Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I’m a little early yet, but I hope you’re all looking forward to a chance to be with your important people, eat something tasty, and get some extra sleep!

I’m home in Steamboat again, and every time I come back here I’m reminded of how much I love coming home. I’ve only been home for two hours and already my cat is underfoot, my dad is sharing ski racing stories and cookies with me, and I’ve settled into my spot at the dining room table to do a bit of grading. I love how easily I can settle into this place each time I come back.

For my family, Thanksgiving involves A LOT of cooking. Tomorrow Mom and I will make pies (pumpkin and pecan) and chop broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, potatoes and sweet potatoes. We’ll shred bread and celery for the stuffing and later in the evening we’ll set the sweet rolls to rise overnight.

In the midst of all of that, it’s also Scholarship day! Steamboat Ski Area likes to open the day before Thanksgiving with Scholarship Day; everyone, including season pass holders, buy a $25 pass and all the proceeds go to the local winter sports club. There’s only going to be one run open (the newspaper says five, but that’s because they name different sections different things) but it’s worth it to go out and get the first couple of runs in.

Thursday is another day of cooking extravaganza! I always stay elbow-deep in warm soapy water, washing the three spoons and two mixing bowls that are everyone’s favorite. I love being in the kitchen with Mom helping. I’m getting to the age where I know that someday I’m going to have to cook my own Thanksgiving dinner, but for now I’ll stick to dish duty and setting the table! I used to (alright, still) pretend that a queen or something is coming for dinner and I set every plate and fork and spoon just perfectly straight.

Friday is yet another tradition – it’s the day we go get the Christmas tree! We used to do this a bit later, in early December, but when I went to college we moved it up a bit so I could still go with everyone. My family drives way up Seedhouse Road, until Dad gets the car stuck (he always gets it unstuck too!). Depending on the year and the snow, we hike in to different spots in hunt of the perfect tree. We like to send Jeff off to the trees to have a scale for how tall they actually are – he also shakes them off (and gets covered in snow) in order for us to see the branches without the snow weighing them down.

Jeff and I take turns cutting it down; one of the two of us always manages to remember who’s turn it is. We bring hot chocolate and cookies and a tarp to drag the tree out with. I have some memories of being very little and getting pulled in on sleds – then on the way out Jeff and I would be on one sled and the tree on the other! My parents are way strong, and way cool for doing that.

Inevitably there is always at least one snowball fight, and Jeff tosses me in a snowbank at least once. He always wins.

In and among all of this, I do still try to get work done. It’s always so very desirable to walk out of break ready and prepared for the last three weeks of school…and it’s always so tempting to sit in front of the fire and knit instead! But I’ll start today by knocking out as much grading as I can, and we’ll see how far I get from there. In that regard, Christmas is my favorite break, because I refuse to leave school until every last final is graded and final grades posted. Is there always more I could be doing? Of course. But I’m much better at Christmas about setting it all aside and acting like I’m five again.

So far I’ve told you about how this Thanksgiving break will be the same, but this Thanksgiving was also extra special because I got two of them! This past weekend Jonathan and I had Thanksgiving with his parents in Golden. There was lots of tasty food, knitting and watching football, and a really lovely hike up Clear Creek Canyon. And then I got to bring him home with me, for yet more tasty food, playing outside, and probably some more knitting.

I have a lot of things to be grateful for, but as always my people remain at the top of my list. You all make my life so much richer by being in it. Thanks for that.

Your homework is completely cliché this week, but I see no need to break from this tradition. What are you grateful for? Which people can you send a little extra love to this week?

Hej då,

Jamie

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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

Finding my Voice

Do you ever get the feeling that advice is pouring in from all sides, most of it well-meaning, some of it bland and general, some of it impossible, and all of it contradictory? Let’s take the almost impossible goal of work-life balance as a teacher:

  • Work, then play.
  • Always take one day a week off.
  • Don’t work at home.
  • Don’t stay too late at school.
  • Get involved in the school community.
  • Make time for yourself.

Everyone seems to have a different opinion, and given the age of social media, everyone can share it. This is true about classroom management strategies, what eating healthy means, how to parent, how to do yoga, what to read or watch, how to be happy…the list goes on.

The hardest part is that usually there is some nugget of truth hidden in the advice. This is especially true when it’s coming from someone I respect, especially when I asked for the advice. I am incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by thoughtful, experienced mentors and friends (and not just in teaching) who are willing to let me talk out what’s troubling me and give me their take.

The end result, sometimes, is that I feel caught in the middle of a whirl-storm, trying to figure out what to do and how to do it. And after all the advice has been heard, wanted or not, I am still the one who gets to make the decision.

