Cooking for the Fall

Ok, it’s not really fall yet. Sometimes I think the beginning school gives me minor seasonal displacement  – I think the leaves should turn as soon as the first bell rings and stay colorful until the end of October, which is not actually how it works! But despite the calendar and the temperature telling me it’s still summer, class has started and that means my energy is being sucked up by my already incredible to-do list.

After spending all day pacing my classroom and kneeling to look at student work and projecting my voice and my presence in a room full of thirty other humans, the last thing I want to do when I get home is cook dinner! I usually avoid this by cooking family-sized meals on Sundays and eating the same thing all week long. This works brilliantly – I can go to the store once a week and have tasty, healthy food every day (although I will admit I am developing a serious bias to foods that keep well in the fridge).

That is, it works brilliantly until the weekend I’m not home. And knowing that I’m planning on making an effort to adventure and get outside more this school year, I thought I’d better plan ahead a little bit more. So this weekend, I’ve been creating meals-in-a-bag that can live in my freezer until the moment I need them.

Meal 1: Cajun Shrimp and Rice

When Safeway has 2lb bags of frozen shrimp for buy-one-get-one-free, this is always a good choice. I chopped up 2 plum tomatoes, 2tbsp parsley, and 1 bunch of green onions and tossed them in a gallon bag. I also minced 3 cloves of garlic and put them in a small zip lock with 2 tsp of Cajun seasoning.

When the time comes to cook this up, I’ll make 3 cups of cooked rice (which starts as 1 cup of uncooked rice), heat the spices and garlic in 1 tbsp of butter and 2 tbsp of olive oil, and cook the tomatoes, green onions, and 1 lb of thawed shrimp together before tossing all that tastiness in with the rice.

Meal 2: Quiche

Whenever I try to make quiche, I end up making enough for two fillings and I have to freeze some of it anyway. Doing that one weekend last year inspired me to always have some quiche filling and pie shells on hand for a super easy dinner. The only caveat with quiche is that it still takes about an hour to bake.

I chopped 3-4 carrots, 3-4 sticks of celery, a box of mushrooms, a yellow onion, a ham steak, and cleaned a bunch of baby spinach. All that became the “solid filling” bag. Of course, the variations here are endless. Bacon, crab meat, artichoke hearts, asparagus, and various other left-over bits and ends have all made it into my quiches before.

I also shredded smoked cheddar, Gouda, Jarlsberg, and and Fontina cheese. I will totally admit that I splurge when I get cheese for quiche. It’s totally acceptable to use normal Swiss and cheddar instead; I just also like snacking on the cheese. This should total four cups of shredded cheese delicious-ness. The cheese does need to go in a separate bag than the other goodies. (Note that this is all to prepare two nine-inch quiches; I’ve also seen this amount of filling used to make one deep-dish quiche.)

When I go to make the quiche, the things I need to have on hand are a pie crust (sorry Mom, I definitely buy them frozen from the grocery store…), 4 eggs, and 3/4 cup heavy cream. Once everything is thawed, the cheese gets mixed in with the beaten eggs and cream, the veggies and ham get tossed in the pie crust, and the egg/cheese mixture gets poured over the top. I cover mine in foil so I don’t toast the crust too badly, and I bake it on a tray for when the egg rises over the top, at 375F for about an hour.

Meal 3: Chicken Enchiladas

This was a huge favorite at home, but I almost never make it on my own because of the effort of shredding the chicken. Mom used make the filling ahead of time and freeze it to avoid that conundrum. Like quiche, this takes a while to bake even if the prep is done ahead of time.

This starts by boiling 3 chicken breasts for 15 minutes and then shredding them with a fork. Yes, it takes time. Yes, it’s worth it. Then I go on to chopping an onion, a red, yellow, and green pepper, and saute all of that together. I mix all of this with a large can of chopped green chiles, a cup of green salsa, 4 tsp of cumin, 1/2 cup chopped cilantro, and 4 cups of shredded Mexican cheese. This is what lives in the gallon zip locks in the freezer until later.

When later happens, all I need to add are eight tortillas, chicken broth, and cream. I don’t ever remember how much chicken broth and cream, of course, but I do know they get mixed in equal parts and poured over the top of the enchiladas until I can see it at the edges. I bake this at 350F for about 45 minutes. If I’m feeling fancy I’ll have sour cream, salsa, and/or avocado to put on top when they come out of the oven.

