Partially Raised by Mark Twain: Thoughts the Night Before Intersession

My grandfather was a powerful man.

He wasn’t strong in a brash, bruising or bullish way, but he was the kind of guy that people listened to. He was sharp, empathetic and encouraging. He was interested, baritone-voiced and familiar. He was learned, read and he loved loved Mark Twain. Rarely a family get-together would go on without Twain quotes booming from his deep Kentucky voice box.

“What is the difference between a taxidermist and a tax collector? The taxidermist takes only your skin.”

“France has neither winter nor summer nor morals — apart from these drawbacks it is a fine country.”

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing you can do is keep your mind young.”

I think he loved Twain’s cavalier demeanor. My grandfather had strong opinions and quick wit, but his kindness always kept him from being crass. Sort of like Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, Twain gave him a chance to adventure out of his properness. This tension between gentility and adventure was the paintbrush and palette of my childhood. A paraphrase of Twain’s thoughts echoes through our family’s history.

“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”

Though I grew up in a family full of teachers, many of the most significant learning experiences of my life happened outside-of or even in-spite-of the traditional school setting I was enrolled in. I found immense joy in playing outside. Growing up on a small farm afforded me the luxury of space and simplicity. Throughout the open range of my “backyard” I built forts and skate ramps. I caught fish and learned to drive a tractor.

Since I began teaching at High Tech High I have cherished our tension. In many ways, the wildness of our school reminds me of home. The qualities that made my grandfather great are abundant in the work and people I see around me. I see kindness and thoughtfulness, wit and clarity. I also see the edge and wildness that he loved about Twain.

Tomorrow morning High Tech High begins our annual intersession. Throughout the school students will participate in two-week intensive courses ranging from cycling, building furniture, painting, sculpting and baking, to yoga, film critiquing, cooking and learning to swim. Teachers have designed courses based on their personal passions and fields where they might be pursuing their own learning.

For the second year in a row, my students will be exploring buoyancy before designing and building rafts that will be used to float down the lower section of the Colorado River. Floatopia! 2016 was a thrill. Much like Twain’s characters floating down the Mississippi River, our students were given a chance to be adventurers; to learn on the fly…or float. I am excited to further develop our rafting adventure with a new group of students this year. Floatopia! 2.0 is an homage to Twain’s famous comment about education being stifled by schooling and its also a celebration of the awesomeness that exists in “figuring something out.”

I feel blessed to have had people like my grandfather to guide me as I grew up. His character is still a model I hopefully strive toward. I also feel grateful to have had an upbringing that allowed and encouraged me to do wild and creative things. The little piece of me that was raised by Mark Twain is stoked about this project.

Track our progress!

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Year 12…The Opposite of “Senioritis”

The Thinking:

Every year feels like a new grade level. In some ways I feel like I am about to enter some absurd year of my own learning. The 28th grade, or some thing like it, is upon me and right now I am captured by its possibilities.

For all the repetition that each Fall brings, this academic year has a different feel to it. I am teaching the same grade level (9th), the same subject (humanities) and in the same classroom, but my hopes for this year are more exciting and nerve-wracking than usual.

I want to be better.

I want my classroom to be better. I want my reading assignments to be more valuable. I want my writing assignments to be more interesting and inspiring. I want my projects to be more integrated and authentic. I want my conversations with students to be more positive and formative than ever before.

The Action:

In an attempt to push my practice I am trying a few things.

  • A new classroom layout that opens the room for me to move throughout the students and makes it easier for me to keep things clean and organized.
I hope that fewer tables will allow me to interact with my students more fluidly and to keep my floors and furniture more clean and organized.
I hope that fewer tables will allow me to interact with my students more fluidly and will help to keep my floors and furniture more clean and organized.
  • Project-specific workstations where students have access to tools that will be necessary/helpful to the project we are working on. Instead of the tools moving I am hoping to treat our graphic design, music and other tech tools much like tools in a machine shop are treated. The students will have time at each area when they need it.
iMacs ready with Logic Pro X for multi-track recording and producing soundscape recordings from field trips into nature.
iMacs ready with Logic Pro X for multi-track recording and producing soundscape recordings from field trips in nature.
Large format scanner setup for scanning original artwork and designs for digital purposes including online portfolios, laser-cutting and digital revision.
Large format scanner setup for scanning original artwork and designs for digital purposes including online portfolios, laser-cutting and digital revision.
An HP Sprout setup to experiment with tablet tracing and 2D/3D modeling.
An HP Sprout setup to experiment with tablet tracing and 2D/3D modeling.
A vinyl cutter with design software installed on two PCs for stencil cutting, precision marking of paper/thin sheeting, and other applications.
A vinyl cutter with design software installed on two PCs for stencil cutting, precision marking of paper/thin sheeting, and other applications.
  • Making stronger connections between my passions and my vocation.
    • My thinking has been pushed by the experiences I’ve had over the summer, which I discuss in a few vignettes beginning with Vignettes from the Woods Pt. 1. I love that I work for an organization where my passions and pleasures and escapes are all fuel for what will happen in my professional life. I can’t wait to challenge students to live and explore and take in the beauty of the world with intentionality.
  • Diversifying the reading required for my class to include more short stories and essays and fewer non-fiction articles or papers.
    •   I have been reading some amazing short writing that I’m anxious to share with my students (Muir, Asimov, Emerson etc.). I’m hoping that using shorter writing pieces and taking more time to work our way through them will help me identify struggling students and will allow me and our support staff to intervene before anyone falls too far behind. Multiple short pieces also make comparative activities between pieces more accessible.

Tomorrow is the first day. Let’s go!

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