Seeking New Knitting Projects…

Hej everyone! I have good news! Remember that baby blanket I was knitting when I went adventuring to Yosemite? Well, I finally have it (nearly) finished! Good thing, since the baby it was for was born in June.

In case you ever want to make a super simple blanket, I start by casting on between 120 and 150 stitches, doing ten rows in garter stitch, and then using garter stitch for the first and last ten stitches of every row while doing a stockinette stitch for the center of the blanket. I finish the blanket with ten rows of garter stitch. The garter boarder keeps the blanket from curling, as typically happens with stockinette stitch, but you still get that classic stockinette look.

My other favorite baby blanket pattern is to use a vine lace pattern (pictured at the top). You cast on stitches in multiples of nine, plus four. So for example, I typically cast on 139 or 148 stitches. The pattern is a four-row repeat:

  1. Row 1: k3 [yo, k2, ssk, k2tog, k2, yo, k1] K1
  2. Row 2: purl
  3. Row 3: k2 [yo, k2, ssk, k2tog, k2, yo, k1] k2
  4. Row 4: purl

I struggle to use markers with this because of the yarn overs, slip-slip-knits, and knit two togethers. But if you pay attention, it makes an absolutely beautiful pattern.

In these last couple of weeks, I also knit a pair of baby mittens for a colleague. That pattern goes like this:

  • Cast on 29 stitches. Arrange on three dp needles.
  • Start by knitting the first two stitches together. [k1 p1] rib for the first ten rows.
  • Row 11: k1 [yo k2tog] k1
  • Row 12: [k1 p1]
  • Row 13-26, alternate [k1 p1] for two rows and [p1 k1] for two rows.
  • Row 27: knit
  • Row 28: purl
  • Row 29: k1 k2tog k8 k2tog k2 k2tog k8 k2tog k1
  • Row 30: k1 k2tog k6 k2tog k2 k2tog k6 k2tog k1
  • Row 31: k1 k2tog k4 k2tog k2 k2tog k4 k2tog k1
  • Row 32: k1 k2tog k2 k2tog k2 k2tog k2 k2tog k1
  • Row 33: k1 k2tog k2tog k2 k2tog k2tog k1
  • Pull yarn through remaining loops and tie off.
  • Cast on 80 stitches; knit one row and cast off. This is the tie at the wrist (it goes through the holes created in row 11)

These are super simple; they take a little over an hour to work up but they’re very cute!

So now the question remains…what should I work on next?

I have a pattern for a baby blanket that does stars and moons in stockinette and reverse stockinette, and a super pretty buttery yellow yarn. I have a heathered purple and grey yarn that I’m planning on using in a vine lace baby blanket. I have some feathery black and white fun yarn that I have no idea what to do with, and a beautiful turquoise varigated yarn that would make a lovely simple baby blanket like the one I just finished. And that’s just the blanket options! There are mittens and yoga socks and fingerless gloves and scarves…I’d like to practice cables again…the options are endless!

I probably have about another hour yet to go on the current baby blanket, so I have a bit of time to decide. But if you have any thoughts, do let me know!

Your homework: Do you do anything with your hands that is soothing? I love the rhythm of knitting, for example.

Hej då,

Jamie

 

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The Battle of the Cell Phones

Every teacher today knows The Battle of the Cell Phones. It starts from the moment the bell rings (if you have bells) and goes until the very. Last. Second. Of class. It happens every day. All year long. No matter what you do.

“But I’m done with what you told me to do.”

“I’m just listening to music.”

“My [mom/dad/grandma/brother/coach] is texting me.”

“I’m looking something up.”

I’m sure you’ve heard them all, teacher friends, and more. My favorite was the kid who had set six different contacts to be named some variation of “Mom” (Mama, Mum, Madre, etc.) so it actually looked like she was texting her mom all the time. Oy.

There are all sorts of interesting studies showing how people might be addicted to their cell phones. The description of this one, from Baylor University and published in 2014, explains how approximately 60% of college students self-identified as being addicted to their cell phones. This is confirmed by a poll given two years later by Common Sense Media, which indicated 50% of teens feel addicted to their cell phones.

