Thursday, August 28, 2008

Super-nerd Extraordinaire

I took the big leap today and incorporated not only my Smart Board, but also the podcasting into my lessons today. A few of the students had a few laughs at my self-professed nerd-dom, and there was a brief discussion as to whether I was a nerd or a geek, but since I took ownership of both titles, it worked out great. (ha ha!)

The goal of using the technology is that if a student is absent or needs to revisit the class for whatever reason, they will be able to go to the class website and from there watch the PowerPoint notes for the day and listen to the corresponding podcast. That way a student that is absent for any reason whatsoever can easily stay caught up with the work in class. I think it could also be a great way for parents or anyone else interested in what is going on in class to check it out at their leisure- the walls of my classroom are disappearing for sure!

I'm also hoping that other teachers will check it out and share their thoughts and ideas with me. This new technology represents an amazing potential for (literal) global collaboration... can you tell I'm excited?

I felt a little nervous about using the technology, and I've realized that from a practical point of view, I am likely to only use one of the recordings of my freshmen classes, rather than all four- I simply won't have time to edit and upload five different recordings (four freshmen classes and one junior/senior class). The best of the day will be the one that gets featured. At least, that's the thought for now... perhaps I'll just post the entries "as is" since a listener could just as easily fast-forward through; we'll see, I guess.

Hm. Yes. Well, then. I just gave a listen to one of the podcasts and realized that I had forgotten to switch the Audacity software setting from the computer's microphone to the wireless mic I was wearing. As a result, there is a ridiculous amount of background noise. Woops. I'm sure errors like these will at least lessen somewhat once I get used to using the equipment and no longer have any real anxiety about using it.

Still.. an exciting day in the room for sure!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Speaking of class blogs

As with my 9th grade classes, my Jr./Sr. level Epistemology class is also writing weekly blogs, and I do plan on keeping up with them and addressing the question of the week for them as well. Here goes. Should a knower’s personal point of view be considered an asset in the pursuit of knowledge, or an obstacle to be overcome?

A few of the students have tried for the whole "It depends" approach, but I don't want to waffle like that. I do think that a personal point of view deeply affects the pursuit of knowledge, whether one wants it to or not. The question comes down to how conscious of that effect the knower is, and once conscious of the effect, the issue then becomes whether or not that knower chooses to do anything about it. In Embracing Mind: The Common Ground of Science and Spirituality, B. Alan Wallace remarks that "Believing shapes seeing." (p. 69) I see this played out in the day to day life of many people, whether they know it or not. It's called bias, and when pursuing knowledge, it's a risk that the puruser needs to be conscious of and ready to respond when it rears its head, for good or bad.

We see this issue come about particularly when one is trying to make a point, regardless of subject area or interest. We all have a natural tendency to filter out what we don't like or disputes our already established point of view or theory, and to accept that which reinforces that which we think we already know and can reinforce our personal hypotheses.

This plays itself out in the work place and in society at large as well. There are repeated instances of organizations ignoring research or information that may prove detrimental to that organization and seeking out, or in some cases funding, research or information that will shore up that company's party line. Woe be to the employee that speaks up or out of turn.

There's an adage, "As ye seek, so shall ye find." This is the essence of a knower's personal point of view influencing the pursuit of knowledge. And while it seems that perhaps I consider that point of view to be a liability in pursuing Truth, at the same time, I do feel that awareness of that point of view can serve a knower quite well, driving that person further into depths of search that an unaware seeker of truth may ignore.

Part of this relates also to the source of knowledge. What good is it to be aware of your own personal point of view if you are not aware of the points of view of the sources of your information? Certainly there are those who relay information in a clear, unbiased manner... or are there? I would like to think so, and yet, there is plenty of room for doubt.

This almost seems like the age-old dilemma of whether or not we merely perceive reality or if in fact we actually construct it. On the level of Newtonian physics, it would appear that the former is true. However, once one enters the realm of quantum physics, all bets are off. In that context, one's point of view certainly becomes an obstacle, one that at least for now, seems to be insurmountable.

Yet if we do, indeed, construct our reality, is this a bad thing? If action follows thought, and if we truly decide to put our thoughts towards change and peace, then perhaps a little reconstruction is in order.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Goals for the year

I'm going to be giving my students weekly blog topics to write about, and I will be writing my own entries along with them... after all, that's only fair, really.

This week's question is: What are your goals for this year both as a student and in general? Well, since I'm not a student this year, I will instead address my goals from a professional point of view as well as a more personal one.