Sometimes when I feel like this, I want to just walk away from everything and everyone for a little while, find a rock to sit on top of, and have a conversation with myself. I wish I could spend a whole day sitting quietly, far away, and give myself the time to think. In reality, this isn’t practical. I have a job and a family I love and friends who are marvelous, and maintaining those things takes time. I also know I have the propensity to get stuck in my head and go in circles, and that spending a lot of time by myself aggravates that tendency.

So how do I find my voice? How do I know what I want, and how do I make hard decisions?

And wasn’t your immediate reaction to those questions to want to give me advice? The irony of this is not lost on me.

I often jump to giving advice to my students when really, they want someone to listen. One of my favorite things about my most important people is that they remember to ask if I want a listener or a helper. The trouble, of course, comes in when I don’t know.

My mom likes to tell a story (I vaguely remember this, but I’m sure it’s true) about an argument we had when I was thirteen. I was in tears, and Mom was nearly in tears. She told me that the trouble was she didn’t know whether I wanted her to treat me like an adult or a child, and she felt like she always guessed wrong. I responded back to her, “Well, I don’t know either!”

And so I find myself back at this question: What do I want? And how do I figure that out? Because an answer of “I don’t know” isn’t working anymore.

For the time being, I keep doing what I’m doing. I teach. I do yoga. I go outside. I try to be patient with myself. I watch how I wobble back and forth between feeling things, and try to see which way the wobbles tend to go. As for right now, that’s the only plan I’ve got.

Your homework: Are you the kind of person who can trust your gut? How do you know what makes you happy or is good for you or is truly important to you? How do you find your own voice?

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

Seeking New Knitting Projects…

Hej everyone! I have good news! Remember that baby blanket I was knitting when I went adventuring to Yosemite? Well, I finally have it (nearly) finished! Good thing, since the baby it was for was born in June.

In case you ever want to make a super simple blanket, I start by casting on between 120 and 150 stitches, doing ten rows in garter stitch, and then using garter stitch for the first and last ten stitches of every row while doing a stockinette stitch for the center of the blanket. I finish the blanket with ten rows of garter stitch. The garter boarder keeps the blanket from curling, as typically happens with stockinette stitch, but you still get that classic stockinette look.

My other favorite baby blanket pattern is to use a vine lace pattern (pictured at the top). You cast on stitches in multiples of nine, plus four. So for example, I typically cast on 139 or 148 stitches. The pattern is a four-row repeat:

  1. Row 1: k3 [yo, k2, ssk, k2tog, k2, yo, k1] K1
  2. Row 2: purl
  3. Row 3: k2 [yo, k2, ssk, k2tog, k2, yo, k1] k2
  4. Row 4: purl

I struggle to use markers with this because of the yarn overs, slip-slip-knits, and knit two togethers. But if you pay attention, it makes an absolutely beautiful pattern.

In these last couple of weeks, I also knit a pair of baby mittens for a colleague. That pattern goes like this:

  • Cast on 29 stitches. Arrange on three dp needles.
  • Start by knitting the first two stitches together. [k1 p1] rib for the first ten rows.
  • Row 11: k1 [yo k2tog] k1
  • Row 12: [k1 p1]
  • Row 13-26, alternate [k1 p1] for two rows and [p1 k1] for two rows.
  • Row 27: knit
  • Row 28: purl
  • Row 29: k1 k2tog k8 k2tog k2 k2tog k8 k2tog k1
  • Row 30: k1 k2tog k6 k2tog k2 k2tog k6 k2tog k1
  • Row 31: k1 k2tog k4 k2tog k2 k2tog k4 k2tog k1
  • Row 32: k1 k2tog k2 k2tog k2 k2tog k2 k2tog k1
  • Row 33: k1 k2tog k2tog k2 k2tog k2tog k1
  • Pull yarn through remaining loops and tie off.
  • Cast on 80 stitches; knit one row and cast off. This is the tie at the wrist (it goes through the holes created in row 11)

These are super simple; they take a little over an hour to work up but they’re very cute!

So now the question remains…what should I work on next?

I have a pattern for a baby blanket that does stars and moons in stockinette and reverse stockinette, and a super pretty buttery yellow yarn. I have a heathered purple and grey yarn that I’m planning on using in a vine lace baby blanket. I have some feathery black and white fun yarn that I have no idea what to do with, and a beautiful turquoise varigated yarn that would make a lovely simple baby blanket like the one I just finished. And that’s just the blanket options! There are mittens and yoga socks and fingerless gloves and scarves…I’d like to practice cables again…the options are endless!

I probably have about another hour yet to go on the current baby blanket, so I have a bit of time to decide. But if you have any thoughts, do let me know!

Your homework: Do you do anything with your hands that is soothing? I love the rhythm of knitting, for example.

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