Genetics Part 2: Creating Notation to Fit Concepts

Welcome back to learning about genetics with me! In my last post, I told a story about how I learned about the difference and interconnectedness of conceptual, notational, and procedural knowledge. In that story, I explained how one student’s struggles last year with the procedures inherent in Punnett squares led her class to a new procedure that was, for them, more deeply grounded in conceptual understanding. This year, my students taught me even more about the confusion that can arise between conceptual understanding and notation.

I’m using a new textbook this year, one that relies a lot more on students reading and applying and a lot less on me talking and giving examples. I was really quite terrified of how this was going to when we talked about sex-linked traits. Students saw one example of the notation in the book and then had to go on to solve inheritance problems. Practice is important, and I was not convinced they were going to get enough practice. However, this lesson fell on days when I was gone (on Thursday, I was out during biology for an IEP meeting and on Friday I was at the Knowles spring meeting in Philly) so I just went with what was in the book.

(1) I’m back in teaching mode: humans have twenty-three pairs of chromosomes. Twenty-two of them follow the patterns we’ve already talked about. The last pair is the sex chromosomes. Females are XX, and males are XY. Females can only pass on an X chromosome; it’s all they have. That means the 50/50 probability of having a boy or a girl lies with the father; he can pass on an X, creating a daughter, or a Y, creating a son. This becomes somewhat ironic when thinking about how Henry VIII blamed his wives for a lack of a male heir…but there you are.

(2) But there are other genes on the X chromosome beyond just those that create different sexes. Color blindness is one example. Almost everyone learns the story of the Russian Imperial family, and how Tsarina Alexandria, originally an English princess, carried a recessive blood disease called hemophilia and passed it on to her only son and heir Alexei, leading to an obsession with healing him and arguably contributing to the Russian Revolution. See, I’ve linked history and genetics twice in one blog post! So talking about sex-linked traits is very important.

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(3) Ok, you’re looking at this Punnett square and thinking one of three things. Option A: Oh no, not another one! Oh yes, my friends, another one! Option B: I thought you didn’t like Punnett squares! I don’t like Punnett squares lacking conceptual understanding. I’m assuming you’re all brilliant and have the concepts nailed. And they really are handy tools for predicting combinations. Option C: This one looks really different.

(4) Ah, yes. It does. But it’s not! If you look at just the H’s, which represent you can see that the woman (on the left, XX) is heterozygous for this hemophilia gene. That means she’s carrying it, but she’s not affected by it (recessive, remember?) And you can see that the man is not affected by the trait because he has a dominant allele (big H) on his X chromosome. Do you see the similarities now?

(5) The interesting thing about sex-linked traits is that males are proportionally affected much more than females. In this particular case, boys have a 50% chance of having hemophilia. Girls, on the other hand, have a 0% chance of having hemophilia. Note that this is the cross for Tsarina Alexandria and Tsar Nikolai, which explains why none of their four daughters (Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia) had issues with hemophilia, while their sone Alexei did.

(Ok, now go back to paragraphs 1-5 and see if you can find the conceptual versus notational things I taught!)

Back to the story of my students’ learning; we’d left them with a sub trying to learn sex-linked traits. After I returned, I reviewed them quickly, taught them about how incredibly complex human inheritance is, and gave them a quiz and a project as their assessments.

It was grading these projects, and watching students complete them, that led me to think again about how conceptual and notational thinking play with and against each other. The project was to choose a genetic disorder from a list of five and write a brochure that could go in a genetics counseling office about it. Two of the disorders were sex-linked, so students who chose them (and a lot chose hemophilia because it was the example in the book) gave me insight into how well they learned about sex-linked traits.

What fascinated me was that students were using different notation than was in the book, but their thinking was conceptually correct. Rather than using the superscript letters like in the Punnett square above, they were color-coding the X’s:

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or using apostrophes to mark affected X chromosomes:

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(note that the mother is on the top rather than the side in this case).

