Tooth Fairy Helps First Grader in Common Core Math

Declan had a wiggly tooth. “You don’t have to pull it out if it hurts,” I said. “The Tooth Fairy can come any night. No rush.”

He knew, though, that the Tooth Fairy brings money. He likes money.

With the force of and courage of a superhero, he reached in. Plink. One little tooth in his hand. He jumped for joy. He’s been waiting for this. His friends have lost teeth. It’s a rite of passage. He’s an Official Big Boy. One tooth down. A lot to go.

Two seconds later, negotiations began. “What do you think the Tooth Fairy will give me?”

“She gave me money,” I said. “I got a dollar for my first tooth and twenty-five cents for every tooth after.” She won’t get off cheap with Declan.

“I don’t want money. I want a whistle.” There is no way the Tooth Fairy’s bringing a whistle. We have a machine program at school. Whistles are one project. I’d like to tell my freshmen what they can do with their whistles.

“She brings money.”

“How about a toy?”

“Toys don’t fit under pillows. She doesn’t have a sleigh like Santa. What are you most excited about now that you’ve lost a tooth? That you’re such a big boy?”

“Now I can barf without opening my mouth! And stick a straw through the hole!”

He took the tooth. He inspected and brushed it “…so it can be nice. I can get more money.” The Tooth Fairy doesn’t pay for cavities.

He smiled. The first gap. The big boy smile. A parent Kodak moment, but I wanted more…something…good to come out of this. Not just an exchange of calcium and cash.

“You know,” I said. “Big boy teeth have power.” Declan’s having trouble listening in school. He struggles to sit when he’s told and following directions isn’t his thing.

That Tooth Fairy snuck right by me.

That Tooth Fairy snuck right by me.

“I don’t have to write my whole name,” he’ll say. “There’s only one Declan.” Makes sense. Worse yet is the math. “Mommy, I don’t need to do all those things and write the circles. I already know the answer. It’s 17.” He’s right. But I can’t have a kid challenging the system and disobeying Common Core math at age six. Pretty soon, he’ll be thinking for himself and starting a company with his Tooth Fairy money. I already have enough tax liability.

“Power?” he said. “Teeth have power?”

“Power.” I said. I leaned in and dropped my voice. “Remember when you asked how you could behave and be a good boy like your friend? When you told me you were bad and you didn’t want to be bad.” That conversation broke my heart, I never told him. I told him he wasn’t bad. He was a good boy. Mommy, how come I’m a bad boy? I want to be good, but I just can’t listen all the time. I’m bad. I want to be very good like my friend.

“Uh huh.”

“Well, big boy teeth have special powers. They give you super big boy listening skills. And make you faster and stronger. If you need to be good, think of the power of The Tooth.” He gave me the look. The questioning look. “It’s true. It’s how I started to listen.” I hope no one tells him I don’t listen very well. Maybe my braces interrupted the power. I hope he doesn’t need braces.

“Wow.” We’ll see if the power of The Tooth helps him do his math, spelling sentences, and listen. Meanwhile, he slept on his dino pillow with his tooth tucked neatly below. The Tooth Fairy must’ve snuck by me, because there’s a nice note instructing him to eat more veggies.

And a five-dollar bill. I was right. Prices have gone up.

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Is School Useless? (Nobody Does Geometry at Cocktail Parties)

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Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 5.26.50 AMI was helping a kid with his geometry. I didn’t do too bad. I said “shit” once. It slipped out. I apologized. A lifetime of math anxiety rolled up into four letters–coulda been worse. I stepped back and stared at the cleverly infused algebra problem stuffed into one of the angles in the triangles and crossed lines, reasoning that x+whatever must be added to 180-70, because there was an opposite angle labeled “70” without any tricks or algebraic distractions. And everyone knows that two lines tilted next to each other on a straight line has to equal 180 degrees. It’s a complementary angle.

