Thursday, March 17, 2016

TBT: Happy St. Patrick's Day

Thank you to StaceyBetsyDanaTaraBeth, Anna, Kathleen & Deb for 
creating community and valuing teachers' writings. This is post 17 of 31 for 
the March Slice of Life Story Challenge. Join us at Two Writing Teachers

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Today is a two-fer. A St. Patrick's day picture of my dad taken this afternoon when he and Mom picked up our dog, Daisy, to take her to their house for spring break and a throw back post about Dad and St. Patrick's Day from a few years ago.
Gotta love the shoes and socks! 

This post first appeared on Pink Stone Days in 2012.

This post is #18 of 31 for the Slice of Life Story Challenge sponsored by Two Writing Teachers

I forgot yesterday was St. Patrick's Day. It slipped my mind in the sweetness of Saturday morning. I can't believe I forgot. In my forty plus years, I've never forgotten St. Patrick's Day. 

I've never forgotten because for me, St. Patrick's Day isn't about wearing green and drinking beer. It's about my Dad. 

Mom & Dad on Park Ave. for the Art Festival today.
Eventually, I remembered. I remembered the minute I saw I'd missed a call from my Dad.  At 1:20 in the afternoon on our way home from a conference, Collin and I called him back. I was kicking my mom-self. I hadn't shared any stories of Ireland with Collin that morning. We didn't pull out the old photo album and look at pictures from Donegal. We didn't read an Irish story much less say the Irish blessing or laugh over the curseHow did I forget?

Usually, it's a first-thing in the morning sort of celebration, sometimes green pancakes or waffles have even been involved. I wanted to kick myself, but I was driving. 

My Dad's first language was Gaelic. He spoke Gaelic at home with his mother. He was the first of his family born in the United States. Dad forgot Gaelic once he went to school. He doesn't speak with a brogue either, but he puts one on for St. Patrick's Day.Ever since I was a child, Dad would perk us up with a lilt and a laugh in his voice, laying the accent on thick the more my brother and I giggled. It is one of many things about my father that delights me, no matter what he and I may have been fighting about when I was a teen and young adult, he was always joyful when he spoke with a Brogue on St. Patrick's Day. 

I think it is his joy and the sharing of it that still gets me. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Six Impossible Things

Some weeks feel like a gauntlet teaching high school. There are demands on teachers' time, our energy, our minds, our moods, our health, our strengths, our minds, and our hearts. We run the race with the best of intentions, but it easy for me to get caught up in the what did not work moments of my week. Instead of doing that, this evening's slice is a quick draft of six of my favorite impossibilities from everyday life. I live among miracles.  Sometimes I need to slow down and remember just that.

Early morning trip to the well to check the problem. Loved how the tree lit up.


We expect it. We take it for granted. We believe it is pure, clear, clean and safe to drink. We fill our tubs with it and soak in it. We don't walk for it or haul it. One morning, recently, I woke up. Stumbled into the kitchen. Put a glass under the faucet for some water. Turned the white ceramic handle and nothing. The pump on our well had gone bad. Even then, the contractor did a same-day fix while I was at work. We didn't even have to be here to witness the miracle. Water was restored by the time we got home from school and track practice.

Second Day Air

Shipping is mysterious. I understand the concept and some of the distribution or transportation channels involved, but really it's amorphous. The idea that a package or an envelope can travel across the country or across the world in two days by plane is one I can image but not quite practically explain. We recently received a second day air mailing label so that we could send our passports in to get visas to travel. Of course it worked. The passports got where they needed to be. Then they flew fleetly back to us and we are sticker ready for four a.m. Friday travel. 


Photocopiers continue to fascinate me. I need to invest in this wondering, but I love thinking about it, so I don't read too deeply into opposites attracking, photo-electric charges or the elementals involved in printing the image from the rotating semi-conductor-coated drum. I love photocopiers. I love thinking about how they work. Perhaps the fascination stems from my early days teaching. I started during the in-between age. Between the photocopier and the end of the  Purple-Ink Age, the age when making copies meant cranking a handle. Both were available to me in the mail room at Winter Park High School. Somedays standing at the copier, I can imagine the wuft, wuft of the copy machine while smelling the ink from the drum and seeing Rosalie Gwinn standing at the counter, turning the handle.

Portable Document Format

PDF documents: oh so crisp, so clean, so sharp. I remember saving documents in PDF format from Adobe PageMaker. I loved the early read-only format. Documents on a screen, rendered at high resolutions are nearly as old world charming as Adobe Garamond. Now there are all sorts of ways to capture and alter PDFs. Readable, shareable, downloadable, change-able. beautiful, the PDF sure is gorgeous at a resolution of 300 dpi.

Image credit:
Domestic Electrification

Sure, we have had domestic electrification several relative life times, but it has enable many of my favorite every day appliances: the programmable coffee machine, the washer and dryer, the refrigerator and who would I be to forget the electric light. The lighting cords currently charging personal devices on the kitchen counter and the USB AC/DC plug adapter. I do not even have the vocabulary to describe such technological marvels. All though, seem to have been parented by domesticated electricity (Thank you, Edison and Tesla). 


Love wins. Love endures. Love conquers. Love strengthens and supports. Love shows me everyday what is possible even in the face of seeming impossibilities. So many of these marvels are the result of love and a passion to invest love in learning, in doing, in creating, in helping, in solving and in making the world the place of wonders we know it is.

