Oceanography Class

As part of my adventure in moving to Utah, one of the things I’ve been doing is working on getting my Utah teaching license. Education is a state power, so every state licenses differently. And oh boy, do they do it differently.

In Colorado, I hold a secondary science teaching license. This means, according to the state of Colorado, that I am qualified to teach any science class from grade 7 to grade 12. Colorado had a series of requirements I needed in order to get this license; I needed to have a bachelor’s in a science, six credits plus a lab class in the other two core sciences (since my bachelor’s was in biology, the other two core sciences for me were chemistry and physics), an earth science class, an astronomy class, and a certain number of credits. I needed a passing score on the general science Praxis exam, and a certain number of education credits along with student teaching.

Utah, on the other hand, licenses by discipline. When I receive a secondary science license, I must also apply for endorsements for each type of science. For example, I am working on getting my biology, chemistry, environmental, and earth science endorsements. Utah has a list of college classes required for each endorsement, and each endorsement also requires its own specific Praxis test. Amusingly, the only endorsement I actually had all the classes for was chemistry! Because my major was in molecular biology, I was missing several crucial “big bio” classes.

In order to remedy all of these missing pieces, I’ve been diving into AP bio study sessions with Mom to prepare for the biology Praxis (she was highly successful in preparing me!) and taking several online courses. The first of these courses was Oceanography.

To be totally honest, it’s been awesome to go back to being a student again! There’s something very satisfying about having a reading assignment (this week was FIVE chapters, which was a bit much…) and a three page paper to write. I will admit to having the same problem with word limits that I’ve always had – I write three to four times more than I have space for and then have to cut things out.

And I’ve been learning interesting things! My favorite so far has been learning about global wind patterns; I now know what the trade winds are and why they go the direction they do, and why sailors warn against westerlies. These winds drive many of the ocean currents; I can now explain why Uppsala, Sweden has a climate similar to Colorado (but wetter) even though it’s so much farther north. (It’s because the Gulf Stream moves masses of warm air that direction.) And I’ve learned that if you ever need to explain why air or water is moving in a circular or spiraling motion on a global scale, or just explain why anything isn’t behaving as linearly as you thought, the answer is the Coriolis effect.

If you think about the Earth, the most solar radiation happens at the equator. That means that air gets warm and rises. Then it pushes out towards the poles, drops a lot of precipitation, and falls back down as cool dry air. If you look at the Earth, you can see the hot wet equator is bounded on either side by deserts; the deserts are where the cold dry air falls back down.

However, the Earth is spinning. This is the basis of the Coriolis effect. Imagine if you launched a rocket from Quito, Ecuador (at the equator). Even if you launched it straight north, the Earth would spin underneath it while it was flying. The rocket would land northwest of Quito. There’s all sorts of math you can do to figure out exactly how far west, but I haven’t gotten that in-depth.

The Coriolis effect means that the warm air rising from the equator falls back down to the west of where it started, either northwest or southwest. These are the trade winds. The next convection cell away from the equator, either north or south, blows to the east (these are the westerlies!). And now when I read novels, I actually know what these things mean!

(The lead image explains it nicely, too, if you like images better than words.)

I still have oceanography homework due today, so I’ll leave this one here and give you your homework! What’s the best new thing you’ve learned lately? You can define “best” however you like.

Actually, a post script. The first new thing I learned this year was “awkward salmon.” Remember awkward turtle? You put your hands on top of each other and circled your thumbs in awkward situations when no one knew what to say. It was an awkward turtle because it only had two legs. This spawned all sorts of awkward animals and plants…all the way to awkward palm tree. But when my brother put his hand between my arm and my rib cage and flapped it back and forth, that was a new one to me. That’s awkward salmon. Cheers, Jeff, for teaching me that on our New Year’s hike.

Hej då!

Jamie

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Knowledge: Breadth versus Depth

This week I get to spend a little bit of time in Utah with Jonathan. He’s finishing up working, and I’m taking care of all that pesky work that builds up until breaks – writing letters of recommendation, reflections for classes I took through the district. Last night we went to dinner with several of his coworkers.

Jonathan works for a company called Orbital ATK. They make rockets for both NASA (they made the boosters for the space shuttles) and the Department of Defense. In particular, Jonathan’s group tests rocket motors that are old, or in extreme temperatures or other conditions, to see the range of conditions the motor can go through and still be a viable motor. That being said, yes, I am literally dating a rocket scientist.

