Category Archives: teaching

Letter No. 8

It’s Sunday morning and it’s quiet for now. I enjoy the weekend mornings because I can sleep a little later than I normally do during the week and there isn’t the urgency to get up, move, and be someplace. Though sometimes that isn’t always the case.

I let the group walk ahead…..

Last weekend I took a bird walk and had to be out of the house by 7:30 AM Saturday morning. It was an organized bird walk with a trained naturalist at the Morton Arboretum. I signed up in August when I was excited about learning about birds. I still am excited about learning more about birds but the time to learn and watch birds is fleeting with school back in session. The bird walk, added a bit of urgency to last Saturday morning’s get up and go, but it was worth the time. I enjoyed the walk with a group of folks walking the paths and trails and seeing things I don’t normally see. It helped me model the science homework I assign my students daily – be curious and full of wonder. I shared last weekend’s adventures with them last Monday when they asked how my weekend was – a few were interested and pressed for more questions and others were the typical 8th grader. I shared that my newfound curiosity was inspired by a book I had started to read – Where the Poppies Grow by British author John Lewis-Stempel. I discovered the book while reading post on Margaret’s blog, From Pyrenees to Pennines in April. I make the headway with my students anyway I can and I am still reading the book.

This weekend is a little different. O and her marching band have a band competition, but she didn’t need to be at school early Saturday morning as she has in the past couple of weekends. This week’s competition was across town and her band won top honors in its class. So far, this marching season, they’ve had three competitions and I’ve seen them all. Next week they are on the road and we will be, too.

The weather turned for the weekend and there is a fall-ish chill in the air. The skies are clear and it is cool. Yesterday at the band competition the stands faced the afternoon sun and it was in our eyes, but when the sun dipped beneath the horizon it cooled down and there was a definite nip in the air. My body is not quite use to the cooler air, but by November and December my body will be ready for the cold which lies ahead. 

It’s that time of the year when keeping up the blog is a challenge. School is taking time and other activities – parenting, being husband, and taking care of the home and myself take precedence over writing a blog post. This past summer, I didn’t write as frequently as I had in previous summers. But, I had many things going on with a new knee and my son leaving for marine boot camp. In place of blogging, I’ve been writing him letters. So far, I am up to No. 8. I penned it yesterday morning and I’ll pen another this afternoon or evening.

Friday Night’s Lights – the sky was orange (our colors) before the game, but turned red (their colors) to finish the sunset – the Tigers came up short 41-20 but it was never close.
Continue reading Letter No. 8

Day 60 – Dad’s wisdom

It’s the 60th day of summer break, the 53rd day of my new knee, and my dad was right.

The other night I was picking up O after band camp and I opened the rear door so she could put away her bass drum. And she said,

“It won’t fit!” O sounded frustrated.

“Turn it on its side.” I responded.

She did and it fit. When she climbed into the passenger seat she asked,

“Dad, why do you have to be right all the time?”

“I’m not right ALL the time.” I smiled gently and replied with a emphasis on ALL.

“I’m just right some of the time,” I continued.

 And the conversation shifted to how band camp had gone that day and what she had learned.

another troll….. there are seven 

I’ve been thinking a lot about my dad lately. More so than normal. He passed away nine summers ago and I don’t think there has been a day when something about him or something he said or wrote has been far from my thoughts, but lately his wisdom has been in the forefront.

Dad was a marine, or I should write is a marine.  W heads off for boot camp in less than two weeks and I think dad’s wisdom about what he learned from being in the Marine Corps has been on my mind, but also dad’s advice about learning and health.

Private Robert N. Watkins, USMC, my dad
Continue reading Day 60 – Dad’s wisdom

Day 29 – Miss You

My weekly challenge was to remember my favorite song from five years ago and listen to it. I have no idea what I was listening to five years ago but it certainly was not on the top 100 from July 2013. I had an idea, a better idea, and I went back 40 years to when I was 16; the summer between my sophomore and junior years in high school. That was the summer of all sorts of memories.

