Blondie Birthday Breakfast

Two days ago, when my colleagues and I were swapping plans for what we were going to do this weekend, I quite honestly felt like I had the best plans of all. This morning I got to have breakfast with my ENTIRE family. Mom, Dad, Jeff and I met in Golden and spent three hours chatting and laughing and generally just enjoying hanging out together.

This doesn’t happen as often as I would like. Jeff likes to go adventuring in the mountains and he’s almost always planning his next escapade. Dad and Mom both travel for work, and in fact they had just gotten off a red-eye flight home from Hawaii. But I’m especially glad it worked out this weekend, because it’s the blondie birthday weekend!

Jeff’s birthday was on Friday, and Mom’s birthday is today. Dad and I both have dark hair, so we tease them about being the blondies together. It’s always great fun to have two celebrations in a row (we never combined them, and Dad always made sure we had something fun for Mom even though she was focused on Jeff).

Today wasn’t anything massive or elaborate. We just met up and had breakfast. Mom and Dad had brought Jeff a new pair of flip flops and some macadamia nuts from Hawaii. I got their opinions on their gifts (and now I need to order them). But in some ways, that’s what made it so special. I am incredibly grateful that my family still takes the time to get together and just hang out.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what makes me happy. One thing I’ve realized is that all of the things I enjoy, whether camping or knitting or nerding out about something, are more fun when I have someone to share them with. I enjoy practicing yoga the most at my weekly Tuesday classes because I love the teacher, Maggie. I like knitting at my granny’s house while she’s quilting because we can talk about our projects together. I like sharing my favorite hiking trails with someone who will also appreciate the beauty.

This has been an interesting realization in some ways. As a general statement, I don’t always like people. Interacting requires energy and people can be loud. I don’t like loud things. But I care very deeply about my people.

I realized this in part because of a silly ice-breaker at the Knowles Spring Meeting. One of the questions was about what super power I would choose, and I chose Apparition without hesitating. (For those who are not obsessively acquainted with Harry Potter, that’s a lot like teleportation. It’s the power to disappear and reappear in a different place.) Later, one of my friends asked me why I chose that super power. I didn’t have to think very hard about my reply. If I could Apparate, I could be with my people more often and more easily than is currently possible.

I’ve written a bit before about how I value my friends, even though we’re scattered all over the place. If you need a refresher, I currently have (at least somewhat) regular communication with two friends in Europe, three on the East Coast, two in Colorado, one in Utah, and one on the West Coast. This has taught me a lot about the value of different styles of communicating, and it means I really treasure the time I have with these people.

I spent quite a lot of time growing up pushing myself to be strong and independent. Traveling to ski races meant learning how to take care of myself. And I’m really glad I did learn how to do this. But I’m also starting to realize that this does not devalue how much I care about my people.

And my family is even more powerfully close to my heart. My parents taught my brother and I how to be adventurous and nerdy and caring. We took all of our vacations from school together. Last summer we took a super secret surprise vacation together to celebrate Jeff’s graduation from college. This meant that Mom and Dad didn’t tell us where we were going; they gave us dates and a packing list and told us when to show up to the airport. This is not the first super secret surprise, nor will it be the last!

I could tell you stories for days and days about why and how I love my family and what I’ve learned from them. I could tell you about how Jeff drags me out from under piles of papers when I’m way too stressed and tosses a Frisbee with me, or how he stealthily packed all the really heavy stuff in his pack the last time we went backpacking because I had just come back from three weeks at sea level and was struggling. Two weeks ago he made me chicken enchiladas and chocolate chip cookies, both of which are Mom classics, and we sat at my dining room table for hours listening to Eric Clapton and talking about life. I felt like I was at home.

I could tell you about how Mom taught me how to make a to-do list and work my way through it when I feel overwhelmed, or about the three-hour long conversations we have about teaching. She taught me how to name wildflowers, swim, ask good questions, bake, make jam, and start a campfire with one match. It’s still a work in progress, but she gave me the beginnings of The Teacher Look that can freeze any student in their tracks.

I could tell you about how Dad is comfortable in any situation and can talk to anyone. He can go from climbing through vents following wires to gracefully handling business receptions. He taught me how to pack my backpack for officiating a ski race, and that any bike ride you came home from bloody was a good ride (although I think he might have been covering for the fact that it took him a while to learn how to get out of his clip-less pedals!). He taught me how to keep track of details, to anticipate the next thing coming, and to take away excuses in order to get projects done.