Jonathan’s colleagues are equally intelligent. I sat across from an engineer named Lee, and our conversation ranged from molecular genetics regulation mechanisms to ecosystem principles of population regulation – then he pulled out a pen and started writing first order codependent differential equations (I only half-understand what that means) on a napkin to model ecosystem interactions – to phase changes of social movements to classical music to economics to quantum physics to data analysis and experimental design. At one point he started teaching himself organic chemistry because he wanted to learn it!

In college I knew a lot of people who were incredibly brilliant. But one of my biggest frustrations with my major, in particular, was how specialized the knowledge became. I didn’t want to know everything there was to know about the seven proteins in a p-body that can regulate mRNA translation. I wanted to know about how the story of the p-body was connected to the other science stories I had learned. I wanted to know how biology informed mathematical modeling and how that informed music and dance and how those things reflected political reform.

(Yes, actually, dance can absolutely reflect political reform. For example, ballet before the French Revolution was very different than afterwards. It was primarily a male dance, for one, and the courtiers who performed it wore heels and corsets. After the French Revolution, more women began to dance and the fascination with classics fashion, which introduced flat sandals and toga-like attire, allowed the jumps and bending of the torso that we know of ballet today. Pointe shoes didn’t show up until even later. So there’s your random history lesson!)

Jonathan is similar to Lee in a lot of ways – he loves to be informed about a wide range of subjects. He can speak fluently about physics and engineering, of course, but also about geology and economics and Japanese culture. He knows classic fantasy and science fiction and loves history of all sorts. Though Jonathan and Lee both work in an extremely specialized setting, they themselves seek knowledge outside of that. They epitomize the idea of the “Renaissance man” (OR WOMAN) who was knowledge in many fields and uses that to make leaps to new ideas or knowledge.

All day today, I’ve been pondering (for not the first time) the value of a broad education versus the value of a deep education. When I think about what I teach in my classroom, I feel like I’m rushing through topics and I don’t give students the depth to make the content meaningful. This can lead to students feeling like they’re memorizing a lot of facts with no connection. However, you already know that as a student in my molecular biology major, I found much of the information too specialized to be useful. It lacked the connections to other information that made it interesting.

And that, I think, is the key. It’s not about fighting the battle between breadth versus depth. It’s about finding the meaning and the connected-ness of the information.

Take, for example, one of my favorite moments of learning in my biochemistry class. We were talking about the differences in structure between DNA and RNA. Both are made up of four nucleotides (ATCG for DNA, and AUCG for RNA) that have a similar structure. Every nucleotide has a phosphate, a ribose sugar, and a nitrogenous base (which is the part that determines if it’s A, U, C, G, or T). In DNA, the sugar is slightly different than in the RNA. It’s actually in the name; DNA stands for deoxyribose nucleic acid, while RNA stands for ribose nucleic acid. The sugar in DNA has one less oxygen atom (thus the “deoxy” than the ribose in RNA.

Turns out that extra oxygen in RNA takes up enough space and creates enough intermolecular forces that RNA doesn’t like to form (isn’t as energetically stable in) the classic helix structure we know of DNA. Since DNA is lacking that oxygen, there’s no interference between the turns of the helix and it’s easy for DNA to make that shape. That’s why RNA never looks like DNA! How cool is that?!

Well, unless you’re a total nerd about DNA and RNA like I am, it’s not that cool. RNA nucleotides have one more oxygen than DNA nucleotides. Whee.

I care about this fact because I can connect it to what I already know about DNA and RNA. That fact has meaning to me. It deepens my understanding. But for my students, this likely feels like too much depth into details they really don’t care about.

The value of breadth is that it allows cross-pollination of ideas. Lee could model ecosystems with differential equations, or model social uprisings with the same math that describes ice melting. But the value of depth is the understanding of details that make the story richer and more meaningful in specific settings. Both have their place. But without the story to make the meaning and the connections, both can feel tasteless and boring.

My homework for you: Do you prefer lots of details or the big-picture view? How do you move between these two mindsets?

Hej då,

Jamie

How to Define Success

When I was an undergraduate student at CU, I was fortunate to be part of the President’s Leadership Class. This was a four year program that we described as having three parts; it was a series of classes, a scholarship, and a community. Through the classwork and other associated requirements, we earned a certificate in leadership and invaluable relationship with our peers.