Now, I pulled all these images for examples from the internet, so it’s entirely possible my kids got it from there. But I think, in part, what I saw happening was my kids creating new notation to fit their conceptual understanding. They knew there were “good X’s” and “bad X’s” and they created a way to tell them apart. I gave them full credit no matter what notation they used.

Do they really understand that the Factor VIII gene, which causes hemophilia, is a short DNA sequence along the whole chromosome and there are thousands of other genes on this chromosome too? I can’t actually tell from this particular question.

(As a side note, assessment design to really show student thinking is HARD!)

But this opens up all sorts of interesting teaching questions. Do I teach kids a notation? Can I ask them to come up with their own? How would I scaffold that process? What’s the value of their own notation versus the standard notation they’ll see as they pursue science? How do I make connections between the two?

Your homework: Have you ever created notation or shorthand for something? Have you ever been annoyed or confused by someone else’s notation or shorthand? What’s the value of notation or shorthand and when does it fall short (hehe)?

Hej då,



Genetics Part 1: How Punnett Squares Constrain Your Thinking

(1) During two weeks before spring break, I taught my kids genetics. You probably remember learning a little bit of something about genetics in school; we inherit our traits from both our parents and there’s some probability involved in which traits we get. You probably remember that some traits are called “dominant” and some are called “recessive.” You might even remember this:

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(2) That, my friends-turned-students, is a Punnett square. This one is a classic. It’s where we’ve crossed two heterozygous parents to predict what alleles their offspring will have.

(3) Now, there was a lot of vocabulary in that last sentence. So let me pause for a moment. When we’re considering the inheritance of a particular gene, we get one version of the gene from Mom and one version of the gene from Dad. This is true for humans and cats and bugs and pea plants. Each version of the gene is called an allele. In 99% of your cells, you have two alleles for every gene. (The other 1% are your sex cells, either sperm or eggs, depending on your biology.)

(4) We can define a person depending on which alleles they have. If they have two of the same allele, we call them homozygous (homo- means same). If they have two different alleles, we call them heterozygous (hetero- means different). These same roots show up in the words homosexual and heterosexual if that helps you remember them.

(5) So in that Punnet square above, I said both the parents were heterozygous for the “R” gene (whatever protein that might code for). In classic notation, we show that by using a capital R and a lowercase r. Also in this notation, we typically use the capital letter to notate a “dominant” trait and a lowercase letter to notate a “recessive” trait. To use our notation for someone who is homozygous dominant, we would write “RR.”

(6) (I could rant for quite a time about how the ideas of “dominant” and “recessive” are constructs that don’t really reflect our newer molecular understanding of gene expression. For now, just remember that in a heterozygote, the dominant trait “overpowers” the recessive trait and all you see is the dominant trait. It’s a usable construct for our purposes and this blog post is already way too long.)

(7) In order to fill out a Punnett square, you write one parent’s alleles across the top and one parent’s alleles down the left side. It doesn’t matter which parent goes where. Then you drag the top parent’s alleles down into each box. Last, you drag the left parent’s alleles across into each box. You should end up with two letters in each box.

(8) Now, most human traits are incredibly complicated in terms of their expression, so geneticists often use plants (or fruit flies) to talk about simpler patterns. So if I give a concrete example to the Punnett square above, I could say that we’re talking about red and white flowers, and that red is dominant to white. In that case, both of the parent flowers would be red. If we look at their offspring, each box represents a 25% chance that particular combination of alleles will be produced. So in terms of the genes, there is a 25% chance of getting an offspring with RR, a 50% chance of getting an offspring with Rr, and a 25% chance of getting an offspring with rr. This means a 75% chance of getting red flowers (remember both RR and Rr make red flowers) and a 25% chance of getting white flowers (you have to be rr to get white flowers).

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(9) Ok, this image used purple instead of red and P’s instead of R’s. But it’s the same heterozygote crossed with a heterozygote cross. Can you see how they’re the same concept?

Alright, I’m finally going to acknowledge that I did something truly bizarre with the format of this post. I numbered the first nine paragraphs. I know this has been bugging some of you the whole time! Here’s why. I just taught you a little bit of something about genetics, and now I want to explain how I did it and why genetics gets really complicated really fast. Being able to reference the paragraphs will make that much easier.