Beyond the relief of having something to eat when I’m starving and exhausted, I love preparing food against hard times later. Last spring I re-read Little House in the Big Woods, and a significant portion of the story is taken up by Laura describing how her family preserved food for the winter. Their attic was full of vegetables and jams and cured meats.

None of the recipes I described today particularly take advantage of the seasonal vegetables, but I have done some other projects that do. Some ideas include: baking, pureeing, and freezing pumpkin or squash (which is handy for anything from scones to soup), canning jams, jellies, apple butter, and/or tomato sauce, and cooking and freezing spinach (this happens in the spring but is awesome for making saag).

Last year I wrote a bit about canning apple butter; the apples we got were from a friend in Steamboat whose apple trees went crazy. They didn’t know what to do with so many apples! But this year, a late frost killed all the flowers, and this fall there won’t be any apples. We had an interesting discussion about how it can be impossible to predict the weather and thus the crop production of years to come. Years ago, people just had to preserve as much as they could and hope it would last. Preserving food helps me tune in to the seasons and the environment, as well as our history.

Your homework: How do you usually use food to take care of yourself? What’s one thing you can do this week, related to food, to take care of yourself?

Hej då,

Jamie

Back to School

Well, I couldn’t have the nerd week in August have any different kind of a title, could I? It’s back-to-school season, and the signs are everywhere. I’ve seen parents with kids and lists in Target and Staples. The chalkboard ads are prevalent. My Facebook newsfeed is full of advice on how to finally find work-life balance, new classroom management routines, and memes about teachers being as reluctant as students to dust off the books and get back in the classroom.

I admit, I have these moments. Yesterday I rode my bike around North Table Mesa near Golden, and I was a little sad about not getting to play outside every day anymore. I love eating breakfast in my pajamas – this is the epitome of luxury for me because it never happened when I was a kid! I like getting to wear my favorite ratty t-shirts and wander around barefoot and eat peaches. Oh, the peaches!

And I’m nervous about the upcoming school year. I’m piloting a new biology book, so for the first time I won’t be directly collaborating with anyone in my school on lessons. I have huge hopes and goals for this pilot, and I know I’m going to fall short of some of them. I’m already feeling the pressure of other people’s expectations; the superintendent’s opening speech this year was all about asking us if we were willing to do what it takes to move from being very good to being remarkable. It was a very good speech! But I also remember many moments in the last two years of teaching in which I felt like I was giving more than I had to give, and I was exhausted. For me, anyhow, doing more is not the answer.

But that sentence has two keys phrases in it. First, doing more is not the answer. What I want to do this year is do some of the things I already do better than I’ve done them. It means I want to have resources posted on my website the night before kids need them instead of right before class. It means I want to use absent folders for each block rather than the folders on my desk for each class. It means I want to make mini-to-do lists for my plan periods so I don’t get overwhelmed by the incredible number of things I always have to do. It means I want to use my planner more effectively to remember when meetings are so I’m not surprised by them.

This likely isn’t a new thought for many of you. Lots of my teachers told me to study smarter, not harder. It’s the idea of efficiency, given the resources I already have.

But this isn’t enough. When I have all the normal responsibilities of a teacher, plus all the additional professional projects I get involved in, I will never have enough time to meet everyone’s expectations. I can’t. There simply are not enough hours in the day, even if I was a robot and could work crazy hours and use every one of them at top-level productivity. The second key phrase in that sentence was For me.

At the end of the school year last year, I sat down with one of our assistant principles and asked for advice. I told him about all the pressures I’d been feeling from innumerable different sources. The building goal for freshmen students was focused on literacy. The district goals were to incorporate technology and boost attendance. The building professional development was focused on project-based learning. The 9th grade transition team was focusing on social-emotional skills to help manage behavior. The Knowles Fellowship was focused on incorporating science and math practices and learning about practitioner inquiry. My work with BSCS and HHMI were about making student thinking visible and telling science stories, respectively.

