Learning to learn

Written By: Miranda - Jan• 22•11

It often strikes me how few people, when presented with a technical problem, will try to search out the answer themselves. Most will ask someone in the tech department but if they can’t reach anyone, or don’t get an answer right away, they do not seem to go any further. They simply wait. Wait for someone to give them the answer.

I thought for some time that it was just that most people had no natural curiosity about these things but now I wonder if it isn’t that schools in general do not teach people to teach themselves. Most schools follow the professorial model. The teacher teaches, the students listen. Then they get tested.

I saw this video from Dean Shareski last night and it really struck me. It documents the teaching style of a woman named Shelley Wright.


In it, she says:

I plan to prepare my students for the reality that is already here. We cannot continue to have classrooms that look the same as they did 50 years ago and tell ourselves that we are preparing our students effectively. If we believe this lie, it is our students who will pay the consequences.

A thought provoking video. But then I always get good stuff from Dean.

Why do I write?

Written By: Miranda - Nov• 11•10

Mrs. Gray is beginning an interesting project  over at her new site, Why Do People Write?. Her students will be asking authors what drives them to write, why they do what they do. Besides the obvious answer that “it’s a living” why do people write? Why did I write things like The Bat Report, or The Paper Trail? Those are from a long time ago and I’m still writing, it hasn’t lost its appeal.

Why did I spend a couple of weeks polishing up Stolen Moments? The simple answer would be because I enjoy it, it’s a hobby like gardening or something.  A better answer I think, for me, is that it clarifies something that I feel, something in the way that I see things, into something others can share. That’s a pretty heady feeling when that happens.

Letting Go

Written By: Miranda - Nov• 11•10

Oregon or Bust

Of all the lessons in letting go that have come my way lately, the biggest one came watching my son’s taillights going down that driveway.

My son has gone on driveabout, the American version of the Australian walkabout, the rambling, cross-country rite of passage that young people all go on if they are lucky. I went myself, back in the day, and it was one of the best experiences I could have had.

But it’s different watching it from the other side, being a mother and watching your child go off in a car with 200,000 miles on it. Granted he got new axles and gaskets before he left.

I know my worries are excessive. My son carries electronic equipment that we never had. He has a Tracfone, a prepaid cell phone. He has a computer. The first night I got an email from a rest area outside of Albany, New York and then I heard again from a closed “Welcome to Iowa” center where he had stopped to rest. I happened to be online at the same time and we had an email conversation – me here on my red couch in the comfort of my living room and my child at the border of Iowa on Route 80, alone in the dark, traveling with his bed in the back and the camp stove and the old coffee pot we bought in Idaho City when we traveled across country with the Frog Army.

I didn’t hear anything for four days after that.  I told myself that it wouldn’t be much of an adventure, not much of a true driveabout if a young traveler had to keep in touch with his mother all the time now would it? But my mind, which can go from zero to sixty in two minutes or less when it comes to dreadful scenarios, was working overtime. In most of the scenarios we never even found the body.

I finally got so worried that I went to our local bank. It’s a small town and a small town bank and the tellers have known us both for donkey’s years. I asked if there had been any activity on his debit card and they were kind enough to tell me that there had, just that morning in Boise, Idaho.

I shouldn’t have done that. My son’s father was quick to tell me, when I spoke to him on the phone that he disapproved. “He’s twenty years old” he said. “He’s gone and you have to get used to it.”

My son made it to Oregon and is staying for a few days with my sister, his aunt. Just this evening he called and told me all about his hike out to Bagby Hot Springs, down near Estacada, Oregon. I had told him to be sure to go out there. It was one of my favorite day trips when I lived out there, an easy scenic hike through old growth Douglas Fir forest and at the end a bathhouse with bathtubs made of hollow logs, fed by a steaming hot natural spring. It was wonderful hearing him talk about it, hearing how much he’d enjoyed it. “I think I’ll go up to the Olympia, Washington area for a bit” he said.

And I’ll let him go and not ask the ladies at the bank to help me track him. I’ll let him go.

The Beaver Pond

Written By: Miranda - Oct• 21•10

The beavers had a dam that stretched several hundred feet across the little valley. They had made a beautiful pond.

It was beautiful in the summer

and beautiful in winter too.

Then, one night, there was a big storm. So much water came down the stream that the dam blew out.
When we woke up the pond was gone!
What a shock.

At first it was a wasteland. But then some of it got dug up for garden.

The year after that, it turned into beaver meadow.

The streams were fun to play in but I missed the pond.

We knew the beavers were still around. But we didn’t have anything they wanted anymore.