Six impossible things, that don't quite tell a slice of life story as I've written them, but that I'm happily thinking about as the last day before spring break approaches. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Reflecting on DQ 4

Thank you to StaceyBetsyDanaTaraBeth, Anna, Kathleen & Deb for 
creating community and valuing teachers' writings. This is post 15 of 31 for 
the March Slice of Life Story Challenge. Join us at Two Writing Teachers

This post may get a little messy. I want to spend some writing time reflecting on the first day of our Macbeth on Trial activity. Writing helps me work out my thinking--but it's in progress stuff, so bear with me.

This year my principal pushed the entire faculty to do a Design Question 4 activity with our students. The principal earmarked extended class periods on days at the end of our first semester for us to try an activity that engaged kids in cognitively complex tasks. We did that with a heart transplant decision making activity. My kids loved it and asked to do something like it again, so I planned a collaborative decision making activity to wrap up our study of complex characters. Students have been studying the characters in Shakespeare's Macbeth and as you may know from my post last week, we are putting Macbeth on trial.

Last week I wrote about grouping students and their levels of engagement. Today was day one of the trial and I want to reflect on several things:

  • Based on what I observed during their preparation and the first half of the trail, where are my students in terms of meeting the goal(s) I set for the work?
  • Are the tasks students must complete in order to put  Macbeth on trial cognitively complex (is it really a DQ4 activity)?

I am going to focus on the later in this post.

There are all sorts of mock trial activities educators and curriculum writers have posted online. I adapted one I found on Ms Beattie's Study Mcbeth Wiki here to suit elements in  Design Question 4. I wanted students to apply their knowledge of argument and analysis to their new and growing knowledge about complex characters.

Engaging students in a mock trial requires that make decisions as a group as to how to create and support and argument about Macbeth's character: his guilt or innocence. It does deepen their knowledge of character (a Design Question 3 practice), but it also also allows them to question and making meaning of their learning about character, Shakespeare, and argument.
Lucy taking an aggressive stance to question a witness. 

 This learning extension over concepts, the study of characters in the play and the focus on decision making via the mock trial experience fall in Design Question 4. Students are "taking their new knowledge" about character and argument and "applying it in a different way to generate new understandings" both of the the characters in Macbeth and of how to structure effective arguments and support claims with evidence (Edwards).

Students' roles in the trial vary. Obviously we have a Macbeth and a Lady Macbeth, other students are witnesses, some serve the prosecution or defense, others serve as jurors and judges. Some jurors and judges researched the time period the play was written in order to craft their trial personas. Others researched the time period the play was set to do that. Each student who served as a judge or jury member crafted a persona; they also discussed how they would note the evidence presented and make their decisions.
Such enthusiastic speaking today. Javier reviewing evidence collected by law enforcement.

Students who served on prosecution or defense teams had to create the case for or against Macbeth. They reviewed evidence with "law enforcement" and then crafted an opening statement and planned to question witnesses. Here is one defense group's work in progress.

 I reviewed the sequence and tasks and rubric with all of the students before sending them off to research, plan and create.

Macbeth on Trial: Roles and Sequence

Macbeth on Trial Group Writing Tasks

Ms Corlies Macbeth on Trial Rubric

Students who played law enforcement officers investigated how to write up evidence and a narrative report of a crime using resources I posted for them on Edmodo as a spring board. Many of these groups did their own research and found better ways of writing up the homicide.

Crime Scene Search Study Guide - informational jumping off point for the law enforcement group's inquiry

Example Police Report form- to guide creation of crime scene narrative for law enforcement group

I realized this morning that students needed more support with formal diction (court language) so I created a language bank for them: Formal Language Cheat Sheet for Court. I used it  to redirect kids on the spot during first period to refocus their language so that it was appropriate to the decision making task of the mock trial. Then for the rest of the day I used it to as a mini-lesson to review the sequence for the trial and frame the expectations about character and argument.

It was an interesting day. Beyond how engaged kids were, I was interested in seeing which kids started to evaluate the arguments presented by the prosecution and defense. There were clear errors in reasoning when it came to some of the questions each side asked their witnesses. A few students realized the errors and those came out in reflective conversations at the end of each court session.

Tomorrow the defense will question their last witnesses and each side will deliver closing arguments. Then while the jury deliberates I will ask everyone to explain what decision should be made about Macbeth and why. We'll hear the verdict and the sentencing (which many judges pulled from history during the preparation phase). Then we'll wrap up by reflecting on the process. I'm looking forward to hearing what students think about how they did and where there is room to improve the process, should I try it again.

An instructional coach and I were talking about DQ 4 activities after school to clarify our thinking around and about them and she asked me a great question: what would an administrator have to see in order to automatically think DQ4? An assistant principal stopped by room after school too and he echoed that question as we discussed the trial (kids had eagerly told him about it during lunch and asked him to come see them speak). I think the reflective pieces (which will come tomorrow) would be important as would review all the supporting documents. If administrators walked into a classroom having review the teacher's lesson plans and supporting documents--if they had not, then surely, a conversation after the fact or walk and read over kids' shoulders should make the learning of a cognitively complex task visible to the observer(s). I'm still thinking about this though--especially as it applies across content areas.

I think it's important for teachers to consider how to reveal the depth of their practice to administrators, peers, instructional coaches and/or other stakeholders who may visit their rooms in order to observe learning in action. Writing about our practice is one way to do that as is having reflective conversations. Knowledge, after all, is powerful.


Beattie. "Process of Trial." Study Macbeth Wikispaces.

Corlies, "trial_details2.doc (trial rubric)." Ms. Corlies 11th Grade Wikispace.

Edwards, John. (2013). "Design Question 4." Learning Sciences: Marzano Center.