This morning our conversations ranged from ski racing rules to Jeff’s upcoming trip to China. I told a story about my third block anatomy class and Mom told one about how she and Dad made friends with a native Hawaiian who taught Mom how to weave fishing nets. Three hours later, we were still talking and laughing. On the surface, it wasn’t anything complicated. Breakfast with the family. But in its simplicity is also its total awesomeness.

So happy birthday, blondies. Thanks for getting up way earlier than you normally would have on a Sunday morning (Jeff) and for stalling the three hour drive back to Steamboat after a seven-hour red-eye flight (Mom and Dad). I’m lucky to have you all.

Your homework: Who are your people? Take five minutes (or an hour) and tell one (or six) of them how much you love them.

Hej då,

Jamie

Balance

Well, everyone, I’m writing to you from yet another state this week! I’m currently in New York City with another teaching fellow in the lead up to our summer meeting. I’m experimenting with being a city girl…I’ll let you know how that goes next week! After all the reflection and mixed-up-ed-ness of the last month, I thought I’d focus a little bit more on balance as a concept, rather just than as it applies.

The first time I ever did yoga I was with my ski team. I remember being in a circle in one of the baseball fields at the bottom of Howelsen Hill, trying to figure out what on earth we were doing while feeling very silly. Most of us were scoffing and generally blowing it off. I mostly remember face-planting in the grass trying to do a pose called crow pose. As you can imagine, I was not a fan!

Then when I lived in Bocas del Toro, Panama, I lived two houses away from a home yoga studio that offered classes for $5. The girls I was living with and I decided we were bored and wanted a work-out, so we tried it. Amber and Sarah lost interest pretty quickly, but I was hooked. At first I liked the core work and the stretching, which were the most familiar to me from my years of ski racing. Then I started to enjoy how it made my shoulders stronger (which was not something ski racers focus much on) and how it challenged my brain to get my body into interesting new shapes. I enjoyed being conscious of how good it felt to just breathe.

And the more I went, the more I appreciated the three principles my teacher, Laura Kay, said were the foundation of every yoga practice. Principle 1 was to have a positive attitude. Every time someone came in saying, “oh, I’m not very flexible,” Laura Kay would remind them to appreciate the things their body could do rather than bemoaning the things it couldn’t. Principle 2 was to have strong legs and good alignment to protect joints and prevent injuries. And principle 3 was to open our hearts and radiate out our light. You can take this any number of ways, but my favorite explanation was when Laura Kay would tell us that smiling was the most advanced form of the pose.

One pose we did a lot was called ardha chandrasana, or half moon pose. It’s a balancing pose that looks like this:

half moon pose

(Thank you to Creative Commons Search, which allows me to find images that are tagged for reuse!)

This pose is hard! I am fairly good at balancing on one foot. I can even bend forward and touch the ground on one foot. But turning sideways makes it WAY more interesting. I can’t tell you how many times I leaned a little too far back and tipped over. But the marvelous thing about yoga with Laura Kay was that the typical response to something like this was to laugh and try again. And it wasn’t embarrassed laughter. It was “that was awesome because I was trying and pushing myself and I definitely looked really silly as I flailed” laughter.

I stopped practicing yoga for nearly two years after I came back to Boulder. I tried out a couple of classes here, but a lot of them felt really serious. I felt like I had to try to keep up, and I missed the laughter.

Enter Keeli, my freshman college roommate. We grew up ski racing against each other, but barely knew each other until CU randomly matched us up. She’s awesome at calling me randomly and dragging me along on some spontaneous adventure. That time, she wanted me to go with her to a yoga class that her friend Maggie taught every Tuesday night. It was with a non-profit group called Grass Roots Yoga that held classes in a big CU classroom on east campus.

That was a year and a half ago, and I have completely fallen in love with the class. I like the group of people who practice. It’s a mix of all ages, and several of the people are science and engineering researchers at CU. I actually really like that it’s not a proper studio; there are no mirrors and no pressure to be a “good yogi.” And I really love Maggie’s teaching style. She’s wonderful about giving modifications for poses and she’s a huge advocate for listening to what our bodies need. Some days that’s pushing myself to get stronger. Other days, I opt for variations of the poses that require less energy. One day, I was so exhausted that I chilled in child’s pose for literally the entire hour-long class.