There are different kinds of information involved in teaching genetics. First, I gave you some conceptual underpinnings in paragraph three, when I talk about what an allele is and where we get them from. Paragraph four is also conceptual. In that paragraph, I’m telling you that it not only matters which alleles we have, but the combination of them is also important.

Concepts are super important. But we have to have a way to communicate them. So in paragraph five, I gave you a bunch of notation. This notation is really handy so we don’t have to write out huge DNA sequences to see the difference between alleles. In fact, this notation is older than our ability to sequence DNA! But one thing that’s really tricky for students is to keep concepts and notation linked. I hear students talking about big R’s and little r’s and I know they understand the notation, but I don’t necessarily know that they understand what those letters represent.

But that’s not all! In paragraph 7, I gave you procedural knowledge. I gave you steps to fill out a Punnett square. And this is typically what my students remember the best. They LOVE  to fill out Punnett squares. They remember the steps, they can get it right, and it makes them feel confident. It also drives me absolutely nuts because most of those students have NO IDEA what a Punnett Square actually represents. They’ve completely lost the conceptual underpinnings.

Last year I had a student who was on the autism spectrum; I’ll call her Anna. For whatever reason, she could not stand Punnett squares. She’d built herself a sizable mental wall over them in middle school, and just the sight of one on the board could send her straight to tears. At first, I was completely bamboozled. Anna needed to be able to do Punnett squares! She needed to understand inheritance patterns!

A key moment of learning for me was realizing this: those two things are not the same thing, and only the second statement is true. Anna’s tablemates came up with an alternate format for creating all possible combinations of alleles from parents.

Anna had great success using this alternate format, and her tablemates told me (and their answers to a couple of key test questions told me) they really understood genetics a lot better. They had to rely on a conceptual understanding of alleles and inheritance to create a new format for combinations. They taught it to the whole class, and the whole class grew from the experience.

I’d like to point out quickly that it was my students who came up with the new format. I think I’d created a classroom culture that allowed this to happen; asking questions and trying stuff out was normal, and student ideas and collaborative learning were valued. But if it had been just me, Anna would’ve been stuck in the Punnett square cycle of despair forever.

This was my first window into separating my own thinking about genetics from a conceptual, notational, and procedural standpoint, and it was hugely informative. I saw kids getting so good at a procedure that they lost the concepts. This year I taught all my classes how to NOT use Punnett squares, much to their consternation!

But my students weren’t done teaching me things yet. This year gave me even further insight into this tangle of information that is genetics. That’s for a Part 2, coming on Wednesday!

Your homework: Can you think of an example of concepts and notation that is specific to another discipline? Do people (or you) place more importance on one than the other?

Hej då,


Backcountry Skiing is the Best Skiing!

Well, I can say spring break was a complete success! I got 100% caught up on my grading, which feels amazing. Jonathan and I bought a washer and a dryer, which felt incredibly adult. We painted the hall three different colors (and didn’t like any of them) and I accidentally scrubbed the varnish off the wooden cabinets in the upstairs bathroom. Whoops…but they needed refinishing anyhow. As much fun as all that was (and I’m really not even being sarcastic about that!), it was definitely not even close to the best part.

On Thursday morning, Jonathan and I packed up the car and drove to Jackson, Wyoming. It’s only a four-hour drive! We hiked a bit in Grand Teton National Park, admiring the incredible mountains in the sunshine. We could also see the famous tram at Jackson Hole, and Jonathan pointed out the couloir that so many people try and fail to ski. It’s a twenty-foot drop into a chute, and it’s completely visible from the aforementioned tram! Then we stopped in town and rented me backcountry gear.

For those of you unfamiliar, like I was about a week ago, backcountry gear uses skis that are most similar to alpine skis but are designed to be lighter. It’s the boots and the bindings that are really different. The bindings lock your toe in place like an alpine binding but allow your heel to lift so you can walk more easily. The boots have divots for the pin lock on the toe and don’t have the lip that alpine boots do. The boots also have walk mode, which allows the cuff of the boot to rotate to make walking easier. You just have to remember to lock it back to ski mode before you try to ski!