This past Sunday afternoon, we drove north. I had a driver for the first hour and the last hour. My daughter O is working on her driving hours and loves driving. It gave me time to go back in time – 40 years – to the summer of ’78. I checked the top 40 from July ’78. I recognized most of the top 10 but my memory took a jolt when I read #14 – Miss You by the Rolling Stones. That song took me back and brought back all sorts of memories and I found my song…. But first… how I got there.

I turned 16 in November ’77, but I couldn’t get my driver’s license I hadn’t completed the required behind the wheel driving training. Instead of taking driver’s ed during the summer, like all of my peers, I had been visiting by dad in England for five weeks. I took the driver’s training during winter break of my sophomore year and was ready to get my license in January of ‘78. January in Houston, Texas is cold, but not nearly as cold as January where I now live – there is no comparison.

I am the oldest in my family, so I was the first of the kids to get my license and the first child to teach my mom all sorts of lessons she and her sister probably did not teach their parents when they were growing up in the fifties.

When my parents divorced, my dad moved to Saudi Arabia and a year later he and my step-mom moved to London, England. Whatever he had, he took with him or put in storage except for the 1969 blue Volkswagen Beetle. It was stored in the garage. I had my name on it. Or rather, I had put my name on it.

this is my car, but it looked like this…it even had some very cool pinstripes

For a 16-year-old boy in 1978, having your driver’s license is cool, having a car a car is even cooler. Once I got my license, I began to drive the ‘blue bug.’ I could drive to work and back and had to ask permission beyond that. The little blue bug had air conditioning, but it didn’t work and the radio had AM only. I had a job and made minimum wage as a busboy and dishwasher at my next-door neighbor’s Italian restaurant.  By March, I had scrimped and saved enough money to purchase an in dash 8-track cassette player and FM\AM radio and a couple of speakers for the blue bug. I had barely enough money leftover to buy two 8-track tapes – I picked Van Halen’s debut album and Jackson Browne’s Running on Empty. I listened to those constantly.

The blue bug was nothing brag about. Beside the AC not working, there was a hole in the passenger side floorboards caused by battery acid spillage. A friend of my mom’s helped with a fix and  the radio and speakers were an improvement. To make up for the lack of AC the blue bug had side windows which could tilt inward and force air into the car. But driving it in the hot Texas spring and summer was pretty uncomfortable and perspiring was the norm. Continue reading Day 29 – Miss You

Marvelous Monday: Day 7

It’s Monday and I am writing my first ‘summer’ post. The definition of summer is, well, open to interpretation, but for me it’s summer and has been for seven days. I am not a meteorologist who define summer as June 1 and the summer solstice, which this year is Thursday, June 21 at 5:07 AM. I am school teacher and I define summer as the state of not having students in class from June to August. This year I have 72 days of summer break and I am going to make each one them count.

coffee with Ivy – she sleeps, I sip. It’s a fair trade.

The week prior to school ending, I asked my students how they were going to make the summer break count and I passed out cards numbered 1-80. I’ve done this before and the results always surprise me. My students travel and travel far – Dubai, India, and China as well as our border states of Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, and Missouri. They look forward to summer camp, horseback riding, and being with friends. Their off to high school in August and their 80 days disappear as quickly as my 72 days do.

Now that doesn’t mean that I am going to sleep away my summer, far from it. In the seven days since summer began, I’ve been back in my classroom three days to work on a project and I am still not finished with it… I’ve been to the health club three times, though it should have been five times. I skipped yesterday and opted to watch the Astros play baseball.

It’s a Marvelous Monday because…… Continue reading Marvelous Monday: Day 7

Snow day – three things for Friday

It’s a snow day today. I am in my basement office chair listening to a new favorite band – the Avett Brothers. It’s peaceful and calm and using the morning to catch up on stuff that needs catching up on. I have a stack of papers in my school backpack that I plan to get to, but for now, at this moment, I can be present and reflect on the week behind and the week ahead.

the morning view through the front window

The SNOW DAY
Yesterday the buzz in the hallways and classrooms was all about the impending snow day. There was a lot of energy flowing- the kids, the teachers, everybody. I told my students that what we started Thursday was due Monday, regardless. So far, I have four ‘My Life as a Water Molecule’ stories handed in. Pretty good considering they’ve got three more days to do it.

