Saturday, March 3, 2012

Bart: The Best Black Lab Ever

faith·ful /ˈfeɪθfəl/ [feyth-fuhl] adjective 1. steady in allegiance or affection; loyal; constant: faithful friends. 2. reliable, trusted, or believed.

Today was a really rough day! Today was the day a piece broke off my heart as we said goodbye to our constant and faithful friend, Bart. Our black Lab was a parolee from the Lucky Dog program at our local prison when we met him eight years ago and at just over one year old he was all puppy. This gentle giant had been trained by his handlers to commands. He knew how to sit, lie down, and stay but since we treat our animals like part of the family we promptly began to undo most of that early training. (Why should the animals behave better than the people?)

Bart's natural affection led him to accept all people and other animals. He delivered love and kisses to everyone! When strays showed up and stayed to live, Bart didn't discriminate. He accepted Bubby,our stray dog, and Meow, our stray cat, as equal brothers.

Bart never tired of his favorite pastime; retrieving tennis balls and kong. His energy for this sport was boundless. Even in his later years, when he was beginning to be plagued with stiffness in his joints, he would fly down the stairs of our two story deck when we hit a fuzzy green ball off the end of a tennis racket into the cedar trees surrounding our home. His love for this pastime was with Bart to the end, so we buried him with a tennis ball.

Bart's downward spiral began with a bloody nose that became more persistent. Our first trip to the vet revealed normal blood work, strong heart and lungs, and no definitive reason for the nose bleed. We doctored him with a round of medication and nose drops but the nosebleeds worsened. After another round of medication, we resorted to taking Bart to Kansas State Veterinary Clinic in Manhattan, Kansas where he was diagnosed with nasal carcinoma. A week later, Bart's bleeding had increased to the point he was having trouble lying down because he had so much blood draining down his throat he was becoming congested. That is when we made our decision to end his suffering before it became severe.

The hardest part of losing this big, black, beast was his boundless energy even moments before his death. He did everything we asked of him; jumping up into the back of the pickup, sitting quietly and patiently, and trusting us to make his end of life decision. My final whisper to him was, "We love you so much! Please,meet me at The Rainbow Bridge!" With that, our wonderful veterinarian held our trusting and faithful companion and helped him die with dignity and no pain.

It is a tribute to Bart that when I posted the news of his death on facebook , our two dog sitters both called and cried with me on the telephone. I have had people say, they would rather not have a dog again after losing one. I know I'm not ready for another dog yet (none could ever replace Bart) but I do know I will always have dogs in my life. The positive effects of having a dog far outweigh this pain I feel right now. They provide unconditional love, joy, loyalty, companionship and an unrelenting faithfulness for as long as they are with you. The lessons they teach us in life and in death are something we can all learn and benefit from. Barty, I love you and I will see you at the Rainbow Bridge!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

When the Stars Align

con·ver·gence /kənˈvɜrdʒəns/ [kuhn-vur-juhns] noun 1. Also called: convergency the act, degree, or a point of converging 2. concurrence of opinions, results, etc

Yesterday, it was as though the stars aligned and things I have been working on for over twenty years converged and crystallized in my mind.

Years ago when my children were young, I was the public speaking leader for their 4-H club. I taught 4-Hers how to write and deliver interesting and engaging speeches. They learned how to hook the audience by peaking their curiosity, deliver the bulk of the message in the body of the speech, and end in a clever way, usually leaving the audience wanting more.

When I returned to the classroom, I knew the essential elements of a speech also applied to a math lesson. I had to find ways to intrigue my students, engage them in the lesson, and then sum things up at the end. However, I don't believe I have ever seen this done in a more deliberate and creative way than I did while listening to Dan Meyer present on real-world problem solving yesterday.

During our time together, Meyer led us through his version of the "Three Acts" of a math class. He equated these acts to the scenes of a movie. In "Act One" Meyer uses a visual, either picture or video, to peak the students' curiosity. He relates a short story to draw his audience in and with as few words as possible he sets the hook. He lures the students into wanting to know something mathematical.

According to Meyer there are several important aspects of this opening act. The first thing is allowing students to pose all sorts of questions based upon the visual presented. As all the questions are posted, the teacher should ask for a show of hands about other people who had the same question. This is one of the methods Meyer believes helps reluctant students buy-in to the process. After all questions have been posed, each question is addressed by the teacher and then eliminated until one remains. This is the problem that the class will solve.