The last piece of backcountry gear is the skins. They stick to the bottom of the ski with an intense glue, and the side facing the snow is sort of fuzzy. All the hairs go one direction so you can pet it one direction and it feels smooth, but the other direction feels rough. It’s a bit like shark skin if you’ve ever had the privilege of feeling that. Skins allow you to stick to the snow as you’re walking uphill.

Actually, that wasn’t the last piece of gear we borrowed. Even though the avalanche danger was super low due to the warm winter, I absolutely carried a beacon, probe, and shovel. It was worth the twenty bucks to rent it, carry it, and not need it.

Jonathan rented us a tiny house to stay in while we were there! It was called Fireside Resort, and it was amazing!


On Friday, it was time for the grand adventure. We drove partway up Teton Pass and skied from Phillips Ridge Trailhead. I definitely had some moments of flailing as I tried to figure out how to use my new gear…


And I had some moments where I felt like I was getting better at what I was doing!


Unfortunately, this picture is taken at the moment when we took the left fork before the left fork happened. We followed some snowmobile tracks up this hill and then realized there were no more tracks!

As we curved around the side of the ridge, we found the trail near the bottom of the valley below us. We decided not to lose all our hard-won elevation by skiing back down, so we traversed across the hill through some lovely open spots and past big pines.

Well, the open spots were lovely until they made our skins all warm and wet and the colder drier snow next to the trees started sticking to the skins. This is called glomping, my friends, and it is terrible. Absolutely terrible. It can be six inches of snow along the entire ski, and it’s heavy and sticky and awful!

We crested the ridge and took the skins off our skis for a while to let them dry out and to eat a snack. We hadn’t made it very far, but we’d been working pretty hard!


We decided at this point that it would be worth it to drop back down to the trail, despite the fact that we knew we’d have to climb the ridge again. So we put our skins in our backpacks and skied down! It was only ten turns or so, and the snow was baked and crusty, and I laughed the whole way down in delight!


This is me at the bottom. I’m clearly not excited at all.

We made much better progress once we were back on the trail, and we did eventually make it to our destination of Ski Lake. There were some snowmobilers buzzing around the basin, so we skied back a little way to a knoll overlooking the whole Teton valley.


Then Jonathan gave me this. And I said yes. Approximately fifty-three times.


I could write a lot of words here, and they would all feel trite. I am deliriously, outrageously happy. I’m just going to leave it at that.

We skied back out; it is a glorious feeling to have earned your turns! We dropped off the trail back down to the highway and skied through the trees. The snow was still crusty and baked and it was still amazing.

And what better way to celebrate than with chicken tacos and a warm fire?


There are a million questions I don’t have an answer to right now about such things like, you know, weddings. And that’s ok for right now. I have a school year to finish out and a job to find and a move to make. And I’m still kind of in awe and disbelief that something so magical could happen in real life, to be totally honest.

Your homework (yes, you get homework, my students in class today did too, even after they pulled the “but you’re engaged and really happy and won’t really make us do homework, right?” card): What’s something you’ve always longed to do but haven’t been brave enough to do? I’ve watched people ski off Berthoud Pass here in Colorado my whole life, and I’d never been backcountry before.

Also, this seems like a good time to tell you to go find someone awesome and tell them you love them. Share the happiness!

Hej då,


Spring Break!

Weeeeeeeee did it!

I can say with certainty that my students and I were very, very ready to not be in school for a little bit. I know I was flagging! My piles of grading stared at me, I stared at them, and not a lot got graded. Take that idea and apply it to the rest of everything school-related, and that’s about how it was going. To quote the lovely Anne Shirley of Green Gables (and yes, I’m rereading them all again this spring!):

Studies palled just a wee bit then; [the students] looked wistfully out of the windows and discovered that Latin verbs and French exercises had somehow lost the tang and zest they had possessed in the crisp winter months. Even Anne and Gilbert lagged and grew indifferent. Teacher and taught were alike glad when the term was ended and the glad vacation days stretched rosily before them.

