Wednesday, July 23, 2014

17 Months!

At 17 months Jack loves...

1. ...doing the booty dance (long story, learned from Lily...).
2. ...trying, and trying, and trying to jump!
3. ...saying a very few words, his favorite being sit!
4. ...mango. He inhales it.
5. ...cheesing at everyone he sees (and waving, too).
6. ...his sister. He loves to imitate her.
7. ...using a fork and spoon (or, at least, trying to do so...).
8. ...blowing his nose and wiping his face.
9. ...wearing hats. Any hats.
10. ...and, of course, mama and dada!


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

To create an education blog or not...

When I started this blog my intent was to write about my kids. I used it to update friends and family about our goings on and about our family life. As I started writing more, I started touching on other topics-- crafts, food, etc...-- a bit of a variation on the original, but still related to family life. Recently, I started blogging more about education, another topic in which I am deeply involved. I have written a few education-related posts, and have discovered that I really enjoy writing about education. It forces me to research, and, more importantly, engages me in my vocation in a way moves beyond the classroom. I try not to dispense advice (about anything...because I am no expert in any field...), but, rather, to provide insights and experiences (both good and bad) about the things that I do and enjoy.

The reason I am rambling on about this is that I am considering branching my education posts off into their own blog. I am not quite sure that people (mostly family and friends) who want to read about my kids, also want to read about educational topics. Maybe they do, a lot of my readers are also teachers, but these topics are fairly different, and I am starting to think each deserves its own space.

So, everyone, thoughts?? Separate the blogs? Or just maintain one...

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Lily's Loves July 2014

This month Lily loves...

1. ...being an "awesome big sister!" (her words...)
2. ...baby pizzas (lunchable pizzas).
3. ...swimming!
4. ...doing everything all by herself.
5. ...having dance parties.
6. ...pretending to be a pirate, or princess, or snakes, or...
7. ...swaddling her teddy bear like a baby.
8. ...talking about going to the beach with grammy and grandpa.
9. ...playing with her friends.
10. ...and, of course, mommy and daddy!


Friday, July 18, 2014

"Are you happy?"

"Are you happy?"

In the world of Fahrenheit 451 happiness looks like television walls, seashell ear buds, and dangerously fast cars. It embodies the "pleasure" of burning, the "love" of "the family", and the thrill of danger. Mildred's happiness looks like tiny pills; Beatty's like flames. "Serenity, Montag. Peace, Montag," is all the world really wants, achieved by the cleansing flames.

Fahrenheit 451 should, in this 21st century world, deeply disturb anyone who reads it. Bradbury's dystopian novel about the rise of technology, the eradication of books, and the death of knowledge and curiosity is a warning to us, a prophecy, about our own society and its destruction. 

Other dystopian novels--The Giver, or The Hunger Games--work in similar ways. In The Giver, the world is void of color and emotion. Don't feel pain, don't get upset, don't disrupt the status quo. And, definitely don't be an individual (this isn't hard because the construct of society won't let you be unique, everyone is essentially, the same). 

In The Hunger Games the people of the Capital believe they are high society. Pictures of sophistication they wear the latest fashion, have the most money, and eat the most food. They can afford to be lazy and live lives of excess. Really, though, they are mere caricatures of people, and their dyed hair, artificial skin tone, extravagant clothes, and outlandish lifestyle is all mockery. They don't see it because they live it, but the people outside the Capital, especially those in the most impoverished districts, they see it very clearly. 

Three very different novels all held together by one very strong thread--in our future happiness will fail to exist if we let "things"- technology, money, power, etc.- become more important than people. 

This morning, I was talking to Tom about cell phones. We were discussing a dinner we had been to where our dinner guest was on a cell phone for almost the entire meal. Neither of us said anything, unsure if it would be rude. Similarly, my students cannot seem to live without a phone in their hands. Texting, tweeting, snapchatting, technologies that did not exist 5, 10, 20 years ago, have captured the hearts and minds of 16-year-olds everywhere. 