Another important feature of "Act One", is having students estimate what they think the answer might be. Meyer also requires students to write down a guess they know is too low to be the correct answer and one that is too high to be the correct answer, thereby establishing a range within which a reasonable answer would be found. According to Meyer, "Everyone can hazard a guess, and it only costs you about 7 seconds of class time. This is one way to engage some of your more reluctant math students."

In "Act Two", the teacher asks students to help solve the problem but does not initially supply all the needed information. The participants determine what information they might need in the form of a list and then the teacher addresses each item on the list and supplies only enough information, in a visual format, so the problem can be attacked. The teacher then acts as a facilitator, or guide on the side, as students do the bulk of the work on solving the problem. At no time during "Act Two", does the teacher dictate a strategy that students must use to find their solution. The teacher merely circulates, asks questions about the work, redirects students as necessary, and takes notes on different strategies.

During "Act Three", Meyer believes teachers should ask students to check the reasonableness of their answer; does it fit within the range of numbers that were chosen in act one? The remainder of this act involves leading a summary discussion of the different strategies that were used by various groups of students. The teacher can also use this time to formalize the mathematics. Meyer noted another way to engage students during the summary discussion is to assign them a task at the beginning of the discussion. He asks students to think about which group was the "laziest" and used the most efficient method to solve the problem. At the end of the act, Meyer again returns to a visual method to show the correct answer. He also suggests acknowledging the student with the closest original guess, thereby letting the class know that estimating at the beginning of the lesson was not busy work.

I look at this "Three Act" script as a perfect opportunity for math teachers of all age groups to address most or all of the common core practice standards. It might also lead to students who are more engaged in math and see its usefulness.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Piecing it All Together

in·tu·i·tion [in-too-ish-uhn, -tyoo-]
–noun 1. direct perception of truth, fact, etc., independent of any reasoning process; immediate apprehension.

I taught myself to crochet a long time ago. I was inspired by my Granny who crocheted hundreds of afghans in her lifetime. She always had a bucket filled with skeins of yarn beside her recliner and she worked on new blankets while she watched tv. Granny gave me books, patterns, a crochet hook, and yarn. I read, practiced and made a pillow and afghan using some relatively complicated stitches. Then I put the yarn and hooks away in a closet and didn't do it for ten years.

My interest in crocheting was resurrected when I spent time with my two sisters-in-law over a Christmas vacation a year ago. Lisa, my husband's older sister, is an accomplished crocheter who always has a project going and an abundance of yarn. Nicolle, the wife of my husband's younger brother, is an accomplished knitter and was working on baby hats and little girls' sweaters. Nicolle wanted to learn how to crochet Granny Squares, so when Lisa taught her how, I took the lesson too!

It turned out to be so much fun, I couldn't quit. I eventually had enough Granny Squares in various shades of purple, blue, and white, to crochet them together into an lap robe for my daughter, Cameron.

As it turned out, I was able to surprise her with the blanket for graduation, just in time for her to take with her when she moved to Chicago. How did I know that Chicago would be having such a cold and snowy time of it this winter? Mother's intuition....I guess.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Are We There Yet: The Rest of the Story

se·quel /ˈsikwəl/ –noun
1.a literary work, movie, etc., that is complete in itself but continues the narrative of a preceding work. event or circumstance following something; subsequent course of affairs.

I know my name is not Paul Harvey and I may not be entitled to use his phrase..."and now you know the rest of the story", but honestly, the story just keeps going.

Let me take you back to the Wichita airport where we last left Jodi, Amy, and myself. We were working in the airport lounge where the mean temperature was around 50 degrees. Needless, to say, Jodi and I were missing the space heaters we keep under our desks. We knew we needed to eat supper because we wouldn't be getting to Chicago in time to eat anywhere, if we got there at all. We began scouring the limited menu for food choices and Jodi and I chose to share bbq chicken wings. I asked for a small glass of ice water and was told they only had bottled water. This seemed slightly absurd to me as I was staring at a sink with what appeared to be tap water right in front of me. Amy wanted something warm too so she asked about soup. Out! How about a warm turkey sandwich? Out! Luckily, the only other place to buy food without going back through security, had a sandwich and a panini press, so Amy got her warm turkey sandwich.

