Thursday, June 28, 2007

I'm outta here

In 11 hours I'll be walking on the Appalachian Trail somewhere in the southwestern corner of Massachusetts. I won't be home until July 7th.

I'm bringing my digital camera, and plan to post pictures and highlights of the hike when I return.

Catch y'all on the flip side.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Summer reading

I am officially one week into summer vacation, and boy does it feel great.

Today my fiancee and I returned from a four-day trip to Pennsylvania to attend a wedding and spend time lounging around her parents' house. Our trip was fun and relaxing; we celebrated, ate, read, and napped. It felt good to put a sizable dent in Ireland, the 567-page novel I started reading over Christmas break but hadn't picked up since.

This Friday I leave for a 70-mile Appalachian Trail hike in the Berkshires with my friend Dan, whom I've been pals with since high school.

During the hike I plan to read Tracy Kidder's Mountains Beyond Mountains, one of the three 9th and 12th grade books on my school's 2007 Summer Reading List that I have yet to enjoy. The other two are Meg Rosoff's How I Live Now and Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. I know I read Things in college, but I don't remember much of it.

As I finish these books, I will post comments on each of them. I encourage any former or soon-to-be students who read this blog to also post comments about the books they are reading over the summer. I am curious to know what students are choosing to read, and what they think about what they're reading. I will periodically peruse the comments and do my best to respond.

For those having trouble with their summer reading, I recommend checking out these Summer Reading Suggestions. There's nothing here that veteran readers haven't encountered, but there might be a few ideas that reluctant readers will find beneficial. I particularly enjoy the quote at the end from Henry Ward Beecher.

Happy reading!

Image from Nicholas A. Ferri Middle School website, accessed 6/25/07

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Current Events Cove Conundrum

Pictured to the left is my classroom's Current Events Cove. It's essentially a cork board that contains timely and relevant newspaper and magazine articles. So far I've been the only one contributing to it.

Next year I would like to get the students engaged, and encourage and empower them to make it their own. I'm thinking of having a weekly sign-up sheet, where one student from each of my five classes brings in an article, presents it, and posts it to the cove. I'm thinking of having it count as a single (perhaps double?) homework "check."

Does anyone else have experience with integrating current events into their curriculum? I'd like this to be some type of "starter" activity that I might pair with journal writing at the beginning of the period.

Last year I had my students write for five minutes every day in writing journals. They were graded on quantity, not quality, and they could essentially write about whatever they wanted. This served to help mellow the students and get them ready to focus on the day's lesson. It also gave them an outlet for personal non-fiction writing and reflection.

The students I had this year were more easily engaged than last year's group, and I ended up abandoning the freewrite activity about halfway through the year because I found it was taking too much time away from the bulk of my classroom instruction.

Next year I plan to bring back the freewrite journal. It will still be a place for personal writing, but I'd like the entries to be more focused, either in response to current events, a profound quotation, or a pensive question.

I'd like to spend 5-8 minutes three days a week writing at the beginning of class. I'd also like to have the flexibility to nix this start-of-class writing in the event I need more class time for a particular lesson or activity (classes are 55 minutes). I plan to require a minimum number of entries, - perhaps 20, two-to four-paragraph responses per quarter - and students may be asked to spend time outside of class to complete their journals.

Do others incorporate journals into their curriculum? When do students write in them? What do they write about? How are they graded?

Monday, June 11, 2007

The aches of persuasive writing

Below is a letter I wrote today to my dental insurance company, asking that it pay for my recent $83 teeth cleaning. If you read the letter, you'll understand why it wasn't originally funded, and why I think the claims agents should make an exception to their policy. Can you make note of any rhetorical devices I use to get my points across? Do you think I'll end up getting reimbursed?

June 11, 2007

To Whom It May Concern:

I would greatly appreciate it if you could fund claim # ******, a Prophylaxis-adult for $83 that took place on 4/11/2007.

The reason stated for why the claim was not paid was “less than six months between cleaning.” That is true. My prior cleaning had been on 10/18/06. If I were able to have waited a week for my April cleaning, it would have been funded.