I was on my way home when I got the call, or rather the tweet. First my daughter’s school district and a second later my school district tweeted – no school Friday.

I’d stopped at the grocery store on the way home for food and supplies my wife had asked me to get. She’d been shopping earlier and our fridge is full. She was working on a pot of chili when it began to snow. There is no good reason to leave the house today, except to clean the driveway or play in the snow.

It’s supposed to snow all day today and snow more tomorrow and Sunday. Then, next week rain is forecast for Thursday. February in the Midwest. Spring will be here before we know it.

SPRING is on the way….
My students and I have been tracking weather and sunshine data for 37 locations across the globe ranging from Tromso, Norway to Stanley, Falkland Islands since December and 35 more locations in between. Last week, we crossed the ten hours of sunlight threshold and we are headed for equal daylight and night on the equinox March 21st. Today we have 10 Hours and 23 Minutes, even though it’s cloudy and snowing. After the snow storm, the sun will shine brightly and the sky will be clear blue. Continue reading Snow day – three things for Friday

temporary: birthdays and fall leaves

It’s Sunday morning and I am slowly getting a start to the new week. I am on my second cup of coffee and Ivy has been outside on patrol and she’s back inside. She’s curled up at my feet beneath the desk where I do much of my thinking and writing.

Ivy loves resting in the leaf pile, I think she feels camouflaged….

Friday was my birthday. It was also the coldest day of school year so far. I checked the temperature and it was 16°F. I smiled and thought back to when I was 16 years old. I’ve grown up, but in many ways, I am still that kid who at the age of 16 was looking ahead at the future and wondering and dreaming. It’s been 40 years since that birthday. You can do the math, but I don’t feel like a 56 year-old, however a 56 year old should feel.

Age is a number and it’s temporary. I am constantly learning and growing, or I should be.

Yesterday, I slept late. It was nice to sleep past my normal weekday wake up time of 4:30 AM.

It’s Fall and the cold weather has zapped the trees and the fallen leaves have covered the lawn like a thick blanket with leaves sticking in the beds along the foundation and fences, wherever there might be a stopping point from the wind.

the yard before work began in earnest

The leaves are temporary. They sprout in the Spring and last until the Fall. The cycle is lasts a little less than 200 days from mid-April to early November, sometimes longer, sometimes shorter depending on the year. We have a couple of trees that are now leafless and several trees which are relentlessly holding on to their leaves. By the end of the month, the trees will release their grip and the leaves will fall to the ground. Continue reading temporary: birthdays and fall leaves

It’s not magic, it’s science

It’s been raining since early this morning. The rain is welcome as late August, all of September, and the first week of October have been dry, very dry. I awoke this morning to Ivy wanting to climb into bed with me, rather than lie at my feet as she usually does. This morning she was up by my head, then my chest, leaping off the bed and running downstairs, then racing back up, before I finally relented and got out of bed and began my Saturday morning. Long before the sun rose.

The rain has been heavy with thunder and lightning, which is what spooks Ivy.

I had a few appointments in the morning before I was able to get back to writing and thinking or thinking and writing. It’s been a couple of weeks since my last post. Last weekend was a three-day weekend and I started writing a post, but didn’t finish, so it’ll be one of those blogpost topics which flickered, but didn’t light. I haven’t forgotten kindness, but just been focused on school and home, and of course the long season.

The long season is winding down. The Astros, my team, have made it to the postseason and they’ve advanced to the American League Championship Series, they need 2 more wins to advance to the World Series. I am watching and rooting, though sometimes it’s easier just to listen or learn the score after the game, but that takes the fun out of the game.

