Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Give All Students Extended Time on Tests

Obviously, schools have long put time constraints on students taking assessments. That reality extends to standardized tests like the PSAT, SAT, & ACT, and those tests are taking on a greater prominence than ever before, especially when it comes to accountability. Those of us in the education world know all about the term "extended time" because some kids with learning challenges require additional time to be able to compete on those tests. Sometimes they use it, sometimes they don't. But it's a necessary condition for many young people. And when it comes to college entrance exams like ACT and SAT, that's of upmost importance.

It's especially true in reading. I've long been a critic of the time limits placed on the reading test for ACT. The constraints are, in my opinion, a bit ridiculous. Students are asked to read four passages and answer forty questions in thirty-five minutes. That means averaging 8 minutes and 45 seconds per passage. That's not reading - it's a sprint. These passages are read "blind" with no prior knowledge or prep, and the obscurity of the passages can by quite challenging. I can't imagine how offering the kids an additional fifteen minutes would be bad. It's true that some kids can answer all questions correctly in the short time - but is that really so important or more impressive than a kid who would take longer. Seriously. When in our adult lives are we given such ridiculous time-constrained tasks. Occasionally, I'm given work to finish in a day. Never am I given completely new information to digest and comprehend in forty minutes. 

Why shouldn't all kids have extended time if they want it. I hated when I was proctoring the ACT or SAT and I had to deliver those dreaded words: "Stop Working. Put your pencils down and close your test booklet." How cruel for that kid struggling to finish the last few bubbles. Time constraints are arbitrary and completely unnecessary. I don't care how long it takes a kid to finish the reading. Give him two hours. Give him all day. If he needs that time to get the right answers, then give it to him.

If ACT and SAT really want to revise and reform their tests, they need to develop a way to allow all kids the time they need to demonstrate knowledge and skills.

LunchSkins are a Great Product

RE-PRINT: Views on the Village, 2013

As summer comes to a close, and school is just around the corner, many parents are kicking into their back-to-school purchasing mode.  And one product that is going to be filling the pantry again is plastic lunch bags for all those snacks.  It's usually a no-brainer for those of  us who send our kids to school with home-packaged lunches and snacks.   However, it doesn't have to be a waste of money or un-friendly to the environment.

LunchSkins are reusable and washable packages that are the perfect product for packing snacks for school lunches, or really anytime.  We discovered them last fall at the Cherry Creek Farmer's Market, and we are really pleased with how easy and convenient they are.  The "lunchskins" are little pouches with a colorful cotton fabric pattern on the outside and a "food safe" polyurthane liner that  keeps food  fresh for the trip to school.  With a velcro flap to keep them closed, they are dishwasher safe and really convenient.

Put LunchSkins on your Back-to-School list.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Jay McInerney - Novelist & Wine Critic

RE-PRINT - Views on the Village, 2012

Most people who have heard of Jay McInerney know him as a literary author, most famous for his classic 1980s novel Bright Lights, Big City.  However, these days he has as much of a reputation - maybe more so - as a wine critic who writes a regular column for the Wall Street Journal.  McInerney always had the voice of a magazine writer, albeit a literary one, and his columns on wine read like engaging stories, using the narrative of experience to open the world of wine to the novice and afficiannado alike.  Since developing a column for House and Garden - and then moving on to the WSJ - McInerney has published several works of non-fiction focusing on the wonders of the fermented grape.  I enjoyed Jay's fiction, and I'm developing a newfound enjoyment of his taste in vino.

In his most recent piece for the WSJ, McInerney spends some time with Steven Tanzer whose popular wine newsletter - International Wine Cellar - has been published since 1985.  Tanzer's newsletter has taken on additional prominence recently after the news that iconic wine writer Robert Parker sold a controlling interest in his newsletter the Wine Advocate.  Apparently, there seems to be some question to the credibility of Parker's information if it's not coming directly from his palate, or is potentially influenced by investors.  And, there is also a difference in the personalities and reputations of these men.  According to McInerney, Tanzer is a wine expert who favors "finesse over power" or more aptly, a pinot over a cabernet.  Favoring the cold climate delicate pinots is definitely my taste in wine, though I can enjoy a nice meaty cab on occasion.