Some of the reason for this might be access. These charts show how people who are younger and/or poorer use their cell phone as their only access to the internet. In a world where you need an email account to sign up for…basically everything…it makes sense that smart phones are becoming indispensable.

There’s also really interesting research out there that people who have experienced trauma are more likely to expect traumatic experiences in the future. Many of my students who come from uncertain home lives lose their minds when I take their phones because they’re afraid of an emergency happening while I have it. Last year, when my colleague was killed in a car accident, I experienced some of the same feeling.

One of the most addicting things on the internet is social media. A 2012 Harvard study showed that disclosing personal information activated the same pleasure-reward pathways in the brain as food, money, and sex. A study from the University of Albany, published in 2014, explains other reasons why social media, Facebook in this example, is so addicting:

“New notifications or the latest content on your newsfeed acts as a reward. Not being able to predict when new content is posted encourages us to check back frequently. This uncertainty about when a new reward is available is known as a ‘variable interval schedule of reinforcement’ and is highly effective in establishing habitual behaviors that are resistant to extinction. Facebook is also making it easy for users to continuously be connected to its platform, for example by offering push notifications to mobile devices.”

How is a teacher to compete with all of that? No wonder we face The Battle of the Cell Phones every day.

I start every single class by asking students to put their cell phones in their backpacks. Not under their textbooks, not in their laps, not in their pockets. Backpacks. I feel like Dora the Explorer after a while, as I repeat “Backpack, backpack,” over and over! (On that note, perhaps I should start singing the song…) As they creep back out I’ll drum my foot against chair legs and after a warning (or six, depending on how distracted I am) the cell phone gets to live in my desk drawer.

My mentor teacher (and many teachers in my building) use a cell phone box. I had a hard time with students taking their phone back out of the box without asking me and worse, taking each other’s phones. I eventually settled on my desk drawer (or my pockets) to help keep the phones safer.

I’ve seen teachers fight The Battle of the Cell Phones many ways. Some have pockets or cubbies for them, and take attendance by the presence of the cell phone in the cubby. Some try to embrace the phone and get students to use them for educational reasons instead. If you’ve figured out something that works for you, teacher friends, go for it. And share it!

What’s really horrifying to me, though, is The Other Battle of the Cell Phones. The one that happens at staff meetings. In cars. At customer service counters. Adults (me included, in some situations) aren’t any better at their phones than my students are. It’s flat-out terrible for the attention. If you’re curious about attention, try Googling “cell phones and attention,” “switch-tasking and multi-tasking” and “texting and driving training”.

No one, students included, can pay attention while they have their cell phones out. So how do I create an environment where students can pay attention? By limiting the phones that are out, for sure. But also by creating engaging lessons.

Now, teacher friends, I will tell you that I ABSOLUTELY HATE IT when that’s the solution. In my head, I’m always thinking Oh gee, thanks a lot for that. I never would have thought of that myself. Someone want to show me HOW? And I can tell you that I still haven’t figured it out. Lessons I thought would be terribly boring engage kids, possibly because of the easy opportunity to feel successful. Lessons I thought would be super engaging fall flat. But I do know that when my kids’ hands are full of test tubes of paramecium or markers or their telling each other a story about science, the phones don’t creep out quite as quickly.

It’s not completely on me to make my classroom the most interesting place in the world for every single student every single day. That’s impossible. But by increasing the attention students give to my classroom and decreasing the possible attention they can give their phones, someday I might just win The Battle of the Cell Phones. Maybe. For a day.

Your homework: How does your cell phone or your social media affect your attention? When are you on it the most and/or the least?

Hej då,

Jamie

Understimulation in the Woods

We talk a lot these days about overstimulation. Mostly we talk about this in the context of the ever-present screens in our lives: the notifications, the messenger apps, SnapChat (which despite what my students think, I do vaguely know how to use), the constant barrage of news and pictures and the necessary responses.

I know sometimes living in a city (if you call Boulder a city) gets overwhelming to me. There are always people, lights, things to do; something is going on. This is less true than say, downtown Denver, but it’s still a lot more than somewhere like Steamboat.