“Supplementary. 180 is supplementary.” Good call, kid, good call. Because I walk around cocktail parties saying things like, “You know, I was figuring out algebraic equations embedded into supplementary angles the other day and I discovered…” Never.

“Miss?” He asked after we knocked off the last angle or two, me as much as him, and I finished up my victory dance. I was pretty proud, I’m not going to lie. I solved tenth grade math. Perfectly. Now, maybe if I have to take standardized tests to prove I’m better than a tenth grader to keep my job someday–it’s not out of the realm of possibility–I’ll be able to succeed on problems with triangles and lines with supplementary angles and algebra embedded inside for no particular reason.

“When am I ever going to use this stuff?” I thought hard through my several careers. Career one in insurance came the closest. I used math to reconstruct traffic accidents–but not really. The officer usually did that and gave me a number. I used math to resolve negotiations, but in truth it was more or less like volleyball than geometry, spiking numbers back over the net.

In waitressing, I calculated bills. No supplementary angles there. Just extra costs on upsells. In business, I spent a ton of money, and got bills for a ton more. Still no triangles or supplementary angles. I’ve built lots of things, but when it came down to brass tacks I never used the Pythagorean theorem to plan materials cost or measure distance. More often than not, I eyeballed it and went back to the store several times, or measured an approximate length across what would be the hypotenuse, hacking and swearing until it was close enough.

But I can’t say that because I’ve got a kid sitting here taking an entire course in geometry that’s going to think he’s wasting his time if I don’t come up with something intellectually plausible. I learned “thinking on my feet” from public speaking and negotiations, not math, though. And if I don’t come up with something quick, he’s going to question whether my class is a waste of his time next. After all, what do I teach about? History. Dead people. How many dead people is he going to meet at cocktail parties?

Before I know it, the whole house of cards will come crumbling down and he’ll be questioning all of public education, just because I succeeded in solving one set of geometry problems with algebra snuck inside. Can’t have that.

God intervened. He does that if I’ve been especially good that day.

“Oh, that’s easy.” I said. “In twenty years when you’re helping some kid with his geometry.” I walked away. I didn’t want him to ask me about calculus next.

[image: hillsblockview.blogspot.com]

Drugs Are Illegal. Reform’s Scary. Coffee Fixes the World.

Screen Shot 2014-02-18 at 4.45.17 PMI want to have coffee with a friend. We struggle to squeeze it in.

“How about two Fridays from now?” Why can’t we get our calendars to stop fighting so we can drink coffee? Eventually, one calendar wins. Coffee arrives.

What starts as coffee with a good friend ends as vision. Always does. Soon, note pads, pens, Macs, iPhones and iPads clutter the table, pushing our freakishly healthy foods aside.

Usually when two or more teachers are in the room, venting begins. Bitching even. Everyone opens the valve a little. My husband doesn’t understand this. He wonders why teachers bitch. He hates it. He won’t go to “teacher things.”

“It’s not bitching,” I explain, “It’s ‘looking for solutions.'” Sure, there are People Who Bitch. They’re the ones speaking negatively about others–students, colleagues, and leadership. When good teachers gather, it’s not bitching. It’s seeking answers for real problems. When the fixes are out of reach, there’s frustration. Especially when frustration takes good people down.

“I’ll never go back into the classroom,” I hear it more and more. “I can’t do all this testing and stuff.” People go into leadership, guidance, or whatever because, they say, they’re “done with the classroom.” Others–good people–jump into those roles to save the world, finding windmills to fight on that side of the fence, too.

“This isn’t for me. I’m no good. Didn’t realize it would be this way–I wanted to change lives, not tabulate test scores.” That was roughly the quote I got from someone leaving the profession–literally, box in hand. Midyear.

Good teachers fear tests and evals. Sure, accountability’s in every profession. Can we do it better though? I heard Steve Blank talk at last year’s Business Innovation Factory conference. “Fire the idea, not the person,” he said.

