Renaissance Spoonie

I have a LOT of interests, and at various times I have kept up with not only the interest itself, but also the community surrounding the interest. I have too many interests to be an expert in anything. Several years ago I discovered the book The Renaissance Soul by Margaret Lobenstine. If, like me, you have trouble designing your life around your plethora of interests, it’s definitely worth checking out.

One of Lobenstine’s key suggestions is to limit yourself to pursuing 4 interests at a time. One can be a career interest and the other three can be personal interests, or you can mix it up differently, but career + hobbies should fall into 4 categories, unless you can work more hobbies into your career. You can rotate different things into your sampler of interests whenever you like.

I find, though, that thanks to my chronic illness and the extreme fatigue that comes with it, as well as the higher priority self-care must have in my life, that I can’t just pursue 4 things like work, improv, singing, and crochet. (Which leaves out so many ways I like to spend my time, including gaming, gardening, reading…)

Because of my illness, my sampler needs to look more like this:

1. Work or school

2. Self-care: food prep, exercise, hygiene

3. Home care: laundry, picking up, grocery shopping

4. ONE PERSONAL INTEREST.

This means I can only be intensely focused on one thing at a time, and it bums me right out. So I’m looking for ways to deal with it. One way is to rotate that one thing VERY rapidly – like “Today is an improv day. Tomorrow will be a video game day. The next day will be a crafting day.” And that’s sort of where I’m at right now.

The other is to combine things. For example, reading on my bus commute; crocheting while loading screens are coming up on video games.

I think I need to consciously utilize these two techniques to keep from feeling like I can’t have hobbies/interests. 

If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

Yesterday I had my first session with Monica Barco of Nourish Health Coaching. Monica and I have known each other for about 25 years. When I heard about her health journey and how similar it was to mine, I knew she would be a great health coach for me.

I am big into research, of course, so I know that whole foods are the best things you can eat, and in the past I’d had a session with a nutritionist where the only advice she gave me that I hadn’t already heard was to buy produce from the salad bar if you only need a small quantity. I have done a lot of reading about nutrition and exercise, and familiarized myself with many possibilities, tried and failed on a variety of restrictive eating plans, and currently practice intuitive eating which, because of the food science that food companies use, lately has led me to eat more and more processed foods. Time for a change!

I recently took Gretchen Rubin’s four Rubin-types quiz, which told me that I’m an Obliger (which I kind of already knew). Based on this, I figured that if all I gained from Monica was a person to check in with me, to make sure I was actually doing the things I know I’m supposed to do – somebody whose job it was and who I wouldn’t get annoyed with for asking (as I might do with family) – then that would be worth our time and her fee right there.

But of course, a health coach isn’t just a person who asks you if you’re doing things, and the most helpful thing Monica did for me in our session yesterday was remind me of stuff I already know and give me some new things to try. And that’s, I think, very high value. Because I forget that there actually ARE black teas that I like. I forget that a person could potentially have nut butter on toast for breakfast with a bit of fruit and it would be fast, easy, tasty, and, if it’s the right toast, healthy. So I need someone like Monica, not only to ask me if I’m doing the things, but to ask me questions and draw out what I’m willing to do, what I’d like to do.

If you at all think that you could benefit from health coaching, you should try it out. I think Monica would be willing to work with you over Skype or similar, if you’re not local. Can’t hurt to ask!

Stay tuned for food photos as I start having a wider variety of healthy breakfasts and drink more tea!

Booking through Thursday: Shakespeare

Booking through Thursday

Okay, show of hands … who has read Shakespeare OUTSIDE of school required reading? Do you watch the plays? How about movies? Do you love him? Think he’s overrated?

I first read Shakespeare in 8th grade. We were assigned A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and that was a smart move on the part of whomever made that decision. Thirteen-year-old me was ripe for a play about fairies and lovers. It was one of those interlinear versions with the original text on the left and a “translation” on the right. I loved it, though I frequently found myself thinking the “translation” was dumb.