And now I’m on spring break! It’s not quite the end of the term yet, so I gave every student a very serious injunction to SLEEP over break, and to do something fun. We won’t have another day when we get back – we go straight through all the way to graduation. I wanted my students to come back refreshed and ready for the last six weeks of content.

And as for me? I’ll be refreshed too. I’m spending my break in Utah with Jonathan, going back and forth between playing, catching up on aforementioned stacks of grading, and acting like an adult.

I’ll start with the adult bit; Jonathan and I have a HOUSE. In the four days I’ve been here we’ve made two trips to Lowe’s and one to Home Depot and we’ll go back again tomorrow I’m sure. We’ve been spackling walls and painting and scrubbing and replacing handles and putting up blinds. I really like painting! And I’m good at scrubbing, which is incredibly satisfying. Of course, we’ve done a tiny fraction of the things that could be done or the things I want to do, but I really am finding myself to be very excited to work on all these projects.

I’ve also been playing a lot too. I’ve been skiing at Snowbasin, the site of the Olympic downhills in 2002. Both times it was snowing, which made it feel a little more like winter. The slush at the bottom, however, paired with all the green grass, made it feel a whole lot more like spring. Either way, it was lots of fun to explore a new hill, whether I was skiing by feel through fog or sailing through heavy crusty powder behind a gate or tooling around on the groomers.

And on Saturday, Jonathan surprised me by taking me to Salt Lake for dinner and a show. He took me to see Audra McDonald, backed by the Utah Symphony, sing her way through the history of American musical theater. It was so much fun! Audra played the wardrobe in the live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast, as well as having played in multiple shows on Broadway. It was really different than anything we normally do, but it was great fun.

So now it’s Monday, and I am finally tackling the grading from…pretty much the entire month of March. Sorry to all my lovely wonderful students – I know feedback is better immediately! I’m excited to say that I’m finally out from underneath several major projects. My licensure application for my Utah teaching license is in the mail and my job applications are nearly finished (for the moment, of course). I successfully TD’d all of my three races, and once this stack of grading is taken care of I’ll be on the path to just finish teaching the year strong. I have to say, it’s a really exciting prospect.

In a little bit. There’s still a lot of spring break left to enjoy!

Your homework: How do you refresh?

Hej då,



There is a running joke in my classroom about my bedtime. I won’t respond to emails or questions after 8:30, and I’m asleep by nine. Well, this is my goal, at any rate.

I have always been a child that needed a lot of sleep. When I was an infant, I scared Mom because I didn’t wake up as often as she was told I should in order to feed. When I five, Mom had to put me in morning kindergarten because I still took afternoon naps. Throughout middle school and high school, I slept through almost anything my ski team threw at me. Music, lights, van rides through blizzards, you name it; I slept through it.

I’ve attempted all-nighters three times. The first two were for prom. My junior year I made it until 7 am when I promptly went to bed and slept until 2 that afternoon. My senior year I fell asleep in the corner at 2 am, much to the derision of my friends. The third was a night my sophomore year in college including two papers, a calculus exam, and a presentation being due on the same day and a lot of procrastination on my part.

I do have memories of my sophomore year of high school when I had about a week straight in February of six-hour nights. I felt fine for a week – maybe I didn’t need all that sleep after all! Then the week after hit me like a train. I’ve tried throughout my college career (and while teaching) to run on six hours a night; I just can’t do it. I end up cranky and thinking slowly and eating way too much chocolate.

College was, of course, the first time I didn’t have Mom and Dad telling me to go to bed at a certain time. And because of that, my bedtime fluctuated wildly. As I grew older, I got more and more protective of my bedtime. But there were still plenty of things that could derail me; talking with people I loved, a really good book, laundry, that last stack of grading…they all served to keep me up past my bedtime, and frequently still do.