Steve Blank is a pretty smart guy. As one of Forbes Magazine’s “30 Most Influential People in Tech,” he’s not only written textbooks on how startups should be created and grown, he even changed the way the National Science Foundation spends money to align with the systems of successful entrepreneurs–systems he invented.

Anyone who changes the way government spends money has the ear of this lowly teacher.

His thoughts were simple. Sometimes you need to fire the idea, not the person, he said. Run the numbers without blame. Then fix the problems.

Getting rid of judgment helps people be objective and take risks. Risks produce results. Taking risks in education can get a person low scores, though, so there’s fear.

Fear about things real or imagined shuts good people down.

Fear does not produce vision.

Fear is conquered by vision.

Vision, luckily, is found in a cup of coffee with a friend. It pours out our hearts into the vortices swirling throughout the mugs into reality. All the little things mixing and colliding in the swirls…that’s the vision. Every sip, gulp, cup waiting for a sip–vision. Leaving the cup on the counter to go cold is missing the possibilities–so easy to do when rushing around. Steam goes uncaptured into the universe. Vision lost.

But sitting with my friend, vision pushes aside inconsequential girl talk. It says things like, “Sounds like you might consider,” and “That happens to me. I’ve tried…” or “I notice you write a lot about this, but I’d really like to read it if you wrote this…” or “I’d buy that idea…”

Every single time I meet Vision Friend, I leave with a dozen working plans. On a good day, I have pages of notes. On a crazy day, we’ve got blogs, businesses, books, and concepts racing around the room trying to get to the finish line first so we might convert them to reality.

Vision conquers fear. And accountability defeats complacency. Inaction. Inertia. This is why vision needs company. It needs someone to say, “Hey, you told me you were going to….how’s that going?”

Otherwise, we’re tempted to “forget” we promised to do something, and vision dies. Vision often requires courage, support, and the swirly things in a cup of coffee to produce results. Follow-through. Reality.

I know vision’s in the room when my heart leaps just a bit and the notepad comes out. The more I surround myself with friends who make my heart leap just a bit and pages fill on notepad, the better I become. I want to be better. And I want to make other people feel that they are better for having known me.

It’s a simple goal. One I hope I can meet. I think I can, if I have just one more cup of coffee…with my good friend.

Notes: 

My “vision” friend, Alicia, blogs here: WriteSolutions under the tag “Student Learning Is No Accident.”

Paying the Idiot Fee

boilerI just got a bill for fifty bucks. I had a leak in my boiler. As a rule, I don’t fix things that explode, flood, or have the potential to cause international incident. I’ll sheet rock a hole, patch, paint, lay flooring like a drunk Irishman, tile, and hack. I’ve got my own power tools. I once created and installed a system of shelves in my closet using just a jig saw, the “f” word, and piece of dental floss–an organizational breakthrough in a house that had one 18″ closet.

But leaking boilers are above my pay grade. The oil company sent out a super nice man–a trained musician who liked my dog. He’d decided that music wasn’t making him enough clams to eat at a sit-down dinner, so he went into something “practical.” Now he can fix anything. I could’ve listened to him forever.

It took him a full five minutes to diagnose the problem, four and a half of which were hanging the light, finding an outlet, and bullshitting with me.

“I checked under the boiler,” he said, “And I noticed that the leak’s not coming through the foundation.” I’d checked that. That one’s in the Moron 101 Handbook, which I read from cover to cover since I do things like put fans in closed windows and troubleshoot appliances that aren’t plugged in.

“Here’s the problem. A small leak right here.” There was a tiny pinhole leak in the 1939 copper pipe. It was spraying water on my head like a sprinkler system. A fine mist. But a mist nonetheless. Anyone with glasses who had looked up and really thought outside the box would have wiped off her glasses and noticed this fine mist. I don’t recall looking up. Just staring at the puddle on the ground.

“I can fix this, but it would be better for you to call your plumber.” “Better,” meant “much more economical.”