One of my favorite things Maggie has ever taught me about is balance. She taught me that balance is not a destination. It’s not something I can achieve. It’s a process, and it’s always changing.

This idea TOTALLY changed how I viewed balancing poses. When balancing is a process, that means wobbles are a good thing. Falling over is a good thing. This fit in so beautifully with how I remembered feeling while I was practicing half moon pose with Laura Kay. The goal is not to achieve stillness, it’s to learn to respond to what we’re feeling and doing. Maggie often laughs and tells us “we’re humans, not statues!”

I have lots of reasons I enjoy practicing yoga. I still like the stretching and the core work, the shoulder strength and the mental challenge. I like being conscious of my breathing. But my favorite thing about yoga is how the principles of practice don’t just apply to yoga. They apply to life as well.

Lots of people talk about balancing responsibilities or managing their time. I can’t tell you how many posts I see about achieving work-life balancing. And the messages are incredibly mixed! One mentor told me never to think about school on Friday night or Saturday. One post I read suggested carving out one hour a day for self-care time. But I also feel incredible, constant pressure to get more done, or to take advantage of opportunities. And while I feel like some of my responsibilities are consistent (grading, anyone?) some of them vary, be that proctoring standardized testing or one of the (totally amazing) professional projects I take on beyond my classroom. When every day is different, how do I achieve balance?

And even beyond balancing my time, I’ve been trying to figure out how to balance who I am. That’s part of what I’m doing here! How do I balance being an adventurer, a nerd, and a hobbit? How do those things intersect and how do they contradict?

These questions have been driving me crazy for years, until I realized that I was asking the wrong questions. I don’t achieve balance. As Maggie said, I’m a human, not a statue. As life changes, I need to adapt. That’s partially why hard rules like the ones I mentioned above were frustrating to me; they assumed I could do the same thing every single day or week.

Now, I’m not great at adapting. I don’t like change. (This is a bit of an understatement; my mom can tell you some fairly hilarious stories to illustrate this point.) But maybe if I practice enough sideways balancing poses, if I can learn to laugh when I fall over, then I can learn to manage the wobbliness that comes with balancing life.

Your homework: How do you work towards balance in your life? How do you (or how could you) embrace the wobbles?

Hej då,

Jamie

Seeing and Being Seen

Last fall I decided to do an experiment; I wanted to see if I could bias my Facebook feed towards showing me positive things. I liked pages like Love What Matters, People are Awesome, and Drawing the Soul. I found people who posted awesome heartfelt things like Liz Gilbert, who wrote that bit about being a crone I liked so much, Maggie Boissard, my yoga teacher, and Malinda Kathleen Reese, who is the hilariously talented creator of Google Translate Sings. (This was one of the best things I ever did on social media, as a side note. I would highly recommend it.  I prefer to get my news from the BBC and NY Times anyway.)

I particularly like the Love What Matters page. They post stories of kindness, good deeds, and hope. They post stories about families being reunited, random acts of giving, overcoming difficulty, and finding human connection across differences. This page reminds me to believe in the goodness of other people and to do random acts of kindness when I can.

Sometimes I’ll tape a candy bar to a colleague’s door, or I’ll “cookie” the science department by leaving treats on everyone’s desk. One of the history teachers returns the favors by leaving sticky notes on my car window or notes on my board. Kelly, who teaches next door, freely shares her chocolate with me. These little things can bring a smile (and sometimes a much-needed sugar rush!) when we’re tired.

But I had an experience this week that made me reevaluate my thoughts on random acts of kindness. They’re awesome, to be sure. But I think it’s the act of kindness that ISN’T random that is the most powerful.

Last Tuesday I was having a day reminiscent of poor Alexander’s in the children’s book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. I woke up not feeling very good, forgot to pack my thermos for tea, had a weird schedule because of state standardized testing that meant I saw five classes instead of my normal four, forgot I was seeing the fifth class and didn’t really have a lesson plan for them, proctored through my planning period, and had a lunch meeting AND a meeting after school that shouldn’t have been a surprise (but it was). My kids were squirrely because the schedule was odd, and I was exhausted and didn’t have much patience.