Disc Golf in Greenwood Village

RE-PRINT, Views on the Village, 2013

[In early 2013] Village Greens Park in Greenwood Village underwent an extensive renovation with expanded recreational activities that include a new 18-hole disc golf course and a extensive mountain bike course. Like all things done in Greenwood Village, these projects were well planned and developed. The disc golf course - which aligns with the mountain bike course running along the Cherry Creek Dam - is in its infancy stages, having opened in spring of 2013. However, it is already getting plenty of use and positive reviews from Village residents. The course is "mostly wide open,"according to the DG Course Review website, and it will take a couple seasons for the trees and hazards to grown in. This leads for pretty easy access on approach to most holes. That may not impress the disc golf aficionados, but for players just looking for some recreation and nice challenge on their walk, the course plays fine. Since, discovering the course on a family bike ride a month or so ago, I've played several times with a top score of 3-over-par. My 11-year-old son and his friends, however, are practically obsessed with the course - primarily because of its proximity - and they have logged several 36-hole rounds.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Grade Within a Margin of Error

When a student "earns" a grade by accumulating 89.3% or 79.2% of the possible points, should the teacher award the higher or lower grade? Is the body of work truly the lower B+/C+, or is there a chance the student is really an A-/B- student? Ahh, the nuanced question of absolute value on grades - it's a conundrum for teachers who have a subjective component to their assessments. That disparity between letter grade demarcations is most significant in the arts and humanities, though more objective classes in the math/science world also face challenges in assessing the most accurate grade. I alwasy address this with my students in the first week of school and with their parents during Back-to-School Night. For, in my AP Lang & Comp class I usually give the class a surprise style analysis essay during the first couple days, and many students do .... well, not as well as they'd like and not as well as they will probably do by the end of the semester and the year. To that end, I only count the essay for half the normal points, and I will always consider dropping a low grade at the end of the semester for students "on the bubble." And I can't imagine why any teacher wouldn't also factor in some latitude to the idea of assessment.

The challenge of subjective grading of work like essays can be one of the most frustrating parts of the teaching field. In AP, teachers must rely on a general rubric that rates pieces of writing on a 1-9 scale. For the purpose of letter grades and GPA, teachers must turn those rubric scores into percentages. Many will put 8s and 9s in the 92%-98% range. And the scores adjust from there on down. And, overall we feel like this system is pretty accurate in assessing exemplary, competent, and inadequate performance. But what to do when a student's final grade ends up near that letter grade breaking point? Is the balanced part of the class where teachers grade objective tests enough to guarantee the letter grade is accurate? I often wonder. If a teacher regularly assigns an 82% for a low B grade (or 6 on the rubric), is there a possibility that a legit margin of error in giving a few essays an 81% or 83% instead could be the breaking point up or down for a final grade? The same question can be asked about those objective questions - which are occasionally debatable and certainly arbitrary in some of the content they expect for mastery.

I think we have to give students the benefit of the doubt more often than not. It's troubling that the art of assessment and grading can be such an inexact science. And, twenty-four years into my teaching career, I am still pondering the issue of authenticity.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Denver's Vibrant JAZZ Scene

Denver has a special place in American jazz history, notably for the accounts Jack Kerouac recorded of his time in Denver in the iconic novel On the Road. At the time Kerouac was writing and travelling, the jazz clubs on Larimer street and in Denver's Five Points neighborhood would have featured performances by legends such as Miles Davis and Billie Holiday. These days those areas have gentrified into Lo-Do with high rents, but they are still hipster cool with restaurants, clubs, and hangouts. And Denver's jazz scene is thriving. Colorado is host to many great music festivals in the High Country, from the Vail Jazz Festival to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, and many visitors head through town on the way to those fests. Still, in Denver residents can see great jazz any night of the week. And, it's not just limited to the long-time jazz standard El Chepultepec. Recently, writer and former Denver Post travel editor Mim Swartz took a look at all the opportunities to enjoy the finer offerings of America's sound. As she notes for us: Denver's Jazz Scene Today is So Cool, man.

