Archive for May, 2016

So, I’m still thinking about my taxonomy projects and blackout poetry. (Read about the origin of my taxonomy project works in this previous post.) This has definitely been a year (school year) of art and words for me.

Lucky for me, our school library recently moved. This lead not only to me getting a very nice new office in the new Learning and Research Center, but also being able to acquire many books that were being deaccessioned from the collection. Some of these books I took for artistic purposes not necessarily literary ones.

One of the books I now own is a very large (12×18) volume about Ancient Japanese Buddhist Art. I also took a few little books with Matisse cutouts. Of course, when I saw the books next to each other I thought I should combine these ideas with some blackout poetry. Since I am doing sets of 5 works for my taxonomy pieces, I have a selection here of 5 things. The first two are actually multiple page works. I used the two essays that begin the book as the basis for two black out poems. However, instead of blacking out the words I didn’t want, I boxed them and left the others. In addition, I chose words from multiple pages and cut down to that layer. This first slide show shows the pages in the first work.

Reading as if on one page, the poem reads:

J has never given up

to study, to comprehend, to symbolize, to understand

to understand in defiance of anatomical truth

Scholars arrived for their movement.

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One of the things that I think is interesting in this is the way the one picture page has just one hole in it, and it happens to be positioned in such a way that it seems the person in the image (maybe the scholar) is holding a sign that reads for their movement. I also am intrigued by looking at the pages as they turn and seeing some words and some holes.

Here is the second multi-page work. Read as a single poem it reads:

B played

beautiful lady standing under a tree

his exile, roughly speaking of course,

tradition rich in art

After the official introduction

B is placed in

Rocks, trees, and bears

This pair is entirely different from family

(hidden on a later page and not visible from page 1: there remain only a few.)

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Again, some of the pages are more interesting individually than others. Seeing them in person you can see the depth in the cuts down several pages to get to the word, and I think that adds something. As I took words and phrases from different levels, sometimes I misjudged their location on the page and couldn’t cut the above pages. However, having there remain only a few hidden (like an Easter egg in code) is even better. And, it’s doubly better since it was accidental and yet worked with the text.

Then I did 3 other images that are single pages. I added more color to the words on this one. Because I didn’t think the yellow was enough on the page, I colored the word boxes red. To get away from the appearance of “coloring in” and to have a less rigid shape, I irregularly extended the red beyond the boxes.

Photo on 5-24-16 at 8.53 AM

Poem reads:

The eleventh public record

National Commission, National Commission,

Ministry, Ministry

National Commission, Specialized Committee,

National Commission, National Commission, National Commission,

National Commission, National Commission,

National Commission.


Then the final two works.

Left hand poem reads:

In the main hall,

a youth riding out of the palace gates

In the five-storied pagoda

mother of all

and an attendant.

Right hand poem reads:

Protecting believers

a manifestation of paradise

The teacher, founder of legends,

sent back through the air stories

hurrying to the crown in excitement.

So this is some of what I have been up to in my spare time.

Public domain image from

Public domain image from

So, I’ve been thinking about going to some new conferences.

@TeacherDebra and I were talking about this the other day. I am a regular attender at some solid events. I’ve been a regular EdCamper for years and attended the very first one in Philadelphia. EduCon and I are well acquainted. I’m not a stranger to ISTE. We go to various local events through ADVIS or other organizations. You get the idea.

Anyway we were talking about how we need to get out of our bubble. We love the events we attend, share what we learn, and present at times. We also see a lot of the same people and sessions at the events. And, while these are topics we love and people we are always happy to see and talk to, we are looking to break out. We are wondering what we are not hearing about? Who we are not meeting (I’m not great at that part)? What we are missing?

Then the other evening, I was making a cake and my husband was reading to me from a NYTimes article by Frank Bruni while I mixed ingredients (a slight variation on this grapefruit cake from Saveur). So nice, right? He was reading about how Facebook, or whatever other boogyman we might accuse, is not to blame for the various bubbles we put ourselves in, but rather we are the makers of our own bubbles.

We’re the real culprits. When it comes to elevating one perspective above all others and herding people into culturally and ideologically inflexible tribes, nothing that Facebook does to us comes close to what we do to ourselves.

No one is keeping this ‘other’ information from us, we are not seeking it out, or not seeking it out forcefully enough.

This is what Debra and I are going to do–intentionally go outside our self created bubble. No unseen force signs us up for conferences against our will. We sign ourselves up, we make the choice to look, or not look, for new options. Well, next year, we are busting out.

Any recommendations for us?

Public domain image from Pixabay. I know it is currently spring, but I like the pompom on the hat in this image. I could follow a pompom like that.

Public domain image from Pixabay.
I know it is currently spring, but I like the pompom on the hat in this image. I could follow a pompom.

So, I’ve been thinking about my school. Alumni weekend was a few weeks ago. This is my place of work, but also where I went to school. I don’t always advertise that overlap for any number of reasons, some reasonable, some silly.