Unfortunately, I was not able to wait a week. After moving to a new town, I switched dentists. Knowing it had been nearly six months since my last appointment, and because my mouth had been aching on the lower right side, I knew I needed a new dentist and an appointment as soon as possible.

When I called to make an appointment, the soonest available opening was on 4/11/07. It did not occur to me at that time that this date was actually one week shy of six months. I was told the next opening was in a month and a half. With that as the alternative, and knowing it wouldn’t be prudent to wait an additional 45 days for an appointment when my mouth was aching, I booked the opening.

Given the fact that I was only seven days away from being six months removed from my last cleaning, the fact that I moved and switched to a new dentist, the fact that my mouth was aching and I needed treatment, and the fact that the next available appointment from this dentist – who came highly recommended from colleagues – was more than a month and a half later, I would hope that you could find it within your resources and rationale to pay claim # ******, the $83 teeth cleaning I had on 4/11/07.

I would like you to know I have learned a rather important (and costly) lesson. In the future I will make sure I wait the full 180 days – rather than 173 – before making my next cleaning appointment. I also swear that this will be a one-time only request, due to its unique and unusual circumstances.

Thank you very much for your time, understanding, and consideration.

Image from, accessed 6/11/07

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Manny being Manny

Any New England sports fan who hasn't been living in a cave for the past five years is well aware of the three words used to explain Boston Red Sox enigmatic outfielder Manny Ramirez's unique behavior:

"Manny being Manny."

Manny disappears into Fenway Park's "Green Monster" during a game? Chalk it up to Manny being Manny. Ramirez fails to run out a ground ball to first? Manny being Manny. Ramirez bobbles a catch on a routine fly ball, then throws a runner out on a seemingly improbable play? Manny being Manny. Ramirez stashes a water-bottle in left field and sips on it between pitches? Manny being Manny. Ramirez goes to bat with a bag of sunflower seeds sticking out of his back pocket? Definitely Manny being Manny.

The guy's unique. Some call him a disgrace to the game. Others simply label him an enigma and accept what comes. Regardless of where you stand with Manny's antics, there is no denying that he is (still) one of the best pure hitters in the game of baseball. Even after an unusually slow start, Manny is now batting .293 with 33 RBIs, 32 runs, and 8 home runs. How is it that I'm so familiar with - and vested in - Manny's numbers?

It's because he's on my fantasy baseball team.

A few months ago, one of my students invited me to join his Yahoo Fantasy Baseball League. I am glad I accepted his offer, as it's been quite exciting tracking the weekly victories and defeats of my team, The Alliteration Animals.

Right now we're 4th out of 10 teams. It took me awhile to get the hang of how the scoring was done and when to drop and add players, but I think I've figured it out.

Playing in the league has allowed me to interact with my students in a venue outside the classroom, and frankly, it's been a lot of fun. I've always been a somewhat competitive guy who enjoys a bit of playful trash-talking. When my team does well, I make sure my students know. And when my team hits a road-block because of a stupid trade I made, or player I forgot to include on my active roster, my students respond in kind.

Another benefit of playing fantasy league ball is that my students get to see another dimension of Mr. B-G. While I still (for the most part) maintain my "B-G classroom persona," there are brief moments when the non-teacher aspects of my personality are revealed. These non-teacher traits are the qualities that make us all multi-dimensional and human, rather than drab, synthetic drones.

For example, the classroom B-G would encourage and console a student who did not succeed. The fantasy league B-G might taunt a player who is losing, and gloat after a victory.

Speaking of which, my team is currently up 6 to 4...

Image from, accessed 6/10/07

Header beautification

Thanks to this helpful post from Paul Stamatiou, and this post from Tips For New Bloggers, I was able to crop a picture I shot from the Appalachian Trail of clouds floating above the Blue Ridge Mountains and paste it into my header as a background image.

The key was sizing the image correctly. To fit it inside the header boarders, I cropped the picture to 640 x 140, with a resolution of 180 pixels.