This is my fear-- that happiness is no longer equated with human attachment (to love and to be loved); rather, it is equated the next quick fix. Tired of your cell phone? Get a newer, better, faster one. Tired of your job? Quit! There is always something better out there, right? Tired of your marriage? Get a divorce! Tired of your house? Just sell it and move! Do everything quickly. Do it now. Don't wait. Happiness is just over there, if you squint really hard. Just...see it...over there?

These writers, Bradbury in 1950, Lowry in the early 1990s, and Collins today, all knew, and know, what so many fail to realize: if we stop interacting on a human-to-human level; if we abandon natural human curiosity for the next quick fix; if we live a life denying our emotions (good or bad) that we will surely be the makers of our own destruction. 

And that is terrifying. And it should be terrifying.

It should be so frightening that people should want to do something about it. Reclaim the family, reclaim friendships, reclaim life. And yet, I see students sitting at long cafeteria tables with their friends staring at cell phones. I see fewer and fewer kids playing outside. I hear of more destruction.

Happiness isn't at the end of a cell signal. Look up from your phone. Look at your life. Reclaim it now before its too late.

"...We're going to build a mirror factory first and put out nothing but mirrors for the next year and take a long look in them."

(The quotes are from Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Philadelphia

This past weekend I attended the 2014 National AP Conference in Philadelphia, PA. Tom also attended, so it was our first extended trip away from the kids. The conference itself was awesome! I attended 6 sessions, and while 2 sessions proved to miss the mark just a little, the other 4 were awesome.

The two sessions that I thought were the best was a session on AP boot camp and a session on using literature and poetry as evidence in an argument. The boot camp session leader was phenomenal! He was so engaging and enthusiastic and his passion for teaching was so evident. I learned a few tips and tricks to implementing an AP boot camp, and I think it is something I am going to try to do with my students. The basic idea is community and skill building prior to content learning, so that content learning will be "easier". I say "easier" because the skill building helps establish those things students need for content learning. I got some really awesome resources from the session, too, so that is always helpful.

The lit. and poetry as evidence in an argument was facilitated by Renee Shea and Robin Aufses who co-authored The Language of Composition (a text I use in my class). Needless to say, seeing these women was the English teacher equivalent of meeting a celebrity! Their session was awesome. I got a ton of ideas for using literature as evidence, and I think the information will really enhance my students' writing. I love to teach non-fiction and poetry in my AP class, but it is hard to integrate it with the non-fiction upon which the course so heavily relies. This session helped me figure out how to integrate those pieces, which will help break-up the use of non-fiction.

Beyond the sessions, I picked up 26 books! There was a hall filled with vendors who were pushing their books, and other AP related materials. Tom and I picked up some very expensive books, which is awesome (and just the cost of books was worth the trip!). I am excited to share these new materials with my colleagues!

In between the sessions, we went to dinner at Max Brenner with my colleagues who also attended the conference. Max Brenner was awesome! The food was delicious, but really, the restaurant is known for desserts. Tom and I shared a delicious s'mores sundae. I would definitely make the trip back for more delicious chocolate (and food!).

The second night we went to the Phillies game. The night was perfect-- not too hot--and there was a nice breeze. We got our cheese steak fix and had Crabfries (which is so Baltimore, but was trademarked by Chickie's and Pete's). They claim that the fries are a special blend of seasoning, but it tasted like Old Bay. Totally Maryland. The Phillies played the Nats, so there was so hometown pull, but ultimately, I didn't really care who won. The game was fun and very relaxing.

It was very nice to spend some time away from the kids, and to be able to sleep without being beckoned by a little voice multiple times throughout the night. The kids did a fairly good job being away from us for 2 days and nights. Lily did ask my mom if Tom and I still love her (seriously, Lily!?! break my heart a little more!). Other than that, they had fun with grandma and poppy and grammy and grandpa. And, of course, a HUGE thanks to our parents for watching the kids. We always appreciate the helping hands!

I am already hoping to attend next year's conference in Austin. I am also hoping to be a presenter, so fingers crossed as I work on my proposal!  

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Working on work.