He recommended that I buy the insurance plan for all these parts which are not covered under the regular plan. My plan didn’t include water parts. Just oil tanks blowing up in the event of the apocalypse. As such, three days later I received a bill for $49.99. That’s approximately $600/hour if I subtract the time we spent bullshitting and run the math. He was a great guy. I’d pay $50 for the conversation, but still…

This made me think about my career choice. There’d have been no chance of me being a musician, because I suck, but nobody ever told me I could learn to fix pipes and boilers and make $600/hour while petting people’s dogs. I’d have paid off all my friend’s mortgages if I’d done that.

Heck, I’ve memorized and forgotten more facts and figures than I care to admit, but when the chips are down, I call in $600/hour musician-fix-it-genius to tell me water is falling down on my head.

I don’t want to make my students groan doing a “close read” of a bunch of Lincoln speeches because it’s listed in the Common Cores. I want them to read a ton of things about which they are truly passionate, ask questions and discuss when they need my guidance, dig deeper because they’re interested, then make a million dollars doing something they love.

Or better yet, take my money and fix that pipe. Because no one taught me how to do it.

 

The Science of Dog Biscuits

My kid eats dog biscuits. I don’t encourage this. I’ve given up.

“It’s the only meat I eat, Mom, it’s good for me.” I can’t control it. He gets out of bed or sneaks around when I’m not looking, stealing them from the cookie jar like they were chocolate chip cookies.

The dog sighs. She doesn’t challenge him. She knows she’s going to snag the roast off the table anyway the moment I turn my head. I’m fighting on two fronts. I suppose Milk-Bones are healthy for boys if they’re good for dogs. Declan tells me they are.

dog biscuit

Look carefully. You are seeing a dog biscuit fragment sailing high above Kung Fu Panda.

Two things my boy loves–dog biscuits and science. On Thanksgiving, he managed to integrate the two. His goal was to determine the size a dog biscuit would have to be in order to float on a mylar balloon. My job was to tie and secure the slipknots around the biscuit, cheer if it flew and look disappointed if it did not.

First, we tried a full Milk-Bone, which securely anchored the balloon to the ground. Declan’s face scrunched, finger to his cheek.

“I guess it’s too big,” he said.

“Not necessarily too big, Buddy,” I hinted, “Too heavy.”

“I gotta fix it.” He broke the Milk-Bone in half. I started to tie the knot. He switched the halves, giving me the small piece. He knew it would weigh less. I put the slipknot around the smaller piece. Meanwhile, he ate the bigger one.

The balloon sank to the ground. Even the smaller part of the biscuit was too heavy.

“Can’t we just use pencils or crayons or something? I can weigh them on my bread scale. This is disgusting.” I try to be a good Mom.

“Nope.” His word was final. He took a bite off of the small biscuit piece and handed the remaining fragment to me. I tied the string around the slime. It sunk to the ground. But bounced once on the way up. 

“Look, we almost did it!” Science. It’s exciting when science goes right.

He looked at the biscuit. He poked it a bit. The biscuit very much wanted to soar free like the bird it once may have been. I’m not sure what “meat byproduct” actually means. It all tastes like chicken, I’m told.

He picked up the piece, nibbled a bit off of each end, held it back, examined it, and nodded his approval. Not only did he intuitively recognize the relationship between size and weight, he knew about balance, too. The string had to be centered.

He had also figured out a bit about efficiency by simply biting off the ends instead of untying and retying the string around the biscuit. Efficiency is big in science these days. It makes money in business, too, I’m told. Entrepreneurs read and write books about it, must be important.

He released the string and biscuit. It flew. It flew around the living room. The dog considered reclaiming it, but she was in her post “I begged for turkey” slumber. Every dog knows half a turkey is better than a Milk-Bone.

photo 1One Milk-Bone gone, several principles of science learned. Today, he is measuring things and making comparisons. He usually writes these things in his field journal, a spiral notebook filled with pictures of animals, dinos, and bugs. It’s the holiday weekend. He’s taking it easy.

