Monday, July 30, 2012


Please note: I'm copying posts I've written elsewhere and putting them in date and time order on this site.  The original location will be noted on each posting.  That is all.

From MUSE: Big Ideas

While doing some research for the sciency-Big-Ideas class I'm helping out with at Berkeley, I came across this article: "Does Quantum Mechanics Make it Easier to Believe in God?".

The site it's on is pretty cool at first glance.  In its own words: 
Big Questions Online aims to explore Big Questions of human purpose and ultimate reality and to foster thoughtful discussion of those topics. We feature essays by leading thinkers and writers and invite you, the readers, to join in an author-led discussion

There are topics on machines becoming human, on Turing, on ethics, on all kinds of cool stuff that might be fun to talk about in a classroom.  Check it out!

This post was also published on MUSE '13.

W.B.Yeats, Magus

“For Yeats magic was not so much a kind of poetry as poetry a kind of magic, and the object of both alike was evocation of energies and knowledge from beyond normal consciousness.” The salient word there is “evocation,” casting the poet as a magus conjuring verbal spirits, not from his imagination but from a higher, or a deeper, place.
From Lapham's Quarterly, via Arts and Letters Daily 

Humpty Dumpty, the Fat Cat

A little bit Tower of Babel, a little bit Icarus, and a whole lot Blanch Fish Wright's Mother Goose,* this film from the 1930's warns that the rich will fall.  Via Erik Loomis at L,G&M.

*I noticed Rock a Bye Baby, The Old Woman in the Shoe, the image of the old woman on the broom (There was an old woman went up in a basket?), Rub a Dub Dub, and, obvs, Humpty Dumpty, amongst others.

Complicating Anti-Patriotism

TNC poses some good questions about patriotism:

The moralist in us agrees with Douglass and sees great hypocrisy, but the historian sees something more complicated--a halting, and by no means irreversible, advance toward democracy. 
My point here is that when we hail ourselves as the "Land of the Free" it is not rooted in ether. It's an actual thing. We worry about that kind of symbolism being employed by racist, militarists and demagogues. One way to ensure that outcome is to flee the field, to cede patriotism to people who talk of the "real Virginia." 
But that just strikes me as escapism. Aren't all nations problems? Aren't all families? Aren't all people?
For me, anti-patriotism (refusing to salute the flag, making exasperated comments about how things are done in America, dissing our foreign policy out of hand, becoming outraged at any show of patriotic feeling) has to do with age and education.  When I was in my teens and early twenties, I was pretty down on the whole notion of America.*  Law school changed that.  Call it indoctrination, call it education in a more nuanced way of thinking, call it getting older, call it what you will: I came out of my three years at U.C. Hastings with a real love of democracy, specifically its American incarnation, and a new understanding and appreciation of what it means to feel patriotic.

Sure, there are problems--huge problems--with the ways in which we implement our democracy.  And I still support the right to deface the flag (in fact, I think it can make for some very effective protests).  But I think it is important to remember that there are some very good, noble, and important ideas underlying our system of government and upon which many of our structures are founded.  These are things to celebrate, in moderate, humble ways, certainly.  But anti-patriotism, which refuses to recognize the good that there is, is no more intelligent, no more worldly, and no more helpful than militant patriotism/nationalism.

I think "escapism" gets toward the problem:  Neither extreme allows for nuance, for dialogue, for improvement.  Both refuse to look at the meat of the problem:  how to work toward a more democratic society.  Refusing to look at either the good or the bad is no way to improve.  We have to carefully assess what we do well and what we do poorly in order to get better: to get rid of what is not working, to keep and build upon what is.  Without the willingness to engage, without the willingness to practice democracy, the rhetoric of both sides serves no purpose other than to mire us in, at best, mediocrity.**

*Aren't prepositions interesting and fun?  "Down on" and "down with" have such different meanings. No wonder they are one of the hardest things for people learning English to master.  (Well, that and the fact that there is little rhyme or reason to their use unless you dig deep, a la The Grammar Book's really cool taxonomy of prepositions.)