In 9th grade, I was assigned Romeo and Juliet and Julius Caesar. Again, genius job, people who decide 9th graders should read R&J. Because developmentally speaking, they are supremely relatable characters when you’re that age. JC wasn’t so great – I’ve never been big on the histories, and it just didn’t grab me. I think that while the language is what makes Shakespeare remarkable, it’s the stories that have to be the gateway for somebody new to Shakespeare. If you can get them with the stories, then they’ll get over the challenges of the language, and maybe even find the beauty. My senior year, we read Othello, another one that didn’t grab me, again because I couldn’t relate.

In college, I chose to take a Shakespeare class to fulfill my English requirement. I hated the class because it was mostly the professor reading aloud to us, and he had a gravelly, expressionless voice. I think the most important thing to know about Shakespeare’s plays is that they weren’t designed as great literature. They were intended to serve as popular entertainment. This is why I think the very best way to experience Shakespeare is to see it performed – either live or in a movie. I am lucky enough to have the means and opportunity to see Shakespeare regularly performed at Playmakers Repertory Company.

If you can’t get to a theater, movies are the next best thing. Here are my top 5 Shakespeare adaptations:

  1. Hamlet, directed by Kenneth Branagh
  2. Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Joss Whedon
  3. Love’s Labour’s Lost, directed by Kenneth Branagh (not artistically brilliant, but a very fun time)
  4. Titus, directed by Julie Taymor
  5. The Merchant of Venice, directed by Michael Radford

And three honorable mentions:

  1. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Michael Hoffman
  2. Twelfth Night, directed by Trevor Nunn

Plus there’s a great recorded stage performance of Twelfth Night directed by Nicholas Hytner.

If you think you don’t like Shakespeare, try the Whedon Much Ado. It’s probably the most accessible Shakespeare adaptation on film. It grew out of Shakespeare readings that Joss Whedon used to have in his backyard. Inspired by him, I hosted two of these myself, gathering friends, assigning roles, and just reading aloud. It’s so much better that way than trying to imagine it all in your head. Not everybody there was a Shakespeare expert, but you don’t need to be. Try hosting your own reading and see how it goes.

tl;dr: I haven’t done much extracurricular Shakespeare reading, but I do love him; watch Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing.

Edited to add: One more thing! I forgot to mention that if you can neither get to a theatre nor find a film adaptation, you should totally check out Manga Shakespeare. Having the plays illustrated in a cool manga style with the original text is the next best thing to actually getting to see actors perform it. Romeo and Juliet on the streets of Tokyo with katana fights? Yes please!

Edited to add, 2: I failed to mention Branagh’s Much Ado, which is what first set me in love with Beatrice. Because Emma Thompson is INCREDIBLE. Consider it to be #1.5 on my list of top 5 adaptations.

Stuff I Learned: June & July, 2014

June and July were very busy months for me and I learned a lot. I thought I’d share some of it with you. Here goes!

Maker Faire NC. I went to Maker Faire NC on June 7. It was my first Maker Faire ever and it was pretty amazing. I was rather overwhelmed by both the number of people and the amount of stuff to see, but I still managed to explore, try new things, and meet new people. At The Bored Zombie‘s booth, I made my first quilt block.

My first quilt block

My First Quilt Block

This reminded me that I really enjoy sewing. I also bought the Learn to Solder Skill Badge Kit and learned that essential tremor and soldering aren’t good company for one another. My sister, Mary Elisabeth, made me a set of chain mail earrings with help from the good folks at Split Infinity Jewelry. Fueled by our Maker Faire fervor, she and I promptly went out and bought Aranzi Aronzo’s Cuter Book and supplies for making little felt stuffies, which we then promptly did.

Maker Faire was awesome and reaffirmed my affinity for the Maker Movement. I’ll definitely go back next year, and I hope to check out some local Maker Meetups soon.

Microsoft Office Mix. Have you checked out Microsoft Mix yet? It’s a supercool extension for PowerPoint that lets you make Khan Academy-style instructional videos and share them. I learned how to use this for a project at work. Here’s an example of a Mix I made – to show you how to upload your mix. How meta!