But if I ask him about school, he says, “Boring.” Already. Despite his fantastic teacher who is the definition of awesome. So maybe it’s not about school but about the methods of inquiry and intrinsic learning. He wants to learn about dinos and write them in a field journal. And measure things. And learn about photo 2balance points, gravity’s relationship with dog biscuits. And entrepreneurship–because I had to pay a lollipop, again, to secure the rights to these photos.

I think school could be fun. Kids have the ability to knock things out of the park. We just have to let them.

Then someone has to let us do just that.

I Do Dumb Things. Ban Technology.

A video posted to my Google+ profile. I didn’t notice. It’s gone now, no use looking. It was me staring down my webcam for about 20 seconds. No makeup, terrible hair, stained shirt–frightening. I was playing with settings for a Google Air hangout. Apparently I sent it live…happens to the best of us. Good thing I was behaving, even if I was looking Screen Shot 2013-09-29 at 6.55.42 AMpretty ragged.

It reminds me of a time long before Google. I was at work in my first cube-based career. We had a ten-line Simplex system which allowed transferring calls from cube to cube without identifiers. This created a ton of crank calls. Three of us were new. One co-worker always cranked called us in an outrageous foreign accent. I think he thought it was Indian. I thought he needed to take a couple more engineering classes to get it right.

“Hello, I would like to report a claim,” he’d say. We, the new people, would get sucked in every time, and answer fake accent guy. Finally, I learned. I’m good at languages, dialects, and accents. I can spot a fake from four cubes away. My phone rang.

“Hello, I would like to report a claim,” the voice said.

Fool me once, forgivable. Fool me ten times–I just wasted a lot of money on college. “You have to talk to Steve about that,” I said. A couple of people noticed my not usually assertive tone, stopping behind me.

“Okay,” said the voice. I paused, waiting for the usual burst of laughter and the loud slam from across the office.

“Hello?” said the voice on the other end of the phone.  The crowd behind me grew.

“Yes, I’m going to transfer your call.” I smiled. Steve was getting good. Very, very good. Not a single guffaw or snicker. He was really polishing the accent.

Long pause.

“Okay, I am ready for you to transfer my call.” Soon, everyone was behind me, waiting for the end of the joke. Including Steve. I threw the receiver and ran to the bathroom. I never knew what happened to the man on the other end of the call. I hope Steve helped him. I felt guilty. I want to teach this man’s kids so I can make it up to him in the cycle of life.

I was recently asked about digital citizenship. It’s an area of concern for teachers, IT people, and educational leaders, many of whom block, ban, or avoid technology in the classroom because it might not be used appropriately. It’s a problem I’d like to solve.

Screen Shot 2013-09-29 at 6.56.47 AMHow do we make students responsible citizens so we don’t have cyberbullying, crime, hate, cruelty, bad grammar, pranks, and general negative vibes in the universe?  Tech definitely gets a bad rap on this one. “Bad” occurred before the Internet. It will occur long after something better’s invented. We all make mistakes–case in point that Google Air video. We can be rude with or without the Internet. That phone call is a fine example. Improperly used, technology can detract from classrooms, like devils advocates say. I think back to every teacher I ignored in favor of writing, folding, and passing notes in class when the only technology I had was a pencil.

If I teach kindness and good manners universally, paying attention to what I model, tech should be okay. I teach these lessons to my students. I show them a few profiles of mine on the spot. They’re always hoping for dirt.

“If you’re looking for a picture of me drinking a 40-o wrapped in a paper bag on a street corner singing a-capella, you won’t find it,” I say.

“Why?” asks a kid.

“Because it doesn’t exist.” It’s the punch line of the lesson. “You need to behave, in writing, on the Internet, and in life, like it’s being broadcast. Because one day, it might just be.”  If my life were broadcast, it’d be the cure for insomnia. I should patent it.

I found a picture of Declan piling blocks on me. It self-posted to my Vizify. Then, of course, that video of me staring down the world on Googe+. I look like someone who’s applying for a makeover show, in need of rehab, or a costume designer for a horror set. Hideous, but harmless.