Professionally, I have several goals, really. First, I want to become much more adept at the use of technology in my classroom. I am working on a few lessons involving the Smart Board in my room, but I haven't actually used it yet, and I feel a little guilty about that. I haven't nailed the podcast thing yet, which is fairly disappointing, but I'm working on putting up a podcast/PowerPoint for my students on how to get their blogs set up, and my goal for that is to have it done by the end of the week. I'm thinking of recording tomorrow's lesson on the 11 sentence paragraph as well, so that should also be available soon. I would also like to attend an IB Extended Essay training this year, so that I can be fully up and running for everything I'm going to be teaching once we are an official IB World School.

On the coaching side, my goal is to continue to build and strengthen the program. We had a great veterans' meeting yesterday, and the students continue to push themselves even higher than previous students have. I'm very encouraged by what I'm seeing, and I think this year promises to be an amazing year for the team.

Of course, there is also the book club for the students and faculty that I want to start up, and I need to get the cycling program moving again as well.

Personally... hmm. This one's always a little tougher in some ways. First, I want to become more adept at cooking Tibetan and Vietnamese foods. I've cooked a few things from the Tibetan cookbook I picked up, but I haven't hit up the Vietnamese one yet; I need to get moving on that.

It's also a goal of mine to be able to keep up not just with this blog, but also with the Elephant Journal blog entries and reviews that I've been doing. I really enjoy doing the reviews and working with the magazine, though I haven't published an article in a while... I would like to get at least one more article in print in addition to the online reviews and blogs.

In general, though, I want to continue to learn about as much as I can about as many different topics as I can. I really love to learn new things, and I see learning as a celebration of life and what it has to offer. I haven't picked out my next book yet, but as I certainly have plenty to choose from, I don't see that as a problem... except knowing which one to choose, of course!

Oh yeah... another personal goal: I really want to get more consistent with both my meditation and yoga practices. Both of these really help to keep me centered, and I can always feel it when I start to drift. I didn't do a great job of that this summer, and so I need to put more effort into that.

Wow... I have several goals, which isn't a bad thing, I don't think. Of course, these will continue to grow and change as some get met and new ones develop, but I think that's a good start.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Nothing accomplished yet... or did we?

First day of the first full week of school. I took my classes to the library today to get their blogs set up. It took quite a bit longer than I thought it would... the whole period, actually. Most of the students, except for first block, got their blogs set up. First block got caught by time. I figured most of them were familiar with blogging, so we'd breeze through it, and I had them read independently for the first bit of class. Bad idea. By the time we got down there and got things going, we didn't have anywhere near the amount of time I thought we'd have. Looks like I'll be working with them in the classroom tomorrow since I'm not sure how much library time I'll be able to get this week. Perhaps while I'm working with a few students, the rest can work on the district pre-writing assessment, and I can kill two birds with one stone. The first blog entries are due by the end of class this Friday, so I've really got to get moving on it.

I learned a few things today. First, don't assume that every student is a "digital native." There are far fewer of them than one might think, at least when it comes to things like blogging. Secondly, it is going to take some time to explain to the students how the blog is to be used. I had a few students that wanted to push the limits around the school acceptability. I had to remind them more than once that this wasn't MySpace, that it was for classwork, not play.

Speaking of MySpace, it truly is the bane of my existence as a teacher. So many of them just wanted to log into that or to YouTube and play... and not just the freshmen, either. My juniors were just as bad. For many of them, the internet is a place of entertainment, and that's about as far as it goes. It's a bit surprising in some respects. Not as many view it as a source of information as I might have expected, but then again, unless someone has taught them that, how else might they have known it? It's going to be a very interesting year. I'm looking forward to it.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

And we're off!

Freshman day today. I think it's going to be a good year. It's a little strange, though. It's weird getting back into the swing of things with freshmen. We had some planning time during the department meeting today, and I had a few of those "Oh yeah! I have to teach them that, don't I?" moments, especially around the 11-sentence paragraph and the five paragraph essay... with having sophomores last year, I'd forgotten that I had to teach that material again. Woops... ha ha!

I'm already proud of one achievement. One of my colleagues was initially dead set against blogging with her students, and after talking with her, I have been able to get her to at least think about doing it, and has agreed to let me sit down and show her. I'm really excited to show her how to do it: I really enjoy this type of thing, and she's a good teacher, so I'm looking forward to giving her one more tool to use with her students.

First full day tomorrow. I didn't get through everything today, so I have that to do already, plus the things I wanted to do tomorrow.