And none of this exactly matched with my own personal goal, which was centered around formative assessment. This goal came out of long conversations with my mom at the end of my first year of teaching. I asked this question; what is one thing I can improve on that will make the biggest difference in my classroom? Formative assessment was the answer we came to. I could rant on and on about why I chose this, but I’ll save that tangent for later.

That’s nine goals, my friends. That’s at least seven too many to do any of them well.

My assistant principle agreed with that logic. He gave me two pieces of advice. First, he asked if there were ways I could weave any of these goals together. Could I use technology to help students work on literacy, for example? And second, he told me to prioritize these goals for myself and communicate my priorities.

This is what I meant by saying that For me was the other key phrase in that sentence. At the end of the day, I’m the one making decisions about my classroom and my life. I’m the one who decides when I leave the building and when I go for a hike. I’m the one who sets up classroom routines and designs assignments. I’m the one who gets to say yes or no to new projects.

This is both a very empowering mindset and a completely terrifying one. It’s much easier if I go along with someone else’s plan. It means I don’t have to expend energy to analyze the situation, figure out what to do, and try to execute it. It also means that if the plan goes wrong, it wasn’t my plan. But taking ownership of my goals and priorities means that I don’t have to feel overwhelmed by having so many things to do. I can choose.

One thing to remember in all of this, however, is that I am not doing this by myself. While the ultimate decision lies with me, all of the thinking and planning up to that point can, and I think should, be a group effort. I have so much to learn about the craft of teaching! Working with other people pushes my thinking in new interesting ways. Taking on someone else’s goal and plan means that I have more brain space to dedicate to executing it, rather than spending all my energy on creating it.

I don’t think any of you will be surprised when I tell you I’m actually really excited to go back to school. I love the chalkboard ads. I love the new supplies and putting my classroom back together. I love trying to spot the excited kids in the aisles at Target. I have new activities I wrote and things I learned over the summer, and I want to see how they work in a real classroom. It’s easy to get sucked into the cultural groan about going back to school, but I’m choosing to ignore it this year.

To all my teacher people who are starting back, you’re about to do incredible things. How cool is that??? And to all my people who aren’t teacher people, you do incredible things all year long. Equally cool!

Your homework this week: (wow, that sounds more natural now that I’ve been back in my classroom…) How do you balance taking advice, learning, and working cooperatively with being the end decision-maker in your life?

Hej då,

Jamie

On Being Stubborn

Happy first week of August! For a lot of my teacher friends, we’re gearing up to go back to school; the first day for teachers in my district is next Thursday, and students come back the Wednesday after that. If you’re headed back soon, best of luck!

As I say farewell to my summer, I’m thinking a lot about all my wonderful adventures this summer. I got to spend a lot of time hiking, biking, camping, and swimming in mountains all over the western half of the US, more than I have in quite a while. And in doing so, I’m getting reacquainted with a personality trait that can go by many different names. I say I’m stubborn. Tactful people tell me I’m persistent, and my brother sometimes tells me I’m being dumb (he’s usually right).

My whole family can be stubborn at times, including all four of my grandparents! I could tell you stories for days. I learned not only from them, but also from an entire childhood of keeping up. I spent a significant amount of time running around with the kids on my ski team, where the social currency was based on pulling off crazy physical stunts. I was nowhere near as crazy as some of the boys – some of them are lucky they aren’t permanently injured. But whether we were biking, skiing, playing soccer, running, or lifting, the name of the game was to push the edge.

Being stubborn served me very well in my athletic endeavors. It helped me keep going during races and get stronger during training. Even when I had a bad run or a tired day, I knew I had to get up and keep going. I know when I can push my body just a little further and when I’m really at the end of my rope.

But being stubborn isn’t only applicable to athletics. Every once in a while I find it in myself to get stubborn about a class. When I was in college, I struggled in chemistry. Especially my first semester, I took Chem 1 with a very brilliant professor who was not very good at understanding why I didn’t understand. Chem 2 wasn’t really any better. I thoroughly enjoyed organic chemistry, but still found it challenging, and then truly met my nemesis when I took physical chemistry. The last chemistry class I took was biochemistry, and at this point, I had had enough.

I decided that I was – finally – going to get an A in a chemistry class at CU. I did everything I was supposed to do; I read the textbook before I went to lecture. I did all the homework sets. I printed the slides before I went to class and took diligent notes. I drew molecular mechanisms for hours in the engineering center lobby. The more nervous I got about graduation, the more I poured all that energy into that class. Even when I was tired, or my brain felt fried, or I had a million other projects, I pushed through.

