Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Panthera Aethra

Make Cycle #5 in the #CLMOOC is Light.  +Kevin Hodgson offered an invitation to participate in an experiment of designing our own constellations and crafting an origin story for them.  I got really into this challenge...and so I wrote too much to post in the comment on the Eastern Star Chart that Kevin created where I and others charted our constellations, so I am posting my origin story here.  This was great fun, a great challenge, and an interesting take on light in writing.  And now...how Panthera Aethra came to be...



A clear cold night closed in as we prepared to brave it.  The car had gotten stuck in a snow drift.  Thankfully, the snow had finally stopped, but we were still stranded.  Bob and I had begun this adventure to rekindle – how ironic that we found ourselves in a snow laden crystal wasteland, quite literally cold as ice.  How would we “spark” in this predicament?

I was the winter weather lightweight.  Where I’m from if we see two snow flakes fall we close schools and businesses, and buy all the milk and bread in the store; we shut it down until the roads are safe again. Where Bob was from a snow day was just another winter day and life continued on as it normally does.  He had checked the forecast and was sure we could make it.  I don’t think that he was wrong.  I just think that sometimes Mother Nature throws us a curve ball and even our most modern scientific analysis cannot predict that.

So there we sat in the bucket seats, covered in the blankets we had in the back of the car for just such an emergency, trying not to notice the waning gas needle indicating the last of the mild warmth the car was still generating, and hoping our staticky 911 call had provided enough information to the operator to dispatch help to us. 

We settled in for whatever would come holding hands under the layers and staring hopefully through the glass sunroof.  We probably should have closed the cover to protect from heat loss, but the night was so beautifully clear now with stars brightly shimmering. 

Perhaps we were seeking their heat.  It was the last  good warm thing in our frozen space that we could fix our attention on – the warm thing we could imagine saving us. We were reminded of a warm summer night 13 years ago when we star-gazed and decided to make our love official.

For distraction we tried desperately to pick out familiar constellations.  But, we were far from home and the diamond laden velvet sky offered no familiarity.  We had to become like the ancestors who had first peered at the heavens trying to find the familiar.

“Look!” Bob said, “there…”

He pointed to the left of our sunroof-framed view.  Maybe it was an eastern view…it was hard to remember direction.

“See that Big Cat in the sky?

I laughed.  That was my nickname for Bob, my Big Cat.

“Yes, I see it.”

“What constellation do you think it is?”

“How should I know??? I can’t even pick out the Big Dipper!”

“That’s an asterism, not a constellation.”

Again I chuckled, that was my Big Cat, my amateur astronomer.  I smiled at him.  “Well, tell me, what constellation is it?”

“It is Panthera Aethra, of course.”

“What?  You are making that up!”

“No, it’s the Sky Panther…see…?”  He pulled me in close so I could try to see from his view, down the sight line of his arm.  “See…there are the star points that are the ear tips…and there’s the chin…the eyes…”

“I see it!”

“Then you know.”

“Know what?”

“You know that we will be alright, the Sky Panther has appeared.”

“Panthera Aethra” I whispered.


I know he made that up, but in that moment I believed…and we were ok. We had the heat of the stars to spark us.

Monday, July 14, 2014

A Learning Walk...

I have been in and out of the #CLMOOC this summer.  Less time this year to devote to posting and building community, but I have had the occasional burst of activity.  Tonight I find myself at home alone, which is unusual, so reading up on posts I notice a thread not really directed as a "Make Cycle" but it caught my attention anyway as a "Make".  +Kim Douillard over at Thinking Through My Lens shared a particularly interesting activity, a Learning Walk, that inspired a couple of others, and me.   As I am working on this post, I am thinking how this might be adapted for classroom use...maybe a Learning Walk through a text, or as a Product for a Graduation Project, or maybe just give the idea to the kids and see what new ideas are generated.  I really liked two things about it that I want to preserve - the physicality of it, actually getting out and moving about in the world (which kinda knocks out the walk through a text idea), and the "noticing effect".  A couple of years ago (more like 4 I think...time, well you know, it flies, *sigh*) I had the good fortune to present with the Tar River Writing Project at the NWP 2010 Annual Meeting about Thinking Partners and some wonderful folks from the Eastern Shore Writing Project also presented about a "Noticing Protocol".  What I loved about the "noticing protocol" was that it asked us to take time to notice...really notice...others' work.  The Learning Walk is a kind of "noticing protocol" for me, a "get out there and see what you can see and then write about it" protocol.