In the first two and a half years of my undergraduate career, I had an intense and somewhat rocky relationship with the program. I was surrounded by incredibly brilliant and talented people, and I wasn’t sure how I fit in or how to stand out. I felt crippled by the incredibly high expectations the program placed on me, and overwhelmed by the workload and the successes of the people around me.

During my spring semester of my junior year, I studied abroad in Sweden and for six months, I hardly talked to anyone in the US except for my immediate family. I took several classes, but mostly I wandered a lot up and down the Fyris river and spent a lot of time thinking. That separation was crucial in many ways.

At the end of that time, I returned to PLC and was a TA for the first year classes. This was, by far, my favorite year of my undergraduate career. I aced biochemistry (along with the rest of my classes), kept school in perspective, and had a wonderful time living at Holly House with my friends. I am immensely proud of the work I did with the first year team and what I learned in my final year as a PLCer.

Interesting story, you say. But why am I revisiting it tonight?

I just finished an interview with a first-year PLC student who is creating a yearbook of past and present PLCers. Since my mom was also in PLC, the program director wanted to feature the two of us as a generational story. And in that interview, Jenna asked me a really excellent question. She asked me, “How do you define success?”

I had to think for a moment before I answered that one, and in some ways I’m not sure I answered her at all. But the very short version of what I told her was that I had to define success for myself, rather than defining it by others’ expectations of me.

The long version included telling her the story that I just told you, about my overwhelmed-ness with trying to live up to being in PLC and a Boettcher scholar, taking space, and coming back with an entirely new attitude. When I came back to Boulder that year, I decided I was going to Take Back Boulder. (Really, it had nothing to do with Boulder; it had to do with classes and school and my priorities. But Boulder sounds better.) I set stringent boundaries for PLC; I didn’t live with other PLCers and I was extremely cautious about letting PLC in my house. I didn’t talk about it, work on it, or have PLCers over except in very non-PLC settings. I defined my own goals for biochemistry and my other classes. I had goals outside of school for my social life and health that I prioritized over homework, sometimes. And, with the support of the people of Holly House, I met all of my goals.

In doing this, I also met a lot of the other expectations of success for other people. Aced classes, good projects, family dinner for Holly people once a week: these things all happened. But they didn’t happen because other people expected them. They happened because I decided I wanted them to.

Defining success is about defining expectations. When I answered Jenna, I didn’t tell her how I defined success. In some ways, that’s very dependent on the situation. And sometimes it’s really important to consider other people’s expectations. But I did tell her that it was super important for me to define success, rather than letting other people do it for me.

Hooray! Success story! I learned a cool thing and now my life is awesome!

Except…not quite.

As I was telling all of this to Jenna, I realized that I had completely forgotten this lesson when I became a teacher. There are a lot of perceptions of teachers, ranging from incompetents in a failing system to saviors of American culture. With all of this comes a lot of expectations about pulling long hours at school, doing lots of grading, what lessons should look like, how students should behave and how much they should learn…the list of expectations is endless. And it’s literally impossible to meet them all; but despite that, I try. And I burn out, and I get exhausted, and I keep trying, and it’s really quite terrible for me.

So. I have some major homework and thinking to do, courtesy once again of PLC. How do I regain control of how define success as a teacher? How do I lay aside everyone else’s expectations and live up only to my own? How do I use my expectations to set boundaries so I can be an excellent teacher in the classroom and also a real human when I get home?

Good questions. But the good thing is that I know I figured it once. It was in a different setting at a different time in my life, but I think I can figure it out again.

Your homework is the same homework Jenna gave me. How do you define success?

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

 

How to Read

As a child, I spent hours (and hours, and hours and hours,) reading fiction. Anything I could get my hands on, really. I tore through the Laura Ingalls Wilder series in a couple of weeks, the first three Harry Potter books in about a month. In elementary school we had a reading program where you could earn points by taking comprehension quizzes. The longer or more complex the book, the more points it was worth. I vividly (and somewhat bitterly) remember coming in first in my classes every year except for fourth grade, when one of my classmates read the three Lord of the Rings books and sneaked by me.

In middle school I received my one and only detention for reading outside and missing the start of class (by nearly a half hour…whoops!) and my only negative parent teacher conference for reading under my desk. In eighth grade I discovered the Redwall series by Brian Jacques, and I was reading a book a day.