I aced that class. It was one of the more satisfying moments of my college career.

But being stubborn is, like many traits, a two-sided coin, and there have definitely been moments when I’ve clung to goals or ideas long past where I should have let them go. When I was twelve, I continued to run on a hyper-extended left knee and compressed the meniscus. When I was eighteen, I partially tore my MCL in the same knee and proceed to race on it all season. My left knee likes to remind me of this with increasing frequency these days, particularly when I’m walking downhill with any kind of heavy pack.

I also find myself doing this in my teaching. I’ll set goals for what I can get done in a day (grade these papers, write this lesson, prep this lab) and I’ll want to stay until I get it all done. What ends up happening is me, staring at the wall, not willing to walk away but too tired to really be thoughtful. I end up wasting time rather than taking a break so I could come back refreshed. This kind of stubborn is not at all helpful.

When I was ski racing I came up with a pain scale to figure out when I could push through and when I needed to slow down and take care of myself. I will fully admit that during both of the left knee incidents I described, I knew I was pushing too hard! And as I got reacquainted with my adventuring this summer, it didn’t take me long to start feeling that out again. I don’t, however, have any kind of related scale for my intellectual and emotional energy. What was it about my situation with biochemistry that helped make me successful, and when do I need to set my grading aside and do something different for a while?

Your homework is simply a more generalized version of the question I asked myself; how do you know when to push yourself and when to take a break?

Hej då,

Jamie

Two Very Different Adventures

I think all the traveling I did this summer finally got to my brain, and I completely forgot to write or post yesterday. Sorry dear readers! I’ll try to make it up to you with some really awesome photos.

Today is one of those interesting fifth Sundays (this happens way more frequently than I thought it would…or perhaps this year is just particularly odd…). But rather than exploring a combination of the parts of me or philosophizing, I’m just going to straight up tell you an adventure story. Two adventure stories, in fact! Next week I’ll get a little more philosophical about adventuring and being stubborn, and when that’s potentially good or potentially bad.

In the last couple of blogs I’ve made quick references to my two biggest trips in July: the eight days I spent in and around Yosemite National Park and the Knowles Summer Meeting, which happened in Philadelphia. Today is the day I finally tell you about them!

Adventure Part 1: Learning, Hiking, and More Learning in Yosemite National Park

This year I was honored to participate in the California Institute for Biodiversity’s Sierra Institute and Yosemite Field Institute. The two programs were run back-to-back, meaning that participants could choose to do one or the other, or to go all out and do both (which is what I did). Seriously, teacher friends; this is one PD not to miss. The dates for next summer will likely go up on this website, so sometime in mid-winter check in and see if you can make it!

The Sierra Institute took place at the Jack L. Boyd outdoor school just south of the actual park. It felt a lot like summer camp – sleeping in bunk beds in large cabins and eating in a dining hall. We spent most of our time learning how to synthesize several teaching structures together into a coherent classroom plan called an activity guide. As it was defined for this training, an activity guide is a framework for around two weeks’ worth of lessons. It begins with a phenomenon and allows students to question and engage in the processes of science. In creating an activity guide, we pulled together the NGSS framework, the 5E lesson model from BSCS, HHMI BioInteractive resources, growth mindset, the Understanding Global Change Framework (website in progress at the moment, but if you Google Jessica Bean you can get an idea of it, and the other resources put out by Berkeley), naturalism and teaching nature journaling, and probably several other things I’m forgetting at the moment. It was a lot of brainpower to try to weave all those things together, but it was an incredible mental exercise and I cannot wait to try out the activity guide my group wrote!

The second institute took place entirely within the park; we camped at Crane Flats campground and hiked all around the valley. With us (for both institutes, actually) was a freelance naturalist named David Lukas. I’m not an Instagram person, but I’ve been told he posts absolutely beautiful photos along with very short stories of the natural world. His knowledge was incredible, and he could tell stories as we hiked about anything from fungi in the soil to the natural history of the fish in the lakes to the geology of the glaciers that helped form the valley.