But the beautiful thing about terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days is that the people who love you come through. One colleague offered to cover my proctoring. Kelly was also having a similar day and we laughed about it together. And one of my students did one of those little acts of kindness that completely brought me to tears.

This girl is my aide for the last class I saw that day. She found me hiding in my back office in the ten minute break before her class started; I was slouched in my chair staring out the window. Our conversation went something like this.

“Whatcha doing, miss?” she asked.

“Absolutely nothing, and it’s glorious,” I informed her.

She cocked an eyebrow and smirked. “Long day?”

“Yeah, I don’t feel very good today. I’d really rather be in bed,” I admitted.

She nodded knowingly. “I feel that,” she said.

I sat there for a moment more and sighed. “But there is one more class, and it’s time to get to it,” I said, more to myself to her.

I checked with her to see what she was working on, and then went back into my classroom and got my class started. Partway through the period, she came out of my office, grabbed the pass, and waved at me. I gave her a thumbs up and let her go without pausing my current conversation. I barely noticed her come back in, and she ducked out at the end of class with a quick wave.

It wasn’t until I was sitting in my car that I figured out where she’d gone when she’d left my class. I was looking for my sunglasses when I noticed a wrapper of something in my bag. I didn’t remember putting anything in my bag that had a wrapper, so I pulled it out. I found two Hershey’s bars with a sticky note on top. In six different colors, it said “This is for you, for being the BEST even at your WORST.”

I cried. Like, hand over mouth, it’s a good thing the car wasn’t moving yet or I would’ve had to pull over, cried.

It wasn’t a huge gesture. It was some chocolate and a sticky note. But for me, there was so much more than that tied up in it.

It was a reminder that people are good. High schoolers (anyone, actually) can be snarky and mean and nasty. But in the ~500 students I’ve worked with so far in my career, every single one of them has had moments of genuine goodness and curiosity. Sometimes it can feel hard to find those moments; sometimes it takes all year to get past the layers of defense some of these kids have built up. But this is possibly the most important part of my job. If I can see the value in a kid, then I can start to help them see it too.

Even more than that, I think it was so powerful because this girl had seen me. She saw that I was struggling and that I was still there trying. Being seen like that made me feel valued. It made me feel important to her. It made all the effort I was putting in feel worth it. And that’s what brought me to tears. This wasn’t a random act of kindness. It was purposeful. My aide saw a need and she did something about it. It was a pretty incredible lesson about kindness and caring.

The chocolate is long gone, but that sticky note will be in a small box on top of my desk for a very, very long time. It’s a reminder of when someone cared about me, and of how even the sassiest students, sometimes especially the sassiest students, have value. And it’s also a reminder of a new commitment I’m making; I want to keep my eyes open. I want to learn from my students as much as I teach them. And I want to see my students, and everyone I care about in my life.

Your homework this week: When was the last time you were really seen? When is the last time you really saw someone else, and acted on what you saw? Will you join me in my commitment to keeping my eyes open?

Hej då,

Jamie

Blueberry Scones

I love scones. Scones are great for rainy or snowy days, when I curl up with tea (and usually a stack of grading). They’re also great for adventure days, when I want to snag something quick on my way out the door.

I was inspired several springs ago by a shelf full of very on-sale blueberry cartons at the grocery store to make blueberry scones. I snagged a couple of cartons and started scouring the internet for recipes. There were a million and three variations, of course! How was I to pick?

Finally I picked one, mostly at random, and tried it out. I found the scones I made were fluffly and buttery; they were utterly delicious and utterly different from my go-to scone recipe. I make Klassika scones frequently; it’s a recipe I learned in Sweden (and  in Swedish!).

The Klassika scone recipe translates (and the units convert) to this:

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4 tbsp baking powder
  • 5 tbsp cold butter
  • 1 1/4 cups cold milk

Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl. Chop the butter into small pieces and cut it in (I use my hands). Add the milk and mix until just combined. Divide into four chunks and place on a baking sheet lined with foil (or parchment paper). Bake at 475F (yes, that’s correct, I promise!) for 10-12 minutes, or until they sound hollow when you tap on them.