One of the things we do on alumni weekend is to honor former graduates. The school is now a prek-12 co-ed day school, but it was at one time a girls’ school that included a boarding high school. So graduates from different eras attended completely different schools in a number of ways.

Two graduates who were honored this year gave me a lot to think about. One, a man who attended the school when it was still in its early co-ed years, spoke about the ‘women of the Shipley’, both teachers, advisors, and mothers of classmates and the incredible impact they had on him. It was great hear about the ‘women of the Shipley’ in such a positive way. It’s not that we are not positive about them normally, but having once been a girls’ school, we can get a little uncomfortable with focusing on the women. I appreciated how he just put it out there that it was the ‘women of the Shipley’ over and over who had such an impact on him. And, since he’s a guy, he can perhaps do this without there being any fear that he would be suggesting that we go back to single sex education.

The other speaker attended the school when we were in fact an all girls school. She and her sisters all attended, and she told of a proud tradition of empowerment, intellectual curiosity, activism, and Quaker values. (The school was founded by Quaker sisters, but does not identify as a Quaker school.) It is sometimes hard to celebrate the school of that time, for me, since it is neither a single-sex school anymore nor would I have attended if it had been when I was a student. However, I felt that this woman was someone in whose footsteps I am proud to follow. She, and a several other graduates who have been honored in recent years, stood out for me as solid feminists, not afraid of the term or the work. She didn’t rebrand feminism into girl power to make it cute. She and her classmates were, are, smart, and they knew it. They set out to live smartly.

I have never felt that I could put myself in that group—the footstep makers. Not for fear of being a feminist; I have no problem with that label, but for fear of not living up to the example. These people, mostly women, but now some men as well, remind me of that I can follow their lead.

Public Domain image from This is how I do not arrange my classroom.

Public Domain image from
This is how I do not arrange my classroom.

So, I’ve been thinking about room design again. I thought about it a lot those last few years I taught 5th grade. I did some massive overhauling of my classroom set up and got in the habit of rearranging desks and tables regularly depending on the teaching and learning format of the lesson. It was worth the time and effort.

Then, I moved to edtech in the upper school, didn’t teach for a year, and when I went back to teaching a class, I was teaching my one section in someone else’s room. In theory we were sharing the room, but I was just a visitor for the most part. Somewhere in there, I forgot about all that room design thinking I did. Or rather, I wrongly thought well, they are high school students, it won’t be such a big deal. And, since it’s not really my room, it’s hard to rearrange and then return the room to its former set up all in 48 minutes. It will be fine. 

Ok, well fine is rarely my goal. And, as I have written about this year, the older kids may be bigger, but there are kids in many ways. And, teaching these big kids means remembering all sorts of important pedagogical information, including room design. Here are things I know and need to remember about room design:

  • The format of the desks and tables signals the kind of interactions you expect. Don’t want people talking, don’t put them close together and facing each other.
  • Seats (either at tables or desks) should be close to where ever instruction is happening. So, where the teacher desk is needs to support not hinder this. In a couple of the rooms I have shared, the location of the teacher desks has made it very hard to move around and get the students close to the board when that is desired.
  • In a 1:1 (laptops for us) environment, I need to be able to see screens and move around easily.
  • No arrangement is THE arrangement. It is THE arrangement for THIS learning experience.
  • The students can be trained to rearrange the room into a few formats quickly. Putting in some time on this in the beginning is worth it.
  • Telling students that the particular arrangement is for a particular purpose is good.
  • Being annoyed at students for talking when you have them sitting in groups facing each other is like being mad at the refrigerator for not having food in it. This is my responsibility.

Late in this school year, I finally got back on the room design bandwagon. Since I had my class meeting in literature circles for a lot of the semester, I had to do some rearranging and that got me back in the habit of considering the best arrangement for any given class.

For example, when we had presentations towards the end of the day on the two days before spring break, I made sure the set up the room in formal rows of tables with a table in front for  the presenters. It looked formal and said we have two distinct roles in the class today. The presenters were positioned close enough to the projection hook up that they could easily sit or stand, project, and see the room.

During our recent article writing time, I finally set up the room to signal this is independent work time. The tables were separated and in a ring (though not connected) around the room, chairs were set so that students faced out (towards the windows or walls). Other classmates were therefore less of a distraction and, added bonus, I could see the screens. I made this clear it was very purposeful and that this was to be work time. Some students, with lots of room in the center, decided to make themselves comfortable and work lying down, as they do at home. But, they were working. And then everyone just worked beautifully. Not everyone made good use of the time, but those who did not use the time were not distracting to those who were working. Victory there.

Time to put room design back in the front of my brain.

Public domain image from

Public domain image from

So, I’ve been thinking about YA literature all year. My second semester senior elective focused on YA literature. Part of the goal of the coarse was to read enough to think about YA literature and how it is similar to and also different from a lot of the literature they normally read in class.

The final assignment asked them to read “Against YA: Read What you want, but you should be Embarrassed to read what was written for Children” by Ruth Graham which appeared in Slate in June of 2014. I also collected several responses which we looked at as examples of various ways to engage in a debate of ideas. Students then had to weigh in on their own. (see my description below.)

You have now read a number of YA novels and heard about even more. In addition you have read the Ruth Graham article and several responses. It is now your turn to enter into the YA debate. You should write your own response to Graham’s article.

Your response will:

  • Be 1200+ words
  • Have an opinion as to the value or lack thereof of YA literature.
  • Define what “having value” or whatever criteria you use to evaluate YA literature means.
  • Defend that opinion in a way that allows the reader to understand your thought process.
  • Reference and cite specific points by Graham and at least one other article.
  • Reference with specifics at least two book that you read in the course to support your idea.
  • Be engaging


  • First, read and digest the articles. Determine what criteria Graham has used to reject YA literature and the criteria others have used to support it.
  • Decide where your opinion falls in the debate.
  • Determine what criteria you think are most important and how you will define them.
  • Determine which points are most important for you to refute or confirm. Find evidence for this.
  • Choose several books from the course that you will reference in your response.
  • Draft several paragraphs (there is nothing magical about 5) by Tuesday, May 3rd
  • Share this beginning with peers in class on Tuesday.
  • Complete a draft by Thursday, May 5th. Required. (could be completed earlier)
  • Review feedback.
  • Complete final draft by Wednesday, May 11th. Required. (could be extended to Friday 13th)

There was a lot of complaining about the 1200+ words. To hear some of them, you would have thought I had asked them to climb to the moon. Since I was not going to budge on it, so we did not discuss. What I said in class was that yes it would be possible to toss off a quick 300-400 word superficial answer, but that one of our critiques of Ms. Graham’s article included its generalities and lack of specifics. I stressed over and over that carefully analyzing her particular points was important. She may state her big point in the title of the article, but she has particular points that are much more specific. I’m not sure I was convincing.

Anyway, I thought I should maybe write my own article to see if my word count was in fact way off. Um, no. It was not. I sat down and just scratched the surface of what I wanted to say with 700 words. I know, I’m not a high school student (just had a big reunion to prove it), but I’m confident that the task does in fact warrant some words.

The next day students came in more ready to work. I arranged the room so that everyone was looking away from each other as much as possible and so that I could see screens. A number of students came in and went back to the Graham article, which is what they needed to do. So, I’m feeling decent about that. Also, midway through class an impromptu discussion broke out about some of the points she makes in the article. About half the group joined in for a bit. I am feeling somewhat optimistic about this.

Update: I made sure to set the rough draft due date before prom weekend, but I did not get all drafts. Ugh! The ones I got were solid, so there’s that.

makerspaceSo, I’ve been thinking about the makerspace at my school. I’ve written about it a lot already this school year. Over the summer we moved into a new (to us) space and got fun new machines. As much as I love to go in and make things, I think the intent was really for students to use the space, not just me.

To that end, we in the makerspace have talked a lot about how to get students in the door. Our experience has been that once we get students in, they come back, but we have to get them in first. I am not at all above a little slight-of-hand to make that happen. Nothing really devious, but I will certainly twist some arms, drop what I am doing, and/or try things that may lead to fire. I have lasercut books (sometimes, but not always, fire), orange peels, and chocolate in addition to the regular wood and cardboard.

Some students have reason to come in because their class meets in the room. At the moment, Engineering, Robotics, Java, Digital Fabrication, and Design Fabrication all meet in the space. If this sounds like there must not be much time left, only Engineering and Java are major classes. The others are minor classes so they only meet a few times a rotation (2 meetings in 7 school days). In addition, a few student-led activities meet there. We have an activity period mid day on Wednesdays and Thursdays and a group of students started a design club. I’m not sure what they do, but I think it’s 3D design stuff. Finally, an after-school Science Olympiad group has formed to meet student interest and they have joined the excitement.

One thing that has been a lucky coincidence is that @Mr_Fornaro who is in charge of the space also teaches Statistics, and students come in to get extra help from him. Once they are here, even though they may have come for math help, they get some makerspace demonstration. It’s the freebie that comes with stats help.

We have a few students who are involved in ‘makerships’ which is our markerspace-internship mashup. These students come in twice a rotation both to learn how to use the machines and to work independently. It’s exciting to see these folks engage in all sorts of work. We have a couple of individuals who are really becoming experts on either the laser cutter or other tools. They are almost to a point where they could supervise the space for short periods of time. So exciting!

In the late fall/early winter we tried a few pop-up activities to entice students to come in and make things. We got a few takers, but it wasn’t a great return on investment.

However, this spring attendance is up. I can’t necessarily explain it. I attributing most of it to the pattern described in the 1980’s shampoo commercial “she told two friends, and they told two friends.” While we have not gotten too far removed from the second or maybe third set of original friends, we do have confident students in the space who attract others and can begin to support them once they get there.

A solid first year!