Then the beaver meadow turned into brush. Little trees started growing up around the garden.

They were building dams further down the valley.

And then one day they started building a new dam, right across from the house.

It gets bigger every night. If you stand outside at night you can hear them working on it. When they jump in it sounds like somebody throwing cement blocks in the water.

The water is already up over the stream beds and beginning to flood the young trees.

A new pond is beginning.

Pond Life:


The hummingbird clock

Written By: Miranda - Sep• 17•10

The hummingbirds have gone, they left during the first week of September. The week before they left they seemed more agitated than usual. They fought among themselves more, the air was filled with tiny dogfights all week long. Then one day the air was silent. One female hummingbird stayed behind. I took the last feeder in and a couple of days later she had moved on South with the rest of her kind.

Every year the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds arrive from their winter home in Mexico within a day or two of May 8th. They are very regular. I anticipate their arrival by setting out hummingbird feeders, at least two to start. When the Baltimore Orioles show up I put out one or two more, they like the fake nectar just as well as the hummers do. But on or around May 8th the hummingbirds arrive, tired from their long trip and heading for the feeders they know I’ll have waiting for them.
The return of the Red-winged Blackbirds means spring has arrived, the return of the hummingbirds means another summer can begin.

Ruby-throats come back to the same place year after year. If you put out feeders, as I do, the same hummingbirds will return expecting those feeders to be out. There are a few individuals I recognize now, there are tiny differences among them in the way of oddities of plumage, spots and so forth.

The hummingbirds are my clock. Their yearly migration is my way of seeing the passage of time, year after year. It’s always such a joy when I see the first one in May. When they leave I am sad but I know they have to go and if one hangs around as this one female did a couple of weeks ago, I’ll encourage them to leave by taking in the feeders. I know they’ll be back next May.
If I live until I’m ninety five I’ll see the hummingbirds return only forty more times in my life which doesn’t seem like very many. Forty isn’t a large number. Sometimes I think about things like that. Forty more springs. I’ll try to savor each one as much as possible.

Thinking about Facebook

Written By: Miranda - Sep• 14•10

I’ve been thinking about Facebook, more the last couple of days now that all the students are back and we need to worry about blocking Facebook during study hall.

The decision to block it during study hours was the recommendation of a committee a year or two ago. The committee was formed of administrators, faculty, students and staff. I was the staff in the mix.

I do see that facebook is an awful distraction for some. I like using it, it’s a good way to keep in touch with old friends. My brother’s been in the hospital having his colon removed. He has cancer (I’ve talked about that before in Driveabout) and has had for over nine years, it’s amazing he is still alive. He used it a lot to keep in touch with everyone while he was in the hospital. He’d post silly pictures he took with the webcam and Photobooth.

This is a picture his friend Mariella made: my brother, his wife and a stuffed rabbit surrounded by their Facebook friends.

Stolen Moments

Written By: Miranda - Sep• 08•10

A few weeks ago I saw a baby. I was coming around the north end of Lake Morey and I passed a long low wooden building with porches all along the front. The baby was on a green lawn in front of the building. It wore a long dress made of stripes of brightly colored woven fabric, reminiscent of Guatemalan indigenous weaving. The baby was completely bald.
It was walking very carefully with both hands straight up in the air. A woman in blue jeans held one hand and they were walking towards another woman who stood on the porch with a striped dishtowel over her shoulder and the woman was smiling.

Another thing I saw was a flock of birds. I was on my way to work and driving down the interstate highway south. I saw what looked like a large flock of geese off in the distance, flying north, flying toward me. But they flew like no flock of geese I’d ever seen. The black forms against the morning sky first began to form the usual V but then began spreading out into a long line. Then they began coiling and uncoiling the line, moving it in serpentine curves across the sky. I could not stop but I slowed down as much as I dared to watch them. The curving, coiling line passed my car, off to the left, and I opened my window to listen to them but they did not make a sound.

John Hiatt calls them stolen moments. “Don’t you know we are living in stolen moments?” he sings.  More and more often these moments strike me and stay, golden and perfect in my mind. It begins to seem as if life is a string of stolen, golden moments.

My son graduated from high school just last month. I went to the Baccalaureate ceremony the Sunday evening before graduation. It was held in the Congregational church on the green. It is a very old church, the oldest meetinghouse in Vermont, built in 1787. It is very plain and graceful inside. The walls are a sort of parchmenty yellow and the woodwork is white. The windows are very tall and run all the way from the white wainscoting to the choir loft and balcony.
Martha, the Head of School, talked about having known many of the young men and women as children. She talked about how we as a community had watched over them all their lives and picked them up when they fell and kept them safe. Now, she said, it was time for them to fly, but like trapeze performers who fly through the air under the big top they must let go of the first bar in order to fly to the next, held up by nothing but air. It would be frightening, she said, but they must do it. Their community would still be watching them from below, she said, and we would hold the net for them should they need it.