Of course, Dazzle Jazz — a slightly funky lounge and supper club in Denver’s Capitol Hill — has been a mainstay of the local jazz scene for nearly 20 years. Downbeat magazine has named it among the top 100 jazz clubs in the world. The club not only imports big names, it also features local talent. Good local talent. In some cases, great local talent. And where else can you go for lunch on a Friday and hear jam sessions with such a polished pianist/vocalist as Ellyn Rucker (she hosts there on the last Friday of the month, while various musicians sit in). Lucky for us, elegant Ellyn also plays gigs elsewhere in Denver. Other clubs have cropped up in the last several years, like Nocturne in the River North District and The Crimson Room in Larimer Square, both classy, sophisticated spots that make me feel like I’m in New York.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Give Students Time to Revise & Edit

RE-PRINT: Mazenglish, 2012

Teaching Honors Freshman English as well as AP Language and Composition, I focus a great deal on in-class writing with my students.  The in-class essay is only one form of writing, but it is a significant one these days.  With the rising concerns about plagiarism - even in the era of - and the increased focus on AP classes, the ability to write in a timed setting is an important skill for students.  It certainly offers a truly authentic sample of a students ability to translate thoughts into writing.  However, the task of revision is every bit as important.  So, on some assignments I give my students a bit of a perk - and extended time.  Occasionally, I will start them on an in-class assignment, and then hand it back for a second day of revision.  Sometimes I tell them they will have two days, and on others I surprise them.  However, in between days I collect their work, so they aren't actually doing any work at home.  Today, however, I sprung a different format on the kids.  My freshman are writing final essays on Antigone today, and about halfway through class, I stopped them and offered fifteen minutes for peer editing.  They are also allowed to take the essay home and finish it.  However, it must be handwritten and I need to see both copies and any revisions.  The class was thrilled - for sometimes, they say, they just need a little guidance and feedback during the writing.  A quick tweak of the topic sentence or some advice on a helpful quote might be just the sort of editing a kid needs to get over that hump.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Students Can Buy Taylor-Made Essays Online

RE-PRINT, Mazenglish, 2012

In the ongoing battle for academic honesty against a rising tide of easy-to-access plagiarism opportunities, the arguments for a considerable amount of in-class writing just keep going up.  As a teacher of AP Language and Composition, I assign mostly in-class writing to prep my students for the exam.  In the course of roughly thirty in-class essays a year, I have a pretty thorough understanding of my students' styles and abilities.  Thus, if they turned in an out-of-class essay that didn't "sound like them," I would be pretty comfortable calling them out for academic dishonesty.  And, that is the issue in a fascinating feature in the Atlantic Monthly.  Richard Gunderman - in his article Write My Essay, Please - exposes a new addition to the essay-writing assistance that many teachers thought they had prevented with the arrival of

Now, students can purchase assignment-specific non-plagiarized essays which can be accessed in a very short time period.  Apparently, quite a few online sources are offering essays written-to-order for very reasonable prices.  And since they are crafted upon request, they are not plagiarized and will not be caught by the standard plagiarism sites.  While Gunderman approaches the situation philosophically, wondering what it says about students and our world that they would simply pay someone to do their work, I am looking at it more practically in terms of how I can continue to guarantee academic integrity.  In essence, the only way to do so is to assign a fair amount of in-class writing.  While some teachers are more hesitant to do so, it is really the only way to verify a student's skills.  Even longer research projects can be handled in class with a practice of a writing journal and incremental grades for drafts.  One of my colleagues assigns out of class research papers, but tracks students' progress via their journals.

Regardless, English teachers need to be aware of these new essay writing services.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Colorado Law Allows Medical Marijuana at School

So, now there's this:

"Colorado School Districts Dealing with New Law Allowing Students to Use Medical Marijuana at School"

Colorado school districts this year are wrestling with a new law that allows students with a valid prescription to get medical marijuana treatments on school property with or without help from a school nurse. “Jack’s Law” offers two alternatives for the state’s 179 school districts. They can write policies limiting where on campus the treatments can take place or what forms of nonsmokable cannabis can be administered. If the district doesn’t create a policy, parents or a designated private caregiver would have no limitations on where they could administer the treatment. “It’s an either/or for the school districts,” said Rep. Jonathan Singer, a Longmont Democrat who was the bill’s sponsor. He wanted to give parents the right to administer cannabis medicine while also allowing school districts a way to police its use. “Ultimately, the school districts can figure it out,” Singer said, “or the state will figure it out for you.”