**Did you feel the swell of rhetoric at the end there? I feel like saluting.

Thank you, SEK.

Finally, someone points out the fact that Bain means bad guy.

The real question — the one that no one seems to be asking — is why Bain? I know the real reason is ego cheap and clean, but it boggles the mind that these titans of industry decided that their public face should be the homonym of a word which means, according to my Oxford English Dictionary,1. A slayer or murderer; one who causes the death or destruction of another.2. a. That which causes death, or destroys life. b. Poison. Also incomb. in names of of poisonous plants or substances, as in Dogbane, Henbame, Leopard’s Bane, Rat’s Bane, Wolf’s Bane, etc.3. Murder, death, destruction.4. That which causes ruin, or is pernicious to well-being: the agent or instrument of ruin or woe, the ‘curse.’5. Fatal mischief: woeful or hapless fate.6. A disease in sheep, the ‘rot.’
From L,G&M

Friday, July 27, 2012

From MUSE: On Repetition, Memorization

I have always been a big fan of memorization, and I think writing out things like verb conjugations is kind of fun and soothing.  I realize I am usually alone in this, though, and that we're supposed to go for "authentic" and "project-based" learning*, and so I have, for the most part kept it out of my teaching.

One of the things I like about memorization is that it gives you a store of ready language, phrases that bob up periodically for your use and enjoyment. Another is that it is like signing, you get such a good sense of the feel and the taste of the language when you memorize and recite. And so for those reasons I had my EL students memorize a bit of poetry that we were studying and recite it.  But I've been reluctant to really incorporate much of this kind of old-fashioned learning into my teaching.  

No more reluctance after this fantastic post by Ta-Nehisi Coates.  He gives me the confidence to impose rote learning, drills, memorization, recitation on my students. :)  Pretty soon, I'll be wearing long dresses, calling students by their last names, and becoming the headmistress of my own school.  The strap... well, we'll see.

III. Apprendre

I've now been studying French for a little over a year now. (J"ai etudier le Francaise pour quasiment un an, mantenent." or some such.) You can see the beginnings of the journey here. As you can tell from that translation above, I am far from fluent. When I read an article in Le Monde, as I try to daily, I can get a general gist of the thing, but the words appear to me something like this: Important...but he was liked by the same to his sister...

When listening to RFI, it's considerably worse. I can speak the language about as well as I recall my son being able to speak English at about two and a half years old--though he understood English at that age, a lot better than I understand French. 

A large amount of time has been spent figuring how I learn best, and then crafting systems that take advantage of that particular bent. For instance, memorizing the 1000 most popular words in French was a big break-through. I'm still getting them down, but learning vocabulary by frequency--as opposed to subject--has helped me interact with the language a lot quicker.

But to get that done, I've had to craft flashcards with imagry that corresponds to my own native data-set. So it's not enough, for instance, to put the French word "besion" on one card and the English "need" on the other. No, I have to have a picture from the video for "Kids," in which the hook is "Control yourself, take only what you need from it..." I, more or less, had to do this about 900 times.

Memorizing various verb forms has required simply writing them over and over again. I think in the past I've given the impression that rote repetition is somehow unconnected to "real" learning.  But I don't really know how else you get good at something without practicing. I was once told that if you want to develop a jump-shot, you need to learn form, and basically shoot a thousand  jump-shots a day until the form becomes you. I've found that in French, I'm trying to recreate a similar trick--turning a overtly conscious act into muscle memory.

I've come to love the repetition, the constant rhythm of the jump-shot. I like the slow progress. It's a kind of revelation. I find myself taken by fantasy. I imagine that I am breaking some ancient code. I imagine I am learning the rudiments of plane-walking. I imagine SETI in reverse--like all the teeming life of the Francoverse broadcasts itself to me, and someday I shall hear it all.

