Thursday, August 13, 2015

Canoe on the Codorus

Tonight Laura and I put a canoe in at Bantz Park in York City and paddled down to the boat basin and back. The high banks of the Codorus, dug out by the Army Corp of Engineers for flood control make this stretch a bit less beautiful than it otherwise might be, but the highlight was definitely the wildlife spotted nonetheless, especially the birds. We saw: Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Black Crowned Night Heron, Killdeer, and a likely Sharp Shinned Hawk and Kingfisher. We also saw plenty of groundhogs, cats, and two water snakes. The canoeing was easy in light to minimal current, besides at the riffle at Tyler Run Creek, which we bumped through going down and portaged on the way back. The sediment bar that forms there was greatly reduced by the ACE just a month or two ago. While we won't re-visit this stretch any time soon, it's fun to see downtown York from the water.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Day 1- Travel\Ellis on George Washington

Travel from South Jersey to Alexandria, VA in heavy holiday traffic. 4 hours! Tomorrow, I'll be touring Mount Vernon for the morning and then traveling south to Chancellorsville, VA to tour the battlefield where Stonewall Jackson lost an arm, and subsequently his life.

Washington and the "Patriarchal Problem"
In preparation for this tour, I pulled a number of books from the shelves at Schmidt Library, including His Excellency, by Joseph Ellis. In his introduction, Ellis describes the difficulty of capturing who Washington really was, noting that "Washington poses what we might call the Patriarchal Problem in its most virulent form: on Mount Rushmore, the Mall, the dollar bill and the quarter, but always an icon- distant, cold, intimidating. As Richard Brookhiser has so nicely put it, he is in our wallets but not our hearts."

I think Ellis is right that we have alternated between idolization and "evisceration" in the treatment of Washington. The facts of Washington's life give us plenty to work with on both counts. 

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Patio Project Part 1

Two years ago, our lovely neighbors agreed to include a side yard in our joint fencing project (joint is sort of a stretch; I researched, got quotes, and did demo of old fence, but they financed it all!). In preparation, I demolished the side entrance steps to the house (the door was rendered a dummy with our initial renovation of the kitchen) and removed several bushes.


One major hurdle was what to do with all of the dirt I'd be digging out. Having a bit of landscaping experience from high school, I know that a firm stone and sand base is pretty key to any patio\paver project. I posted to Craigslist and started asking around. A local landscaping supply company that I planned on buying materials from thought "maybe" the owner would let me dump the topsoil for a fee, and I'd be on my own getting it there. That was a no go. It turned out a colleague and friend from school was looking for topsoil to fill in an area of their lawn- and had a trailer! It was a mutually beneficial swap, Mike!

A major downspout is located in the middle of the patio area, and after digging about 6 inches, I realized I would have to lower the drainage pipe further than I had last year. I installed a hard PVC elbow below the downspout, linking to a black plastic drain pipe with large holes on the underside to allow for drainage into the soil. The pipe was seated on small rocks and sand. The end of the drain pipe is buried in rocks right at the edge of the sidewalk. When there's a significant amount of rain, water makes it to the end and bubbles up and over the sidewalk, watering the tree we just had planted along the curbside this spring.
It was sad\fun to dig up portions of the old French drain from the original building of the house. You can see pretty clearly why this one wasn't working so well anymore.

Once I had dug out and leveled the ground using mason's twine and a level, I laid down weed barrier cloth, swayed by my Pop (Laura's father). This was a last minute decision as I am not a huge proponent of weed barrier especially when used in flower beds. Here,  I couldn't think of a downside and thought it we had a weed issue 2-5 years down the road I might be wondering if I had made a mistake in not using it. 

Over the weed barrier, I laid about 2.5 inches of "stone dust." The name is a little misleading because you can't see a lot of the dust- it settles down through the tiny bits of crushed stone- especially after being rained on. I was amazed at how after spreading, leveling, and tamping this base how hard the surface became once we had a good rain. I think the dust settles down through the crushed stone and hardens a bit. You can buy polymeric stone dust, but that's more expensive and wasn't necessary for my project. I suspect it might be more applicable to a pavers project.

A year ago, a neighbor was giving away about 2-3 cubit yards of sand left over from a building project. Knowing that we'd be doing something like a patio in the side yard- and also wanting to give the kids a sandbox- I bagged the whole pile of sand and had a few friends help me move them via car 4 blocks to my house. When my buddy Warren asked how much the bags weighed prior to helping, I said, "Oh, 20-30 pounds or so." He was pretty shocked when we started moving them, and after some logical reasoning got me to admit that they were more like 50-60 or more pounds per bag! I still get teased any time the subject of the sand comes up. But I can point out that I saved us, let's see... maybe $100.
The sand has proven very useful in leveling, especially from mold to mold as you can see in the picture below. Phil (my Pop) and Laura are spreading the Quickrete concrete in the WalkMaker mold. We used the fact that Pop Pop and Mom Mom were up visiting for Memorial Day weekend to get started on the concrete since we'd have an extra hand with the kiddos.