The most iconic hike we did was the Mist Trail. All of the trails we were on were incredibly crafted, but the Mist Trail takes the cake. It’s chiseled into a rock face next to Vernal Falls – you absolutely get soaked by the mist! You can also see a lot of cool geology on the back of Half Dome and Liberty Dome.

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We continued to hike above Vernal Falls to connect to the John Muir trail, so this is looking back down at the falls. You can’t see the trail from this angle because it’s back behind the rock on the far right of the photo.

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This is Nevada Falls, slightly upriver from Vernal Falls, and Liberty Dome. The water was incredibly high this year because of the massive amount of snow California received this winter. Mammoth Ski Area is closing TOMORROW!

Yosemite is one of those parks where you hear about the crazy crowds, the traffic, the impossibility of getting a campsite or a parking spot. Yep. All true. But this is also one of those places where the crowds exist because it really is that special. Someday I’m going to drag my whole family out there to experience it!

Adventure Part 2: Walking miles and miles in New York City

I was home in Boulder for a whole five days before I set off on my next adventure, which was a little bit different than the first.

Most of my adventures involve lots of time outside walking. But usually I’m doing that in the mountains, traversing meadows and winding through forests. Not this particular adventure. I had never been to New York City before, so I took advantage of the Knowles Summer Meeting being in Philadelphia to go out a little early and stay with Rebecca, a teacher from the fellowship who grew up there! She lives in the north part of the Bronx, teaches in South Bronx, and went to high school in Manhattan. We had a blast riding the Staten Island Ferry, seeing the Lincoln center lit up at night, visiting her favorite Hungarian pastry shop, wandering through Central Park, and just generally exploring. We went to see the 9/11 museum and memorial, which is incredibly well-done and very much worth a visit. I ate bagels and pizza and cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery (I had no idea this was famous until I got there).

But the crowning experience of the whole thing involved entering a dozen lotteries, running around from building to building around Times Square, and finally gambling on standing room tickets, which were 100% worth it.

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Oh yes. That happened. I got to see my very first Broadway show. And it was beyond belief!!!!

I could go on and on about this experience. It was Rebecca’s sixth time seeing it, and she spent most of the time watching my reactions and laughing at me. I’ve seen the movie a million times if I’ve seen it once, so I wasn’t ever really surprised, per say. But the movie in no way compares to seeing the show. When they turn the lights on in the chandelier and the organ strikes that first chord in D minor…chills.

I think the the thing that sets Broadway apart (aside from the fantastic amounts of talent on stage and in the orchestra pit) is the sets. I was extremely fortunate to see If/Then in Denver with six of the eight Broadway leads, including Idina Menzel! But the Denver Center for Performing Arts has one main theater, and shows typically don’t run that awfully long. I’m always impressed by how they do build the sets there – they have to be able to change them so quickly between shows. But Broadway spans a ton of theaters (which I didn’t realize until I got there) and each theater is dedicated to one show. They can build so much more, and it truly makes the show that much more magical.

I also got to see Miss Saigon, which is a heartbreaking love story set during the Vietnam War. It was a very different, but still totally amazing, experience – I know the music from Phantom by heart but Miss Saigon was a completely new show to me.

As Rebecca and I drove back towards Philadelphia for our meeting, she asked me to sum up my New York City experience. I told her everything is bigger, brighter, completely overdone, and it’s a great adventure. I can’t wait to go back to visit again; I’m also very glad I don’t actually live there!

My summer is coming to a close, so my travels will also be more limited, at least until next summer. But I think I did a pretty good job seeking wonderful adventures. Thanks to everyone who hosted me, hiked with me, and put up with me talking way too fast while showing you pictures!

Your homework: What’s your favorite part about going somewhere new? Do you seek adventures that are “in your wheelhouse” or do you go for something completely different?

Hej då,

Jamie

Balance

Well, I am writing to you from yet another state this week! I’m currently in New York City with a girl from my teaching fellowship. Our summer meeting is at the end of the week and I came a few days early to experience the city. I’m sure I’ll write about that next week! But for now, I’m going to come at the idea of balance a little more head on, rather than as an application to other parts of my life. And I’m going to do that through the lens of yoga.