But, my friends, let me announce that I have had a success in the war on bedtimes. This weekend I was in Philadelphia at the Knowles Teaching Institute spring meeting. Now, normally, this means my bedtime is 100% ruined. I only get to see these people three times a year normally, and they’re AMAZING. Nerdy, thoughtful, wonderfully amazing. Some of them speak skiing with me, some of them speak poetry and/or music, and I always learn an incredible amount simply from being around them. Knowles meetings generally follow a pattern of working really hard all day and staying up way late talking at night.

But this time I tried something a little different. On Friday night, I set myself a bedtime of 11 pm (given the 7 am wake up and the fact that I was in the Eastern, this worked). Until that 11 pm time, I sat on a bed with six other Knowles people, drank wine out of a paper cup, and giggled as we swapped stories about our lives. I felt like I belonged, like I had participated, and like I’d still taken care of myself.

Halfway through the day on Saturday, I started getting my tell-tale signs of a cold. It got painful to swallow, my ears hurt, and I was freezing! A lot of the fellows decided they were going go to out to a pub after we got back from dinner, and I hung around in the lobby with them until they all had left. Then I put myself to bed at 9 pm, a glorious 9.5 hours before I had to be up.

Despite missing the last bit of our time together, I still felt like I belonged and like I had participated. People asked me if I wanted to come, and when I explained I was feeling the beginning of a cold, everyone was super understanding. They really appreciated the fact that I was taking care of myself, and that in other circumstances I would have wanted to go. I balanced taking care of myself with hanging out in the lobby of the hotel while the people were still there and saying goodbye to everyone. I still practiced my desire to be a part of the community, even though I didn’t go out with them.

And boy did it feel good to sleep. I am speaking as a biologist, as a teacher, and from personal experience: SLEEP IS THE NUMBER 1 WAY TO GET BETTER IF YOU’RE SICK. Water helps a lot too. But SLEEP. SLEEP A LOT. DON’T GO TO SCHOOL (or work).

At prior Knowles meetings, I would put pressure on myself to stay up late and be social, though this is not my normal mode of operation, in order to fit in. I still do push myself to be more social than normal; it is a unique weekend and it’s ok for me to do something different. But I also know that my Knowles people completely understand when I need a quiet moment or to go to bed early, and they love me anyway.

Your homework: How important is your bedtime to you? How do you protect your bedtime?

Hej då,


An Incomplete Story

As Facebook likes to remind me, last year this week I wrote a story about stories. In particular, my favorite stories. And I wrote, especially about Anne of Green Gables.

But there was one story I completely and totally forgot about. It’s not a classic and it’s not really famous. But it’s been a part of my life for so long that I really should have included it last time.

Anyone who was in elementary school with me likely remembers the big carpet-covered blocks in the back of the library at Soda Creek, where we sat to have read-aloud time. Mr. Belz, our librarian at the time, read us a small chapter book called Into the Land of the Unicorns by Bruce Coville. Every day he’d read us one chapter, and because Bruce Coville has a penchant for cliff-hangers, each day I’d come back dying to hear more.

It was at one of our elementary school book fairs when I saw a cover that looked vaguely familiar. There was a redhaired girl on the cover with a unicorn and the title was in silver foil. Yep, it was the second book of the Unicorn Chronicles, The Song of the Wanderer. Such a book had been promised at the end of the first one, but you never really know if you’re going to get one.  It was significantly longer than the first one, and I devoured it!

That was, sadly, the end of the Unicorn Chronicles for me for quite a long time. The end of the second book was an incredible cliff-hanger; everything had just gone terribly wrong and people who were supposed to be together were separating and I really, really, really wanted to know what happened next. Though I scoured the rest of the elementary book fairs, I never did find it. I have vague memories of searching for it online in middle school, and still nothing. Though I normally reread fairly frequently, I didn’t as often with these books because I always ended up annoyed that I had no ending.

It wasn’t until my senior year of college that I thought about the two books again. One of my roommates, a girl named Taylor, worked at the Boulder Bookstore. We were swapping stories one evening when she mentioned that sometimes people came into the bookstore and asked her help for finding books they half-remembered or were part of a series they hadn’t finished. Often the people only remembered bits of the plot or the author’s first name; Taylor was both exasperated by and enjoyed the detective work required to find the books.