If you recall, our flight time was supposed to be 7:34 p.m., but we all had our doubts about that actually occurring. You can imagine our surprise when at 7:50 p.m. we heard the call to begin boarding flight 5876. At 8:03 the three of us were sitting in our assigned seats, properly belted in, when the captain's voice came over the cabin speaker. He informed us that we were on hold due to a ground stop in Chicago and that we had exactly 15 minutes to take off or he would "timeout", which in layman's terms meant he couldn't fly because the FAA limits the amount of hours a pilot can be in the air. About 15 minutes later, the captain came back over the intercom to tell us the bad news and the "possible" good news. He had, in fact, timed out but there was one last inbound flight that evening with a pilot who MIGHT still have flight time and be willing to turn around and fly us to Chicago. He asked us to remain seated until he knew of the other pilot's decisions. We waited with that impending feeling of doom!

As luck would have it, the other pilot was able to fly us to Chicago and after he finally arrived, the takeoff, the 140 mile per hour tailwind, and the fact that the flight was not full made for a relatively uneventful and quick trip. However, the saga wasn't over. Upon touchdown at O'Hare, we taxied a short distance and then sat.....waiting for a gate to open up. Apparently, all gates had been spoken for and the gate we had been assigned had a plane parked at it. As the clock continued to tick, it became clear we were going to sit on one tarmac or another longer than we had actually been in the air. (And lets not forget how long we had set in the Wichita terminal!) At 12:17 a.m. we finally deplaned, not at a gate, but right onto the tarmac because the plane at our assigned gate was out of commission. After wandering through O'Hare, we finally found our way to the shuttle bus area and located the appropriate bus for our hotel. At 1:00 a.m. we arrived at our hotel, still in surprisingly good humor, albeit exhausted.

Lest you think the trip was a total disaster, let me put your minds at ease. Although, Jodi and Amy wanted me to regale you with other details of our time together: the ankle deep bathtub water during each shower; the hot tub that was out of commission; and the man who cussed me out in the subway; but I will tell you, we laughed through the entire trip, including the day we spent getting to Chicago. The conference was interesting, the food was good, and Sprinkles cupcakes were FANTASTIC (twice)!!!

Postscript: We were worried about our flight home as weather seemed to be a factor in Kansas on the day of our departure. Everything went smoothly at the airport and all indications were that the flight was running on time. When we were called to board the plane, cleared the gate, walked down the ramp, and stood at the door of the plane we knew we were home free.....and then they called us back to the terminal.....what a trip!

Are We There Yet?

fib /fɪb/ –noun 1.a small or trivial lie; minor falsehood.

Most of us know what the word fib means; we may have even been a party to one. But today, I have learned that inanimate objects can also perpetrate a fib.
Our day began with a different type of f.i.b., the flight information board at Wichita's Mid-Continent Airport and it has been telling us fibs all day! The first thing it told us, although disappointing, was not a fib. Our flight on United Airlines had been cancelled due to weather in Chicago. We were slightly confused by this, due to the fact that American Airlines took off for Chicago three minutes prior to the time our flight was supposed to depart.

So here we sit in the Wichita airport, Jodi, Amy and myself. We are headed to Chicago for a training on the Common Core Standards and had arrived in plenty of time for our 10:30 a.m. flight, only to find it cancelled. Thus began the wait for a 6:00 p.m. flight and prayers that it would be on time. We were prepared to camp for the day and work on the free internet at the airport, but low and behold, it wasn’t working. Next, Amy, who has a cold, started coughing so she went to get a drink and no one was available to wait on her…it was going from bad to worse.

Things started looking up when it dawned on us that Ron, a colleague who lives in Wichita, might be able to bring us some lunch, which would be less expensive and tastier than airport food. Ron was kind enough to come and take us out to eat since we hadn’t gone through security. We decided to try Bella Luna because of the fabulous hummus…..and as luck would have it, they had just sold the last of it before we arrived!

As the waitress began taking our order, Amy had another coughing jag, and the waitress literally jumped away from her as though she might have the plague. Ron and Jodi had decided to share an entrée and a salad but at the last second, Jodi changed the type of salad and the waitress forgot to write it down, no doubt due to the fact she was still worrying about Amy's germs. You guessed it, when the food came, Jodi got the wrong salad and had to wait on the mistake to be corrected.