These scones come out flaky, crumbly, and can be eaten with jam or with soup. I love them because I almost always have all of these ingredients laying around and they’re super easy to make.

But everything from the texture to the flavor were different than the blueberry scones, and I wanted to know why. I tried to compare the recipes, but too many variables were different. Yes, I’m a scientist even in the kitchen. So what did I do? An experiment! Actually, many experiments.

I started pulling out different scone recipes and trying to find similarities. I looked at British current scones, my mom’s oatmeal scones, Starbucks imitation scones…the list went on. I also baked six different blueberry scone recipes (my roommates were delighted!) in order to gather more data.

I compared the amount of flour to the amount of liquid ingredients to the amount of leavening ingredients (baking soda or powder). I compared the temperatures and bake times. And most importantly, I compared the results!

At the end of all of this, I had several interesting trends in my data, a pretty rich understanding of how to bake tasty scones, and my all-time favorite blueberry scone recipe.

First, the trends in the ingredients.

  1. I tried to scale all the recipes so they had two cups of flour. Once I did that, the amount salt was fairly constant, as was the total amount of liquid.
  2. Some scones have sugar in their recipes. This variation really didn’t affect any other ingredients.
  3. The amount of leavening ingredients varied by how much fat there was from the butter and liquids. More fat (especially if there was an egg in the recipe) meant less leavening ingredients.
  4. There was HUGE variation in the liquid ingredients. Some recipes used all milk. Some used half and half or cream. Some used an egg. Some used yogurt or sour cream or buttermilk. But all the recipes came out to between one and 1 1/4 cups of liquid.
  5. The range of butter was between 5 tbsp and 8 tbsp.
  6. Most scones bake hot, between 400F and 475F, for fairly short times (10-25 minutes). The more fat, the cooler the baking

But most important, of course, are the correlations between this and the resultant scone!

  1. Fat content is hugely important for texture. The less fat, the more dense and crumbly the scone. The more fat, the more melt-in-your-mouth kind of a texture. Fat content is controlled by the amount of butter, obviously, but also the fat content of your liquids. Heavy cream, sour cream, and yogurt all increase the fat content, while milk and buttermilk have less fat.
  2. Eggs are the other major player in texture. Adding an egg to your recipe makes scones fluffier and less crumbly. (1 large egg is a little less than 1/4 cup liquid.)
  3. Varying the liquid ingredients changes the flavor of the scones. Yogurt and sour cream give the scone a tangy flavor that I love with blueberries. Milk and cream are the most neutral liquids.

If you’re curious, there are really fascinating science/chemistry reasons for all of these things. They have to do with the gluten protein and how it gets activated by water and conversely protected by fats, why the butter has to be cold, and also with the albumin protein in egg whites.

So after all of that, I finally have my favorite blueberry scone recipe. It’s not at all static. Sometimes it depends on what I have in the kitchen. Sometimes I feel like a slightly different texture or flavor. The ingredients in bold are the ingredients I vary the most. Ingredients that are not bold are the ones I leave alone.

  • 2 cups of flour
  • 3/4 tsp salt (never more than 1/2 tsp, or more than 1 tsp)
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1/4 cup sugar (sometimes I go a bit less than this, but typically not more)
  • 8 oz (1 stick) cold butter, chopped
  • 1 to 1 1/4 cups blueberries
  • 1 egg
  • Equal parts sour cream and heavy whipping cream, totaling 3/4 cup, plus another 1-2 tbsp cream (I don’t like to go more sour cream than this because then there isn’t enough liquid to hold the dough together. I’ve done all heavy cream, and I’ve used yogurt in place of the sour cream, but this combination is my favorite.)
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp dried orange peel

Mix the dry ingredients together in one bowl and cut in the butter. Mix the blueberries through (check for stems and dried flowers first). In a second bowl, mix the egg, liquid ingredients, and flavorings. Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients and mix just until combined. I use my hands so I don’t completely mash the blueberries. The dough sticks as much to me as it does to itself! Divide it into eight parts and place on a lined baking sheet. Bake at 400F for twenty to twenty-five minutes, until the tops are light gold.

Mixing in the liquids is the most do-by-feel part of the whole thing. I know what the finished dough is supposed to look like, so I can figure out if I need to add more or not. The only way to learn that is by practice. Trust me, your roommates/family/colleagues will be more than happy to help you in your pursuit of the perfect scone!