At the end of this week, Thursday through Saturday, I am attending the AP conference. I am really looking forward to the conference and I am hoping to get some new ideas for AP Language. I already looked over the list to choose my sessions, and I think there are some that will give me some good information for my class. I got my AP scores back, so my wheels are turning on ways to improve my class for next year. I know I still have a long way to go as an AP teacher, so I am trying to put myself in situations where I am constantly learning. I love teaching the AP Language course, so I want to work to be the best teacher I can be for the course and my students.

Next year should be interesting. I have two classes that I already taught-- AP Lang and English 11-- and three new courses-- English 9, English 9 Honors, and Freshmen Seminar. I feel so lucky to be able to teach English 9 with Sarah and Becky. I think we will make a really strong English 9 team, so I am looking forward to planning out the year together. I am a little nervous to teach a totally new grade, it's been a while since I taught something totally new. Last year, I taught English 11 for the first time, but having already taught AP 11, I had a grip on the literature and non-fiction material. English 9 is totally uncharted territory, and it's the last core English class to add to my list. The classes I have taught to date are: English 10, English 10 Honors, English 11, AP English 11, English 12, English 12 Honors, Broadcast, and accelerated English. Next year, I will add Freshmen Seminar and English 9 and 9 honors to that list. I am glad that I have the opportunity to teach so many different classes, I think it really helps to know what other grades are doing, so you know what students have and have no covered.

So as summer moves on, I start thinking more and more about my approach to next year. Every year my one major goal is to be a better teacher. I know it's a broad goal, but it's something I strive to achieve. I think, in many little ways, I do get better, but I know I have a long way to go...and I know that even the day I retire there will be things that I could do better. So here's to doing better for 2014-2015. 

Friday, July 4, 2014

The 4th of July

Happy Fourth of July! As I sit here, contemplating the holiday, I can't help but think about teaching American Literature. Every year, I get to re-live the founding of our nation when I teach early American literature with the Puritans and then move into the age of Rationalism and the founding documents. I get to read and re-read The Declaration of Independence (I even make the AP kids diagram the first sentence of the document-- for you English nerds out there-- it's a doozy, but it's totally worth it!), recite Patrick Henry's Speech to the Virginia Convention, and delve into Thomas Paine's works.

After considering all of these works- documents, speeches, pamphlets- I can't help but think that people forget what this day is really about. It's interesting, because as I scroll through Facebook, I notice that many people post about soldiers and remembering them today. I do suppose you could argue that today we remember those first soldiers who fought for our ultimate freedom, our independence from the British. Just thinking about the odds that we had stacked against us- lack of real training, or really, of any true military; little monetary funding; few resources- really, we should have lost. This rag-tag group of men banding against the greatest military in the world. The underdog. Maybe that's why America loves an underdog story because we were founded on the underdog. 

All this said, today, we don't really celebrate soldiers. We have holidays for that-- Memorial Day, Veteran's Day. Today is for celebrating a document that called for our independence. Aired our grievances. Looked the King in the eye and said, simply, "no more". The Declaration of Independence, when studied closely, is a truly fascinating document. Take a look at the first sentence: 

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

It's beautiful. It's absolutely a work of beauty. It could say, "we are breaking away from you and here is why" because that is the basis of what Jefferson does in this document. He lists the causes of separation. But this first sentence does so much more than that. It says that we, as a nation, are entitled to our rights in accordance with the laws of Nature and of God. Of God. Each word was chosen with such precision and craftsmanship. It is truly beautiful.

This is why we celebrate today. We celebrate the words and the actions of the Founding Fathers. We celebrate the passion of Patrick Henry. The dedication of George Washington. The conviction of Thomas Paine. We remember that our nation rose from the humblest of beginnings, and was founded by people who all journeyed here for vastly different reasons. Yes, these men, these people, were flawed. There is no picture of perfection in the backgrounds of any of these individuals. And, I believe, that is important to remember. We come from what is real, what is passion, what is grit. 

So, today, pause and remember that founding document. Read a line or two. Remember the first of us who bravely trekked to this land for freedom, money, a new start. Remember all of this on the Fourth.