But for me, being a teacher is also wildly overstimulating. There are usually over twenty-five people in the room with me, and they’re all looking at me. I’m making a million decisions, evaluating their emotional and cognitive abilities, trying to listen to the goofball behind me while helping the student in front of me, while tuning out the twelve other conversations happening in the room, watching for the phones to sneak out, and oh yeah, somewhere in there, I’m trying to remember the subtle beautiful nuances of a complex and intertwined story that is biology and convey that to other human beings.

My mom once sent me a Facebook post that said, “Teaching seems to require the sort of skills that would be required to pilot a bus full of live chickens backwards, with no breaks, down a rocky road through the Andes, while providing colorful and informative commentary on the scenery.” The quote is by Franklin Habit and while I find it hilarious, I also find it almost painfully accurate.

Yeah. Teaching.

But one of the things I’ve been working on this year is going outside more. And I’ve realized something about going outside.

It’s incredibly, beautifully, wonderfully, understimulating.

There are fewer people. Even better, they usually don’t want to talk to me as much as I don’t want to talk to them. There aren’t a million conversations, and usually there’s no music. There aren’t the overpowering smells of the crazy processed artificial snacks my kids bring to class, and I don’t have to think. I just have to move my legs, whether I’m on foot or on my bike.

When I go outside, I have time to focus on the feeling of the sun on my face, listen to the wind in the needles of the pine trees, the smell of warm ponderosa bark as I lean against a tree. I love hearing the rush of blood behind my eardrums and feeling my pulse against my fingers, my throat, my cheeks.

When I get the glorious opportunity to go backpacking, it’s even better. Time stretches out so all I care about is when to eat and when to crawl in my warm sleeping bag. I absolutely love staring out over whatever scenery I’ve gotten myself back into.

This past weekend I wasn’t backpacking, but I got to go for a nine mile mountain bike ride in Golden Gate state park. The aspens were golden and rustled in the wind, when I could hear them over the rattling of my derailleur. The trail was rocky in places and hero dirt in others, and I was grinning like a crazy person the whole way. My brother Jeff and Jonathan came with me, and we spent as much time leaning on our handlebars appreciating the beauty around us as we did pedaling.

I love flying through a grove of aspens and watching the leaves swirl around my brother’s back tire. I love weaving through pines and climbing up around switchbacks and just generally being out in the forests. After being out there for five hours, coming back into a city seems colorful and noisy and fast-paced. It’s good to slow down.

To be fair, this particular definition of slowing down includes spiking my heart rate through the roof trying to keep up with two boys who are way stronger than I am. By the end of the ride my legs were tired and I was flailing around some corners. Jeff laughed very hard at my stupid clipless moment. (I have pedals that my shoes clip into, and if I don’t manage to unclip my foot before I stop, I fall over. Just…slow motion fall over.) But that’s also it’s own kind of fun.

Your homework this week: Go outside! Take a moment and see what you notice, and if your mind slows down a little bit.

Hej då,

Jamie

Transparency

With a title like transparency, I could be writing about almost anything. I could tell you stories about my colleague David, who still uses his overhead projector to (very effectively) teach biology and AP Environmental Science. We make fun of him constantly, until the day when we need transparencies and wet erase markers and he has everything we need.

I could also be telling you a story about house-cleaning, which is something that makes me oddly happy. Marilyn had the annual window-cleaning done last week, and it makes the whole house sparkle.

But this week, I’m going to tackle something a little bit more, and talk about emotional transparency, honesty and vulnerability.

My mom has told me for as long as I can remember that I am entirely too transparent for my own good. Literally everyone around me knows exactly what I’m feeling because it’s written all over my face. Sometimes this is a good thing; people know I’m genuine and I never surprise anyone with sudden bursts of seemingly random emotions. I’ve been told I wear my heart on my sleeve, I inspire people to tell me their stories, and that my caring is infectious.

I’ve also been told that I’m overemotional, that I care too much, that I’ll be taken advantage of. I’ve been told that I have to be professional, to not let my students so close, to set up some boundaries already. I’ve embarrassed others by the ready emotions that play across my face.