I will also add the disclaimer that I really don’t care what my scones look like. You can shape them to make them more round, or make one giant round and cut it into triangles, if pretty food makes you happy. I’m just not motivated enough for these to make them beautiful.

My blueberry scones are total indulgent decadence. They are moist and fluffy and you can totally tell two of the three main ingredients are heavy cream and butter! There is a time when I want these, and there is a time when I want something different. The thing I enjoyed learning from this escapade was how to vary the scones so I can make nearly exactly what I want. I spent a long time learning the details and intricacies of this particular art, and I appreciate the depth than brings.

My homework for you: What’s your favorite kind of scone (or other baked good)? Why is it your favorite? Have you ever thought about the chemistry behind your baking or cooking?

Hej då,

Jamie

Spring Meeting: Intersections

Last weekend I told you a story that was really an intersection between me being an adventurer and me being a nerd, though I framed it as an adventure story. This time, I’m going to explore the same intersection (nerd and adventurer) from the other side. This weekend was a super nerdy weekend, and I loved every single minute of it.

Spring meeting, for people who are part of the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation (KSTF), is one of three times each year we all get together to work on being better teachers. KSTF is a teaching fellowship established by Harry Knowles to help young teachers become a system of experienced teachers who can effect positive change on education from within the system. It’s a five year program that focuses on content knowledge, pedagogy (how to teach), and leadership.

My cohort has thirty-four teachers from across the nation who are fascinating, caring, and seriously, awesomely nerdy. We are all first or second year math and/or science teachers in a middle school or high school setting. Teaching is a hard job, and having other people who are learning to do it with me makes it all seem a lot more feasible. This year the spring meeting was in Denver, so everyone came to my hometown! (Or close enough.) It was really fun to have everyone experience at least a tiny sliver of what it feels like to constantly have that wall of mountains to the west.

Teacher meetings are always interesting things. Depending on the group of people, they can degenerate into conversations about how screwed up the system is, how hard it can be to get respect (in and out of a classroom), how overwhelming this job is, and how all we want to do all summer is sleep. But almost every single meeting I’ve attended have been incredibly inspiring and energizing. (Well, emotionally energizing. I find my 9 p.m. bedtime slips by and it’s AT LEAST another two hours after that before I get bed.) KSTF is that kind of community for me. I learn so much about teaching, science, math, and being a good human.

So what did you learn this time, you ask? Awesome question!

The official purpose of the meeting was focused around disciplinary practices. (This is how science practices are described by the Next Generation Science Standards; there are other descriptions of science practices.) These are the skills that scientists and mathematicians use to be scientists and mathematicians. For example, some of the science practices include asking questions, analyzing data, and basing explanations on evidence. (There are also English/Language Arts practices, which are quite interesting to look at.) I love thinking about the practices because it changes science from something you learn into something you do. It helps students see how science is a way of thinking instead of just a body of facts to be memorized. Quite honestly, a lot of high school kids are usually more interested in doing than they are in listening.

This is the end of a whole year of focusing on how to teach practices in my classroom, and it’s amazing both how much I’ve learned and how many questions I still have. I think it’s a really important thing for me to keep pursuing and thinking about as I continue to develop as a teacher.

But that’s not even close to the only thing I learned this weekend. Here are some of the other (some possibly less intended) lessons I took away.