If I were still in the classroom, especially if I were in a 1:1 school, I would definitely use this for lessons students could come back to as often as they needed for reinforcement. I would also use it as an assessment, asking students to make their own Mixes to show me what they learned.

iBooks Author.  Speaking of things I would totally use if I were still in the classroom, I learned to use iBooks Author to create incredible multitouch books. I hate that these are exclusive to the iPad, of course, and I hope to one day figure out how to build such things with HTML, but it can’t be denied that this tool is easy to use but also feature-rich. I highly recommend the Lynda.com iBooks Author Essential Training course, if it’s available to you. There’s also a series of iBooks Author for Teachers courses with Mike Rankin that might suit your needs. And Lynda.com does offer institutional memberships, so you might try to convince your school or system to throw a little Professional Development money their way to help you with technology integration.

Content Strategy. At work, I’m responsible for literally thousands of pages of open educational resources. Each of these pages includes a huge amount of information. Content strategy is going to help me organize it all. I’m just dipping my toe into the waters. If you work in any sort of web publishing situation, you should check it out.

Improv. You may have noticed that I stopped writing follow up posts after week 2 of my improv class. That’s not because I didn’t learn anything, but because everything from that point forward was deeper learning about stuff I’d already mentioned. Especially listening. I swear, improv teaches you to listen so hard. Since then, I’ve performed in my class showcase and in something called The Humor Games, which was beastly. From that experience, I learned that being a really good novice doesn’t mean you’re accomplished at something. Other improv performers who have been doing this a long time have an ease on stage that I just don’t yet. I’m game for anything and I go big, which means my improv is usually fun, but some of these performers just blew me away, and competing against them felt really hard. But now I’m taking Improv 201, refining my skill, and learning even more. But mostly still learning that you should really listen, already.

Crochet and Knitting. So this is half a cop-out. I already knew how to crochet. But I’ve been taking Kim Werker‘s Crochet Basics and Beyond on Craftsy anyway, because I wanted to brush up on the finer points of crochet. Already I’ve learned how to make my stitches tidier. I also started Stefanie Japel’s Knit Lab. It’s a great class, but equally delightful to the class itself is the fact that it comes with the Knitter’s Handbook, an amazing in-depth resource with videos, images, and instructions for a variety of knitting techniques.

Crocheted Circles

Crocheted Circles

Thanks for reading all of that! I promise not to wait so long to update you on what I’ve learned next time.

Thinking Out Loud: Affinity Phases

If you’re familiar with the work of James Paul Gee and Henry Jenkins, then you’re probably also familiar with the concept of affinity spaces. Briefly, an affinity space is a place, either virtual or physical, where people with a shared interest can get together and informal learning takes place. If you want to know more than that, Wikipedia has your back.

I’ve been feeling like I want to take up a new hobby – in particular, an art or craft. I’ve been trying to figure out what it is. I was thinking about origami, but I’m not settled yet. I was also thinking about a decision I’ve made recently: to give up on being an expert. If I have an honest epitaph when I die, it’ll say, “She didn’t work up to her potential.” This was the rallying cry of my teachers over and over again. Which, I have to tell you, says a lot, because in high school and grad school I was pretty stellar. So my potential must be galactic or something.

I just don’t always apply myself. Or, more often, I apply myself, really hard, and then I stop. And it doesn’t just happen educationally, but in my hobbies/personal interests, too. Craft supplies and interests accrete to create a Great Barrier Reef of Stuff-Kimberly’s-Enjoyed-but-Doesn’t-as-Much-Now-but-Might-Come-Back-to-Later.

I’ve decided to call this process of getting super into a thing and then letting it fade into the background an “affinity phase.” I made a little timeline of my life to track these, and while some have distinct periods of activity, others sort of float around and I come back to them from time to time. What qualifies something to serve as an “affinity phase” in my life? The number of books I’ve read, blogs to which I’ve subscribed, or supplies I’ve bought can be a good indicator. The number of people to whom it connects me is another one.

