A Big Adventure

Hej friends, and Happy New Year! This year I spent Christmas and New Years in my beloved Steamboat Springs with my family, including Granny, and Jonathan. We ate way too many cookies, managed to (by sheer luck) find a couple of powder stashes, lazed in front of the fire, and generally did wonderful Christmas-y things.

This morning Mom, Jeff, Jonathan and I got up early to hike to the quarry to greet the sun. This is still one of my favorite holiday traditions, and this year was particularly spectacular. It was cold, but the red hue of the clouds was incredible. Like I wrote about last year, I’m grateful for my family, who gives me the gear I need to be able to play outside. The only thing I wore today that wasn’t a present at some point in my life were my boots!

Hiking up to watch the sunrise gives me a sense of peace and purpose for the coming day. I love how the muscles in my legs bunch and release, how my fingertips pulse, how my cheeks feel windburned. This time Mom and I carried our yoga mats up so we had something to sit on, and I spent some time pretending I was an archer carrying a quiver. Yes, I’m definitely still eight sometimes.

I like how the pre-dawn light paints everything in gentle pastel colors, and how quiet it is. I like the crunch of the snow and the creak of the trees as they warm up. I like how awesome the warm tea tastes and feels as it slides into my stomach. But most of all, I love doing it with my people. Jeff tossed me in a snowbank, and Mom and I matched our footsteps so we sounded like one person. Last year I did my New Years hike by myself, and I’m really grateful I got to do it with these people this year.

But that’s not the only adventure I’m going to tell you about today. The other adventure I’m going to tell you about will happen in June and it will likely be the biggest adventure I go on this year. After the end of the school year, I’m going to move to Ogden, Utah to be closer to Jonathan!

Coming from a girl who likes routine, plans, and certainty, this might just be one of the more out-of-character things I’ve ever done. I don’t have a job out there yet; schools tend to hire in the spring. I don’t have a place to live; Jonathan’s current apartment is not big enough for all the skis and bikes we collectively play with! The only person I know out there is, in fact, Jonathan. The level of uncertainty I am willingly introducing into my life is a little mind-boggling.

I’m also wrestling with the fact that I’m leaving Colorado. The longest I’ve ever left Colorado was when I studied abroad in Sweden – I was there for just over six months. But even then, I bought a round-trip plane ticket. Colorado has never not been my home, and quite a lot of my identity is tied up in this state and the Rocky Mountains. I’m also moving farther away for my family, which is a wrench for all of us.

But none of that is the most important part. I am going on an incredible adventure! From Ogden, I could bike from wherever I end up living to bike trails. Snowbasin and Powder Mountain are both thirty minutes away. And I freely admit that I will NOT miss I-70. At all. Ever. (Jeff, Dad and Granny spent SIX HOURS in Downieville on the 23rd. Oy.) I will have the opportunity to learn about a new school and from new teachers. And most importantly, I’ll be with Jonathan.

Here’s where I spare you all the sappy gooey stuff. I’ll just tell you a piece of wisdom I read in a fanfiction story once; when all the cliches in the songs on the radio feel like they apply to you, that’s when you know you’re in trouble. And I am outrageously, unabashedly, happy about all of this. Somewhat terrified, at times, but isn’t that how all the best adventures start?

When I tell people this, I immediately get peppered with questions. This response makes sense to me. What I can tell you is that I don’t have a whole lot of answers yet, but a lot of hope for a really good 2018. I have five months in Colorado, and I intend to make the most of them. And then I can finally stop doing the wretched long-distance thing, and I intend to make the most of that as well!

I hope you all had a wonderful winter break, Merry Christmas or [insert your favorite holiday wishes here], and a good New Years. Here’s to all the resolutions, but more importantly all the hopes and dreams we have. May our hard work and a little bit of luck get us a little closer to them!

Hej då,

Jamie

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Exploring the Well-Known

This last weekend, a math-teacher-friend and I hiked up in Chautauqua Park. Paige has lived in Boulder her entire life, so she’s incredibly familiar with the trail system there. I’ve always loved that trail system; the iconic Flat Irons rise above a meadow and it’s easy to get up high quickly to a good view. (It’s also a good way to get a wicked work out very quickly; those trails go up!)

I have a couple of favorite trails I go up a lot; Royal Arch, Mallory Cave, and especially the Amphitheater Trail up to Saddle Rock. But Paige took me somewhere I’ve never been before, up to Wood’s Quarry.

It was an excellent hike; there’s a good amount of climbing, a lovely view, lots of “chairs” and a “couch” built from rock slabs, and the whole expedition takes about an hour and a little bit. I love that, despite the hours I’ve spent playing on those trails, there are tons of places I still don’t know.

This isn’t the first time Paige and I have hiked together at Chautauqua. About a month ago, we hiked up Gregory Canyon to Flagstaff Road. It was a new hike to both of us; I’d heard another friend talking about it, I’d seen the trail head, and I wanted to see what it was like. The leaves were beautiful, the trail winding through rocks and creek beds.

