

Did she ask about it? I don’t remember. She was standing at my desk in the front of the room, and somehow we started talking about my Google avatar. 

my avatar

“It’s kinda me,” I said. “Do you know what he’s doing?”

She stared at it for a moment. “No.” 

Saturday Night Fever?” I asked. “That help?”

“Um… no,” she said.

“John Travolta?”

“Oh,” she said, her eyes lighting up. “Isn’t he from Grease?

So sad. Although truth be told it was only after I drew it that the Saturday Night Fever/Travolta interpretation suggested itself. 

“You’ll have to google it sometime,” I said.

She walked back to her desk. 

Quiz Review

Monday, 28 Dec 2020, 21:45 GMT-0600

It’s the day before a quiz. The kids are reviewing — working on math problems from the last week or so. Here’s the promise: Know how to do these, and you won’t be surprised tomorrow.

Two kids in the back are working together. That’s fine. When they are at work in a few years, this is how it’ll be for them every day. So it’s more than fine. Them working together like like this is (or ought to be) a math teacher’s dream.

They are huddled over her phone.  She is pointing at it, her pencil moving back and forth. They must be reading something, maybe worked examples from the scanned class notes on Google Classroom.

“Ohhh that’s right!” she says. “I know how to do this one.”

She quickly puts her phone down. They both turn and begin writing on their review sheets.

Check: one problem down.

On The Inside

Monday, 28 Dec 2020, 11:33 GMT-0600

That day I said something about my father’s childhood. Perhaps the story about counting the cattle when they came back through the gate at the end of the day.

After class, a student came up to the desk. He looked at me through the light of the document camera.

“I thought you were Hispanic,” he said.

“You did?”

“… because of how you pronounce our names,” he said.

I nodded. And glowed on the inside.


I looked up.

“…because of the color of your skin.”

I nodded. And glowed on the inside.

You Ok?

Monday, 28 Dec 2020, 10:27 GMT-0600

He had missed a lot of tests while he was remote. Homework, too. Pretty much done nothing for many weeks, and his grades showed it. Now he was working hard to get caught up.

He fished around in his backpack and pulled out a few papers: test corrections for a make-up test that he had scored poorly on. He held the papers out. I slipped them under the laptop with the other papers that need attention before the end of the day. He turned to walk to his seat.

“You ok?” 

I looked up. He was looking at me.

“What’s that?” 

“Are you ok?” he asked with a smile on his face. (He has a disarmingly sincere smile.) “You look tired.”

I chuckled. “Yes, I’m tired. It’s been a hard year for all of us.”

He nodded.

It’s nice to have him back in the classroom.

Möbius Strips

Sunday, 27 Dec 2020, 21:49 GMT-0600

1. An Activity

What was it that day? Maybe there was a planned fire alarm. Or maybe a lot of kids were out testing. Whatever it was, we didn’t have a lesson. We had an activity, instead.

In the morning, I had cut strips of blue paper for the in-person students — two inches wide, 11 inches long. Three strips for each. For those on Zoom, I had posted instructions on what tools they’d need, how to make their own strips, how to get ready for what we were going to do.

“Do this,” I said. They followed what I was doing under the light of the document camera. We made a loop out of one of the strips, taping it together at the end. Then we drew a pencil line down the strip until they got back to where they started.

We agreed to the non-controversial conclusion that the paper had two sides: one side with the line, the other without it.

“Now do this.” We made a different kind of loop from another strip, twisting it just before taping the ends together. “And draw another line.”

“No way!” someone in the back of the room said. We had arrived at the odd conclusion that the paper no longer had two sides. Without picking up their pencils, they had drawn a single unbroken 22 inch line that somehow traversed what used to be the two sides of the paper: a Möbius strip.

2. Scissors

With a spritz of disinfectant and a paper towel, the kids grabbed scissors from a basket as I walked around the room. (They’re high school kids, but they still love using scissors.)

Together, we cut down the middle of the Möbius strip. Again, someone in the back got it: “Cool!” One big twisted loop.

Finally, we made a third strip but this time cut it not down the middle but off to one side. It pushed the limits of their scissor-hand dexterity. 

I was asking them to tell me what they thought was going to happen when voice in the back of the room shouted, “Wow!” and held up their result: two twisted, interlocked loops. A Möbius chain?

3. Feedback

Who knows what the Zoom kids thought.

I can never tell whether they’re even really there. Some obviously aren’t, since they don’t sign off at the end of class. And some seem to be. But how can you tell what they really think — of the lessons, of the problems, of today’s activity?

Then at the end of the day, a student email showed up in my inbox.

“Hi Mr. Hasan. I want you to know that I participated today.” And they attached this picture. “This was fun.”

A student's mobius strip

Fall Semester Finals

Sunday, 27 Dec 2020, 18:28 GMT-0600

They sat at their desks, some of them socially distanced some not, because we have more in-person students than two-person desks. So some sat shoulder to shoulder. Others of course, were sitting at desks at home, or kitchen tables, or on beds in their rooms … on Zoom.

I handed out the bubble sheets and the final exam for those in the room. I clicked on the button to activate the online test for the Zoom kids. The room went quiet. Zoom was quiet, but then it always is.

The Oreos made a racket. Two for each of them in the room. None for those on Zoom. Who knows if the Zoom kids knew what was going on when I put on a latex glove and started handing out the cookies. Surely some were on to me, because the camera was on, and I was making a racket.

“Thank you,” every last one of them said, most of them with their noses buried in the exam.

There was plenty of time. Fewer than 20 questions for a 2-hour test. Plenty of time. And when the time was almost over, I handed out a hand-drawn (but photo-copied — 180 kids, right?), hand-colored card to each of them sitting at the desks and posted a digital version to those of them on Zoom.