I was watching the Making of Featurette on Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing Blu-Ray. He was talking about whether he’d do another Shakespeare or not, and sort of dodged the question, saying that he wants to do lots of different things. He said he’ll never get very deep into one thing, so he might as well go for breadth. I pointed at the screen and flailed. Joss Whedon gets me, you guys. (In case you’re curious, the Joss Whedon affinity phase of my life extends from 2000-2003; he hangs around but fades into the background after 2003.)

So I’ve identified this phenomenon in my life, named it, and am working to embrace it. My next step is to figure out how to make it work for me. In one sense, it already has – I’m currently working in a job where I get to do a million different things, most of which draw on some core affinity that I’ve had over time (education, web design, writing, editing), and where most importantly, I am expected to and rewarded with praise when I keep learning new things. But in a more personal sense, I feel at sea. I’ve got to figure out how to live with and be happy with this very essential part of my nature even when I’m not at work.

I’m re-treading ground here that Kim Werker covered more than 5 years ago. That’s okay. We’ve all got to figure these things out in our own time.

Stop Worrying and Start Showing Up

When I was a junior in high school, my teacher unceremoniously dropped a test with a low grade on it on my desk and hissed at me, “The play you were in is over. There’s no excuse for grades like these.” This was one instance in a long line of many when a teacher called me out for not working to my potential. (I worked really hard, so I’d probably be a supernova of brilliance if I’d actually worked up to my potential. Oh well.)

She wasn’t taking a scientific approach to the whole scenario, though. My grades as I’d been rehearsing the play were excellent, because I’d been forced to carefully manage my time and plan for reading and studying. Now, with my evenings completely unstructured, I regularly told myself that I could study later. And later often meant half-heartedly doing the readings and cramming the night before the test.

On the other hand, when I was rehearsing multiple plays, leading the Latin club, writing a skit for the NC Junior Classical League competition, and creating fan works for Sailor Moon, I was handling it all pretty well.

High School Kimberly has some wisdom to offer to 30-something Kimberly. Since I received a diagnosis of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis in 2011, I’ve been carefully guarding my energy, living in fear of trying to do too much for my poor self-attacking body. This month, through a confluence of small accumulating commitments, I find myself working full-time, rehearsing an operetta, taking private voice lessons, serving on the boards of two arts organizations, serving on the boards of two academic organizations, taking a graduate level English course, and taking a sketch comedy writing class. In addition, I’ve taken on the projects in the books One Year to an Organized Life and I Will Teach You to Be Rich.

And in spite of the fact that I feel overwhelmed and occasionally flake out on my responsibilities to the various boards and have a giant mound of dirty laundry at all times, it’s been a great thing for me. I haven’t been this engaged with the world and with life since my senior year of high school.

I really like when people talk about “showing up,” meaning bringing your full self into the experience you’re having – whether that’s work, learning, family time, or something else entirely. For the past 15 years I’ve barely been showing up for anything – out of fear that parts of me will be unwelcome, or that I will exhaust my inner resources, that I will be a disappointment, or that experiences will disappoint me. This month, I’ve been forced to show up. I’ve got too many things going with too little time to do any of them half-way.

I’m learning from this first month of what is bound to be an intense spring semester that not only can I handle taking on lots of things, I can thrive, and I am a better person for doing it.

Review: Pull Down the Night

Pull Down the NightPull Down the Night by Nathan Kotecki. Houghton Mifflin Books for Children. 2013. Reviewed from ARC from the publisher. Buy it from IndieBound or Powell’s (affiliate links).

Bruno and his brother Sylvio are the new kids at Suburban High this year, but they quickly make friends with the remaining members of The Rosary, a clique steeped in elegant, dark music and culture. Sylvio has always had those interests, but Bruno finds himself suddenly drawn to them – perhaps because of his powerful attraction to Celia, the protagonist from The Suburban Strange. Through his connection with Celia and his interactions with the school librarian, Bruno discovers that his intuitive understanding of maps has a supernatural source. He has to use these skills and his new understanding of the supernatural realm of the Kind and Unkind to help him solve two mysteries: why students around school are receiving “kiss notes” from a ghost and then discovering loved ones betraying them, and why kids all over the school are suddenly finding themselves deeply depressed.