Monday, August 22, 2016

Time Film Critic Stephanie Zacharek's Voice and Eye

Criticism is a seemingly easy task that belies the hard work and talent that goes into it. Obviously, criticizing a film or book or meal is a natural tendency for all of us. However, to do so with an air of authority that doesn't seem pretentious and to do so with an eye that is as insightful as it is accessible requires quite a bit of sophistication and maturity. That standard is why I am such a fan of well-written criticism, and that's why the recent work of Time Magazine's Stephanie Zacharek has caught my eye. In perusing my most recent issue of Time, I was so impressed with the writing of one article - a review of Jeff Bridges Hell or High Water - that I took specific notice of the writer.

The performances here are uniformly and quietly terrific. Pine is particularly striking–his gait may appear laid-back and cool, but he lets us see the tension in every muscle. And then there’s Bridges’ Marcus, shaggy and worn but not yet played out. Marcus is on the cusp of retirement and unsure, as we are, how his constant stream of muttering and complaining will translate to life in the rocking chair. This is a man who wears his flaws boldly. He’s borderline racist–actually, he probably goes right over the border–in the way he ribs his long-suffering half-Comanche partner, Alberto (Gil Birmingham). But when one of the brother-robbers’ victims, a shy young clerk, apologizes for not knowing the make of their getaway car, Marcus teases helpful information out of her with a kind of craggy tenderness. And when the movie hits a tense turning point–one that’s likely to shake you even if you thought you saw it coming–Marcus responds with a strangled, anguished cry that seems to emerge less from his gut than from the earth itself. For Bridges, the old-coot handbook is old hat. He’d rather write new pages, dashing them off one by one with a grunt, a scowl and a flourish.

As I continued leafing through the magazine, I was struck by another story - a profile of documentary filmmaker and "poet-scientist" Werner Herzog. Once again, I noticed the byline of Stephanie Zacharek. She has the true eye of an artist and the pen of a poet, and her reviews of great works are almost as enjoyable as the works themselves. At the very least, she compels me to investigate the works and the people about which she writes. And that's about the best any critic can do.

Only a poet-scientist would care about how a piece of vintage computer equipment smells, and that’s the kind of detail Herzog, a true wack-bird genius, is so good at teasing out. Always off-camera but still intensely present, Herzog seeks out scientists and technicians who are busy perfecting driverless cars, pondering who will take the blame, humans or machines, when the inevitable accidents occur. He visits a group of people so sensitive to wireless signals that for their health and sanity, they’ve exiled themselves on a patch of land in West Virginia where wireless transmissions are restricted. He drops in on a grief-stricken family who became the victims of a cruel Internet prank, and learns about robots that could be programmed to counter nuclear disasters. Everywhere he goes, Herzog asks questions–smart ones, out-there ones–and the result is part celebration, part cautionary yellow light: Even Kleinrock, near the end of the film, laments that “computers and in some sense the Internet are the worst enemy of deep critical thinking.” And this is one of the guys who set the ball rolling.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

I Met a Trump Supporter and ...

So, I met a Trump supporter on my front porch today. She was a very sweet woman who was "taking a poll" in the neighborhood about voters' positions. She apologized for "being kind of new to this" as she brought up the poll questions on her smartphone and prepared to enter our responses. Of course, this exchange was inevitably going to evole into a back-and-forth as we expounded upon our positions, and I have to admire this woman for her willingness to be philosophically barraged on our front porch as she maintained a positive demeanor and tried to articulate just why she is supporting an incredibly unqualified and "dangerous" candidate for the highest office in the land. 

I guess the scariest part was the naivety, ignorance, and unfounded fear that this seemingly well- educated and reasonably well-off woman displayed. For example, when she asked if I wanted "a change in the direction of the country," and the policies of the current administration, and I said no, she seemed genuinely shocked, as if it were a basic fact that the country is in bad shape. So, I explained: "Look at us: two middle class suburban white people in a community with great homes and rising property values, almost no crime, and one of the top schools in the country. The stock market is booming, gas is $2.00/gal, unemployment is way down, jobs are growing, and my health care premiums are increasing at their slowest rate since 2000. What's wrong with that?" Her blank stare was the only answer she had. 