With only one week of school left, I will soon be able to dedicate more time to improving both the aesthetics and content of this blog. One of the things I'd like to do is upload the 12 or so newspaper columns I wrote about my attempted thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail in 2001. When all was said and done, I hiked for three months and traversed 1,000 miles.

I have about 1,000 to go. Last summer I hiked 45 miles in Massachusetts and Vermont. This summer a friend and I will be doing another 70 in Mass. It is my hope that I can continue to log 50 to 100 miles each summer for the next 10-15 years, and finish the trail by the time I'm in my (gulp) early 40s.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

June reflections

June is a strange time for educators.

It seems that we are simultaneously:
1) focusing our energy on the final few weeks, 2) gazing ahead to summer and long-awaited plans that soon will be realized, and 3) looking into the rear-view mirror of our year, making note of what worked, what didn't, what to scrap, what to build, and what to create anew.

It's arguably the best and worst time to be a teacher.

On one hand, we can see the finish line ahead, and we know what we must do to cross it. However, there's a lot to do before we crash through that ribbon!

Personally, I am trying to find a balance between finishing up my final units and completing my end-of-year tasks (mainly the creation and grading of final exams) with thorough reflection on the highs and lows of the year.

I have a Microsoft Word document full of ideas and changes for 2007-2008 that has been ongoing since the fall. I find that if I don't write my thoughts down in a centralized location, they become lost and forgotten.

As teachers, we have so many responsibilities and daily decisions to make that it's often difficult to take a break from the marathon, and contemplate where we've traveled and how we've reached our current point.

Unfortunately, there is no time for this type of reflective practice built into our schedules. At my school, teachers have a 55-minute prep period and a 55-minute "duty" period each day. As anyone in education knows, 55 minutes is hardly sufficient for all the photocopying, grading, grade keeping, organizing, e-mailing, phone-calling, researching, assessing, writing, reading, and form-completing we need to do on a daily basis.

Frankly, there's no time in those 55 minutes for reflecting, refining, or collaborating. Yet those three actions have, in my experience, had the most profound effect on my instruction and my students' learning.

It would be WONDERFUL if teachers at my school were able to spend their duty periods (which currently consist of monitoring bathrooms, hallways, the cafeteria, the library, study halls, and the internal suspension room) working with each other to further their instruction and enhance their execution of the curriculum.

Unfortunately, it seems our federal government would rather spend taxpayers' money destroying and rebuilding other countries than building our own.

Wouldn't it be nice if No Child Left Behind was sufficiently funded? Wouldn't it be nice if teachers could spend time working together to improve their overall effectiveness? I've always found it ironic that we, as teachers, have so few opportunities to actually teach each other how to be better teachers.

The days of shut your classroom door and do your own thing are over. Today's businesses place communication and collaboration atop the list of priorities. Our country's schools should do the same.

Now I'm not naive. I realize there is only a certain amount of money available for a certain number of workers to perform a set number of tasks.
From a local perspective, until communities receive a greater amount of state and federal aid for their schools - and class sizes are reduced and educators have more professional time - it will be difficult to improve the quality of instruction our students receive.

I suppose one of the reasons I blog is because I strongly value being a member of a greater professional community. There are some fantastic teachers at my school whom I've been able to network with and learn from, but these interactions, frankly, don't happen enough. When they do, they occur after school, on our own time, and as a result, are inconsistent due to the fact that we DO have lives outside of the main door.

Through this blog I've been able to learn from numerous teachers across the United States and the globe, and I am truly grateful for these distant - yet strangely intimate - relationships. I honestly can't imagine not having this blog and these fantastic resources.

One of my most significant accomplishments this year was starting the blog, posting students' work, and sharing my experiences as a growing educator with all of you. I didn't intend for this to be a "thank you," but it is. Through your postings, comments, and sharing of lessons and ideas, you have made me a richer, more enlightened person and teacher.

Image from, accessed 6/3/07

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Releasing the Chi

For some reason I can't seem to get enough of the following William Shatner remix from Late Night with Conan O'Brien: