Friday, October 24, 2008

My recent field trip

A while ago when I was looking for a place to live I looked around on-line to see if I could find any monasteries. No, a monastery was not my first choice or what I was really looking for in a place. I was just getting down to the wire and figured, hey, it worked for me once before. It took a little bit of doing to tell you the truth. I found a few convents without too much struggle but eventually came upon an Episcopal monastery near Harvard and an Orthodox one in Brookline.

After one negative experience in an Episcopal church and a couple of good ones with the Orthodoxy, I developed a bit of an interest and resolved some time ago to try and check the place out. Their website indicated that they were pretty hospitable and allowed people to come join with them for their liturgies. They also sell pretty cool icons. So, wanting an icon or two to decorate my room and a chance to hear vespers again, I took a little trip out there.

Getting there was a bit of a hassle because the train next to my house is pretty inconsistent and the bus connection I needed is pretty infrequent. I ended up walking the distance from the stop where I got off the train because the bus was not on schedule. It was one of those situations where the bus is so late that it was running with the next scheduled bus right behind it.

I was a bit nervous about this situation because I had timed things pretty closely and wanted to be sure to have enough time to get my pictures and still be on time for the service. As all the monks are actually supposed to attend all the liturgies this seemed especially important. Anyway, I arrived and found the monastery on a nice plot of land with some lawns, and a few fruit trees.

I approached to find that it would be pretty easy to sneak up on the place. There were a few monks milling about outside. They had long gray beards and loose black habits that were obviously intended for working in. Also their hearing was not too good. I was obviously out of place and as long as I was unseen I was also unnoticed. In fact I got to the door of the main building right behind one of the monks, almost stepping on his heels who stepping inside wouldn’t have known I was there except he unexpectedly turned sideways to genuflect and kiss an icon of Mary in the vestibule. He asked what I was there for. I explained that I wanted to purchase an icon or two. He asked if I knew where they were. When I denied it he said, “Well go on in then. I knew I’d seen you here before.”

Fortunately there were more monks inside and another seeing the stranger asked what I wanted. He showed me the room where they keep the stuff they sell to visiting public. It was very little like a storefront and seemed more like a kind of small library but in place of books were wooden plaques. After finding the two I wanted the brother said that since it was my first time they would offer one to me as a gift and only ask payment on the other. When I attempted to pay for them both, persisted in his refusal and gave me permission to stay for vespers.

While waiting for the service to begin, a particularly elderly chap in a wheel chair, Father Thomas, approached me about my dress. Having calculated my clothing according to what I’d observed in various churches outside of Mormondom I was a bit surprised to discover that I was supposed to have a long-sleeve shirt for the worship. Father Thomas pointed out a coat rack covered in them near the main entrance. I felt fortunate to find one that fit well enough without any hassle. It was about this time that folks started to gather to the sanctuary.

It was difficult for me to identify the sanctuary at first. I was expecting it to be a much bigger room, something like a chapel. Though it wasn’t a monastery the closest experience I’d had to this was my retreat at the Campion Center. The chapel there was comparable to the Cathedral of the Madeline in Salt Lake. So, I was expecting something on that scale.

In addition to the size I was surprised because it was not a single room but two rooms. If you are unfamiliar with Orthodox churches they position the altar behind what they call a panel. The panel is supposed to emulate the veil in the ancient Hebrew temples placing the altar in the location of the Ark of the Covenant likened to the Holy of Holies. In this sanctuary the panel was proportionately large enough that it made not just a visual but a completely physical separation. The place where one would expect to be space for a congregation there was one row of benches and the participants in the service were in fact spread through a total of four rooms, two of them outside of sight of the panel and the brothers singing the rite.

Now whenever, I visit a religious service that I’ve never seen before, I create a certain set of expectations based on my previous knowledge and experience with that and similar religions. These expectations are frequently violated as was the case with this one. Vespers I had seen before, and wanted to attend because I enjoyed a simple service focused on a kind of singing back and forth between the priest and some selected men in the church. Although these things did happen, the rite here was much more elaborate.

One of the things that surprised me was the similarity between this and the rites in the Buddhist temple where I lived. Certain of the chanting, in tone and repetition, resembled that which is done at Shim Gwang Sa. These monks also performed repeated full-prostration bows that differed by touching their heads to the floor each time. Also their hands were planted on the floor in the form of fists. I, in my ignorance, placed myself in the main room of the sanctuary with the cantors at the front of the panel. It also turned out that this was the room where the icons were to which all the monks cycled through making these bows.

