"Practice in spite of how you feel right now." - Barry Harris - Photo credit to @EricaTheMaker

“Practice in spite of how you feel right now.” – Barry Harris – Photo credit to @EricaTheMaker

Day three at Constructing Modern Knowledge began with some project work. In the morning we were treated to a panel discussion between Edith Ackerman, another MIT Media Lab connection, Deborah Meier, and James Loader from Australia.

I have always admired Meier, and it was a real pleasure to hear Ackerman talk so passionately about the right of those in early childhood (and all children) to learn through play. She reminded the room that “kindergarten” – literally child garden – was Froebel’s term for a place where children would be nurtured in their own way – just as we nurture all plants in a garden for their specific needs.  Meier talked about the intellectual stimulation of working with young children. They are mind-blowing in the way that they understand the world.

The panel reminded me to think about and the learning environment that I am creating for my students. How can I make it a place that is a model for a good life? How can I make my class a more democratic space where all voices are heard and valued and we learn how to dissent? I know that when I get back home I will need to change up my room space to make it more open. I need to take up less real estate in the room (books, table, desk).

After lunch we all dove back into our projects and then Gary insisted that we all take a break and listen to the jazz masters, Dr. Barry Harris and Jimmy Heath. I was worried because the room we are in is incredible as a project space, but it’s a big room with lots of hard surfaces -and they’ve had a hard time with sound support for speakers.  I shouldn’t have worried. The acoustic instruments (tenor sax and grand piano) sounded great in the space, and the two musicians were brilliant story tellers and master teachers. What a delight.

So what about my project?

A Section Heading

A Section Heading

Well, after poking at and staring at and reading and walking trough tutorials on xcode, I let out a heavy sigh. Gary had suggested earlier that iBooks Author might be the right choice for this project, and after doing some research, I believe he is right. What is even better, this can be a much more collaborative project with my students. I can have teams of students working on text, getting high resolution images of the art, and doing some additional digging. When the book gets updated, and it WILL be updates, everyone who ahs a copy will be notified that there is an update. So I started putting together the architecture of the book. You cannot move pages, it seems, but there are other flexibilities and nice templates.

Spider by John Henry

Spider by John Henry

I can choose photos with captions or photos with text – this is a nice feature as not all pieces of art have the same depth of information.  For instance – We know almost nothing about the abstract sculpture in the front of the building, BUT we know a ton about another abstract – lovingly called the French Fries by students.  This is an entry that will go to two pages, where others may be a basic caption with title, artist, and location.

Using iBooks Author will be great – we are a 1to1 iPad school from 5-12th grade and there are classroom sets in the lower school. Although some limitations will make me a little cranky after working with Adobe InDesign to publish the class anthology, I think the accessibility will be compelling.


That freed me up to play in the MicroWorlds environment – and I tried to remember the things that I knew. Fortunately the software has a lovely vocabulary help feature, so I was able to do THIS:

Screen Shot 2015-07-09 at 1.40.18 PMI had to remember all the details about heading, pen up, pen down, pen color, and the whole x y coordinates aspect of the page. Then I tried page 2:

Page 2

Page 2

Cleaner shapes, more color, tighter overlap. Now, I need to figure out how to get it to RUN. What’s the trigger? A button most likely – still need to work on that.

Dr. Leah Buechley reacts to the reality of exclusion

Dr. Leah Buechley reacts to the reality of exclusion

Yesterday has me thinking about equity and access. I had two very different experiences while listening to the featured speakers.

Dr. Leah Buechley was the keynote speaker yesterday. A former MIT professor and the inventor of the LilyPad Arduino tool kit, she speaks as an insider about those who are excluded from the maker movement. She analyzed the covers of Make Magazine since it’s beginning 10+years ago. And of the 44 covers there have been 41 people featured. Of those 41, 85% are men and boys. There has not been one African American on the cover of Make Magazine. So who is a maker, by the visual record that Make promulgates? White men. And what do they make? Robots.

She talked about different kinds of making – of what are considered female “crafts” – and she reminded us of the complexities of geometric design on pottery, the fractals of design, the hyperbolic math of the crocheted coral reef, the transformational geometry of cornrow braiding. These are “made.”  We make things as a part of human life. We are born making and creating. This is what we teach out of students.  It’s not that I want them all to be able to make a robot – I want every one of my students to make meaning and the tools needed to solve the problems facing them.

