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

 

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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

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

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

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

 

Every Stitch

Today I’m writing from yet another state! I’m currently sitting outside of Penn Valley, California, at my friend Hannah’s childhood home. She grew up on a glorious five-acre property, with huge trees and vegetable gardens and a little orchard and chickens. This part of California is the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, but it’s really different than the foothills in Colorado. At home, the the transition from flat to mountains is fairly abrupt. Here, I’m nestled into rolling hills of pine forests and farms. I think I found the Shire.

And when I found Hannah, I absolutely found a hobbit! Hannah grew up doing three-week backpacking trips with her family and close friends, packing all their extra food and supplies on horses. She wanders around barefoot almost all the time, and she bakes the best pumpkin butterscotch chocolate chip cookies you’ll ever have. We met in college in our leadership program, and I can easily say she’s one of my best girlfriends in the entire world. We’ve stayed up late giggling and singing, hiked and hugged trees and swam in rivers, and had some of the most honest conversations I’ve ever been a part of.

The first time I came to her home was for spring break during our freshman year of college. She took me cross country skiing to a cabin that some of her family friends built by hand (no power tools!), and then she took me on my very first backpacking trip at Point Reyes. I loved both of these adventures, but what I remember most about that trip was how included and loved I felt with her family. It’s been a happy place ever since in my memory.

This time, I’m back for Hannah’s wedding, and I could not be more honored and delighted and totally overwhelmed by how much love there was, not only at the ceremony last night, but as I’ve been here helping for the last several days. Hannah’s family is deeply intertwined in this community, and people demonstrated such an incredible amount of support, creating decorations and food and moving tables and chairs around in 100+ degree heat. I’ve been crashing at her house, and I’ve had so much fun painting signs and chopping veggies for appetizers at the rehearsal dinner, and carrying anything. I’ve met Hannah’s friends from all different parts of her life and reunited with some of our college friends. In the midst of everything, Hannah still carved out two hours to pick me up from the airport and to chat with me about my life and what we’ve been thinking about lately.

Another good example of the love here: Hannah and her (now husband!!!!!!!) Ben decided to opt for a less-traditional wedding theme and combine Star Wars and Lord of the Rings into a fantasy land of awesomeness. Everyone showed up in costume, including her grandfather in the Leia buns and dress. My costume experienced a bit of a setback when the green dress I wanted to be an elf archer didn’t come on time, so I rushed to grab a back up plan. What I ended up wearing consisted of my mom’s cowboy boots, Hannah’s sister’s socks, a brand new friend’s white tunic, Hannah’s dad’s bow and a pair of earrings I stole from Hannah herself years ago. Only my brown leggings, camisole, quiver and arm guards were actually mine! People gave freely and without thinking about it, and I wasn’t even the person of interest.

Yesterday, the day of the wedding, we all headed to the ranch where it was going to take place and set things up for several hours. At 11:30, we headed off grab lunch and go to one of Hannah’s favorite places: the Yuba river. After a (SUPER HOT) short hike, we jumped in the water for a bit and then ran back to the wedding site. Supposed to be back by two-thirty for celebrations starting at 4? Definitely arrived at 3:20. But Hannah has collected the kind of friends who a) will jump in a river and not worry about their hair and b) can totally handle getting ready for a wedding, in less than an hour, with only one bathroom between eleven girls. We had a blast braiding hair and gluing elf ears, and watching Hannah transform from hiking river girl to absolutely stunning bride. This is the kind of girly-ness I really do love.

The ceremony itself was beautiful and multi-part and incorporated lots of Jewish rituals (my knowledge of Yiddish had probably quadrupled in the last three days). I won’t try to explain it all, but I will tell you it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever experienced. All the cliché things people say about weddings, the radiant bride, the crying mothers, the perfect light…all of it was true last night. I cried through both ceremonies and afterwards when I got to tell Hannah how much I loved her. I danced until I had blisters and laughed harder than I have in a very long time. And after we cleaned up, we all lost our heads a bit and ended up paddling around in the pool on the property, most of us still in our dresses and costumes!

I like to write. I love stories and words. But how could I ever begin to explain how much my friendship with Hannah means to me? How could I describe how much I loved coming home with her and experiencing her community? How could I possibly capture this weekend?

I didn’t even try. At least, not in words.

A year ago, when Hannah called me to tell me she got engaged, I knit two nine inch by nine inch squares out of some left-over turquoise yarn in a basket weave pattern. And over the course of this last year, I’ve (very sporadically) worked on creating 46 more squares and sewing them together to create a blanket. There were months where I forgot about it, and a lot of frantic knitting and sewing in these last couple of weeks! (I actually finished it here, on the floor of Hannah’s guest room.)

When I knit, every stitch is a good wish, a thank you, and a promise. They’re little tiny good thoughts, but they add up. And I thought it was a nice metaphor for building a life together. It’s a series of small things.

And when I knit, I don’t do it in isolation. Mom taught me how to make cable patterns. Granny helped me lay out all the blocks so the colors were balanced. The whole thing is a work of love. And it’s a way for me to say it without fumbling around with words and clichés.

My friends are so incredibly important to me. Hannah’s given me more sunshine and support than I thought possible.

Your homework today is very similar to some other homework I’ve given before, but I think it’s worth doing twice. How do you show your people you love them? Try to find a way to demonstrate that this week!

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