Now it is 4:00 p.m, we are back from our shopping and lunch excursion and we are each trying to get some work done while we continue to wait on the flight. Luckily, the internet is working and we made it through security without the incredibly long lines that people experienced this morning. We found a wall with plug-ins and we each inserted earbuds to drown out the shoot 'em up, kill 'em dead movie that is on the t.v. in the lounge. I am kickin' back to the Eagles and am hopeful that all the troubles of this trip are behind us. Only time will tell....and I'll keep you posted.

Postscript: Nope....the flight is now delayed until 7:34 p.m. Random numbers, never a good sign!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A Piece of History

re·pur·pose verb \(ˌ)rē-ˈpər-pəs\transitive verb: to give a new purpose or use to

Every year, I try to make at least one Christmas gift for some member of my family. This year I wasn't sure how I would surpass the year before, when I re-purposed some of my Grandmother's old silverware into wire crosses. They were a real hit with my sisters, so the level of the bar had been raised.

So I was surprised when the inspiration for this year's gift followed so quickly on the heels of Christmas '09. In January, I was reading a Facebook post from Kate, one of my daughter's friends. Kate had stayed in Winfield over Christmas break and had posted the demolition of Sonner Stadium was underway. For most of the free world, the demolition of an old stadium in a tiny town in Kansas would be no big deal, but to my family, all graduates of Southwestern College, this meant something. For me, it meant the beginning of the next personalized Christmas present.

I quickly contacted Kate, and she went out in a snowstorm to collect pieces of the limestone stadium for me. She braved the weather and was rewarded by the demolition crew for her efforts. She was thrilled that they let her wear a hard hat and pick up as much of the stone as she could carry. Kate delivered a backpack full of the former stadium to me on the sly, without ever letting my daughter know. (Thanks again, Kate)

The next step was to clean the stone, paint it, and then wait for Christmas, 2010. Each of my family members who attended Southwestern and spent lots of time watching sporting events and graduating in that stadium received a paperweight for Christmas. I even had to give one to my son, who attended K-State instead, because he saw them and thought they were cool. His excuse for wanting one was he had spent lots of hours there attending his sister's events!!! Everyone was surprised and pleased to receive this piece of our personal history but the most surprised was my daughter, Cameron. She was shocked that I had been able to arrange to get the rock in the first place and that Kate and I had been able to keep the secret from her for eleven months.

In My Spare Time

ar·cane /ɑrˈkeɪn/ –adjective known or understood by very few; mysterious; secret; obscure; esoteric my spare time, I'm a math teacher... but I really love to write. The right side of my brain has, since childhood, been pretty highly developed. As I child, I was much more adept at creative endeavors than in those scientific. I was a lover of school and all things bookish and I excelled in the areas of language arts and reading. Now don't get me wrong, I was a good student in the areas of math and science too but mostly because I tried really hard; in part due to the fact I did not want to be in trouble. (More later on the parenting style that reminded you on the way out the door...."if you get in trouble at school you will be in twice as much trouble when you get home").

One might think that this love of writing would have led to my choice of careers. Maybe if I had been more courageous in my younger years, I would have worked at being a writer. However, I was really fond of eating and having a roof over my head, and as I mentioned before I had always loved school; so I followed in the family footsteps and got a teaching degree. Then when I graduated from college, every job I was offered was in the area of math. First, I taught math to inmates at a maximum security prison, then to: fifth and sixth graders, adults through a continuing education program at the local community college, seventh and eighth graders, and finally teachers.

I think there is a reason math wasn't my favorite subject while in school and that reason is also the reason I LOVE teaching math today. During my academic career I was taught a lot of arcane procedures, which in most cases, I was able to memorize. However, some of what I memorized never made sense to me, and knowing my capacity for memorization was nearing its limits, I only took as much math as was required. I don't remember ever getting to explore in math class, discovering why the rules and procedures for math really worked.

So as my teaching career progressed, I moved away from teaching the way I had been taught (those arcane procedures) to other methods that built understanding. That meant that I had to study and discover many of the things that had baffled me as a student. As I grew in my understanding of mathematics, I have tried to lead others in developing their conceptual understanding of math as well. I won't lie to you, it is a real high when you see the light bulb come on for someone; whether they are in a first grade classroom or the teacher in a math workshop. So, in my spare time, when I'm not blogging, I'm a math teacher.....