We boarded the buses and went to the MIT media lab – the 6th floor presentation space is really sterile – literally white – and there we listened to Dr. Sherry Lassiter, director of the Fab Lab project. The mission of the Fab Foundation is great – to put tools to make almost anything in the hands of everyone – but it takes a lot of money to set up a Fab Lab – and those tools are not going to be in the hands of everyone for a long time. Digital imaging, three-d printing, CAD, laser cutting – all amazing and so inspirational – and yet… somehow, so disconnected.

Dr. Buechley expressed concern about the call to have “every child a Maker.” How can we trust the education of our children to a group of people that does not see people who are not like themselves?

This past year I had the pleasure of seeing Liz Gerber, professor of design at Northwestern, work with my seventh graders. She emphasized two things that I remind myself of frequently – make MANY Low Fidelity prototypes, and have a bias toward action. Don’t just sit there! Make something – of cardboard and pipe cleaners and paper plates and plastic cups.  You should know that a design is going to work before it becomes a three-d printed thing because you have field tested many low-fi beta designs.

So, back to my project. With Liz Gerber’s words in my head, I need to make something.


The work space before the thinking began

This year’s Constructing Modern Knowledge is big. There is so much energy and enthusiasm, and there are some growing pains as well. The use of space is transformative. I was not here last year, and as I understand it this was a move they made last year. Being able to use this huge area to spread out and work is great. It has the usual acoustic issues of a big space with lots of hard edges, but they should figure that out.

The list of project ideas was incredible. Two have a Back to the Future vibe (create a hoverboard and an automated pet care system [thank you, Dr. Brown]) No one suggested a Flux Capacitor, though we do have a Tardis under construction.  Some of the other ideas were:

  • Robot Space Suit
  • A book with a mind of its own
  • A feeling recognition system
  • A way to sense the mood of a room
  • Rubic’s cube solver
  • Water-power generator
  • Manatee Speed Trap
  • Energy Generating Shoes
  • Robots that do classroom chores
  • Connected robots
  • Regular Piano to a player piano
  • Smart Watch
  • Army of Art bots
  • Interactive Art room
  • Heckling Pencil (Gary’s favorite)
  • Solar powered bag/charger
  • Virtual Tour of famous places
  • Robot space suit
  • and an Origami Sponge Fractal made of business cards (this is underway).

My thoughts for personal projects were a YA book recommender, the Art Tour App of Francis Parker School, or Virtual Narratives.  Based on Scratch, there is a programming language called Snap that allows us to build out own “modules.”

I think that as I have been thinking about this and gathering momentum for this for YEARS, that I will work on the app for the art at the school. This is an itch that I have been trying to scratch, and I have a ton of data and design to use. There is momentum for me on this. I have the students’ navigations from a year ago – and I have a ton of material available to me on my wiki.

I made the critical error of not downloading xcode at home. The school that I teach at has a 1 to 1 iPad program from grades 5-12 and all teachers have an iPad. To make this something we can push out to everyone, we need to work in Mac-land. So it took a long time to download the app, so while I was waiting I went back to Microwords EX to see if I remembered anything about writing code. Well, as it turns out, I do remember some things.

Yes! I do remember some things!

Yes! I do remember some things!

Especially the ‘clean’ command (wipe away my attempts, please).  It’s not exactly like riding a bike, but it started to come back to me. You will see in the workspace that it is super polite and tells me when it does not understand what I want it to do. This all gives me hope that I can navigate the world of xcode, though I have no expectation that it will be polite.

I’m not worried about not finishing. After all – if I get started on this I can enlist the power of the middle schoolers who are geeky like me. Together we can launch this on the school.

2013-12-25 09.17.21This has been a hard winter. The coldest February on record for Chicago, late snow, and the usual stresses of growing up and growing older.  My twins will be off to college next fall. They have wonderful choices but not maybe the choices that they anticipated.  It will all be good. And today I planted peas.

This week the girls will begin more closely checking out schools that they have been accepted at, and we will celebrate the convergence of the spring food holidays: Passover and Easter. As a lapsed Catholic married to a non-religious Jew, food holidays are things we can all agree on. And though I refuse to serve gefilte fish on Friday, we do love haroset and matzoh and five cups of wine. Over the past twenty plus years we have created our own haggadah, and we gather as many non-Jews to the table as Jews. This year we will light sabbath lights as well as memorial candles for loved ones gone before us. And we will have salmon for the Catholics because it is also Good Friday – a reminder that Jesus hurried home on Thursday to celebrate Passover with his disciples.

