Archive for the ‘Fatherhood’ Category

2014: Worth Twelve Thousand Words

Two years ago, I decided to look at the numbers that shaped my 2012.  This year, inspired by a friend’s post, I chose to revisit a picture for each month of 2014.



Dylan and I started off 2014 with the Pinewood Derby.  His Creeper car didn’t win many heats, but hey… Creeper car.



Our region of the US got absolutely slammed with snow between mid-January and late February last year.  This is our backyard and driveway; the snow is probably about two feet deep in the flat areas.  I’m not sure exactly how tall the pile at the bottom of our driveway is, but I’m 6’2″ and I remember the highest point being pretty close to eye level.



My wife is a frequent morning radio trivia player (and winner).  This month, we got a rare night out on our own to see the Cirque du Soleil tribute to Michael Jackson in Trenton, NJ, near where I work.



Dylan and I went to Philly BrickFest, an exhibition with custom bricks & figures, giveaways, and some incredibly detailed & complex scenes, including this cityscape.  If you’re in the area, there’s a Groupon for the 2015 BrickFest this April in Oaks, PA.



After the winter we had, they’re probably wishing to never see another snowflake again.



Kiera performs with the rest of her graduating kindergarten class.



Dylan was chosen to help the Royal Caribbean cruise ship staff demonstrate the proper use of a life vest.



Dissertation writing began in earnest after we got back from the cruise in July and went straight through the rest of the summer.  This was my view many mornings this month.



Steph and I finally got to see The Book of Mormon, on the last performance of its Philly run at the Forrest Theatre.



I’m all smiles after a two-hour (successful) dissertation defense, along with my committee.



After a several-hour wait, Dylan got to meet Diary of a Wimpy Kid series author Jeff Kinney and get his book signed in Bethlehem, PA.  Totally worth it, according to him (Dylan, not Kinney).



After watching all her friends lose teeth like it was going out style, Kiera finally lost her first tooth, on December 23, at the ripe old age of 6 years and almost 11 months.  When it rains, it pours: she lost the tooth right next to it a few days later.

In the absence of a 365 Project (I’ve done three; not planning to do another one anytime soon), it was nice to go back through our family pictures in preparation for this post, sift through the hundreds of shots, and reminisce a bit, even (or perhaps especially) over the photos that didn’t make this post.  In a world of blazing fast social media feeds and 24-hour news cycles, it’s nice to slow down a bit, go back, and deliberately revisit and review the recent past.

What’s Good for the Goose

Amidst the seemingly endless parade of art projects, desk clean-outs, and partially depleted school supplies that have been coming home over the past few weeks, my son brought home a portfolio of his work from his Gifted Support program.  My wife and I sat down to look at the contents this weekend and, of course, were very proud of both the quality and creativity of the work, as well as the progress our son has made over the course of the year (especially with regard to his handwriting; he’s definitely my son in that regard).  As a point of reference for the reader, my son was in second grade this year.

Beyond my son’s work, however, what impressed me was the structure and the content of the portfolio assignment; i.e., what the teacher asked the students to do, both in terms of class activities and their own reflection on the learning process.  Among other things, I noticed evidence of ongoing reflection, particularly on using different strategies to solve problems.  There were multiple references to Paideia seminars, as well as discrete examples of how to generalize skills learned through these units into everyday situations.  Clearly, both my son and his teacher did a lot of thinking about thinking and learning this year, and I couldn’t be happier about that.

Where I get a bit tripped up is wondering how many students in the general education setting, who don’t have the benefit of this sort of instruction outlined in a GIEP, get that kind of metacognitive approach to learning?  I don’t necessarily mean in my son’s district, but across the board – why are we limiting this beneficial instruction to a subset of students?  I’m glad my son has that exposure, but really, could that not benefit all students, not just those labeled as gifted?

I also wonder how the overall instructional model will change, if at all, in third grade next year, when my son and his classmates will take the PSSA exams for the first (but sadly, not the last) time.  I have no reason to believe it will impact my son’s Gifted Support program, but I’ll be interested to see if/how the shadow of this test impacts his general education classroom experience.  Will there be fewer projects and more skill drills?  What percentage of the year will be comprised of practice tests?

I don’t really have any solid answers to offer in this post; it’s really me just spilling some of my thoughts and concerns.  They’re not even about my son’s district in particular, but more about the state of education in general.  It’s one thing to think and write about this stuff from a professional perspective, but there’s another layer added to it when not only your profession and livelihood, but also the educational well-being of your own kids, are impacted.

Words Mean Things IV

For some context, see my previous three “Words Mean Things” posts.

Last time I wrote one of these posts, girls were too pretty to do math.  I guess a lot has changed in the STEM world in the last two years, because now they get their own pretty pink telescopes:


(circles and arrows mine)

In case you started to get the crazy idea that anyone could have whatever color telescope they wanted, please note that the pink one is clearly marked “For Girls” and the blue is clearly marked “For Boys“. 