The first time I tried yoga was in high school with my ski team. I remember laughing at the weird names for the poses and generally feeling very silly. I also remember trying crow pose and landing on my face, which was not my favorite thing to do. So I gave up on yoga for quite some time.

In fact, I didn’t try again until the summer of 2013, when I lived in Bocas del Toro. There was an in-house yoga studio three houses down from us, and when the girls and I decided we were curious, we tried it out. Sarah and Amber got bored fairly quickly, but I was hooked. At first I liked the core work and the stretching, which were familiar to me from ski racing. Then I started to like the shoulder strength, which is not something ski racers generally care much about! But what became really important to me were the breathing (not something that should be taken for granted, though I often do!) and the three principles the instructor shared with us.

Laura Kay grounded all of our practices in these three principles. The first was a good attitude. When people walked through the door and nervously mentioned they weren’t very flexible, Laura Kay would ask them to ditch that attitude and instead take up one of optimism and gratitude. The second principle was foundation: having strong legs and good alignment for the safety of all the joints involved. My knees certainly appreciated that one! The third and last principle was about opening the heart to shine our light out. Now, you can interpret that statement any way you like; my favorite way to think about it is how Laura Kay would tell us that smiling was the most advanced form of the pose.

One pose we did frequently in that class was called half moon pose, and it looks like this:

half moon pose

(Thanks to the Creative Commons Search, where I can look for pictures tagged for reuse!)

This can be quite the tricky balancing pose! I’m usually very good at standing on one foot, and I can also bend forward to touch the ground on one foot. But turn it sideways, and life gets a whole lot more exciting! Often I wobbled, or tried to lean too far backwards or reach too high up, and I flailed and fell over. When this happened, I would laugh. And it wasn’t the embarrassed nervous laughter of worrying about being judged; it was a genuine “that probably looked really silly and I’m glad I was pushing my limits” laughter.

When I came home from Bocas, I didn’t practice much for nearly two years. I tried a couple of different studios in Boulder, but they all felt competitive and like I had to push myself to keep up.

Enter Keeli, my freshman college roommate. She’s a ski racer from Winter Park I randomly got placed with our first year, and we’ve been great friends ever since. She’s awesome at spontaneously calling me and dragging me on adventures. One time she did just that and took me to her friend Maggie’s yoga class. Maggie teaches with a non-profit called Grass Roots Yoga in a large-ish classroom at CU. I’ve been going steadily ever since!

I like the mix of people in class – some older, some students – and I actually really like that it’s not in a traditional studio. Especially without mirrors, I feel much less pressure to be a “good yogi” and get into the “perfect” pose. And I especially love Maggie. I love how she offers modifications to change the poses for different bodies and different needs. Some days I need to push myself to be stronger and burn off some energy. Some days I need to chill out a little bit. I even spent the entirety of one class in child’s pose, because that’s what I needed that day.

One of my favorite things that Maggie has taught me is that balance is not a destination to be achieved. Rather, balance is a process that is constantly changing. In yoga, this means that we’re humans, not statues! Instead of trying to achieve stillness, the goal of a balancing pose is to learn to feel the wobbles and ride them.

But yoga advice is usually pretty good off the mat as well, and I think that’s definitely the case for balance. I can’t begin to explain the variety of advice I’ve gotten about work-life balance as a teacher. One mentor told me I should always take Friday night and Saturday completely off from school. Another told me I should make sure I have an hour for self-care every day. Yet another told me not to bother with all this new-age crap, and that I’d feel better if I just got stuff of my to-do list. And I do constantly feel the pressure to do more, be more efficient, and work harder.

This pressure exists in the consistent tasks in my life (grading, anyone?) but also in the one-time pressures. Test proctoring, extra (awesome) professional projects. Piloting a new textbook. Attending a conference. All the hard-and-fast rules I’ve read fall apart in the face of this inconsistency. I’ve been trying to figure out for years how to achieve balance in all of this.

But did you catch my language there? It’s not about achieving anything. The idea that balance is a process can apply to the rest of my life too. It means being observant of what’s going on in my life and how I’m reacting, and knowing how to ride out all the wobbles. I’ll candidly admit I’m quite terrible at this right now, but it seems like a worthwhile thing to practice.

My homework for you: How do you balance the important things in your life? How do you respond to all the varying pressures?

