Thursday, January 29, 2009

Coach Crusty

Coach Crusty must be seriously worried about Old Man Chili crushing his skinny self next fall in the cross races. His training program for the Old Man is brutal. Today was and hour and a half in the gym with special attention to cleans, and then another hour on the bike, with a 45 minute tempo interval.

Seriously, the Old Man is not complaining. He loves it. Coach Crusty is pushing him way beyond limits he traditionally has in January. After today, Old Man's legs are noodles, and his next step is his bed and a long sleep.

And he's not riding his bike for the next three days! Just rest and ski and lift. The Old Man's waiting for spring.

But when Old Man Chili catches Coach Crusty in a young dude's race this fall, he's going to push Coach off the course into a mud pit and then laugh for a long, long time...

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Two Experiments

So we're trying an experiment this quarter. Actually two. I'm nervous as hell.

The first is my colleague and good friend John Marzion's action research for his master's program. He is going to work with kids to teach them how to learn, how to study, how to navigate information in textbooks, how to prepare for tests, how to stay organized, even how to eat and sleep in order to be more successful at school.

I'll post those results as they come in, but I'm thrilled he's looking into what we already suspect is the way to go for adolescents. What would happen if we taught them what they actually need to know?

The second experiment is in my classroom. I'm allowing kids to explore what interests them in whatever genre they want to use. In other words, kids could film their attempts at learning new snowboarding tricks while providing a blow-by-blow account of their efforts. Another kid could create a blog and write about their views of local, national, and world issues. Others could create online scrapbooks, documentaries, presentations, as well as traditional memoirs, poetry, and fiction.

Adolescents tend to plan huge and perform small. Their dreams are huge, but when it comes down to it, they sometimes are challenged in pulling it all together.

Plus, when we do this at school, our very, very slow internet connections will cause serious problems if we can even get access to computers in the first place.

Finally, in the first couple of days of this experiment, some kids are lost. I am unable to find the time to meet with every kid to help them plan out their ideas. We'll have to spend time at lunch and after school to work out the bugs. Other kids, not used to being given control - although we've been working as a workshop all year - are squandering their time and disrupting others.

So the potential is there for some serious chaos. I revel in slightly controlled chaos in which kids are creating and displaying their boundless energy and knowledge. Technology issues, especially ones that should be easy to fix, drive me crazy.

I'll stay calm and collected. Yeah, right!

I'll post updates, photos, links, and maybe even video of the kids' creations.

Why Do We Teach This Way - Part 2

In a short inservice at school today, we watched a very-well video put together by college students at Kansas State University. Essentially, the video argued that college students are multi-tasking high-level users of technology. Most of their learning is done on-line and little in actual classrooms that involve lectures and chalkboards. Yet lectures and chalkboards remain the primary way college students learn.

My kids in 7th grade are just six years away from higher education.

And that frightens me because in the middle school, educators are doing virtually nothing to change the ways students learn.

Students in elementary and middle school need to learn skills. Sure, there needs to be content, but they need to learn how to learn, how to tell truth from fiction, how to form opinions, how to learn how to do something new, how to find information, how to use the information they just found.

Yet they also need to learn how to work with others, how to negotiate, how to resolve conflicts, how to interact with others.

They need to learn how to become, at the risk of sounding all new-agey, who they can become.

Yet we teach them grammar, we read from textbooks, we learn integers. We split up our middle school day into eight periods, regulated by a bell.

We know how adolescents learn - at least we know a lot more than we did last year or 10 years ago.

Once again, why aren't we meeting their needs? Why aren't we restructuring how kids learn - not how we teach, but how kids learn?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

My new cross racing team

Even though I don't have a wife, this is my new team! A bunch of guys who race cyclocross. Here are our jerseys for this year. Seriously. He-man designed them. All I can say is that we better be damn fast wearing these...

A Fence

Here is the last poem #5 published here for your comments and feedback. Thanks!