I get it.  It’s perfectly OK for girls to like pink and boys to like blue.  My daughter loves pink and would undoubtedly love a pink telescope, car, cell phone, and anything else that can come in a color (in fact, she asked for this as soon as she saw it).  But is it not a bit patronizing to engage in this kind of gender-specific marketing (that worked so well for Bic, if you recall) in 2013?  Is it even necessary for items like pens, telescopes, soda, and chocolate, all of which seem fairly gender-neutral in their appeal?

Nodes in the Network

So a funny thing happened on the way to my inbox…

I received an email early last month through the “Contact” page on my website with the subject line, “Do you know a child named Kiera who would use a winter hat?”

This caught my attention because, as luck would have it, I do indeed have a daughter named Kiera, and who can’t use a winter hat in February?

Not sure what this was all about, I read on.  I’m glad I did, because it turns out it was an email from Dr. Linda Quirke, a sociology professor at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, Canada.  Turns out a friend of Dr. Quirke’s made personalized wool beanies as party favors for a four-year-old’s birthday party, but misspelled one of the partygoer’s names as K-I-E-R-A, and therefore couldn’t use it.  Hating to see a perfectly good hat go to waste, Dr. Quirke took to Twitter to search “daughter Kiera”, to see if anybody had a child who spelled her name that way.

She found a tweet to me from my Twitter friend Diane Cordell (presumably this recent retweet of me announcing Kiera’s birth five years ago?), went to my Twitter profile, where she found a link to my website, and then the “Contact” page, from whence she sent me her message.

Never one to turn down free hat offers from the Internet, I e-mailed Linda my address and sure enough, about a week later:


Nearly six years after becoming active on Twitter and Facebook, the ability of these services to create connections between people still amazes me.  That we are so eminently searchable online these days (some of us more than others, granted) is something I am convinced we need to embed in our teaching and learning.  Some schools approach it from the standpoint of “be careful what you say/do online”, but beyond that, think of the relationships – personal and professional – that can arise through social media.

In Deschooling Society, Ivan Illich proposes – among other things – that we raze the current educational system and learn through apprenticeship instead, identifying our areas of need, seeking out masters of their trade, and learning at their feet.  The logistics underlying that idea are not as far-fetched as they may have once seemed.  The network already exists; it’s here.  Will we teach our students to use it to make connections with other smart people, regardless of geographic location, and learn from and share ideas with them?  Will we teach students not only to take from these resources, but also to contribute their own learning to the mix so that others may learn from them?  Or will we simply use it to keep up with what celebrities and athletes are eating for lunch?

I know it’s a stretch to go from this cute hat story to Ivan Illich, but I think the bigger point is that anyone who has a Facebook page or a Twitter account – whether they like it or not – is a node in a network, and it does students a disservice to not: a) make them aware of this, b) illustrate that for them, and c) help them realize how to harness and contribute to the power of that human network.  That will go a long way toward creating the “21st century” and “lifelong” learners that we are so fond of referencing in the edu-jargon.

Johanna and Linda, thank you so much for reminding me of this, as well as for Kiera’s hat.  She loves it, and I love how she got it.

The Best Five Minutes

Happy New Year!

While it’s a brand new (Gregorian) calendar year, educators in the US are just about smack in the middle of the school year.  Seasonal Affective Disorder notwithstanding, it’s easy to get a little down in the period post-Christmakwanzukkah festivities.  The trees come down, the lights get put away, the gift-giving and family & social engagements die down, and everything gets a little greyer for a little while.  With that in mind, I’m taking this opportunity to reflect on a part of my day that brings me much joy year-round.


Since moving from a high school to an intermediate school schedule a year ago, I don’t have to get up as early anymore.  My wife – a high school teacher – is up, ready, and out the door by 6:15 am (or so I’m told).  I spend the hour or so between when she gets up and when I get up in a half-awake, half-asleep state, enjoying the toastiness of the bed as well as the newly-doubled space.  But while that’s very nice, that’s not the best time of my day.

The best time of my day is a five-minute period from 6:30 – 6:35 am.  That’s when my 7-year-old son wakes up, turns his alarm off, pads down the hallway, and climbs into bed with me.  Sometimes he snuggles into the crook of my arm and lays his head on my chest, sometimes we just lie next to each other in mirror-image fetal positions.  Sometimes we talk softly, sometimes we lie in complete silence.  Either way, it’s a peaceful time that is special for just the two of us.

He’s at a time in his life when he is testing boundaries and discovering himself.  He no longer believes in Santa Claus, he has started to neglect his once-dear army of stuffed animals, and he asks his parents “Why?” and “Why not?” with much more force, sharpness, and challenge in his voice than when he asked as a three-year-old.  He’s seven going on seventeen, and most days I look at his tall body and lean face and wonder where my chubby-cheeked baby boy went.

But for five minutes every morning, he comes back to me, at least for now.  I know it won’t (and shouldn’t) last, but for now, that five minutes is our special time, a time when everything is perfect and calm.  As 6:35 rolls around, we get up, I get my daughter up, and we all start our respective morning hustle and bustle.  I can’t speak for him, but as for me, having that time together in the morning is soothing and centering, and starts my day on such a positive note.  I am so pleased with and proud of the young man he is becoming, but I am also acutely grateful that while he spends so much time within himself figuring out who he is and isn’t, he continues to grant me just five more minutes each day.