Hej då,

Jamie

Knitting at the Campfire

Hello everyone, and sorry for the late posting this week! I’ve just returned home from a sixteen-day multi-part adventure in which connectivity services were somewhat limited. Let me catch you up on some of the craziness.

On June 30th, my dad picked me up and drove me to Steamboat. I spent two days enjoying being lazy and hanging out on the porch, and then my brother gave me a very special birthday present. He took me backpacking in the Zirkel Wilderness Area north of Steamboat for two nights! This is especially nice of him because he carries all the heavy stuff for me. We hiked five miles in to Gilpin Lake and spent the first night there. We didn’t anticipate how much snow was left, that’s for sure! Our original plan was to continue past Gilpin to Gold Creek Lake and complete an 11.5 mile loop, but we decided climbing the snowfield between the Gilpin and the nearly 11,000 feet high ridge line with packs did not sound like a ton of fun. Instead we stayed both nights at Gilpin. Jeff even packed in a cupcake for me!

We packed out on July fourth, and returned home for some frantic showering, unpacking, and repacking. I was trading my backpacking set up for car camping stuff, which required just enough overlap and just enough difference to be really confusing! After dinner Jeff drove me down to his house and I slept on his floor before heading to the airport early on the morning of the fifth. I spent the next eight days in California, learning about the natural history, biology, and geology of Yosemite National Park. I also learned how to tie together citizen science, NGSS standards, growth mindset, outdoor lessons, and the 5E lesson planning model in fascinating new ways.

This was A LOT of adventuring, and also a lot of being really nerdy. Only at a teacher training will you find twenty-two adults laying on their bellies on a chunk of granite, exclaiming about the striations in the rock and other evidence of glaciation! It was tons of fun and I went through lots of sunscreen and pages in my notebook.

But the gist of my birthday goals was about balance. Where was my hobbit self?

Despite the overwhelming emphasis on adventurer and nerd these last two weeks, I made sure to tuck a ball of pink and purple and grey yarn into my duffle bag (right between my tent and my camp chair…). And in the evenings when people were roasting marshmallows for s’mores and getting out ukuleles, I pulled out my knitting.

I was impressed by the amount of conversation it generated, actually. Everyone wanted to know what I was making, which I expected. But the conversation didn’t end there. By sharing my own project, people wanted to tell me about their experiences with crochet or cross-stitch, or their favorite something that someone special had knitted for them. Lost of people agreed that it seemed meditative, and thought it was a cool thing to do for someone.

There were a lot of things I appreciated about knitting in this situation. It opened up conversation, which reflected to me that people were totally cool with my knitting. Often I get insecure about the hobbit parts of myself – what hard core adventurer knits? But no one else seemed to think it was weird at all. I also liked how it allowed me to be doing something with my hands and still participate in the conversation around me. It was a nice balance between having something I like to do and being social.

What exactly was I knitting? A baby blanket for a little girl named Macy. Her mom is one of my colleagues at Longmont High School, so this project has been in the back of my head for a while now. It’s a really simple pattern – I cast on 150 stitches on my size 9 circular needles. I knit garter stitch for the first ten rows, and then for the majority of the blanket I knit garter for the ten stitches on either end and stockinette stitch in the middle. I’ll finish this one with ten rows of garter. I like the garter stitch border because it prevents the stockinette from curling up so much! And I like simple patterns like this when I’m using a variegated yarn.

The blanket definitely smells like campfire smoke now, nor is it anywhere close to done. But I think I learned something valuable by sneaking in a couple of rows here and there; these things are more compatible than I could have expected. I don’t necessarily need big chunks of time to be an adventurer or a hobbit or a nerd. I can sprinkle them throughout.

This next week will be the longest stretch of time I’ll be in Boulder since graduation (five whole days!) so I hope to indulge my hobbit a little bit more. I’m enjoying the quiet of my house and the time to get some of those nagging adult things done (renewing my passport, for example). And then I’m off on a whole different adventure – I’m visiting some friends in New York City and Philadelphia before going to the Knowles summer meeting.

Your homework: When was the last time you mixed two seemingly contradictory things? If it’s been a while, try it out! What happens?