In another "Oh wow" moment. I was talking with one of my classes about how fast high school flies, and did a quick demonstration on the board. We figured out that a high school student only actually has about 720 school days in his or her high school career. We subtracted one day for the day that we were finishing up, leaving them with 719 days left. A few of the students had a "Wow, that's not a lot of time, and we've already lost a day" reaction. (And so did I.)

Something like that only increases my sense of urgency. Only 720 days, and then they are done. It's absolutely amazing that we get as far as we do considering how little time we have.

Time to plan for tomorrow.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Savory Spice Shop hits Boulder

Back in 2004, I was strolling down Platte St. in Denver when I came across a newly opened spice shop. I love to cook, and I'm always on the lookout for cool new things around cooking, so I went in. The owners, Mike and Janet, were both there and made me feel right at home in the shop. I browsed around and felt very comfortable asking questions about what I was seeing on the shelves. They had a lot of spices I'd never seen before, and there were quite a few homemade spice blends as well. I left the store after buying several new spices, and decided that I'd found my new, exclusive supplier of herbs and spices. The fact that their prices are comparably priced to even the big supermarket chains was a plus, but their spices were the freshest and highest quality I'd ever seen. After I moved, I found myself going to Boulder more often than Denver with one exception: my regular pilgrimages to Savory Spice Shop to restock my spice shelf. I seemed to always find some new blend as well, so it was always worth the trip. Not too long ago, I was there talking with Dan, one of the employees, who told me that Mike and Janet were looking to expand to Boulder (they had previously expanded and added a Littleton store), and I got super psyched. On Friday I stopped in to the new Boulder store at 2041 Broadway. It's a great store, and they've even added a line of organic spices. The space is bright and comfortable, just like the Denver store, and it has that same warmth to which I'd grown accustomed. Dan is the owner of the Boulder store, and he's doing a great job. The store was hopping, so it seems that Savory Spice Shop Boulder is going to be a hit. If you are looking for spices and live in the Denver/Littleton/Boulder area, you should check them out... and tell them that Todd sent you. ;-)

On an unrelated topic, I grow increasingly frustrated with the lack of the world's response to China's repression of its own citizens as well as Tibetans and its support of the military junta in Burma and the support it lends to the corrupt government in Sudan. For years people thought there was nothing to be done about apartheid in South Africa. It wasn't until American citizens got serious and started leading boycotts against companies that were doing business in South Africa that the rest of the world started taking notice. I can remember news headlines about how much Coca-Cola lost in revenues after people stopped buying Coke until they pulled out of South Africa. So when are we going to do the same to companies that do business in China? It's beyond time for us to stop putting bumper stickers on our cars with the latest slogan and pretending we've done all we can. It's time to actually do things... to paraphrase Gandhi, it's time for us to be the change we want to see in the world.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Candle4Tibet reflections

The light protest went really, really well. Aaron was all kinds of excited to be a part of it, even more so when Channel 4 News showed up; not that he wanted to be on t.v., but more that he knew that what he was doing was actually being noticed, that it wasn't just for the sake of a few tourists that happened to be walking by.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to take part in the Sad Smoky Mountains campaign like I wanted to. I called the City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks to talk about it, and was told that, while they understood the situation and empathized, at the same time, they couldn't grant me permission to light the flares due to the fire ban on the mountain. I was disappointed, to be sure, but I get it, and so it goes.

I did get a Tibetan flag and had it up today outside of my house before 1:00, just before the Olympics officially kicked off. Not only am I not going to watch the Olympics, I am going to make it a point to fly the Tibetan flag every day of the Olympics. Raising the flag of Tibet - even owning one - is illegal in Tibet and can be punished with imprisonment. I am also going to contact the Tibetan Association of Colorado to see what, if anything, they will be doing during the DNC and how I can be involved.

For dinner last night, I made a Tibetan dish called "momos." Momos are basically steamed dumplings. I decided to make vegetarian ones, and I have to say, they were pretty spiffy. I'm thinking I might make more Tibetan food this week, but I don't want to kill it; Tibetan food is really good and fairly simple, but I don't think Kyle would be impressed with a solid week's worth of Tibetan food.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

New feature; Currently Reading

If you happen to look at the sidebar, you'll see a new item: Currently Reading. I figure as both an English teacher and advisor for the new book club at the school, it was only appropriate for me to post something like this. I plan to use this little section to post up what I'm currently reading (go figure) but also to post running commentary and thoughts on whatever it might be without having to keep reposting the title and whatnot in blog entries. The title of the featured selection will be linked to the home page of the publisher so that anyone interested in learning more about the book or even being able to get a copy of it will be able to simply click on the title and get all the info they need.