Sunday will bring the egg hunt and ham feed. Our ham is from an Iowa farm, and I will fill baskets with eggs and Peeps and hide chocolate in the living room in all the usual places.

But this year is most likely the last that I will have all the girls here for Easter. And I don’t really have a story that we tell, like the haggadah, on Easter. My husband and I went to hear St. John’s Passion by Bach at the Chicago Bach Project, and with super titles he was able to read the story as it went along – those Romans, really? They stabbed him after he was dead? They gave him vinegar to drink? seriously….

I was reminded of the one Easter book that I loved as a girl and loved to read to my girls: The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes by DuBose Heyward – the story of a little brown girl bunny who wants to be the Easter Bunny but is told by all the white bunnies in the big houses and the boy bunnies with long legs to go home and have the family. Which she does – but she also gets to be the Easter Bunny. And so I hope that my girls take away the heart of that story – that girl bunnies can do what they want to do, and that they shouldn’t take no for an answer. For a book written in the 30’s its message is pretty modern.

So to all my girls as they go forth into the world: be the bravest most resourceful bunnies you know how to be. It’s all you can ask of yourself.

“I therefore…beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called.” (King James, Ephesians 4:1)

VingananeeThis fabulous story came into our home via my mother.  It was ex libris – a discard from the Brookings Public Library, and it had already been rebound and was an ugly book.

But what a beautiful story.

This Liberian folk tale, retold by Verna Aardema and illustrated by Ellen Weiss tells the tale of four friends  – Spider and his three workers Buck Deer, Lion, and Rat. They live and work together, each with a job that best suits them, and after a hard day’s work, the tree toad who lives in the yard sings them to sleep.

Into their orderly life come chaos in the form of a giant hairy monster named the Vingananee.  He demands the stew from Rat, and threatens to eat Rat for noncompliance. Rat fights for the stew and ends up tied to a tree behind the house.

“I’m the Vingananee,/and I am hungry./ Give me your stew,/Or I will eat you!”

Each of the friends agrees in turn to defeat the Vingananee and literally save their dinner. And each day the Vingananee eats their stew.

Typically in a trickster story (when there is a spider), the trickster is the spider, but in this story Spider is not even interested in trying after Lion and Buck Deer end up tied to a tree.  It’s the little tree toad who thinks that he might be able to defeat the Vingananee.

What I love about this story are the conventions of the storyteller. There is repetition, escalation, and great onomatopoeia – Rat sweeps – fras fras fras; the Vingananee walks, pusu pusu pusu; and the tree toad sings them to sleep, tau au au au aut – among other sounds.

And I love it when the little guy wins.

The Vingananee and the Tree Toad by Verna Aardema, illustrations by Ellen Weiss, but I think this lovely book is out of print. Snatch it up at a used book store if you can find it.


Welcome, February 1!

Today is the day that we reach the point halfway between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox.  Imbolc, or St. Brigid’s Day is the beginning of the Celtic spring and the time when we can sense that the days are getting longer. 

So although we have at least three feet of snow in some places on the yard and six inches of new show fell today, we can celebrate that the sun is returning, the time that it is light each day is growing longer, and somewhere under the snow, the snowdrops and the crocus are considering shoots of green and reaching toward the sun.


Which reminded me of a book – The Story of the Root Children, Illustrated by Sibylle von Olfers – 

Sixteen Candles


Ingalls WagonI wrote this last year. I’m not sure why I didn’t post it. The ladies have passed drivers education, now, and are juniors in high school. Seventeen years ago today I was told that the baby I was going to have was two babies.  

I am going to try to tell this story. Parts if it I have told so many times, but I want to get back to the feelings of those days more so than the happenings. It is blurry, but only because it all happened so fast and the days following it were a haze.

On January 31, 1997 I was very pregnant. I was working at the lumber yard in accounts payable and I was taking two classes in my masters program at Northwestern. I had this idea that this was the lightest quarter. I was taking a Design of Learning Environments where the professor routinely pitted the education students against the learning sciences students, and I was taking a class called Socializing Contexts and Institutions where my discussion section included a football player soon to be winningest coach in NU’s history.