And I told her the story of Bruce Coville and the Unicorn Chronicles, and how it drove me crazy that I had never been able to finish the series. She said she’d look it up for me. We giggled about it for a while and then moved on to other stories.

A week after, Taylor presented me with beautiful hard copies of books 3 and 4. It was incredibly kind of her to do that for me; really all I wanted to know was if they existed!

And oh, they existed. I promptly ignored all of my biochemistry homework and devoured them both. It was a twisty ending, to say the least, but mostly I was just satisfied to have an ending.

Last week, both Jonathan and I were very, very stressed out (albiet for somewhat different reasons). When I’m stressed, I read. And after tearing through all the available fanfiction updates, I found myself perusing my favorite books on my bookshelf. I pulled out the first book and began to read. When Jonathan called me that night, he remembered the book and I read the first two chapters out loud to him.

Of course, I then proceeded to tear through the rest of them over the course of five days. It’s what I do when I read. I love to bury myself in another world. And I think I like knowing the ending.

The bummer with that is that I don’t know my own ending. I’ve been struck more than once, when thinking about my own life, by the compulsive feeling I get when I’m halfway through a book. I want to pick it up and turn the page and find out what happens next. And in real life, it’s just not possible. I’ve always found anticipation and prediction to be more uncomfortable than exciting. The only way I don’t finish a story is when I literally can’t get my hands on it!

So my homework for you, and for me: Do you enjoy the anticipation of wondering what will happen next? Do you savor your books? Or do you devour them as I do? What do you think that means about your approach to life?

Hej då,


One Scary Thing a Day

We’ve all heard that quote – do one thing every day that scares you. Variations are about learning one new thing every day or trying something new every day. It sounds wonderful, but I’ve never done it. Not even close.

Humans like routines. In a complex world, we need routines in order to simplify our lives enough to function. Have you driven anywhere new recently? It takes WAY more brainpower and energy when you don’t know where you’re going! Routines allow us to cut out extraneous information without losing important stuff, and to conserve energy for decisions that matter.

I love routines. Really, really love them. It’s one of the reasons I can be such a hobbit, and why I like school so much (still). But they can be dangerous too. We’ve also all heard stories about people getting stuck in ruts, doing the same thing over and over again without realizing it’s not something that’s good for them and/or something that makes them happy.

Last Friday, one of my students told me she was doing one thing she normally wouldn’t do every day. She had introduced herself to the guest director at the honor choir, and she’d sung a solo at a dessert concert. She was planning to donate ten inches of her hair to Locks of Love and to ask her neighbors about their conservative approach to their religion so she could learn more about the people living around her.

I was surprised by how excited she was about this idea. Her voice was exhilarated when she was talking about the things she’d done, and she was lit up with curiosity when she talked about the things she had planned. It was very clear she was enjoying the challenge.

One thing I asked her was how she found the opportunities to do these challenges. I’ve taught this student for three years, and “overcommitted” doesn’t even begin to cover it! She told me it took about a week to get good at noticing opportunities, but now she saw them in everything she did, and other students chimed in. She could say hi to a new person in the halls or at the NHS meeting. She could help someone in the grocery store. She could attempt a new kind of puzzle. She could do everything with her left hand for an hour. Her ideas were endless!

Not all of her challenges had come off gracefully, either. But she was still eager to try new things, despite the anxiety I sometimes see from her in my classroom when she’s confronted with academic mistakes.

More than anything, it made me wonder about my life. When was the last time I’d done something new or challenging? When was the last time I’d failed at something gracefully?

I had a couple of instances I could think of: skiing in a new place with new people,  swimming again for the first time in several years, admitting I needed help with something. But each time was uncomfortable and had some outside catalyst. What would it look like to turn this into an intrinsic drive?

Your homework should be fairly obvious at this point; commit to doing at least one scary thing this week. If you want to be like my student and do one every day, go for it!

Hej då,