For much of the service I felt a bit in the way while trying vigorously not to be and pay attention to the singing at the same time. In the midst of it occurred to me that it was somewhat difficult (for me at least) to detect God through the elaborateness of everything going on. The fact that I was blatantly out of place didn’t help my perspective much. However, toward the end one kind of cool thing happened. Instead of just standing awkwardly outside of the rites I was invited to awkwardly participate.
At the end of the service a priest, for some reason I think he was the abbot, stood with a cross at the head of a line of monks and visitors blessing each one in turn. Being an outsider and trying to stand out of the way in this cramped space, a gentleman named David invited me to get in the line in front of him. I communicated my reluctance and he insisted, instructing me on what to do. “Kiss the cross. Kiss his hand.” The priest then touched my head with the cross and I stepped out of the room.

You can check them out at

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Producing the Game

Well, here goes a bit of a story. Many months ago I had a student who like to play Magic the Gathering. This was rather unusual because this nerdiness made him such an outlier on the Island bell-curve that his post-graduation success is not a shocking surprise. Anyway, with the foul geekiness on the island and the relentless boredom our T.V. and drug conditioned students experience, several of them got to playing it out of despair for entertainment. As they did I observed something quite magical. These guys, however difficult a time they had in school, were learning a bit of game strategy but more shockingly some pretty complicated and weird vocabulary. They learned this vocabulary without even realizing it and without any sort of complaint or resistance. It was tough vocabulary too: terms like Incendiary Zubra, or Archaeo Evangel. Anyway, it inspired me as to a way that I might be able to get students to learn more biology, including the big ugly words. You see, I had observed time and again that often the word was the thing. "Why in the world should I go to the effort to even try to sound out, let alone understand a term like Mitochondria or Endoplasmic Reticulum?"

Along with the learning of vocabulary it occurred to me that a great many biological processes work in ways that a game could be designed to model them. For some reason I cannot understand, the vast majority of science education games are designed like Trivial Pursuit or something where the players merely practice regurgitating memorized science facts. I thought it a ridiculous shame to not accomplish the learning of information as well as develop a comprehension of biological processes.

Anyway, I made an initial aborted effort at a game based on the ETC in photosynthesis. That did not fly at all. Eventually I came around to this card game that models cells competing for resources in the environment with reproduction as the ultimate goal. Anyway, I've been working at this for some time and I'm now on my third major revision of the game. The second revision focused on getting more interaction between players. This third revision has been designed to simplify a lot of the game and make the cards less wordy.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Place v4.0

Well, I’ve been living here working at this job for four years and now I’m about to move into my fourth place. The events which have been leading up to this have been making me many things but happy. However, as soon as it is all over I may actually prefer my new situation.

The first major disappointment about this move relates to the fact that we really didn’t see it coming. I think it was pretty close to the last legal day that our landlord decided to tell us that he was going to renovate and not renew our lease. This was a pretty big surprise because he had given us every indication that he was intending to renew up until that point. In May he sent us an e-mail indicating he wanted a reassurance from us that we were planning to stay. He was responding in part to the fact that one of our roommates was moving out and arranging for a sublease to take up his spot for the remainder of the term. When the new guy signed on and moved in he had gotten the word of mouth from our landlord that the lease would be renewed and that the new guy would be able to sign onto it. So…it was kind of a bombshell.

This whole thing hit me particularly hard (maybe not as hard as the new guy) for a couple of reasons. First, I’d been planning to stay here for a while so I’ve sort of been in settle in mode. I’d bought a couple of pieces of furniture and some kitchen equipment. I’d been in the process of planning a refurnishing and redecoration of our dining and living rooms to make them more satisfactory for social gathering. In addition to settling, I had spent my summer in temporally and pecuniarily expensive ways. Taking almost two months off of work to take a couple of classes left me without any vacation time and a handy fifteen-hundred dollars. Oh… well.

The next adventure came in trying to find a place. It took me a few apartment tours before I figured it out but, do you remember that whole housing loan crash stuff? I could be wrong, but I think it might have something to do with the annoying increase in rental rates. Another fifty to one-hundred dollars in this neighborhood would’ve landed me with a room two-thirds the size of this one in a cramped apartment with no storage space and inferior subway access.

After some frustrated hunting around and trying miserably to somehow find a place while disappearing to the island for week here and a week there, I lost one such place (though newly renovated with new kitchen appliances) which I had signed up for including and earnest deposit when my potential roommates insisted the landlady reject me. You see, they called me the night I was leaving to go the island and left a voice mail asking me to show up for a meeting, one which was to have occurred in about an hour of when the phone call was made. I didn’t get the message until well after but, had to get to work. A couple days later I got the call that this precipitated my being dropped. This completely sucked because it left me with one week to both try to find a place, pack, etc.

This led me to discover another reason why my landlord’s timing was less than favorable. Some people might argue with me about this point, but I like to think of Boston and the surrounding area as being kind of like one really huge college town. So… if you are in a college town looking for a new apartment for September 1, well you might be able to imagine what a race that has been. The choices become very slim very quickly. In one instance I went out some considerable distance from my home for an appointment to see a place that had already been rented out before the agent and I got there.

Anyway, I’ve got a place secured now. Strangely enough it may turn out to be a better situation than I could have planned. It’s near a neighborhood that I used to like to hang out in. The rent is cheaper than where I am and includes utilities. A nice point. The apartment has less space but, it should work out. Also, the kitchen has a dishwasher. So… that’s about all I know right now. I may write more about this move after it’s over.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Playing with the Hooch

I know that this post is only going to be so interesting to most people. In part because it is a report of something that was mostly a failure, a failure that has been a long time in development. For quite a few months I have been collecting the hooch off of my sourdough culture with the long term goal of attempting to distill the ethanol out of it.

For those who don't know, let me explain a little bit about what I mean. Hooch is the liquid solution which rises to the top of a sourdough culture that has been allowed to sit for a week or so. It contains mostly water but also some of the substances that are biproducts of the sourdough fermentation process. The bacteria in the culture produce various sorts of lactic and acetic acids that I'm neither equipped or qualified to identify. This is the stuff that gives the sourdough its sour taste. It also happens to make the culture acidic enough that nasty, unwanted microbes can't live in it. The yeast, of course, produce more water and some alcohol, mostly ethanol to be exact.

So anyway, I've been collecting this stuff for a long time and filtering it (a process that has been a major hassle) saving up to have about half a gallon in order to try out this protocol I found on-line for distilling box wines into sort of Franzia brandy. This method involves cooking the liquid at a very low heat in a big pot. The idea is to keep the temperature low enough to vaporize a lot more alcohol than water. You cover the pot with a bowl or inverted lid to catch the vapors and drop the condensate back into a glass in the center of the pot. The idea is that alcohol and water vapors will collect on the surface of the bowl-shaped lid and drip from the lowest part of the surface of the bowl and fall in the glass. The bowl is filled with ice to cause condensation.

It kind of worked but not really. The failure was all my fault in that I left and forgot the experiment and let it overcook. From the smell in the house I think I just boiled off all of the alcohol. However, a distillation did take place. You should be able to see in the picture posted here that I did successfully separate something from the solution. It just happens to be plain water. The clear glass on the left is the water that came out with a slight bit of vinegar in it. The brown liquid on the left is quite sour. Anyway, I'm a little disappointed but, quite impressed with the contrast in coloring and flavor here.

So, the question is: Will I try it again? Can't really say. The success and reason for failure are encouraging that I could be more successful with another go. But when I think of how long it took to accumulate the hooch... I hesitate. Maybe I could come up with a way to make it faster. Maybe, I'll just move on and find something else to try.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Check this out.

Watch this video and tell me this isn't both ridiculously amazing and pretty creepy at the same time.

Monday, July 28, 2008

A Little Innovation... Maybe

A few years ago I read a book that really inspired me with respect to possible research avenues I could pursue in education. It's called "Religion Explained" by Pascal Boyer. He creates an interesting argument for the neurological basis of religion. A central feature of his argument is that religious myths and ideas are memes that have some tenacity as cultural elements being passed on within a society because they have features that make them especially memorable by creating a form of cognitive dissonance. It occurred to me that there may be a lot to learn about effective education models by exploring the indoctrination practices of religions. One type of religion that particularly interests me is the mystery cult, which indoctrinates devotees through a system of religious rituals and dramatizations. So... for some time I've been thinking about and planning a mystery to induct my students into that would teach them something about biology.

Originally I got two students to learn the ritual who would then help me the next day to induct the rest of them. There was some skepticism and resistance at first. Partially because my co-conspirators anticipated a negative or destructive response to the process. This was of course a major concern I'd been carrying around all along. However, after rehearsing the ritual a couple of times and then showing them meanings of all the symbols, some of this concern was resolved and success seemed more likely.

Anyway, the next day we tried it out and in the effort to give each student a chance to be a direct participant, we tried to go through it a few times. At first it worked out but as they became too comfortable with it, one particular student decided to deliberately mess it up during his turn at participating. The larger group also served to provide lots of opportunities for mutual distraction, particularly during the phase where the symbols were explained.

Anyway, it didn't turn out perfectly. However, it did turn out well enough that I think I need to explore this idea a little bit more and try to refine it.

If you are interested you can link to a pdf of the full text of the ritual here: The Ritual or if that doesn't work you can link to it through here: My Downloads Page

Sunday, May 25, 2008

School of Gardening

It isn’t very often that my students take an interest in gardening. Oh, sure. Most of them ask me if I can teach them how to grow weed. That isn’t really the same thing but, they wouldn’t be able to succeed in that anyway. The problem is that taking care of plants requires attention, patience, and the kind of mindfulness geared towards caring and protecting rather than impulsively destroying. These are traits that very few of my students ever exhibit. Their lack of these abilities is so severe that even if I were to teach them how to grow something as attractive and desirable as their intoxicants, all but a very small number of them would fail.

As an illustrative example, I have one student now who likes to water the plants in the greenhouse. A few times he filled a bucket of water and dumped large amounts onto the pots washing large amounts of soil out onto the ground. Realizing this wasn’t working, he decided to fill containers holding the pots so full with water that the peat pots the plants were in began to turn to mush and several of the plants died. You see, it was easier to just dump large amounts of water into a large container than it was to carefully pour just a little water into each pot’s plant.

We do have one student now, however, who does seem to have some investment in the garden. He has been involved in most of the plantings and has taken a certain amount of ownership for them. The first few beds he planted had sprouted lettuce and spinach, which had impressed him as a real product of his labor. On a certain day he went into the garden to admire his work and check on its well-being when he discovered something that horrified him. Something had been tearing up his lettuce plants.

He was horribly confused that this could happen and determined that the rabbits must have done it. For some reason he did not quite understand the seedlings had been pulled up and left lying on the ground right in front of where they had so recently been growing. He was confused. What could he do?

Taking a closer look at the scene he noticed that someone else had been there before him and after the rabbit, who had attempted to replant some of the uprooted victims. Desperately he tried to continue this task himself but soon gave up in frustration. There were too many plants and he felt uncertain about the survival of those he attempted to save. Those that remained he left sitting in a ball on the garden bed.

Eventually he came in the house and told me the story. He expressed his desire to kill rabbits for what they had done. Finally, he asked me what could have done such a thing. I answered, “I know exactly what happened to your lettuce. I pulled it up.” The energy in the shocked expression on this enervated pothead face was the joy of my day. I explained, “We need to thin the rows.”

Monday, March 24, 2008

My students and their PFCs

Well, I'm sitting here getting ready for another week out on the island of misfit boys. Our population recently went up to the max and the last week out had me pretty exhausted at the end of it. It is amazing what a difference even one kid can make to the state of things on the island, having three new kids is pretty remarkable. Curiously compared to other times we've had this much change I haven't really seen much in the way of chimpanzee fighting for the top of the heirarchy. This is rather unusual and perhaps says something about the type of kids we have these days.

I'm not really looking forward to going out to the island. I often feel this reluctance, most especially when there are certain risks regarding my proposed learning activities for the week. The last week I went out I thought that I had the perfect stuff planned for one of my most advanced students and he didn't take to it at all. He's one of the few students I've had in recent months who is studying algebra. During previous weeks I'd noticed that he did a lot better when I released the various algebra techniques one relatively small bit at a time. In this particular instance I had found a text that broke up certain work in solving fractions into pieces that were small enough that it would have annoyed the piss out of me when I was in high school, but it seemed to be exactly the kind of steps that he would be able to do and figure the whole thing out. The problem was that it was just enough for him to start having trouble remembering to do all the stuff he'd already been working on. It's that magical point where things get hard and the student starts calling the math work "gay" or "stupid." A kind of irony when it is usually the student who feels stupid at that point. It also seems to be one of two points that my students seem to fairly consistently run into where some kind of real cognitive deficit seems to rear its ugly head. This is the point where we've maxed out the kid's working memory capacity.

I've been reading up on this whole working memory thing lately and it seems that it correlates very strongly with all kinds of intellectual tasks including the sort of reasoning tasks that mathematics requires. The issue is being able to keep simultaneously in mind the ultimate goal of the problem solving venture, a mental roadmap of how to get to that goal, and the performance of the operation immediately at hand. As the road map gets more complex or has more steps added to it, or the immediate operation gets more complex the sort of mental blackboard gets cluttered beyond the individual's ability to read it and they start making mistakes that they actually know better than to make. One way of dealing with this problem is to develop what's called automaticity. Automaticity is the ability to perform certain mental tasks automatically and without thinking. This is the kind of thing marital artists train for in forms practice. It is also the thing your elementary school teachers were trying to give you with all those timed times tables tests. Really the only way to develop automaticity is to do the same things over and over and over a million times. This is something my students really resent me telling them they need to do.

Interestingly working memory is supposedly trainable. There have been a couple studies that have shown that people who practice at it and work on memory tasks of increasing difficulty can improve their working memory and show improvements in all kinds of reasoning tasks. It is one of the few things that can be taught that demonstrates a good deal of transfer into other tasks. The classis way of training this is the old electronic Simon Says game where you have to remember the sequence of flashing colored lights. Another is the Memory card game where you have to remember the location of matching pairs of cards that have been revealed one at a time.

With this in mind I've started up a regimen of memory training tasks for our evening study hours on the island. Sadly I don't think that it is going to be enough to make the kind of difference that we'd really notice. (This whole business underscores another reason I believe we need to rethink our entire system of education, but I digress.) Anyway, I'm giving it a shot and it seems that it has been effective to the point that the kids were willing to do it for a while. They're getting bored of the old task though and so I'm going to shift over to another task.

I mentioned earlier that there are two points of cognitive deficit that my students seem to be regularly afflicted by. If the first is diminished working memory the second is abstraction of proportional reasoning, or maybe just proportional reasoning. This is something that I don't know that much about. How this manifests itself though is that you can demonstrate to a kid with physical objects the concept that if you cut it into halves and then fourths that 1/2 is the exact same amount as 2/4 and they still don't seem to get it, and they certainly can't generalize it to proportions in general. This is a mystery that has been a nuissance for a long time and I really haven't gotten any closer to figuring it out. What I've found myself doing is teaching kids how to work out these and other sorts of fraction problems over and over. Somehow, I always come back around after enough time to giving students the exact same work that I've already given them, they've worked out all the problems but still can't remember how to do it. It may be that part of this is derived from them not having obtained automaticity in division. It may also represent something related to their behavioral problems. If a person cannot intuit about proportions in math can they understand proportionality in behavioral choices and outcomes?

Saturday, March 01, 2008

More than a feeling?

When I was a kid we used to swim in a series of geothermal pools at the base of a volcanic hill a short drive east of town. The place was called Warm Springs, which seemed kind of inappropriate in that the water almost always seemed really cold in summer time. In winter time, however, it never froze (at least not to my knowledge) and it would frequently fog up half the valley.

Anyway, there were a few summers when it seemed like we went swimming there almost every day. I was a rather mediocre swimmer and I kind of enjoyed the chance to invest some mediocre efforts at some mediocre improvement. I also liked taking snorkeling gear which I inexpertly used to check out the guppies people had released from their fish tanks as well as the rocky bottom with the sorts of things that at the time only Huck Finn and I could have considered treasures. It was also exciting for the mystique of an abandoned mill for processing minerals or gravel or something mined from mountains out on the western end of the valley. From a distance it looked to me like a ruined castle with a giant green hand painted on a little rock face overlooking it. Eventually I learned that the hand was in fact a representation of a marijuana leaf, but I digress.

On one certain bleak summer day I had been out there swimming with my siblings and a couple of cousins. I call the day ‘bleak’ because it was one of those times when the sunlight has a way of coming down that makes everything look washed out and more barren than usual. At the same time every breeze on our wet skins made the water feel that much colder. It must have been one of those summers we went every day because I remember us getting bored with it sooner than usual. The weather may have been contributing to the fact that I just couldn’t get interested.

So we packed up our gear and our towels and what not and climbed onto the back of my grandmother’s little steel-blue Dodge pick-up so she could drive us back into town. My ears were filled with water producing an eerie sense of balance and an otherworldly half-deafness. As we bounced off the dirt road onto the highway I noticed that my shoes were missing. In those days I ran around barefoot most of the time and had developed some pretty terrific calluses so it was really easy for me to not notice the absence. A strange and uncomfortable sensation started to form in my gut because of it and I asked to go back and look for them.

