The Roundabout Web

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It’s easy to forget that we’re in the World Wide Web, sometimes.  I mean, we’re just living in the same place, day after day.  It’s hard to remember that there’s a whole world of people out there who are doing things, and browsing things, in order to achieve their own goals and dreams, or even just to pass the time.

And then a colleague on Twitter, Chad Sansing, happens to mention this really cool draft of a 7th grade leadership curriculum that’s making some small waves on the web.

And I think, Hey, I used to teach 7th grade leadership… I bet that would be useful to me...

So I check out the link.

And I find that HolyKaw at, has picked up my picture from Flickr, and made something of a big deal out of it… 2200 visits to their site, and a good 500-600 clickthroughs over the last few days to my Flickr account, in order to see the image itself on its original home.

Or, you know, you can see it here, and click through on the image to the original Flickr site, and see it in its original home.
Seventh Grade Leadership Curriculum draft

Anyway, it never ceases to amaze me, the ways in which the Roundabout Web comes back to turn and return to itself, the snake Ourobouros eating its own ever-elongating tail.

Wikified extra help

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Today I had two girls come to extra help session from 1:45 to 2:30. Both are international students; one is South Korean and the other is mainland Chinese. They have a lot of difficulty understanding ancient texts, particularly when the translation in question is that of John Dryden’s Plutarch, describing Caesar’s assassination. Archaic, much?not to be believed.

Today I went through the text of Plutarch with them, identifying ten sentences which could serve as the core of their essays on the final exam next Tuesday. I highlighted the sentences in red, and put in a few marginal notes to help them grasp the core concepts of the text in the Simplest English I could think of.

Tomorrow I have three more students coming to extra help (they have a game today so they couldn’t come to extra help today).

But they may not be as frantic.

Because all the extra help I gave to the two girls today is on the wiki. It’s built into the Dryden translation of Plutarch now. The key sentences are highlighted in red, and my glosses of the complex grammar are in blue. Anyone in any of my classes can read them.

And all that extra help is available to future classes, too. It’s material that can be added to and built on and expanded. I can even record quick explanations of sentences and build them in as mini podcasts.

Those of us who read, and love reading in the traditional way, may be horrified. A text that talks in words other than its author, that highlights its own main ideas, that adds audio and visual commentary? It’s counter to what we believe a “text” should be.

Yet the goal of text, as Plutarch would have happily told you, was and is to transmit information across time and space. Cicero called it the message of ancient days. The Mormons do something similar with their baptism of the dead; and so should we do our best to reawaken ancient authors with technology. If we expect Dryden to do the mediation between Plutarch and today, the battle is lost, and the ancients will die. If we let our students and teachers digitize them, gloss them and reinvigorate them, then then ancient power of ancient text may become again a vibrant part of middle school learning.

I’m not Perfect

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Today, I was in charge of running lunch.

Lunch is a horrendous affair, sometimes.  The entire eighth and ninth grades sit down to eat together, six or seven students to a table, and a faculty member or two with them.  It’s one of my daily duties to decide when dessert gets put out, and to make sure all the tables are clear at the end of the meal.  I also am responsible for decorum and discipline at lunch during the meal, and for assigning students to be Waiters – each responsible for clearing one table.  Skipping line, table manners, wasting food, and all the rest…

Ordinarily, I do a very good job with this duty.  Today was… well… an exception.  There were mitigating circumstances — I was away from campus last night, and I didn’t get the e-mail that I was subsitute-teaching for one of my absent colleagues first period until 90 minutes before classes started. That meant I truncated my own morning preparations a lot.  I didn’t walk the dog or feed her.  I didn’t go through my morning exercises.  I didn’t have a cup of coffee until almost 9 am.  I didn’t have breakfast.  The period before lunch ran just a little long, and I didn’t get to lunch in time to “show the flag” and let students know I was there and watching.

Turns out it was Mexican chicken wraps…  a flour burrito wrap, with some pieces of spicy chicken in them, and then a do-it-yourself (DIY) bar of salsa, lettuce, cheese, sour cream, onions and other fixins’. Very popular with the students and adults.  It was a very hectic meal.

Two minutes before the bell is supposed to ring to end the meal, and before we all troop off to our next class, I find that there are a lot of empty seats.  Oh no, I think.  Popular dessert on top of popular main meal? Disaster. I have a lot of announcements because of the possibility of bad weather this afternoon — possible changes to the sports schedule.

A quick examination reveals that the dessert line has stretched out of the serving area into the lobby of the dining hall.  But students — who! are! eating! and! drinking! in! the! serving! area! — are skipping to the head of the line, grabbing their brownies, and dashing away to eat them.

No hesitation on my part.  I grab the first three kids I see skipping ahead of the 35 people in line, and pull them and their grubby, grabby little hands out of the brownies.  I start yelling at them for their atrocious behavior, and exceptionally bad manners.

One of the kids in the line taps me gingerly on the shoulder.

“Mr. Watt… they weren’t cutting in line.” He’s clearly nervous, but standing up for what’s right, and I’m proud of him for that even as I absorbe what he’s telling me. “They’re just getting dessert.  We —” and here he waves at the long line stretching behind him, “are waiting for more chicken wraps.”

The chef looks at me and shrugs. “We ran out. Popular meal today.”

I apologize to the students I’ve just wronged, but my apology is still laced with anger. Not good. I slink back to my usual place near the dining hall bell, feeling shamed.  A few words from This Day In History — World War I, eleventh hour, eleventh minute, and all that.

We expect teachers to be perfect, in a lot of ways. To keep their patience, to hold a child’s attention for hours, to manage paperwork, to deliver cogent advice, to observe, to connect, to analyze and synthesize, and above all to be perfect models of what good adults should be.

On this occasion, though, I wasn’t any of those things.  I didn’t take the 30 seconds it would have taken to read the situation.  I saw only the broken rules of the dining hall; the rules I’ve made it my business and duty to notice and enforce… but a situation that looked bad only looked bad — it wasn’t actually bad.  And this sort of thing happens at least a few meals a year.

I miss it almost every time.

It’s taken me a long time to learn how to do and be all those things reasonably successfully on a day-to-day basis, often for weeks or months at a time.   So why is it that when I lose my cool and drop the ball, it feels so much like a massive and irreparable failure?