When we got to the top, Paige realized where we were and knew all the trails we could take from there. Unfortunately, we were time-limited that day and decided to head back down the way we came up.

A lot of people don’t like out-and-back hikes, but I find in many ways I really enjoy them. The hike looks completely different when you’re facing the other direction; I notice different things and enjoy it differently. This is especially true when the trail is steep; I tend to put my head down and let my legs churn on the way up.

Often we spend a lot of time in the same places, driving on the same roads, walking the same paths. Habits are really important for freeing up cognitive space and energy. But it’s also really important not to go through the motions in a daze. Goodness knows I could probably drive to and from Longmont High School while mostly asleep. (In reality, I probably have after parent teacher conferences. Or this morning. Whoops.)

Every Friday after school, I drive home a different route than normal. Most of my motivation for doing this is the alternate route takes me past a bakery and I can get a cupcake! But I like driving a different way. I notice the mountains more. I like driving past different farms and seeing different horses.

It’s a short post this week – finals week preparation is taking a toll – but I still have homework for you! Where is somewhere that is intimately familiar to you? How can you make it new again?

Hej då,

Jamie

NABT!

Last week, on Wednesday, I sadly explained to my students that I was going to be missing Thursday and, for the second week in a row, Friday. I had missed November 3rd to go to Chicago for the fall Knowles meeting. Needless to say, my students were not pleased. Finally one asked, “where are you going this time?”

“It’s the National Association of Biology Teachers annual conference!” I exclaimed. “It’s 700-800 biology teachers from all across the nation, getting together to talk about biology and teaching and teaching biology…it’s pretty much the best nerd-fest on the planet!”

Depending on the student, this was met with varying levels of groans, eye rolls, laughter, and a little genuine excitement. My tiny class of fifteen demanded to know why we weren’t going on a field trip! “Well, bring us back something good,” one finally called. And indeed, I think I did.

It’s hard to describe exactly how meaningful NABT is to biology educators. It’s like going to an intensive class, going home to see family, and having a sleepover with your friends, all at the same time. Even though I sleep far less at the conference than I would like, I come home reinvigorated and ready to start again in my profession.

This is the third time I’ve been to NABT, and it was a particularly special trip for me because my mom and I co-presented one of the sessions! I was completely honored to be chosen to present, and it was so much fun to present with Mom. Everyone tells us we sound the same, and it was very easy to bounce back and forth as we presented. We presented about a project we worked on together last spring called STeLLA, or science teachers learning through lesson analysis. (Because everything in education must have an acronym…)

STeLLA is a project that focuses on using video analysis to help teachers analyze their practice through two frameworks. The first framework is about having a content story line through the lesson and throughout the year, and the second framework is about making student thinking visible so the teacher knows where the students are in their understanding. I was filmed twice last spring as a model teacher, using three of the strategies about making student thinking visible. The three strategies I focused on were questioning strategies. Elicit questions are designed to bring lots of student thinking out onto the floor, probe questions are designed to deepen student thinking or make it more specific, and challenge questions are designed to change student thinking or help them make connections to other ideas.

Our presentation at NABT focused on these three questioning strategies and their impact on me as an early-career teacher. We were shocked and honored by the number of people who came – forty-eight! – and the positive responses we got. Could we have done some things better? Absolutely. But overall, I’ll call that experience a success!

I also attended some amazing sessions. The University of Utah puts out incredible education materials, and I spent all day on Friday stalking their sessions. I learned a new way to connect the story about genetics – to go from biochemistry to DNA to molecular genetics to Mendelian genetics to natural selection – and experienced some really cool new apps about the neuroscience of senses! They’re still somewhat in development, and mostly are only available on iPads right now, but they’re called “See Neuroscience,” “Touch Neuroscience,” “Smell Neuroscience,” “Taste Neuroscience,” and “Hear Neuroscience.”

A highlight of every NABT is HHMI’s movie night. HHMI is the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and their collection of resources at BioInteractive is one of my favorite sources of good science stories ever. I’ve presented for BioInteractive before and I will again this Friday at the Colorado Science Conference. At movie night, they preview their newest short film (sometimes several of them) and invite the scientists to talk about their work. This year we watched two videos with Ed Yong based on his book I Contain Multitudes, and the new release of a video called Gene Doctor. This movie tells the story of how gene therapy research, over the course of thirty or so years, was successful in treating a congenital blindness.

But NABT isn’t all about nerd-vana. The last night, many of us went on a field trip (yes, we actually call it a field trip) to the City Museum in St. Louis. If you ever get the chance to go, DO IT. I seriously cannot recommend this place highly enough! It’s an old shoe factory building that’s eleven stories high. Everything is built of reclaimed or recycled materials, and it’s basically the biggest adult playground I’ve ever seen! You can climb on everything, sometimes many stories in the air. There’s a Ferris wheel on the roof, two ten-story slides, and so many nooks and crannies that after four hours, I still feel like we saw a fraction of the place. Beyond that, everything is incredibly beautiful and detailed. It many ways, it reminded me of the style of Gaudí, the Spanish architect who designed La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, among other things.