  1. Teachers from across the nation do things differently in their classroom. I got to work with someone from Delaware on our lessons, and we have really different ideas for content stories to tell and pedagogical structures to use despite the fact that we’re both teaching about evolution. I love working at my high school and being on the same page with all the teachers there, but I also love learning about entirely different ways to teach. (I also learned that plants in New Zealand grow in different shapes than plants anywhere else because there are no native mammals in New Zealand, only birds. SO COOL!)
  2. People from other parts of the country also have different ideas about Colorado’s geographic region. I have to tell you all, we are NOT the Midwest. Admittedly, we really are kind of in the middle of the country, and many of my international friends have thought the same thing. But the Midwest is flat. We are the Rocky Mountains!
  3. Changing perspectives on a situation can make all the difference. We read a story about a teacher who was reflecting on her teaching. She was constantly asking herself how she could make physics more accessible to all students and pushing herself to get as much engagement in her classroom as she could, and she focused a lot on how to engage students who were not quite there. When her mentor asked her to reflect on the students who were engaged, her perspective on her teaching changed quite a lot. In a really awesome follow-up to this story, my conversation partner and I talked about how inquiry about teaching isn’t really about finding answers to our questions; it’s about being able to ask questions that shift the perspective and the conversations about teaching.
  4. Focusing on success is extraordinarily important. I got to participate in a protocol (a guided conversation with prompts about who can speak when and for how long) that asked participants to reflect on a story about a success in our classroom. I was surprised by several things: I stared at my paper for a long time before I could come up with something to write, everyone else felt just as much like an imposter as I did, and listening to someone talk about their successes is an amazing feeling. After the protocol, my group took a tangent into a conversation about how to enact something like this with students. I am constantly asking my students to reflect on areas of potential growth. That’s a lovely way to ask that question; but no matter how I phrase it, I’m asking students to think about things they did poorly. What if instead, I asked students to reflect on something they did really well and apply that success to another situation? What if they could learn from other students’ successes and create their own toolbox of ways to be successful? That would be amazing!
  5. There are people who will get up before 6am to squeeze in a two-hour hike in Boulder before getting on a plane to go home. Way more than I expected, actually. And we absolutely identified trees as we went up the trail. Yep. Nerds!

The last thing I learned was something that really shouldn’t have surprised me. The people I get to work with in this cohort are incredibly complex and dimensional. When I originally framed this blog, it felt like I was doing so a little bit in protest. I wanted to show myself and others that it’s ok to be contradictory. It’s ok for me to be a knitter and a skier. It’s ok for me to love molecular biology and stories. I felt pressure to only be one thing at a time. (Now that I’m reflecting on this, I’m not entirely sure where that pressure was coming from; it’s quite possible that it was at least partially in my head. But that’s going to be a different post.) So I created a space where I could authentically explore how all of these things came together.

This weekend, I heard stories from a person who has moments where he loves big crowds and moments where he can’t stand people. I realized THREE PEOPLE in my cohort speak ski racing language! A math teacher from California had worked on a cruise ship and as a TV producer. One of the women who hiked with me this morning is a distance runner and a knitter. I could continue to give you examples for the next hour, but I’ll pause here.

I’m definitely still processing everything I thought about this weekend. But if I could possibly synthesize one thing out of all of this, it would be this: learning is active, it is social, and it is a process. I learn the most when I’m doing something (as scary as that is) and when I’m getting feedback from the people I’m doing it with (which is also really scary).

Your homework comes in two parts this time! (This is what happens when I go to teacher meetings and get ambitious.)

Part 1: What practices are involved in your discipline of choice (be that science or writing or baking or anything else)? How do those practices interface with the knowledge you need about that practice?

Part 2: How do you learn about other people’s dimensionality? How do you share your own dimensionality?

Hej då,

Jamie

To Have an Adventure

Spring break is one of those mythological times of year where everything is supposed to be perfect. For a lot of people in Steamboat, spring break meant a desire to go somewhere WARM, without snow or slush or ice. My dream week always seemed to revolve around spending the vast majority of my time in a swimsuit. I’ve been fortunate enough to have some truly spectacular spring breaks over my life.

Teachers love spring break as much as their students do. I’m currently writing this in the afterglow of my most recent spring break, which was absolutely fantastic. Last weekend, I wrote about how I got to go home for a couple of days and play in the (rapidly melting) snow. But I spent the second half of my spring break in LA!

There was a lot of sun. I ate quite a lot of tasty food. I got to hang out with some of my favorite people and stay up way too late telling silly stories. I saw a really cool IMAX film. Sounds like an awesome spring break, right? It totally was!

So now you can laugh at me when I tell you all of these things happened while I was at NSTA 2017, the National Association of Science Teachers annual conference. I know, I can’t help it – there will be a little bit of nerdiness woven throughout this story. But it is, at its heart, an adventure story. So what makes a good adventure?

First, I must confess that I love packing. There is something really satisfying about deciding exactly what I need and fitting it all neatly in my bag. I have a very little suitcase I use so I don’t have to check it, and getting everything in just right is one of my favorite games. I love the anticipation of laying out my things and setting my bag by the door. This is true no matter where I’m going.