It’s all about balance, because sometimes the forces of life are beyond my control.

a balancing act, science, not magic

Last week my science students were beginning their study of forces, motion, and energy. Our focus in class has been to wonder and be curious about how things move. I’ve introduced my students to the magnetic cannon and Newton’s Cradle and last week I balanced two forks with a toothpick on the edge of glass beaker. It’s easier than you think, it’s all about finding the right balance and then trusting that apparatus (the forks with the toothpick) will balance and realizing that if they fall, I can try it again, and again until it balances. Continue reading It’s not magic, it’s science

don’t forget kindness

I am back in school and my windows are limited to the classroom, the car windshield, and the kitchen window I look out in the morning. Of course, there are other windows in my world – our bedroom window which we can finally crack now that cooler fall weather has arrived. This morning, I awoke to a nip in the air as the temperatures had dropped into the upper 40s (10C) overnight.

 

My classroom has two windows – one facing the sidewalk and the other facing the outdoor classroom and the entrance onto the parking lot from the street. Occasionally, there is a class in the outdoor classroom and the students are more interested in what is happening outside. Mostly, the views are uninspiring, but my students do peer out and get lost in the outside world, oblivious to the learning within the four walls. I understand. There are days when I feel constrained, too.

I was reading a blog post by Margaret, From Pyrenees to Pennines, this morning and I was inspired. Thank you, Margaret. It is during the summer, or a long weekend trip, when I can gaze through the windows at the lake. I can get lost, like my students, looking out at the lake.

This past summer I took a trip to Raleigh, North Carolina. It was a business trip, of sorts. I had a great time and I learned some new ways to design social studies curriculum. I was indoors during the days – all three days, but in the evening, I was able to explore. Continue reading don’t forget kindness

3C’s for Sunday

It’s Sunday morning and school is in full bloom and my bucket is full, in fact it’s overflowing. Trying to rationalize how time will be spent between the ‘want to dos,’ ‘need to-dos,’ and ‘have to dos’ is the challenge to leading a balanced life. I am thankful to the time I devoted this past summer break for helping me develop a new habit of starting the day with 20 minutes devoted to thinking about what happened yesterday, what will happen today, and how it will shape tomorrow. It’s in line with my first thing…

my Sunday morning view from the deck…

Curiosity
It takes curiosity to Make the Days Count. I am naturally a curious person and according to my principal in 2014, that’s why he picked me to teach 8th grade science. This is my fourth year as a science teacher and I finally feel like I really know what I am doing. It all comes back to that trait – curiosity and wonder. Last August, in 2016, I wrote a post about the 100 most influential Americans. I promised to reveal who the nine Americans I chose for my classroom were, I never did until this post. Continue reading 3C’s for Sunday

memory, never forget

16 years ago, this morning, my day was just beginning. It was my son’s first day of school.

our flag flies at half-mast today,

I was teaching geography, the water cycle to be exact. It was the end of second period when she walked into my room. She looked nervous. The bell rang, the students left, and another class walked in, sat down, and then she spoke. It was a prepared statement. When she was finished, she left the room and took the air right out of that room with her.

Our lives changed in that instant. It was quiet and we waited.

But our lives moved on, we learned to help others and be tolerant and work together. Sometimes it was easy, and other times very difficult. But we’ve moved forward and we look back. Abraham Lincoln wrote,

“The past is the cause of the present, and the present will be the cause of the future.”

It’s been 16 years. This morning, I’ll teach science and U.S. History to 8th graders who hadn’t been born when it happened. I’ll share my passion to learn and grow daily, even just a little. I’ll share the video below with my U.S. History class and speak every name aloud.

16 years later, my son is in college and he has faint memories of the morning, mostly from listening to our stories – he was 3 years 7 months 10 days old. But, I’ll never forget and every time I teach the water cycle, I remember.

I am a teacher. I am a servant leading with my heart, following with my head.

I am passionate, curious, persistent, thoughtful, energetic, positive, dedicated, caring, driven, faithful, thankful and grateful, tenacious, innovative, creative, courageous, strong, always learning, hard-working, diligent, patient (well, sometimes) understanding, inquisitive, old-school, and loving.

It’s gonna be a great day. I know I will make a difference today, and every day forward. Making the Days Count, one day at a time, one little step followed by another.

What will you day to make today a great day?