A Fence
by Paul Warloski

I drove past the cemetery too late
to visit Grandpa. The gate is locked now.

Grandma, now 93, takes me to mass
for Thanksgiving, and ancient cantors

lead droning decades of hail marys.
Later, great aunt Virginia, who shared

the guarded family secrets, lays
dying in a hospital bed. Then Friday mass

performed for more dying ancients
in wheelchairs, heads nodding off

in naps interrupted by whispered
and warbled singing, and a final

visit to a nursing home and another
great aunt, whose body has failed her.

On my way home
I visit Grandpa again.
But the gates are still

locked, and I stand
outside the fence,
listening for his silence.

copyright 2009 by Paul Warloski


Here is draft poem #4 included here for your feedback and comments. I'm not sure I like this one. What do you think?


by Paul Warloski

He drank from the paper
cup of coffee until
the message

at the bottom of the cup
told him to stop. Otherwise,
he’d drink coffee until

the bottom of that cup
dissolved into stares
of disbelief. But still

he writes in his leather-bound
notebook about the bugs
hovering over the cup.

copyright 2009 by Paul Warloski


This is draft poem #3, published here for your comments and feedback.


by Paul Warloski

She breathed
frozen air through
a blue scarf

stuffing mail
into metal boxes
held tight by

nails on

She pulled
her gloves off
to smile

and greet
the stranger she
came to meet

to talk
drink coffee,
and sip soup.

Fingers shake
in cold caffeine
waiting until

morning warms
the frozen sidewalks
bathed with black ice

that melts into
puddles of chocolate
morning mud.

Being a poet
is no worse
than delivering

mail on a Monday
in rain, snow,
and, and sometimes,

hails of words
showering the morning
in coffee cups.

copyright 2009 by Paul Warloski


Here is new draft poem #2. Again, please offer feedback.

by Paul Warloski

The easy presents come
under tables
freshened by estuaries

only heard in hums. Easy
deaths limp past coping nerves
now pacified. Your

telephone can lose
dads, and presents can
contaminate suns.

Brothers now vivid and violent.
Now there is nothing but
vibrating air in time to irritate

the deities that pass judgement
on easy moments that lay
down in arenas of comment.

Put quarters in your library
with a fragrant delicious. Why
then be hasty? Silly

trends create disrespect. And
the hum is probably only the sound
of bees and escalators.

copyright 2009 by Paul Warloski

Space For Jesus

Here is a new poem, still in draft form. Please offer feedback!

Space for Jesus
by Paul Warloski

God loves a terrier
and wants to say

yes after failing the exam
three times in a row. As
a dedicated single, strange

occurrences and a great dancing
celebration bring friendships

into ambiguous circumstances.

He is a rising star afflicted
with memories of
something missing.

We want to know before
it breaks the original killer.

She is attracted to others
in withdrawal, disillusioned
by feeling special.

Finally, she falls in love
and climbs the ladder in a
surprise ending.

copyright 2009 by Paul Warloski

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Seriously, we need to do something new

Part One: An introduction

As middle level educators, we are in danger of becoming irrelevant.

Especially in the subject that should be known as "Literacy," not "English" or "Language Arts"
If we truly believe that our job as educators is to prepare our kids for the future, why do we rely on techniques, resources, and strategies that we used decades ago।
How long ago something was done, though, really isn't the point. Kid need to be literate in every sense of the word: they need to be agile, creative thinkers who can manage, navigate, and critically review a lot of information.
That means kids need to be able to:
- read and comprehend many different texts,
- figure out how to make meaning when they don't understand,
- judge when something is accurate or not,
- write responses and critiques,
- summarize information into something that makes sense to them,
- combine what they know with new information to create new understandings,
- learn the hands-on technology of creating and using podcasts, etc.
Whew, that's a lot, and that's just the beginning.
Further, these adolescent kids need to learn to navigate personally through a world that changes so rapidly it boggles my old brain.
So why are we still waiting?