I also love airports. I like getting to watch all the different people and make up stories about where they’re going. I wander up and down the B concourse in DIA, looking at where all the flights are going and imagining I was going there. I like how I feel efficient when I can get smoothly through security and boarding the plane. Airports mean I get to go somewhere far away!

Once I was in LA, I got to spend three days learning about and experiencing new incredible things, even though I spent most of my time in the LA convention center and not wandering around the city. (I did not, at any point, see the Hollywood sign. I’m not sad about this.) NSTA is a huge conference; there are usually between nine and twelve THOUSAND people! There are teachers from all kinds of science – biology, chemistry, physics, earth and space science – and at all levels, from kindergarten to four-year colleges. There are representatives from assessment companies, textbook publishers, companies who create educational resources, and scientific organizations like Smithsonian. Being at NSTA is being in the middle of science education as it evolves and grows and changes.

I also got to do my very first presentation at a national conference, which was a source of huge gratitude, excitement, and terror all at the same time. I was invited to help represent Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s BioInteractive project, which provides some of the most amazing resources to educators. Seriously, if you’re a teacher and you haven’t seen them, go check it out. Or if you’re just a nerd and you feel like learning stuff, go check it out! They tell really fascinating stories about all sorts of life science.

My presentation was ten minutes of me being super excited about a virtual lab showing how stickleback fish have evolved in lakes in Alaska. I gave the talk twice, and each time I had about twenty people who stopped by our exhibition booth to listen.

It was a huge learning experience for me; teaching teachers is really different than teaching students. (Also, presenting with little microphone thing that hooked over my ear is way different than just projecting my voice across a classroom!) I also got to hang out in the back of everyone else’s presentations, and I learned a lot about teaching I want to try out in my classroom now.

Another important part of adventuring for me is who I’m adventuring with. The other HHMI ambassadors are, as a whole, some of the most fascinating, dedicated educators I’ve ever had the privilege of meeting. Getting to hear and listen to their stories was hugely rejuvenating, informative, and hilarious (usually all in the same story!). I feel like I got adopted and I have a whole community of mentors. But I also got a lot of positive feedback on the work I did, so in addition to having mentors, I’m also seriously honored to feel like a contributing member of this incredible group.

Now, teachers are good at meeting people. A significant chunk of what we do all day is build relationships, so it shouldn’t be surprising that we also met some new people completely randomly. These kinds of stories are some of my favorite; chance encounters that end up having huge meaning. Let me tell you a story of Saturday night walking back to the hotel.

HHMI has a dinner on the last night of each conference to celebrate everyone’s hard work. There was a group of five of us walking home together telling stories and giggling. One of the ambassadors and I were laughing about all of the ridiculous things we’ve had to say, completely seriously, in our classrooms (“Do not take your pants off!” is one example). Another lady on the street corner overheard and started laughing with us. It was also at this moment that we realized we only mostly knew where we were going. The lady who’d been laughing with us was walking home from work, and offered to walk with us to our hotel since she lived nearby.

We all promptly introduced ourselves and folded her into our group. When we explained what we were doing in LA, she delightedly exclaimed “I knew y’all were teachers! I could just tell!” Her name was Saj, and she was a tax code lawyer. She shook her head at us and told us a story that absolutely melted my heart. She’d been born to a teenage mom and, in her own words, had been a problem kid. She told us that teachers had literally saved her life by pouring hours of extra time into her, and she turned out just fine. She’d taught middle school for a year in Washington D.C. before she gave it up to be a lawyer. We all swapped stories of the best and worst parts of our jobs as we walked.

We got back to our hotel, and she continued on her way. We didn’t trade contact information or anything like that – it was just a moment of a couple of lives coming together and veering apart again. But I’m not going to forget her story any time soon.

So let’s take a look at the things that make an adventure. Did I get to go somewhere new? Check. Meet interesting people? Double and triple check. Learn and do new things? Absolutely. Do I feel refreshed and ready to go back? Well, refreshed at least!

My homework for you is this: what makes an adventure for you? I usually prefer quite a lot of outside time, but I definitely think my journey to NSTA counts for me.

Happy adventuring, wherever you go this month!

Hej då,

Jamie