My relationship with the author:

You should know that I can’t be unbiased about this book. Nathan Kotecki is my friend (see more about how we met in my review of The Suburban Strange). I’m listed in the acknowledgments. So if you’re looking for an unbiased review, you probably want to look elsewhere. But if you’re looking for the honest perspective of the friend of the author who’s also a former high school teacher and school librarian, well, you’ve come to the right place.

What I love:

  • The supernatural stuff starts right away with Bruno mysteriously finding himself in the Ebentwine, a liminal space with a definite Wonderland vibe.
  • The references to dark music and culture flow fast and free, just like in The Suburban Strange. But this time, I didn’t find myself wishing I’d had goth friends to shepherd me around, probably because I got that out of the way in the first book.
  • There sure is a lot of time spent in the school library hanging out with the school librarian, who is so much more pleasant than adults in YA literature often are.
  • Bruno has a geography teacher who won’t let him coast, but gives him the opportunity to work on an individualized project that also helps him expand his supernatural skills.
  • Marco. Marco Marco Marco. He’s a featured player in this book, and I love him, and it makes me so happy.
  • Everybody, Bruno included, seems to love Celia in a way that makes her dangerously close to a Mary Sue, but there is an actual explanation for why everyone loves her so much.
  • Bruno and Sylvio have a very positive relationship. I love siblings who get along most of the time. Of course they don’t get along all the time, but they never seem to deliberately annoy each other or snipe at each other.
  • All the little ways in which you know this book comes from the same world as The Suburban Strange, but it really is its own story.
  • Bruno and Sylvio’s dad, who is a minister, but understands that his sons need to explore faith at their own pace.
  • The whole mythology of this world. There are Kind and Unkind, talented people who have the opportunity to use their supernatural gifts for good or ill. And these aren’t things like super strength or throwing fireballs, but things like literally traveling through the pages of a book, or being able to shape reality through drawing it.

How my wish from last time got fulfilled:

  • I said I wanted to see more menace in the school setting, and boy did Pull Down the Night deliver. This is the eeriest school library since they built Sunnydale High on top of a hellmouth. (We put that in lowercase, since we know there’s more than one of them.)

What I need to warn you about:

  • While this book is much quicker-paced than The Suburban Strange, it’s still not an action/suspense thriller. So if you’re looking for that, maybe pick up a different book, and give this to your goth friend.
  • You’re going to want to find all of the music that goes with this book. But you don’t have to, because Nathan made a Spotify playlist. I highly recommend listening to the playlist while reading the book, if you’re the kind of person who can have music going while you read.

The Quantified Self and Student Learning

QS Logo

Image from Bytemarks on Flickr

Lately I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about the Quantified Self movement. The basic idea is that technology has made it increasingly easy to track small changes in our behavior and our lives, and that the data we collect can be used to improve our situation. I wanted to start my very own Quantified Kimberly project, but as I thought about it, I realized that I’ve been practicing one variant or another of the Quantified Self for years.

Here are some of the things I’ve tracked:

  • calories consumed
  • weight gained or lost
  • minutes spent exercising
  • miles walked
  • reps of various exercises
  • blood pressure
  • lipids levels
  • blood sugar
  • thyroid hormone levels
  • menstrual cycles
  • chores completed
  • grades
  • books read

Some people think QS has merit just by virtue of the fact that people are paying attention to what they do. But I think its real power lies in reflecting on the data and using it to inspire change and then track the results of that change.

Little Data

Of all the things I’ve tracked, the only ones that I’ve really used systematically or to improve my life are the medical data. I received two endocrine diagnoses (Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and polycystic ovary syndrome) largely because of my own efforts to track symptoms and hormone levels. Doctors are impressed by data. So are school administrators and legislators, of course.