We went back and looked around. I couldn’t find the shoes and the worry in my abdomen wouldn’t subside. There wasn’t much area to check for them so the search didn’t last long and we again left for home. The strange feeling didn’t go away and I started to identify it as a weird combination of guilt and fear. It’s not the usual kind of fear like that of heights or social anxiety. The fear seemed to me to be more of a supernatural kind of thing. Lovecraft wrote that he tried to create fear in his writing that was not corporeal but confronted the reader with a dread for the chaotic possibilities of an infinite cosmos. I think the fear I experienced was something like that, as if by losing my shoes I had somehow angered unknown gods and should shortly fall victim to the torment of their earthly instruments. I imagined some kind of witches with my shoes in hand using them in a ritual to slowly pick apart my mind like a knitter picking apart some mistake in the scarf she’s making.

The reason I tell this story is because it is the first time I experienced this feeling. It comes back to unsettle me on rare occasions and has done so recently. I purchased the Planet Earth series with my favorite wildlife documentary guy David Attenborough. I took it down to Woods Hole. I’d been showing some of them to the kids and lent them to one of my coworkers to see. One of the disks has come up missing. It was a bit expensive and the fact that I lost part of the set has me feeling a bit guilty. But as with the shoes, the disappearance is so far inexplicable. These facts make the connection pretty obvious and provide some context for explaining the dread I feel. Even so, it seems like too much for the magnitude of a problem like a DVD or a pair of shoes. Maybe the witches really are at work.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Struggle that has been January

I feel a little apologetic about the fact that I haven’t written any posts in a while. I’ve been busy in some of the most frustrating of ways. I think I heard this concept from Susan: something about paying only the minimum on all of your credit cards of life. That’s what it’s been like for a combination of reasons.

Getting back from Utah, I was asked almost straight-away to cover a half shift for someone on the island. The week after that we had our half-week shift for the magical semi-annual shift-shifting shift. So in the end this has been the first real week off I’ve had since the holidays.

Normally that isn’t such an unusual or problematic thing except for the other things I’ve been pressed to accomplish in my piddly little periods of time off the island. The main point of work and frustration has been getting some lessons ready. I’m in a spot with the maths where it isn’t a problem for me these days. I’ve been doing the 4th grade through Algebra II thing for a while and I think I’ve got a good working curriculum going on. The problem lately has to do with science.

Right now I’ve reached a critical mass of students with really poor reading skills and my usual winter indoor science curriculum is pretty reading intensive. It in fact requires a certain amount of independence in student reading and researching. As far as I’m able to assess right now half of my students are below the third grade in their reading levels and they have serious struggles reading material as basic as a newspaper article. 16-year-old kids can’t read the paper. It’s really frustrating.

This being their situation it occurred to me that perhaps the best service I can do them as a teacher is to try and create my science curriculum for them in such a way that they will secretly be really improving their reading abilities. It seemed pretty reasonable to me. I’m kind of a scientist. Most of the scientific work I do involves reading stuff. Surely there are ways of making them read and learn science at the same time. Right?

I believe there are but I have yet to discover them. There is a perennial problem in teaching special education, something I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this blog. It is the issue of kids who can’t read good detecting that you know they can’t read good and giving them work that they feel is for little kids. It is the shame obstacle.

For whatever reason, I cannot find literature on biology related topics at a second grade reading level composed for teenage audiences. I’ve spent a few hours at the library. I found a book about integrating literature and science instruction, but in browsing it the suggestions for doing it were all pretty commonsensical and all the suggested readings and activities were for elementary school. Readings recommended as being biology related at the lower levels tend to not have any kind of technical information at all. They are usually cutesy illustrated stories about planting a seed and it growing into a tree or the chicken egg hatches and the chick makes noises and eats grain. On the other end are those that are designed to be for kids with lots of good illustrations and information but the language and vocabulary are still too advanced for my students.

So, I’ve been angsting, stressing, and vexing about this stuff with most of my time off and end up going back to the island with yet another couple of episodes from “Planet Earth” with Sir David Attenborough. (I should add that it is a pretty darn good series though I prefer his “Life of ….” or “Life in ….” videos.) And then I leave the island feeling like maybe the kids learned a little something about biology but their reading isn’t getting better. Furthermore I’m not really helping my more advanced students as much as I should be. It appears that I’m going to be moving on to creating a science curriculum more like my math where I have to work with each kid at his own level. This is going to be so much work.

I have thought many times that the whole field of special education could benefit tremendously from the availability of materials that are sensitive to the delicate egos of students such as mine, that very low level academic skills could be developed using materials designed for an adult’s interest and “dignity” if you will. Whenever I get to thinking along these lines it crosses my mind that I might produce some such material but… wow. I think someone could spend their whole life doing things like that, and it’s not really what I intend to do with mine.