As always, I wonder how/if I could have felt this way earlier. If I could change anything about my schooling I would have made the connections between abstract method and substance more real. I would have closed the distance between conjugating "Apprendre" and sitting outside in some lovely Paris cafe, fully comprehending all around me. Perhaps that would have failed too. But I really did want to get out of West Baltimore, and somehow it never dawned on me that French was a great way. They also started us too late. In my school French was seen as a subject, but I wish it had been seen as a medium, as tool for understanding other things, and simply as another abstract formula that might keep you out of jail.

C'est tout mes amis.

Just a few thoughts as I go into the second year of this. I think it's key that I am actually enjoying the learning, as opposed to just slogging my way through.

*I agree with authentic, project-based learning, by the by, those quotes are not there to make fun, merely to point out that they have taken on greater meaning in this context, that I mean something bigger than the dictionary definition when I use them.

This post was also published on MUSE '13

From MUSE: Supporting Communities of Practice as a Model for Professional Development

This NCTE webinar had some great information on establishing Communities of Practice in schools. The idea is to provide opportunities for teachers to learn in the way that we want students to learn.  That is, in "group[s] of people with a common interest, passion, or need, who commit to learning with and from each other in order to become more effective in their practice."  It is a model of inquiry-based learning that those who ran the webinar believe needs to be in place for teachers before it can be fully implemented in classrooms, i.e., we cannot teach this way until we have learned this way.

One important component of these communities is choice:  Each person is there because she wants to be, and each person brings his own individual passion and expertise.  Another important aspect is that the groups are self-directed/self-managed:  This leads to strong commitment and strong member identification with the group.  

Different groups connect with expertise in different ways, both formal (e.g., having an expert as a member) and informal. All Communities of Practice (as defined by the webinar), however, are structured around ordered sharing and feedback as a way of creating a space for communication with full participation by the members.  Each member and the group as a whole follows the Action Learning Cycle, i.e., Plan-Act-Reflect, with "Reflect" incorporating both individual and group reflection, including feedback from other members.

One image that I thought was really cool was a graphic showing the movement of new ideas into a group culture and practice.  The graphic was designed to counter what the leaders of the webinar saw as poor implementation of new ideas, in which teachers are handed a book and told to integrate its ideas into their teaching.  Rather, there should be a series of steps by which new ideas move from unknown to praxis, with an "explosion" of communication at the boundary between each step.  My version of the image is below.

Communities of Practice - Integration of Ideas

Step one: Unknown idea becomes known.  Communication!  Step two: Investigation into the new idea.  Communication!  Step three: Adaptation of the new idea to your own system/context.  Communication!  Step four: integration into praxis and expectations.  In addition, this model allows for a reverse movement whereby members identify ideas and practices that should be removed from the system.

More on learning communities:

On collective responsibility:
"Within learning communities, members exchange feedback about their practice with one another, visit each other's classrooms or work settings, and share resources.  Learning community members strive to refine their collaboration, communication, and relationship skills to work within and across both internal and external systems to support student learning.  They develop norms of collaboration and relational trust and employ processes and structures that unleash expertise and strengthen capacity to analyze, plan, implement, support, and evaluate their practice."

On support from administration and district:
"To avoid fragmentation among learning communities and to strengthen their contribution to school and system goals, public officials and school system leaders create policies that establish formal accountability for results along with the support needed to achieve results.  To be effective, these policies and supports align with an explicit vision and goals for successful learning communities.  Learning communities align their goals with those of the school and school system, engage in continuous professional learning, and hold all members collectively accountable for results.

The professional learning that occurs within learning communities both supports and is supported by policy and governance, curriculum and instruction, human resources, and other functions within a school system."

And, haven't read this yet, but it's all over this topic:

This post was also published on MUSE '13.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Book Review in Java Script

From Phil.  This is very cool: video + interactive book report.*  I am not embedding because there is too much to embed.  But check it out.  Phil also says that the guy's story, "Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore," is a lot of fun and very Borges-y.  So I'll be checking that out as well.  Join me, won't you?

*Could my students do this?  Would I have to learn JavaScript first? It's SO cool and interactive and in someways non-linear, though it could be moreso.  

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

From MUSE: Student blogging: woot!