My free-reading was somewhat curtailed in high school, when the school reading assignments became longer and more complex and my ski racing increased. But I still read, and frequently – in the van, while I was supposed to be doing my homework, curled up in front of the fireplace. This dropped off dramatically in college, when I was farther from a public library and had heaps of academic reading.

Academic reading became the bane of my existence. I hated how my mind would wander away and I’d end up rereading the same things over and over. I tried highlighting and taking notes and reading in small chunks and I could not, for the life of me, make nonfiction things stick in my head!

For a girl who usually can recall dozens of characters and plot lines and tiny details of stories, this was incredibly disconcerting. How did I all of a sudden not know how to read? What was I doing wrong?

I was also saddened and disconcerted to realize that biology, which had been my favorite class in high school, was no longer interesting to me. I struggled through my major classes and fumbled lab projects and flailed on exams. I felt like I was drowning in a sea of details I couldn’t keep straight in my head.

Turns out those things were actually related. What I was missing was the story, the connections between ideas.

In a fiction book, there is the main character and everyone is defined, at least in part, by their relationship to that main character. Let’s take Harry Potter for example. He has his best friends Ron and Hermione, his school nemesis Draco, his arch-enemy Voldemort, his mentor Dumbledore, his romantic interest Ginny…everyone can be related to Harry in some way.

And there is  a sequential story line. First, “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number 4, Privet Drive, were proud to say they perfectly normal, thank you very much” and while they were being perfectly normal, they were also quite terrible to their nephew, Harry. Until, of course, Hagrid delivered his letter, which led Harry to Diagon Alley, which led to him meeting Draco and finding Hedwig, which led to his friendship with Ron and the Weasleys on the Hogwarts Express…without one step, the others don’t make sense.

I heard, once, that the writers of South Park storyboard their stories with two transitions. They either use “therefore” or “but” to get from scene to scene. More importantly, they never use “and then” as a transition. “Therefore” implies causality and lets the story line go along it’s original trajectory, while “but” changes the trajectory of the story. “And then” doesn’t give us anything to link to scenes together besides their proximity.

Let’s re-look at the Harry Potter story I told you. Mr. and Mrs. Dursley were horrible to Harry, but Hagrid showed up. Therefore Harry went to Diagon Alley, therefore he met Draco, therefore he was inoculated against Draco’s bullying ways and befriended Ron…the tale goes on from there.

In academic writing, there (typically) is no story line. There is a logic to the writing, for sure. It’s in a particular order for a reason. But I found the best thing I could do when I had academic reading to do was to read the table of contents, read the headings, and create a story. Who were the main characters? How was everyone else related? In lieu of a table of contents, I read headings, read the introduction, looked at pictures, anything I could do to figure out the organization and big ideas. My favorite reading technique became “reverse outlining,” where I would write a one or two phrase summary of every paragraph in the margin. Once I had the outline firmly in place in my head, the details had something to stick to.

It took me years to figure out how to read academic texts. But it’s taken me even longer to properly return to fiction.

Let me be totally clear – I never totally stopped reading. I love to reread, and I peruse the teen lit section every time I go home. I found out about fanfiction and spend hours reading that. But why I read changed. I was reading to search for advice, to avoid the things in my life I didn’t like or didn’t want to do, to give myself an escape. I particularly liked fanfiction because, as writers practiced their craft, few of them were good enough to cause serious emotional waves. Reading fanfiction is pretty safe.

Over the summer I draped myself across the porch swing and devoured a book called The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom. It took me two days, and at the end I didn’t want to close the pages. Three weeks ago I finished reading A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. I laughed. I cried. I cried over the description what cars the man and is best-friend-turned-enemy drove throughout their lives, to be specific. (You know it’s a good book when somehow Backman got me with a litany of Saabs and Volkswagens.) It was so delightfully, subtly Swedish that I felt like I was looking through a window into a country I still miss.

I am slowly rediscovering how incredibly necessary it is for me to immerse myself in other people’s stories just to explore them. I need to be able to connect to stories and characters, and also to tell stories.

Your homework: What are your favorite stories, and why? Also book reccommedations please!

Hej då,

Jamie

The Battle of the Cell Phones

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

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

“I’m just listening to music.”

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

“I’m looking something up.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hej då,

Jamie

Transparency

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hej då,

Jamie