And most importantly, going to NABT is about seeing the friends and the people who support me in this crazy profession. It’s about being surrounded by people who care as much as I do, who are as unabashedly nerdy as I am, and who are the people who are changing biology education for the better. NABT erases the feeling of being powerless in a system that fails kids and reminds me that the work we do every day matters.

Your homework: What rejuvenates you? What community do you turn to to support you?

Hej då,

Jamie

 

The Joy of Airports

Well everyone, before I go into my joy in airports (which is not sarcastic at all, actually), I have something to tell you. Facebook gave me one of those “one year ago today you posted” things this morning, and turns out that exactly a year ago was my very first blog post.

Given that I generally write somewhere just under a thousand words each time I write to you, and that there’s fifty-two weeks in a year, I’ve officially written you all an actual novel! Turns out that when you do something regularly, it adds up. (Remember also, though, that I didn’t do any of the revising or editing that would normally go with a novel…but the word count is pretty cool!)

So before I say anything else, thank you. Thanks for reading along, for bugging me when I’m late to post, for challenging my thinking, for sharing your stories. This blog has brought me more joy and connections with people than it is possible to explain. I have learned so much from writing and from talking with you all. I’m glad you joined me on my journey, and here’s to another fifty-two blog posts!

And now for the airports. A lot of people in airports are stressed and late and annoyed with security and the weather and jet lagged and in general, not very joyful. I’ve definitely gotten stressed in airports before, and so have the people I’ve traveled with. It’s hard not to when you’re afraid you aren’t going to get home and the person behind the desk isn’t being very helpful.

One of my favorite airport stress stories goes something like this. I was fifteen and coming home from spring break in Hawaii with my family. Mom and Dad and Jeff and I were taking the 10pm flight home, to land on Sunday morning, in order to go back to school on Monday. We’d been staying in Hana, a little town on Maui with no connectivity. We had no cell service and no internet (and it was AWESOME). When we arrived at the airport at 7:30, the self-service check in machine told us we were too late to check our bags. Confused, we proceeded to the desk.

Turns out the airline had bumped us to the 7:45 flight for some unknown reason that had to do with the fact that we were all flying on frequent flier miles. They’d sent us an email (which Dad never got) and expected us to be on time. Needless to say, this did not go over well with Dad, who flew so often he was some silver or gold or platinum status. The more the guy behind the desk was obtuse, the more annoyed Dad got.

This was definitely a little stressful, especially for Mom who had to teach on Monday. But Jeff and I found a reason to laugh throughout the whole episode. The more Dad got annoyed, the more he leaned forward. He had his foot on the scale for weighing bags, and the longer the conversation went on, the higher the weight got. Jeff and I stood behind Mom and bet each other what the max weight would be, giggling the whole time.

In the end, we got back on our flight and made it home just fine. And rather than remembering the stress of the moment, I remember laughing with my brother.

Mom and I have bolted through Dulles to catch a trans-Atlantic. The whole family’s spent seven hours reading in DIA because of a delayed flight. I’ve missed connections and gotten put in a hotel overnight and slept on benches because of bad layovers. My bag’s been lost (and then found!). If you fly a lot, these things inevitably happen. And you know what? I don’t mind.

Getting on a plane and feeling it lift into the air means I’m going on an adventure! I’m going to go find a friend or a new place and have an experience I’m going to remember. In part, I think I learned this because my family was fortunate to get to go on lots of adventures when I was little. I don’t associate flying with work or boring meetings or anything like that.

The other thing I love about planes is that it’s disconnected. I was really quite annoyed when on-board WiFi became a possibility, actually. I read actual books on planes. I write on actual paper instead of typing. I love the chance to get off a screen for a while and take a break from the rest of the world.

But sitting in the airport is its own fun game. My favorite thing to do is to watch the people around me and guess where they’re from and where they’re going. Especially if they’re sitting near me, I can make up whole life stories for them. Sometimes it’s obvious – this last weekend I few to Chicago with a high school boy’s hockey team, all with their team jerseys on. Sometimes it’s not at all. But it’s a good way to exercise my imagination.

And when things go wrong? I learned a long time ago that I can’t make the transportation move any faster. I actually figured this out on chairlifts. When you’re late for your start at a ski race, the chair’s going to go the same speed no matter how much I bounce around. I deal with the things I can control – I strip my pants and check my ponytail and tuck my pass inside my speed suit and buckle my boots – and then I sit tight and wait. When I get stuck at an airport, I let the people on the other end know and I buy a book. (Actually, I should buy books more often so I don’t hope for flights to be delayed!) I’ll get on a flight eventually, or I won’t.

Your homework: What’s one way to enjoy something that could be stressful? Where’s your favorite place to exercise your imagination?

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

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

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