At various times in my life, I’ve tried to learn to hide what I’m feeling. It is unprofessional to over-share. There are people who have taken advantage. Feeling too many things is exhausting. And in one of my early college lectures about leadership ethics, I learned about “emotional flashing,” which is sharing too much too quickly with someone with the desire to make a real connection. The lecturer was a professor of engineering who lived in the honors dorm with his freshmen, and he saw it frequently among his students who were, for the first time usually, displaced from their support systems and trying to find their place in their new worlds.

But despite my many attempts, I remain transparent to those around me. And rather than trying to change that about myself, I think it’s time I embrace it.

In her first TED talk, Brené Brown talked about vulnerability, empathy, and human connection. It was, like emotional flashing, an idea I didn’t really ponder until my freshman year of college. Likely many of you have watched it, or part of it, at some point in your life. I rewatch it on a regular basis because, like many true things, it’s really hard for me to remember. The Cliffs Notes version is that in order to have any true connection, we have to have empathy. And in order to have empathy, we have to be able to be vulnerable. Unless I can show you what’s really going on in my head and in my heart, you won’t be able to show me and we’ll be stuck in this metaphorical walking-past-each-other-wihtout-seeing-each-other forever.

A lot of the time, being so open and honest that it feels brutal is the best thing that can happen in a relationship. Unspoken expectations and half-remembered old hurts spring up at the most inopportune moments and cause all sorts of havoc. I’m always scared to have super honest conversations; I like to think up all the ways the person I’m talking to could react and most of the time I don’t imagine good things. But usually it goes incredibly well. Usually the other person is honored to listen and sees the courage in being vulnerable. Often one person’s vulnerability inspires others to some level of honesty, and the relationship becomes more grounded in reality.

And then there are the painful awful moments where the other person doesn’t reciprocate, or refuses to see the story I’m telling. These are the moments when I share something and I’m told that I’m wrong, that what I’m feeling or thinking isn’t real or isn’t valuable. These are the moments when the other person refuses to see me or hear my story. Or worse, when the other person misinterprets what I said so badly that we end up in a worse place than when we started. Conversations like this have ended multiple friendships in my life. Being transparent in a world of people who don’t have to be can leave me feeling always-on, always exposed, always judged.

But I think those moments are worth it. The friendships that I have are stronger for how honest I’ve been. My relationships with my family are stronger for our ability to talk to each other. In my classroom, my students know when I’m frustrated and trying not to show it, and I find it much more successful to be honest with my kids. So, as I have before in the past, I’m recommitting to accepting my transparency and trying to see it as a benefit rather than a hindrance.

In an effort to be transparent with you all, I think you can tell that I’ve had a hard time posting on Sundays this semester. This is, in part, because I’ve been committed to using my weekends to balance out the overwhelming nerd-ness of being a teacher. This weekend I spent the whole weekend knitting with my mom and Granny, and we went school shopping together (something which happens about every three years). I’ve been hiking and biking and camping and visiting all over, and I’ve loved it. But I always hate getting in to bed on Sunday evening and realizing I didn’t post anything for you all.

In light of this, I’m going to change my official posting day to Mondays. Usually it won’t be Monday before school like this, but after school. So when you’re winding down from whatever your Monday entails, you can come here and read. If you have thoughts about this new schedule, by all means let me know!

Your homework for this week (you didn’t think you were off the hook, did you?): Who do you feel safe being vulnerable with? How transparent are you normally? Do you think that’s a help or a hindrance?

Hej då,

Jamie

Tea and Snacks

Aragorn: Gentlemen, we do not stop ’til nightfall.
Pippin: What about breakfast?
Aragorn: You’ve already had it.
Pippin: We’ve had one, yes. What about second breakfast?
[Aragorn turns and walks away]
Merry: I don’t think he knows about second breakfast, Pip.
Pippin: What about elevenses? Luncheon? Afternoon tea? Dinner? Supper? He knows about them, doesn’t he?
Merry: I wouldn’t count on it.

~The Fellowship of the Ring

I’m a Harry Potter girl, for sure, but I have read all the Lord of the Rings books and I’m quite fond of the hobbits and the Shire. Since I claim hobbit-ness as one of my characteristics, it should make a little bit of sense!