2020 holiday card

Some kids seemed to think the card was a cookie coaster, putting one Oreo on the black 2020 Covid circle and the other on the 2021 circle of light.

Bad cookie/good cookie. On balance, not a bad way of looking at things.

What Do the Lizards Think

Sunday, 13 Sep 2020, 16:49 GMT-0600

There are lizards in the Turk’s Cap. Geckos scurry in the dry leaves and sticks on the ground below them, chirping in the dark of the night. Spiny Lizards climb the trunk of the Ash tree behind them, blending in with the bark so that you cannot see them unless they move. And Anole’s move slowly, changing from brown to green depending on the light. They move slowly until they leap in a flash to grab some aphid or fly or ant or other unsuspecting insectoid. 

There is also a Hummingbird that visits the Turk’s Cap regularly. I wonder what the lizards think of it.

It hovers and hums as its long bill probes deep into the red. It must certainly be mere inches away from some lizard hiding there. And I wonder what those hiding lizards think. Of that humming. Of that hovering. Of that invasion of their space. Which is of course not theirs. Or the Hummingbird’s. Or the insectoids’. 

But still I wonder what those lizards think.

Papershell Pecans

Sunday, 13 Sep 2020, 16:35 GMT-0600

Pete has been here many years. Thirty or more, according to the story he told about scavenging rocks from the creek when they first moved here. The neighborhood would have been young then: the houses, most of the trees.

His two Pecan trees would have been young then. Pecan trees that he has cared for over the years. Pitching battle with the gradually multiplying squirrels over the ownership of the papershell pecans that fall from his trees this time of year. For years, he wrapped the trunks with sheets of aluminum, thwarting the squirrels’ ascent. But the Pecan trees grew. And the Cedar Elms and Live Oaks nearby grew. And their branches intertwined. And the squirrels multiplied. And his defenses ceased to defend.

Pete was out yesterday. In his rubber boots and gloves. Holding a long pole with a pecan grabber on the end. Out there harvesting his papershell pecans. As he grabbed one and then another, squirrels dashed from his yard. One. Then two. Then three and four. Then more. They had been up there doing some reconnaissance, assessing ripeness, until his grabber started grabbing. And they started dashing in squirrel hops to their nests in the oaks across the street. Nests within sight of those tasty papershell pecans that Pete has been so determined to harvest lo these thirty some years.

I suspect that he didn’t get many.

The Jeeps and the Pushers

Saturday, 01 Aug 2020, 11:08 GMT-0600

1. A Jeep Out of Gas

When the light turned green, the geezer found himself behind a Jeep SUV that had run out of gas. A twenty-something driver was pushing and steering, trying to get his vehicle thru the intersection.

The geezer changed lanes and drove around and then pulled into the next driveway. He walked back to the intersection, where the twenty-something driver was pushing his Jeep slowly along the feeder road. The geezer offered to help push, but just then a woman in another Jeep pulled in front and offered user hers to push his.

“I have a blanket,” she said.

“That’s great, thanks a lot,” the twenty-something guy said. 

2. Pushing Jeep #1

The woman in Jeep #2 drove off so she could pull up behind Jeep #1. It was a long loop, and it was going to take her a while to come around again.

“I’m good,” the twenty-something guy said to the geezer, but then he started to push again.

So the geezer pushed, too, wearing his mask from the other side of Jeep #1. A thirty-something guy walked up and began pushing from the back. Jeep #1 started rolling quickly, and the three of them began running as they pushed.

The sun was bright. The heat of the day was beginning to rise. The geezer was wearing a black shirt and panting beneath his mask until he yanked it off (being safely distanced from either of the two maskless *-somethings). His breathing fell into a cadence. His thighs started burning. 

“Let’s push harder and maybe I can coast,” the twenty-something guy said.

“Harder!” the geezer thought to himself. There was no harder in him. This was as much as he could muster.

When they came to a driveway… the guy didn’t turn in!

“I’m just going to go down to the Shell station,” he said. 

3. Jeep #2 Arrives

Problem was, even though they had now pushed Jeep #1 a quarter mile, the gas station was another quarter mile away.

“What have I gotten myself into?” the geezer wondered. Thoughts of his unlocked car with its windows down began to swirl in his head.

Just then, the woman in Jeep #2 arrived. The geezer and thirty-something stepped away, and the woman slowly pulled up and began pushing Jeep #1. 

The thirty-something guy hopped in a car which his wife (?) had been driving slowly with emergency flashers blinking to protect the three of them. The geezer turned to walk back to his car, more than a quarter mile back down the feeder road. 

4. Yay-Boo Epilog

His car was still there when he got back.

But when he finally made it to the farmer’s market there were no more eggs. Boo! But there were still plenty of peaches. Yay!


Wrens are not Squirrels

Monday, 27 Jul 2020, 12:05 GMT-0600

A Carolina Wren sang from the upper branches of the Japanese Persimmon. The song was more warble-y than usual, and I went to the back door to listen and watch, slowly closing the patio door since the heat of the day had arrived.

Another Wren in the pond caught my attention. It was splashing in the fountain: rolling one way and then the other, shaking and puffing and then rolling again. Then it hopped up onto a standing stem of Horsetail: swiping/cleaning its beak, shaking and puffing, preening for two or three minutes. At which point the Wren hopped back into the water and did it all again — three more times.

The Wren then flew over to a puddle of sun on the back of a blue patio chair and puffed and shook and then flew over to a potted Texas Star Hibiscus. It landed on the rim and plopped into the soil in another puddle of sun: rolling one way and then the other, shaking and puffing and then rolling again. The potting dirt went flying. 

It then flew off, leaving a depression in the pot where all that rolling and shaking had just taken place.

And here I have always blamed the squirrels for this.