I hope you enjoy it!

Monday, August 4, 2008

A little activism now and then

I mentioned the Candle4Tibet event in an earlier entry, and today I found out that the Tibetan community in Boulder (and surrounding area) will be holding an event in support of it on Thursday night. I stopped by the Tibet Gallery to pick up two Tibetan flags, and the owner of the shop, my friend, Tenzin, told me that the members of the Tibetan Association of Colorado were holding the event and that he would call me on Wednesday with all of the details.

I'm going to fly the big flag outside of my house for a week starting on Friday in protest of the Beijing Olympics. I have also chosen to not watch the Olympics as part of my protest. Originally I had planned on taking part in the Sad Smoky Mountains and Skyscrapers event by lighting a red smoke flare on top of Flagstaff Mountain on Friday, but I'd forgotten that I have to be at work at 1:00, so I can't do it. Instead, I'm going to attach the small Tibetan flag to my backpack and keep it there for the week of the Olympics. Once the event is over, the large flag will likely adorn a wall in my house while the small flag may end up on my desk in my classroom. (*Update: Just got an email this morning (Aug. 5), that setting off my smoke flare from 6-8 pm would also be good, so it looks like its back on... woohoo!)

I really hope that the election in November will bring us an administration that will speak up on behalf of the Tibetan people. Both Barack Obama and John McCain have claimed a desire to address the situation; I sincerely hope they will be men of their words and not back away in favor of big business and the almighty dollar that Chinese business brings. Some things are far more important than money.

My third oldest son (Aaron) started college today. I'm really proud of him for following through and taking on the challenge of college. It helped that he's decided he hates his grocery store job, but it's still strange for me to think that I have three adult sons, and one entering high school. Four more years and I'll have an empty house... very strange! I took the boys out to dinner tonight and he stated his desire to participate in the Candle4Tibet event with me. I think he was a bit surprised to see "Activist Dad" swinging into action, and with his love and desire to do something, this was his opportunity for time with me and for a chance to make a statement about an issue. I'm really looking forward to having him there.

Cool video to watch

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Canning report

I am quite happy to report that making one's own peach jam is far, far easier than expected. It was a fairly time consuming process, but it was a lot of fun to do. We started out with Blake peeling peaches while I got everything else ready. (Kyle was assigned photography duty; Blake and I took some photos above, but the majority of pictures are Kyle's.) After Blake peeled them, I pitted the fruit and then zapped it in the food processor for a few seconds before boiling it with pectin and sugar. Once it had cooked for a bit, it was time to put it into the jars. The jars were put into the canner and boiled for a while, then I was able to set them out to cool. I ended up with nine pints of jam, which is pretty awesome. I probably could have pushed it to 10, but instead I used the leftover little bit in pancakes that we had for dinner and as a peach syrup that we'll be having on ice cream for dessert. (Plans to make my own ice cream are also in the works, as I do have an ice cream machine I've yet to use.)

Only downside? Check out the state of my kitchen. Canning, or at least making jam, is a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon, especially if you have kids. The boys had plenty of questions, and I was able to talk with them about the science behind it all, so it was a learning experience as well as a bonding one. Just be ready for plenty of dishes afterwards.

Final verdict: I will definitely be doing this some more, especially considering how much the boys and I enjoyed it as well as learning a valuable, yet seemingly vanishing, skill.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Sunday's adventure: peach jam

In my increasing desire to eat sustainably and locally year round, I’ve decided to learn how to preserve the food that I buy at my local farmers’ market: I’m going to teach myself how to can food. Having never done this before, I knew I needed help. First, I was off to my favorite independent bookseller and picked up a “how to” book. Then I bought the jars, and this week, I stopped by McGuckin’s Hardware in Boulder for the final purchase of “stuff." Today I bought peaches for my first attempt at this little epic: peach jam.

When I was growing up in rural northern NY state, “run downstairs to the basement and grab me a jar of [X]” was a common statement heard in my grandmother’s house to whoever happened to be in the kitchen at the time. Homemade pickles and jams were a staple of my childhood. She’s a good bit older now, and she stopped canning some years ago, so she’s thrilled that I’m reclaiming a bit of my “heritage.” The interesting thing about all of this is that the older I get, the closer I get to where I came from. Not in a geographic sense, but certainly in the sense that I am eating and living much like I did when I was younger, and not from some burning glow of nostalgia, but simply because it is better for me.

I sat down with the book today and realized that this is going to be a full day project, or close to it. It should be an interesting day. More photos and stories to come! :)

Friday, August 1, 2008