For those of you who aren’t familiar with this scene (or are having trouble placing it), Merry and Pippin are two hobbit friends of Frodo’s who join him on his adventure to destroy the Ring. Aragorn (who at this point in the story is usually called Strider) is a human who agreed to be their guide. Merry and Pippin aren’t quite yet…adjusted…to the rigors of travel, and Aragorn is, perhaps, lacking a bit of patience for them.

Many people joke about second breakfast and elevenses, but as I begin teaching again I’m finding that snacks are an integral part of my routine. I eat breakfast around 5:45am, so by the time 9:30 roles around, I’m hungry again. Time for second breakfast! I snack again around eleven, and then eat lunch at 12:35. Afternoon tea is yet another snack at 3:00 when school lets out, and then I eat dinner when I get home (any time between five and seven). Out of all of those mealtimes Pippin listed, I only miss one!

I don’t remember snacking this much when I was in high school – perhaps I ate larger lunches and dinners – but I can’t function if I don’t snack now. I pack fruit, nuts, granola bars, chocolate, carrots and hummus, crackers…anything is fair game.

One of my colleagues has a planning period during my sixth block, when I sneak into my back office and grab a handful of something. He laughs at me and tells me he could set a clock by my snacking. But the days when I miss my snacks, I really do find myself getting cranky.

The other integral thing I imbibe is tea. I like any kind of tea with one glaring exception: hibiscus teas. Mom used to make the Celestial Seasonings Lemon Zinger when I was sick, and I have never ever liked it.

The first tea I ever did like was also a Celestial Seasonings tea; their Tension Tamer. I always have a box of this around for when I get a sore throat or want something in the evening. My senior year of high school I got on a kick with green tea, and my sophomore year of college I added black teas to my repertoire. Now I seem to go through phases; last fall I drank Good Earth’s Sweet and Spicy tea almost exclusively, and last spring I possibly drank more jasmine green tea than water. This fall I’ve cycled back to Twining’s Lady Grey tea, although I’m also very much in love with a lavender chamomile I’ve discovered.

I got spoiled my sophomore year of college, when my roommate worked at Celestial Seasonings. She would bring home two to four boxes of tea a week and we would try all sorts of different things. We almost always had iced tea in the fridge! Even now, I have six different kinds of tea at home and three at school, for whatever tea moment I might be having.

I’m extra fortunate because Marilyn, whose house I live in, also has a major love affair with tea. She travels to India on a regular basis and knows more about Darjeeling and Assam and tea grades than I ever thought it was possible to know. I’ve learned that Assam is a lowland tea with a stronger flavor, while Darjeeling grows at higher elevation and has a milder flavor. As for the grades of tea, the names are absolutely hilarious and you can check them out on Wikipedia.

I like tea because of the wide range of flavors, and because it’s warm, but I also like the ritual of making tea. Different teas steep for different amounts of time, and hearing water is a process that simply cannot be rushed. It forces me to slow down in the craziness that are my days.

Your homework: How do you replenish throughout the day? What’s your favorite snack?

Hej då,

Jamie

Teaching with Conviction

Taylor Mali might be one of my favorite slam poets. Honestly, this isn’t saying a whole lot, because I’m not really familiar with slam poetry. Mostly I see what pops up on my Facebook feed. But I regularly watch his poem about “What Teachers Make” when I’m getting frustrated with my job.

It’s here, if you need a pick-me-up at the end of the back-to-school rush.

And I also really like this one, about “Speaking with Conviction.” For one thing, his delivery is hilarious and I always get a giggle out of it. But I’m finding it more and more relevant to my life as I continue being a teacher.

There are a million and three decisions a teacher makes during the course of a school day. How do I phrase this concept? Do my kids really need two more minutes to finish this up? How long will this take kids to do? What’s the best way to support learning in this instant? Which kid with their hand up needs help first? Do I redirect that group in the back or give them a minute to see if they can pull it together? Do I answer that question or get the kids to think about it? I am constantly gauging my class and comparing the reality of my room to the lesson plan I made.