I was big. I had to get to class early so that in one class I could sit between the lefty and the righty desk and at the the other get the one table with a chair. I no longer fit in a desk. I was miserable. My skin was stretched over my pregnant belly, and it Itched. Since Christmas I had not gone out much. My stomach was the topic of conversation wherever I went. The grocery store where the lady at the fish counter told me my stomach “didn’t look real” to the drive through at Wendy’s. I was tired of talking about my stomach.

At forty one weeks gestation, Dr. F (my obstetrician) wanted me to have a fluid check. Emily my eldest went to 41 weeks, so I didn’t think it was odd. There had been few concerns with the pregnancy. I was feeling good, I had wicked heartburn, I gained only 17 pounds, and I was borderline gestationally diabetic. But I had energy, and I agreed to the fluid check and stress test because it would be no big deal.

Friday arrived and Mom was staying with us. She was here for the arrival of the baby, and she had fallen at Christmas and shattered her wrist. The hand surgeon had reconstructed her with an external fixiture and a titanium plate, and she was here for the six week check in. Sam picked me up at the lumberyard and Mom was home chillin’ with Em. We were to get Mom to the hand surgeon at 3:30 and we headed off to my 1:30 fluid check at the hospital.

I was feeling great. I’d been having titanic Braxton Hicks contractions, but there was no indication that anything was unusual. We arrived at the hospital on time, and things were quiet in the sonogram department. We chatted and laughed as I got the explanation and the gown.

The lovely white haired tech explained, “We will take four images, one from each quadrant.” She put the wand on my belly and then moved it up. “I’ll start up here.” Okay, cool. I was lying on the table/bed in the dim light, joking with Sam. And we got quieter and quieter as more and more pictures came out of the machine.

“Is there a problem?” Sam asked.
“Oh, no. Everything looks great. Let me show you what I’m doing. See that triangle there? I am measuring the spaces to see how much fluid there is. That line,” she said, running her finger down the center of the screen, “that is the line that separates one from the other.”

Now for a fleeting second I thought that she meant the line that separates me from the baby, but I’m slow sometimes though not stupid.
“One from the other what?” I asked. The look on her face was priceless. She went pale, (matched her hair) and she just stared at me. “Do not tell me at forty one weeks I’m having twins…” I felt like I was Lucy or Laura Petrie or some other sitcom mom. This was not real, right?
“You didn’t know? I just thought it was a scheduling mix up. We always schedule twice as long for twins.”
Do I look like I knew?
Now she started to flutter. She started moving the wand around on my belly and then collected herself. “Let me just finish up.”
“Do you want to know the sexes?” she asked, unable to really concentrate.
“I think that I have had enough surprises. Tell me everything you can,” I insisted.
And the details she could provide included position (head down), gender (girls), relative size (equal), fluid status (all good).
“This means that the tech that is doing your non-stress test doesn’t know you are having twins.”
Yes, as I just found out. So to make the next test more efficient she marked where the girls’ heart tones were on my stomach WITH A SHARPIE.
Did you all forget about Mom chillin’ at home with Emily (age three)? Well I hadn’t. I am watching the clock, and I know it will be tight, but we will still get her to the orthopedic surgeon.
Stress test passed. Babies responded to stimuli with strong heart beats. Nothing to worry about. So we waddle back to the car, laughing a little too loud, just trying to figure out what the what…

Cut to us, pulling up outside our house, not ten minutes later. Mom had become worried when she hadn’t heard from us. I know she was concerned about me, but her immediate issue was the hand surgeon. She had called my sister because she thought she would be late, and my sister drove the 30-45 to our house so that Mom would get to the doctor. We would have made it, but Mom was standing with her coat on, looking out the window for Liz.

I don’t know what the plan was for Em, but Mom was itching to go. She stepped out on the stoop, and I burst into tears. I tried explaining as best I could why we were late, how one baby had morphed into two, and then we needed to leave. My sister drove up to the curb and saw me in tears, gesturing madly. She thought I was mad at Mom for calling her (actually I was a little bit, but that hadn’t registered yet). When she finally heard the news, she swept Mom off to the doctor where they promptly cooled their heels for an hour.

The two girls arrived about 34 hours later.

Between those two events there are at least two more posts: supply triage and labor and delivery. This one is long enough.


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