I just read a great article on student blogging from the Guardian UK, and now I'm strongly considering making blogging a big part of my curriculum next year (and perhaps trying to get the other teachers in the grade on board - perhaps this will even make it easier for them to integrate the new Common Core disciplinary literacy standards!).  

Some concerns I have and my initial thoughts on how to tackle them:

1) Many of my students hate typing.  I have been thinking about this for other reasons as well, and I've almost decided to take some time out of class to teach keyboarding.  What with budget cuts typing/keyboarding classes have gone by the wayside with everything else, and, honestly, it probably didn't even need to be a whole class in the first place.  But I'm thinking a class session on the qwerty keyboard, a couple practice sessions with The quick brown fox, and maybe a quiz or two (a competition?!) would at least get them started.  Heck, we could even read Ella Minnow Pea along with it and work on coming up with even better pangrams.  (Yes, I pulled the book to look that up.  And that made me realize that it really is an excellent book to teach! Censorship! Speech! Epistolary novel!)

2) Many of my students don't have computer access at home.  I think this is also part of a larger problem that I want to tackle early on.  Our students need to work on getting access to technology in order to be equal participants in the working world and in social discourse.  I'm thinking this will require a multi-pronged approach:  1) Working with students at the beginning of the year to ensure that they have a plan for studying (a physical location at home/school/library/coffee shop/etc, a planned time, a planned way to tackle distractions, etc) and a commitment to implement it. 2) Bringing parents in to help implement. 3) Working with families to increase access to technology for all members of the family - whether this means collecting information on community computer classes (or holding them?!?!), library hours, etc., or whether this means working to get cheap computers and reliable home internet access I'm not sure.  I'll keep you posted and share any resources I find on the Community Resources page.

And for those of you worried about putting your kids on the internet, an excerpt from the Guardian:

None of the risks justify avoiding student blogging. Defamatory/provocative remarks are a behavioural issue, not a technological one: don't deprive all of an exciting outlet because of the remote possibility of misuse by a tiny few. Others may worry that student work is too weak. But where better than a blog to show the arc of individual development? Student bloggers are not meant to be the finished article (I'm not sure most professional bloggers are!); what we're looking for is emulation of, and participation in, a global community of discussion, however fledgling their efforts. Plagiarism is, surprisingly, not a problem. I've had one incidence of this all year: a discreet, firmly-worded email explaining copyright law to the student (copied to the parental email) and the post was swiftly amended.
Use of strong language is moot. A2 sociologists this year persuaded me to allow them to use it in political/satirical posts; tellingly, they did so freely early on, but then it fell away - its casual use disempowers it and makes writing appear lazy. Students came to reflect that they should choose words more carefully. "You don't hear Polly Toynbee saying 'What a dick' in her articles, even though she clearly thinks Cameron is one," concluded one perceptive wit, to general agreement. Language is a thorny issue, so I share this story without imposition. Child protection issues are minimal. Teach e-safety once, well, and take firm action when needed - but don't lock kids away from the world. My students were delightedly amazed to discover postgrads in Germany, travellers in South-East Asia and Occupy activists in the US liking, commenting on and following their blogs.
Our first year of use has been rewarding and engaging. I am confident it has enhanced students' enjoyment, writing skill, and university prospects. Our use has been hit-and-miss - but that's what a trial is for, and I go into year two with a clearer idea of the advantages, limitations and required timely guidance in asking students to write for the public forum. Remember what writing is for: to share what we see, think and believe, and invite response. Remember what schools are for: preparation to enter a wide world of possibility. Durrenmatt said: "A writer doesn't solve problems. He allows them to emerge." Who wouldn't want their classroom to look like that?
This post was also published on MUSE '13 

Monday, July 23, 2012

From MUSE: Close Reading in the Real World: "99 Problems" and Criminal Procedure

A criminal procedure professor does a line-by-line reading of the second verse (the traffic stop verse) of Jay-Z's "99 Problems."  It's actually very readable and doesn't assume a lot of legal knowledge.  With a little scaffolding, I could even see it being used in class.