That’s the risk you take, I guess, in the 21st century.

Bottom line is this…we misbehaved before we had tech. Good teachers mitigated misbehavior with motivation. I didn’t pass notes while sitting on the edge of my seat. It’s our responsibility to get students ready for real life. Real life includes technology. If I leave that part out, I’m not doing my job.

 

[images: shutterstock.com and acclaimimages.com]

Building Bridges Instead of Burning Them–EdTechRI

Shawn and HeatherI was teaching a unit that was boring. But it’s in the curriculum so I had no choice. I tried to chug it down and get on to something better. I gave the test. They bombed.  I don’t even like tests–In a few years, I bet we won’t even need tests–they’ll wear a Yankee Hat that will suck out their collective knowledge and send me a report.  I won’t even have to teach them because there will be an app for that too. Oh, how much money the tax payer will save!

All these apps are very cool–it’s what I’m trying to do–get these things into the classroom.  But sometimes looking around at the old and the new in classrooms makes me wonder if I’ll ever get to the Yankee Hat stage.

Yesterday, all that faded into the background. I was in the middle of an event designed to change the world. An event filled with rock stars, creating rock star vision. It was the EdTechRI Shark Tank Smackdown. Actually, I think there was a better name than that, but it was really the culmination of a year or so of work where we sat down and got key players together at the table to discuss the issues faced by educators and entrepreneurs system-wide. The bottom line, educators and entrepreneurs need a constant dialogue. By opening the lines of communication, we solve problems and get those solutions where they need to be most–to the teachers and the students who need them.

Last night’s event was beautiful. It was sponsored by the Highlander Institute, which brings blended learning (teachers using tech and traditional methods) and EdTech accelerator Socratic Labs, (they help ed tech startups develop so they can be successful) and housed at the very classy Rhode Island Foundation, which supports pretty much every good mission in the state.

photoThis event was special for me. When I started my tech journey approximately one year ago, simply by making a few Learnist boards and beginning to use them in my classroom, I never imagined it would end in my involvement with Learnist, EdTechRI, and the EdUnderground–in getting to work with some of the world’s best and brightest in the field of teaching and educational technology–in seeing both sides come together.

It seemed there was a disconnect–education on one side, and entrepreneurs on the other. School systems didn’t always get the best technology, and entrepreneurs certainly wanted to build it, but they sometimes lacked access to the feedback they needed from the classroom end. Teachers would say, “Oh, you’re a vendor.” Vendors sell stuff. Entrepreneurs and visionaries create stuff. Totally different. We don’t have vendors. We have visionaries creating critical solutions with cutting-edge technology.

In getting the sides together, Rhode Island is solving problems in education.  Some of the best platforms in the world need one or two simple tweaks to rock the education world. Teachers give that feedback. I’ve seen this first hand. It’s magic.  By getting the educators and the entrepreneurs together, we eliminate about seven layers of bureaucracy. We have the tough conversations we need to have about our commitment to engaging students and making education real–and better. By involving visionaries, creating bridges and partnerships with the best and brightest the teaching and technology worlds have to offer, everyone wins.

I looked around the room, and saw the picture.  My friend Heather Gilchrist, who mentors startups and has personally yanked me off a cliff on my own entrepreneurial journey. Shawn Rubin, who, though he doesn’t know it yet, is pretty much the face of EdTech in Rhode Island and will be on the forefront of this momentum nationally. My EdUnderground friends and antagonists. A room full of startups and entrepreneurs in various stages of development pitching their creations to smiling teachers and educational leaders, all  tweeting feedback on the board. A food spread that reminded me of classy seminars when I was in Corporate America. People laughing and having a good time. Business cards exchanging, entrepreneurs and teachers lighting up when they found the right match to discuss needs and solutions, and in general magic in the air.

And I got to come along for the ride.

To be continued…