Working the concrete into the molds is tedious. We are using a small trough to push the concrete in the corners and level each stone. However, the results are very promising. Below, you can see a total of six molds fitted together, which took us about three hours. Convinced that this project was going to be successful, we ordered 60 additional bags of concrete delivered on a pallet. As of writing, we're up to about 1/3 finished. Part 2 to include the staining and sealing process...

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Summer Reading Grades 6-12: I Am Malala

Every couple of years the English department decides to take on an "all-school" (6th-12) summer read. This summer, I'm particularly excited to be sharing I Am Malala, by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb.


With so much of our international news dominated by the havoc being wreaked by radical Islamists, it feels that a giant veil has been drawn over the Mideast and beyond, obscuring and entrenching our sense of the evil "other." Ms. Yousafzai helps remind us of the good people beyond the headlines.

There are a number of other reasons why this book will be important for our students in the months ahead. First, the book provides a very interesting angle on U.S. foreign policy. Yousafzai and Lamb seem particularly conscious of an American audience and generally only make small inferences and suggestions about U.S. involvement in Pakistan. These remarks often feel artificial, but are just right to provoke thought and discussion with middle and high school students.

Secondly, our students need to understand the Taliban and the complexities of radical Islam. To Yousafzai's credit, she doesn't resort to an excuse common among U.S. politicians that "the terrorists are not Muslims." Yousafzai knows that they are, while speaking passionately against what she sees as their perversion of true Islamic beliefs. She is reverent, honest, and outspoken. She notes that radical Islamic organizations were often the first to step in with humanitarian aid but also vividly shows how the Taliban ultimately advanced its control over large areas by using fear.

Finally, this book is humanizing. Though literarily clunky, brief vignettes about schoolgirl drama and bothersome little brothers help Ms. Yousafzai seem a bit more her age. The book reads in part as a tribute to her father -who serves as both inspiration and comic relief. He is worshiped by his daughter, but also fearful and stubborn.

I was moved to tears by this book. You will be too!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Visual Literacy: Part 2

I wanted to share the results of my "Causes of the Civil War" Doodle Test (7th grade History). First, the students received the idea enthusiastically. For some, it was because they were genuinely interested in sharing their knowledge in a visual way. Others clearly were hopeful that the project would be "easier" than a traditional test. The results were indicative of the approach that each student took. In general, I don't think my class thought of this assignment as seriously as if it were a traditional assessment. But a number of students demonstrated as much learning, if not more, than they would have otherwise. Check out the results below. I did not include some of the poorest examples.

While really short on information,
 I loved the visual concept of this doodle.
The student was required to re-submit the assignment.

Blood! Interesting use of flag throughout projects- Our
Upper School recently had some intense discussions about the flag and its
use in provocative art. Stepping point for engaging some difficult conversations.

This doodle had a great visual scheme, although
it fell short on details and content.

1) Did this assignment reach students effectively, or did it play into the hand of my "artistic" students while setting up others for failure? Grade average was about 90%, median around 85%, and a few were 'D' or below. 
2) For those that struggled, was the visual requirement of the project a barrier? Does it have to be if they are taught to re-think what doodling really is? 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Visual Literacy and the Doodle Revolution

Sometimes the impact of a conference takes time to trickle down into your classroom. Inspired by some very artistic 6th grades with a habit of doodling and drawing in class, I began thinking a lot about Sunni Brown's presentation at NAISAC this year. I think it's time to embrace a bit of visual literacy in my Humanities classes. Recently, this took the form of doodle review sheets created by the 6th grade as we prepare for an exam on the Roman Republic and Empire.

 Without a doubt, these aren't Sunni Brown worthy doodles. They're clearly the work of students who haven't had a lot of experience or time developing their visual vocabulary. Instead, they reflect the type of visual work the students have been most often exposed to- graphic organizers. Only the first doodle departs from a traditional categorized\boxed\webbed map of ideas. But I suspect with time, the students, at least some of them, will begin to explore beyond.
Just today I assigned a large scale doodle of "Major Causes of the Civil War" as a 7th grade end-of-unit test. So the experiment of teaching continues.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Bald Eagle- Hanover, PA

The PA Game Commission is sharing live feed from a Bald Eage's nest again this year. A colleague of mine noted that there's something "mesmerizing" about watching the feed. I keep thinking, "What's going on in their heads?" and when the birds are gone from the nest, "Where are they and what are they doing?"

View the feed here.

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