Article, here, and uploaded below.

This post was also published on MUSE '13

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Holy Sonnet #14

Batter my heart, three-personed God; for, you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurped town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but oh, to no end,
Reason your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue,
Yet dearly'I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betrothed unto your enemy,
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I
Except you enthral me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

John Donne

Between a Scylla and Charybdis

John Henry Fuseli, Odysseus in front of Scylla and Charybdis, 1794-96.

From Wikipedia, via svell via Dialogues

Ooo. Oh.

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.


Also, I have always wanted to make a lamp out of copper pipe, but was never quite able to envision a good prototype.  This is just lovely.  From A Well Travelled Woman.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


A couple days ago, I created a Google form to collect information about jobs to share with my students (next year and in the future), and I sent it out into the void on Google+ and to friends via email, asking people to:
Please share a bit about your job/occupation/vocation.  So often, the only possibilities students know about are doctor, lawyer, mechanic, nurse, etc. So many more possibilities exist, but so often we only know about our own field or industry.  This form is intended to crowd source a list of possibilities for students.
So far, forty people have responded, many of whom I do not know, many of whom wrote really lovely descriptions of what they do.  (There is even a lay missionary! How cool is that!)  I am so touched for some reason.  Whether it is just seeing this collection of people talking about they things they care enough about to do each day, or whether it's the fact that they took the time to provide this information for kids they don't know, I'm not sure.  Probably both.  In any case, it's wonderful.

Thank you to all who have responded and will respond.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

From MUSE: Encourage non-fiction summer reading to build schma

From the NYT opinion section:

Reading serious nonfiction in the summer is an immersion in the world of necessary ideas. So let’s try that instead of the late August nagging and the relentless complaints from parents about their child’s stubborn refusal to enjoy, say, “To Kill a Mockingbird.” To those parents who wish ardently to re-experience their first literary love, I say, reread it yourself. Perhaps you will recall that the real horrors in that novel happen offstage, to characters who remain peripheral to the narrative. Perhaps your children need to confront some hard truths this summer that will make it easier for them to want to learn about the world.
This post was also published on MUSE '13 

Monday, July 2, 2012

Save Our State Parks

The above is via A Well Travelled Woman.  The following is from

The best way to show support for state parks is to visit them, and be reminded about what wonderful resources they are for recreation, education and relaxation!
Plan Your Next Visit
Carolyn Silva
With 279 state parks located throughout California, you literally have hundreds of opportunities to experience all that California’s state parks have to offer. Find a park online at the California State Parks Foundation Travel site
At most state parks, day use fees are charged for parking only. There are also state parks where park users pay a per person fee for tours. At some park units, budget cuts have eliminated staffing at fee collection kiosks, so fees are collected on the “honor system”.
Many park users avoid paying fees by simply parking outside the park and walking or biking in. Sometimes park users want to pay parking fees, but are unable to identify where and how to pay. In other instances, park users choose to ignore the honor system and decide to park without paying fees at all.
Whether intentional or not, the practice of park users avoiding fees creates problems. State parks rely on user fees to help maintain the state park system. Park users who do not pay user fees will still use the park restrooms, trails and picnic areas. They will still need to dispose of garbage and will still need assistance at times from park staff.
When the Department of Parks and Recreation is faced with the decision of which parks to close, parks with low revenue are the first on the chopping block. That means that parks where people avoid paying fees may be at risk of closure- because although the park is getting usage, it is not generating revenue to offset operational expenses.
When you pay your entrance fee, you are doing your part to make sure that state parks have funding to keep state parks open and maintained.
If you use state parks regularly, consider purchasing an annual pass. The Department of Parks and Recreation offers several different types of annual passes that provide you with unlimited access to state parks. The California State Parks Foundation also offers both annual passes and day use passes as benefits of membership. Memberships start at just $40. (Learn more)
Be sure to let your friends and family know about the memorable experiences you have at state parks and encourage them to plan a visit themselves!
vist a state park

become a volunteer

support legislation

spread the word