So I started down my street and was immediately drawn to the small family cemetery across from my house.




There is one marker that always makes me feel a little sad...a baby's.  That's the one with the little angel beside it and the vase that has fallen over.  We say we will always remember, and we will, but the tangible things are sometimes easier to forget and we would rather hold on to sweet memories, or forget and block out the sadness all together.  The cemetery is not a sad place for me overall though.  Visitors to my house always ask me how I feel living across the street from a cemetery...looking right at it from my living room window.  Their noticing of it helps me reflect...how do I really feel about it?  For me it's a privilege.  I love to see the cemetery change with the seasons as family members come and replace flowers and flags, straighten the items that have crooked, pull weeds, and generally care for the place where their long gone loved ones are memorialized.  It reminds me of the importance of family and remembering.  It reminds me of the importance of honoring our ancestors.  It also reminds me that life is all too short.  

Living close to a thing can make it just a part of the routine.  Some days I notice the cemetery more than others.  The Learning Walk helped me notice it in a different way...to notice it for what it means to me.

Further down the road I come across the old homeplace where my nephew lives.  

  I notice the flag.  It is usual to see an American flag flying, or a flag honoring one's alma mater, or one's favorite past time like the beach or gardening, or a flag reminding you what season it is.  But my nephew hoists the colors of the Old North State.  I notice that he is different and wonder why he has made this choice.  I will make a point to ask him the next time I see him!  I love it though...love that he loves this state as much as I do...regardless of the political brouhaha that currently has teachers leaving for brighter futures in neighboring states, or even Texas...but enough about that.

Continuing my walk I come across the old, old homeplace.  What we would call a shack by today's standards, but what was once the home to a young family starting out farming.  It has been neglected over the hundred or so years it has been in existence.  And I imagine that through the recent decades there have been many a neighborhood child who has explored that old house.  Hence the sign...look closely at the words...


"No Trust Pass"  An interesting usage...intentional or just a mis-hearing and mis-usage of "trustpass" for "trespass"?  I like to imagine that it's intentional.  That the sign painter meant that you shall not enter here because you are not trusted to pass over the threshold.  I'd love to take a peek inside...but time has worn the structure down and it does not appear structurally sound enough to investigate.  Best find some relatives to tell me the story of this little house and the trust issues. 


As I turn to walk away, I notice this tire encrusted tree.  How long has that been there?  Was the tire set intentionally around a little sapling to keep it from being cut down?  Was it just discarded and the little sapling grew into it?  What will the tree do to the tire as it continues to grow???  Fascinating...and something I never would have seen in my neighborhood if I had not ventured on this Learning Walk with the singular focus to "notice". 

Then I see a ghost...

Can you see it too?  It is the remnants of a car that burned completely to the ground on my street.  The paper delivery person's car caught fire right there!  The trees used to have a singe all the way to the top on this side.  See the circles where the tires melted?  See the red on either side at the bottom that were the red plastic covers of the brake lights?  Another cemetery of sorts.  Another interesting "notice" from the Learning Walk.  


  Time to head back home.  Then I notice this...a perfectly straight nail, slightly rusted, just lying there in the road and I hear my daddy's voice in my head, "Look...pick up that nail!"  My dad was born in 1924.  He was a WWII Veteran.  He was a young boy during the Great Depression and a survivor of a World War.  He saved EVERYTHING!  He recycled and repurposed before it was trendy and hip to do so.  When I noticed this nail, I remembered my daddy...gone 11 years now...but still honored in memory, and in noticing.  I should credit him with first teaching me to notice.  I still walk with my eyes on the ground looking for what small treasure might be found there.  And as I walk back into my driveway...I notice this...

TWO NAILS...and STRAIGHT!  It's like I hit the jackpot on my Learning Walk this evening! I will add these to my collection.  They may not be useful for me, but they remind me.  Those two nails, and all the other things I noticed on my Learning Walk remind me of the stories that are out there just waiting to be told.  Through the "play" of the Learning Walk, I was able to "make" meaning and connect to memories and to new ideas.  I will share this in the hopes that it will spark new connections and be a beginning point for developing a Learning Walk with my teachers at school.  Thank you +Kim Douillard for starting this in the #CLMOOC and thank you +Kevin Hodgson for amplifying it through taking up the challenge.  Remember to "notice"! 

Here are a few more images that I will have to revisit for another reflection:




And now...even though the "woods are lovely, dark and deep, I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep."  

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Processes!? We don't need no stinkin' processes! Oh wait, it's on the eval rubric, we still need this...