Hej då,

Jamie

 

What Teachers Do All Summer

I might have mentioned, in a mini-rant several blog posts ago, that teachers don’t actually take the summer off. We definitely technically have that option, I suppose, and I can say that I’ve taken the vast majority of June to play outside and visit my wonderful family and friends. The flexibility of summer is amazing!

But tell any teacher that they took the job because they get summers off, and you’ll likely get a snarky response back. It might be a rejection of that idea, and the teacher will outline all of the work they do over the summer. It might be a rant about how summers are entirely needed because of the the crazy hours and lack of flexibility during the school year.

So the question remains: what do teachers do all summer? I can only tell you my own story here, and hope that it helps explain a little bit.

I spent the entire graduation weekend in the little office behind my classroom, getting rid of posters and books and unpacking boxes. It takes me hours to get rid of and organize the documentation and tests and various paperwork that builds up each year. I dusted shelves and cleaned out my classroom and locked cabinets. I love how clean everything looks, and that back room is more organized than it’s ever been!

One of my biggest projects this summer has been familiarizing myself with a new biology textbook. I am part of my district’s pilot process, and next year I’ll be using BSCS’s A Human Approach. I’m a little sad; I just figured out the old curriculum! But the more I work with this new book (everyone calls it AHA for short) the more excited I am about it. The book is designed to give students learning experiences, rather than telling them a lot of facts about biology. It’s built around activities and questions rather than blocks of text. It’s definitely not your traditional textbook, and I think that’s a good thing!

AHA is based on a constructivist theory of learning. Imagine a teacher pouring knowledge into students’ heads, and students automatically remember it. This is the opposite of constructivism, and this kind of learning rarely actually works. Usually, students have to examine an idea, figure out how it fits with other ideas, and figure out how all of that fits in with what they already know about the world. It’s why misconceptions are so hard to uproot; despite learning facts that oppose the misconception, if those facts don’t fit with a student’s world view, the student won’t incorporate them and the facts will be forgotten. There’s a hilarious (but mostly terrifying) documentary which includes some clips of Harvard graduates demonstrating this idea.

Constructivist learning gives students a phenomenon, data set, or scenario and asks students to grapple with the ideas themselves. This gives students an opportunity to incorporate new ideas into their worldview in a much more lasting way than memorizing facts for a test.

(I’ll also include a disclaimer here; constructivist learning can be the topic of an entire master’s degree. I’ve only skimmed the surface, both in my own learning and in my explanation of it here.)

Using a resource like AHA means I’m changing not only my curriculum, but also my style of teaching. It means drafting letters home to parents to explain the change. It means spending hours reading the teacher edition of the textbook and making a year-long calendar so I have an outline of the year. (My year-long calendars definitely change throughout the year, as I move more quickly or slowly through lessons or encounter snow days, assemblies, and testing.) I’ve been meeting with one of the other teachers who is piloting to scaffold two of the later chapters so we can do them first.

These meetings, especially, have been incredible amounts of fun! I get to be creative and thoughtful and really purposeful about how I want to teach. I love lesson planning, especially when I have all the time in the world to come up with something I really like. Here’s a secret; I actually really enjoy grading when I have the time to do it. I like reading what my students have written and trying to figure out how much they know. If I’m doing it right, grading leads right into planning.

In a perfect world, I also would have already made my year-long calendar for anatomy and physiology. I haven’t even thought about it. I also would love to revise some of my project prompts and rubrics so they were ready to go when I needed them. Good thing it’s still July!

The thing I love most about teaching is that really, what I do all day is tell stories. I tell stories about science and life and how humans have played a role in that story. A year-long calendar is one way to view that story; a lesson-plan is a more focused way to view that story. But it requires a lot of deep thinking to take all the facts and principles of a HUGE field like biology and weave them into a coherent content story line. That’s what summer is for.

I’m also going to be doing some learning this summer; I’m headed to Yosemite for a six-day training on water ecology and naturalism. At the end of July I’ll go to Philadelphia for the Knowles Summer Meeting. And on August 10th I go back to school!

So what, exactly, do teachers do all summer? We learn. We prepare. We do the deep thinking and reflecting we don’t have time to do during the year. And in some ways, I love this part just as much as I love my students.

Your homework: What part of your work brings you the most joy? Why is that? Is it what you expected?

Hej då,

Jamie