My son and I have been planning for this change. He will have our house, and I intend to move in with a friend who lives in the next town north. My son has been accepted to the college of his choice. The college is nearby. He’ll live at home while he attends college, but it will be his home, not his and mine anymore.

My son stayed at the school graduation party all night after the ceremony and came back home at about 5:30 in the morning. He told me that when the school bus brought them all back from the athletic club where the party was held, as the students got into cars and trucks to go home, there was a spontaneous mass “peel-out” from the school parking lot. “Even I laid rubber, Mom,” he said, laughing. “I didn’t know my car could even do that!”

He went to bed and as he slept I got out the card I had bought to give to him for his graduation. It had a picture of a dirt road curving around a bend in the woods, and I opened it and began to write:

Dear Chris,
I bought this card because the road in the picture curves around the bend. I cannot see where it goes, I cannot see the end.
I do not know where your road will take you. If life works as it should, I will never see the end of your road.
I hope that your journey is long. I hope the journey holds many joys for you.
I love you more than I ever thought it possible to love anyone. After almost twenty years it is now time for me to let you go to travel your own way, on your own road. A safe journey I wish you.
May the road rise to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back and the rain fall soft upon your fields.

And I wrote that a sum of money had been deposited in his account to help him on his journey and I signed it: with love.

I left the card propped up on his desk and a few hours later, he came to me as I sat at the table reading the newspaper and sat down opposite.
“I was really touched by your card,” he said. “I know this is hard for you, Mom.”
I held out my hand and he clasped it across the table. My eyes were wet and my vision blurred.
“I love you, Chris,” I said.
“I love you too,” he said.
After a moment he got up and turned to go but then he turned back.
“So, when are you moving out? “ he said.
And in the cocked eyebrow, the triangular grin, and the perfect timing of the delivery, I saw his namesake: my brother.

Stolen moment.


Written By: Miranda - May• 25•10

On the road

I woke up this morning thinking about gratitude
The thing that I am most grateful for today is that my brother is on driveabout.
His last scan showed a bunch of new little tumors but they aren’t going to start more chemo for a few weeks
So he and my sister in law have gone on a road trip before that begins.
When you live with chemo, trips are hard.
The breaks between treatments aren’t long enough to go anywhere
and you feel too crappy anyway.
Driveabout is when you head west with no particular destination in mind.
Almost every morning there are new pictures
Old junkyards filled with cars from the 40’s, abandoned roadside attractions on Route 66,
Moonscapes from Utah, jagged mountains covered with snow, pictures of old friends in New Mexico.
Wonderful pictures.
My brother is on the road and I am grateful.

from The Thinking Stick

Written By: Miranda - May• 05•10

I wanted to post the two links here to a couple articles in The Thinking Stick on using blogs as web based portfolios both so I could remember where they were and to be able to direct others to them. I think he’s got some good ideas on using blogs this way, and of course that was the main use I saw for this installation of KUA Press.
Blogs as Web Based Portfolios Part 1
Blogs as Web-Based Portfolios Part 2

He says one very very good thing (among others, I mean I’ve always found him to have good ideas in general) but this thing is important.

One key aspect of a WBP that truly shows learning overtime is having students own the space. When students feel as though the space belongs to them, there is a sense of ownership in what is posted. There is also a freedom that comes with having your own “web site” where you can talk about the things that matter to you the most. WBPs in this way become more than a teacher driven activity that must be completed. They take on a life of their own, allowing students to freely write, and create for their portfolio those aspects of their life that are most meaningful to them.


Many teachers feel they need to control the WBP of the students. When the WBP is seen as “just another assignment” or something else students need to do for school, the interest is lost. The sense of ownership of the portfolio is lost and students’ interest in telling their stories, reflecting on their lives quickly fades.

The blogs being used by students here are all owned by teachers, teachers control the content. The blogs that control the content the least are the most natural, the most used. Some are just another way of handing in an assignment and I don’t think students get much out of that.

Return of the Red-winged Blackbirds

Written By: Miranda - Mar• 13•10

The Red-winged Blackbirds are back! I heard them trill out in the swamp when I pulled in the dooryard on Friday night. It’s always a great moment. Spring is here when you hear the blackbirds.