It’s easy to feel bad about data collection; sometimes it feels like when we collect data on student achievement we are dehumanizing our students’ experiences and our own teaching. But I wonder if the QS movement has something to teach us about helping students take responsibility for their learning. This doesn’t necessarily mean having them pay attention to their own scores on standardized tests or benchmark assessments. It might mean something simpler and more readily visible.

QS and Formative Assessment

When I was teaching using the Cambridge Latin Course, each textbook unit came with an “I Can” checklist. The checklist put in jargon-free, student-friendly language the objectives for the unit. I would show this checklist to my students at the beginning and end of the unit. I think now that it would have been more effective for me to actually give them the checklist. Were I still in the school now, I think I might use completing the checklist as an exit ticket, and reviewing the checklist as a bellringer. As students walked in the door, I could hand them the checklist. Instead of checking or putting their initials in a box to indicate what they understood, I would have them note the date. I could then quickly review to see which students didn’t feel they had achieved the lesson objective. This would be a quick formative assessment and it would also allow students to see their own learning growing before their eyes.

QS in the 1:1 Environment

I think QS principles and techniques could be especially valuable in the 1:1 environment. I recently attended a Google Apps for Education summit, and I think you could probably use Google Forms and Spreadsheets to help students track their own learning. Many schools now require teachers to make grades available in a system that parents and students can review online, but how often do those particular numbers tell us about mastery or growth?

In the 1:1 environment, students might copy a simple form and spreadsheet that you provide, then fill out the form and be able to periodically review the data. The form might be as simple as one question – for example, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how much did you learn today?” It could also be used, however, to track the relationship between learning and other variables – for example, whether students had gotten enough sleep, or how long it had been since they had eaten. We know these physical needs affect learning. It might be valuable to students to see their own learning in relationship to these concerns.

All of this is me spitballing. As I explore this movement more, I think I will generate more ideas about how it might apply to learning.

The Quantified Kimberly: Sleep

SleepBot Screen Cap

SleepBot

In the meantime, I’m designing my own QS experiment. In spite of the best thyroid numbers I’ve had in years, my energy has been low lately. I think poor quality sleep is the culprit. So I’m going to install SleepBot on my phone and track my sleep patterns for a week. After that, I’m going to use interventions based on the tips in this Lifehacker article. Follow me on Twitter for daily updates on my progress.

Here’s my schedule:

November 19 – 25 – Gather baseline sleep data; make no changes to sleep habits.

November 26 – December 2 – Intervention 1: Reduce screen time before bed.

December 3: Reflect on Intervention 1 and plan next steps.

What Do You Think?

Is the Quantified Self movement dangerous? Does it have potential for use with students? Are your students self-tracking already? I know self-tracking has been used in behavioral interventions; do you think it would be useful in academic interventions as well?

Summer Reading: All the Mermaid Books!

A few months ago, just for fun, I typed in “are the new vampires” in my Google search box, just to see what popped up. I found a stunning array of possibilities, including zombies, ghosts, and robots. But my favorite of all the suggestions was that mermaids are the new vampires. I’ve been obsessed with mermaids since I saw Splash more than 25 years ago; I sang “Part of Your World” in a mermaid costume at a high school chorus concert, insisting that boys carry me on stage since mermaids can’t walk. My home office is decorated around a mermaid theme, and this very website featured a mermaid in the header until yesterday. (See her in the picture on the right? My mom made her for me.)

A friend from high school recently connected me with the mermaiding community, where I learned about Raina the Halifax Mermaid’s book, “Fishy” Business: How to Be a Mermaid. Raina includes a list of recommended mermaid fiction, but even more useful, she provides the URL for this Goodreads list of the Best Mermaid Books.

As I’ve watched my former school library and classroom teacher colleagues chat about their summer plans on Facebook, I’ve occasionally had a twinge of longing for the times before I was a twelve-month university employee. That said, I wouldn’t trade my excellent job and full-time employment for anything, so I’m looking for ways to capture the feel of a summer vacation that match my current schedule. I think reading a giant stack of mermaid books (especially on my upcoming beach vacation) is a great way to get the job done.

So stay tuned for reports on mermaid reads. What are you going to read this summer?