Sometimes my decisions have nothing to do with my lesson plan. Let’s take last Thursday as an example. I had a student say some really nasty inappropriate things two minutes into my ninety-minute block. When I asked this student to take a break, the student swore again and stomped out.

At this point, I had options. I could try to go after the student myself. I could send another teacher. I could email and/or call the assistant principle in charge of freshmen, or the campus supervisor. I could go talk to the other students involved in the situation. I could let the rest of my class keep working on their warm up. I could cut the warm up off and get the whole class focused on something different. And along with all these options, I had twenty-three eyes watching me, ready to learn from the way I reacted.

I chose to shoot off that email and move the class along. But when I did that, I couldn’t question my decision. I had to make it, and though I wasn’t speaking it, I had to act with conviction.

I’ve noticed this more with my classes of students who don’t trust or don’t feel successful in school. The more conviction I have in what I’m teaching and how I’m managing my class, the more they trust me and go along with me. When I hesitate, they wonder why. Kids are incredibly observant.

This is true of adults, as well, and in writing. When I’m trying to give someone new information, whether that’s biology facts or a story, I need to be clear in my own thinking before I can convey it clearly to another person. Teaching really is a year-long persuasive speech; I’m working with people who have their own conceptions of the world and how it works and I’m asking them to see the world in a different way.

Having conviction is incredibly important. It’s also incredibly exhausting! It means I need to know my own content backwards and forwards. It means I need to know my values and my chaos tolerance level so I can choose how to react in my classroom.

Outside my classroom, conviction is just as important. There are a million different narratives about public education, and what’s successful and what’s not. Knowing what I’m doing in my classroom and being able to explain that to others is critical for my department, my school, and my community to all be on the same page to support students.

Your homework: Where do you need conviction in your life? How do you generate the self-knowledge to stand in your conviction?

Hej då,

Jamie

 

Trying the Thing I Can’t Do

Hello everyone! I’ll start by apologizing for my absence last week. We’ll just call it my by-week for the year and move on. School got me a little busy at the beginning of the year!

This is the first week of September and everyone I know is out saying goodbye to summer. I’m writing to you this week from Wyoming, where I’ve been camping and biking and scrambling up lots of rocks. I’m camping in a place called Happy Jack, which is just east of Laramie. At the moment I’m sitting next to a reservoir contemplating the first streaks on my shins, courtesy of a very technical bike ride I went on this afternoon.

Jonathan, who went to school at the University  of Wyoming, spent many weekends up here and delighted in showing me all his favorite spots. The trails here are dry and a little sandy, and there are lots of sandstone obstacles. Normally the trails I ride in Steamboat are smooth and flowy and altogether very different than this!

At first I was nervous about getting up and over some of these rocks, or dropping off them. But I have a tendency to follow the person in front of me off of things that I wouldn’t normally ride by myself, and I found myself riding over all sorts of things that were initially scary but actually totally within my skill range. Jonathan is a much better rider than I am, and he’s also very good at letting me know when he thinks I might want to look at before I ride them. I learned a lot about what my bike was capable today, and I only fell over once!

Off of the trail we were riding were several “play areas” which were quite a bit more technical than the trail. They were short loops that linked back into the trail, so riders could choose to try them or not. Jonathan and I rode the first and second play area, and it was really fun! There were lots of things I couldn’t ride, but there were lots of things I thought I couldn’t ride that I did, and I learned from watching the other riders in the area. As my mom says, there is no hill so steep I cannot push my bike up  (or down) it.

The thing I loved about this was that I was in a no-pressure situation. I was riding with someone I trust a lot, and we had no schedule. Our only goal was to have a good time (and to limit any blood loss). This allowed me to try new things that I otherwise would have been afraid of trying. I also very much enjoyed the fact that the obstacles on the trail were far enough apart that I still felt like I could ride my bike successfully.

There are lots of potential applications of all of this to other parts of my life, particularly my classroom. But for this weekend, I promised myself Saturday and Sunday would be school-free days. It’s part of the balance I’m working on.

Your homework this week is to create a situation where you feel safe trying something you don’t think you can do.

I hope you’re all having a wonderful Labor Day weekend!

Hej då,
Jamie