For those of us whose personalities reside in the East according to the Compass personality assessment, processes are the shizzle! We see Standard IVe in the NC Teacher Evaluation Rubric and think to ourselves, "we got this!"  Yay us! But what if we find ourselves as teachers and we are a North, or a South, or a West and we naturally have our own processes but don't really call them out explicitly?  Well, we miss a great teaching and learning opportunity and potentially limit ourselves to "Developing" or "Proficient".  In this time of ever increasing reliance on test scores to determine if students are learning or if teachers are teaching we may also be missing the most important skills of all...those real world skills like critical thinking and problem solving that drive innovation and progress.  So, how do we call out and put our teaching of process on blast???  Let's do some critical thinking together to find our answer and advocate for ours and our students' own "Accomplished" and "Distinguished" ratings.  Participate here: http://prezi.com/dvvqwghbpml8/connecting-processes-and-practices-paying-attention-to-the/#

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Making Gratitude

Tar River Writing Project
2013 Summer Institute Inquiry Exhibit
Making Gratitude: Re-Framing a Culture of Consumerist Learning to a Culture of Appreciative Learning through Making and Connecting in Genuine Ways, or as Mr. Tremayne Smith, Band Director at Rocky Mount High School says, “The grass is greener where you water it.”


Official Disclaimer:  This Inquiry Exhibit is not grounded in scholarly research, though it is somewhat informed by it.  My “inquiry” grew out of a need to find the “bright spots”  (Heath & Heath, Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, Broadway Books: New York, 2010) in my classroom and then transformed into a teaching demonstration I wanted to share in the summer institute.  It now has a new incarnation as an inquiry exhibit because at the heart of what I did and how I thought about it was experimentation and desire to find out if my intuition was on target, that creating a culture of genuine appreciation could lead to a positive learning environment.  Since then, I shared the demo and for at least one person that I know of, it was powerful enough to have lasting impact.  There were detractors, those who resisted expressing gratitude for anything, and that’s ok.  Sometimes we also need to be ungrateful, but that’s not really where I want to focus with this. Ultimately, I believe we humans want recognition and appreciation…and we don’t want it to be empty words and trite phrases…we want genuine connection.  As I have been participating in the Connected Learning MOOC this summer, and reflecting on how I would revise this demo to be an inquiry exhibit for this year’s SI, I have come to realize some unstated assumptions that framed my initial action in writing Thank You notes to my students, and in what I believe about the human condition.  I participated in the #clmooc because I wanted to be part of a digital learning community, and then when others *appreciated* something I had contributed, it made me feel great and kept the creative juices flowing.  Being grateful helps us pause our lives on positive things.  The more we pause on positive things, the more we encourage others to do the same by example.  The more we pause on positive things in the classroom, the more we shape our own thinking to have an appreciative learning stance as opposed to a consumerist learning stance.  We form community around highlighting bright spots and encouragement, even when we have to deliver critique, we have built relationships that can withstand the frustrations that can sometimes accompany new learning.  These are the assumptions I make about teaching and learning and how simply expressing gratitude can create a more positive culture of learning in a classroom community.

Connected Learning Principles
  1. Interest-powered (limited by parameters of thanking someone)
  2. Production-Centered (focused on publishing for authentic audience)
  3. Social Connection (builds relationships)

Literacy Focus – from the CCSS
  1. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
  2. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.5 Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience.

Ideas Influenced By:

Mental Floss. "11 Amazing Thank You Notes from Famous People". 

NPR Staff. Author Interview.  “Perfect Thank You Notes: Heartfelt and Handwritten.

Ramano, Tom.  Blending Genre, Altering Style.  Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook Publishers, 2000.
            Ramano advocates writing in a variety of genres to engage students with writing.

  Rodier, Anne.  “A Cure for Writer’s Block: Writing for Real Audiences.” The Quarterly Vol. 22, No. 2, Spring 2000.  < http://www.nwp.org/cs/public/print/resource/817>.
            Students need opportunities to write for real audiences in order to build motivation, investment, and skill.  Rodier suggests that from authentic writing assignments students will develop skills to apply to other writing tasks, especially an understanding of audience.

The North Carolina Graduation Project Implementation Guide.  NC Department of Pubic Instruction, 2007. In this four component project students will need to write “thank you” notes to mentors and others.  

“Etiquette Everyday ~ Communications: Being Thankful, A Thank You Note Q&A.”  The Emily Post Institute, Inc.  < http://www.emilypost.com/everyday/thank_u_note_qna.htm>.