It was ... somewhat pathetic. And, as we proceded to discuss the "issues" that had her so concerned about the "state of the nation," it became glaringly obvious that she had almost no reasons, facts, or justifications for why she felt as she did. Those details are probably worth discussing in a later post. But, suffice it to say, she wasn't thrilled by my positions, nor swayed by my evidence. And, sadly, I couldn't convince her to consider supporting Gary Johnson. Oh, well. So goes the country.

Develop Voice in Student Writing

RE-PRINT - Mazenglish, 2011

We all want our students' writing to sing. Creating voice where there is little to none, however, is a challenge. As my AP Language students progress in their writing and ability to argue and deconstruct style, I reach a point where top students wonder if they will ever write a 9, and good students wonder how to make a 6 into a 7. The key to higher scores is often sophistication of language. It's diction, syntax, tone, style, voice, mood, attitude, and command of language. Top papers just sound better. And it's the way they command the language that makes the difference.

To that end, I use an assignment writing op-ed commentary as a way to model effective style/voice, and as a way to help them find their own. We analyze numerous pieces of commentary during the year, as they are great pieces for style and opinion/argumentation. In crafting their own, students are challenged with finding some topic on which they have something interesting to say. To begin, we do a few short journal entries entitled "Angry Talk," Happy Talk," and "Interesting Talk." They often share their ideas - and even a few choice sentences - as a way of generating ideas and discussion.

Often, this assignment produces some of the best writing I see from them all year. In fact, it works as well with my College Prep kids, too, despite being reluctant readers and writers. So, op-ed commentary just may be a nice addition to your composition components.

Oh, and by the way, the term "op-ed" does not mean opinion-editorial. It actually stands for "opposite the editorial page."

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Music Friday - not Cookie Friday

RE-PRINT - Mazenglish, 2012

In an era of increasing concerns about health and wellness among young people, I am not a proponent of snacks and treats in the classroom.  At the elementary level, they seem to have cookie and doughnut parties on a weekly basis, followed by thirty birthday celebrations, and a class party for every holiday - or pseudo-holiday.  The worst example in my high school is the preponderance of "celebrations" like Cookie Friday.  Some kids have cookies or snacks in numerous classes, to the point they are practically nauseated by the end of the day.  However, everything doesn't have to be about food.

In my classes, I celebrate Music Friday, playing songs in between passing period.  It began last year [several years ago] when I first heard of the song "Friday" by Rebekah Black.  Friday is a song everyone loves to hate - but it's amazing how infectious it can be.  And it actually created kind of a festive atmosphere.  The next week I branched out with Miley Cyrus' "Party in the USA," and it quickly became a tradition.  Students would pause while passing my class, quizzical looks on their faces.  But soon it was obvious they wanted to be in the class.  And, it's not like I changed any plans or the music interfered with the class.  At the bell, the music goes off and we get down to business.  But it's just enough of release that everyone is a little more energized.

Now, Music Friday is a standard, and many kids tell me that just walking past to hear which song is playing is a favorite part of their day.  It's amazing what a difference can be made with a little music.  Some days I even make it a Music-Video Friday, and I project the video from YouTube on the classroom screen. And it's all calorie-free.

Here are examples of Music Friday faves:

"Friday" - Rebekah Black

"Party in the USA" - Miley Cyrus

"It's the End of the World" - REM

"Dyn-omite" - Taio Cruz

"Barbie Girl" - Aqua

"Empire State of Mind" - Jay-Z

"Dream" - Nelly

"Where The Hell is Matt" - YouTube Video

"Call Me, Maybe" - Carly Rae (US Olympic Team video)

"Walking on Sunshine" - Katrina and the Waves

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

No Extra Credit for Kleenex - Seriously

It's the same rant every year. We're in class in the first week or so, and a kid asks if I "have any tissues?" Hopefully we've started the year with a classroom box, but that depends. I casually recommend to the class that they may want to bring in a box of tissues because "at some point this year, we are all going to be snotty." By "snotty" I mean we will "all have mucus in our nose that we would like to expel onto a disposable tissue." So, knowing that, I try to bring in a couple boxes at the start of the year. And then the inevitable question comes:

"Can we get extra credit?"

Uh, .... NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!

In my class, you may not "purchase grades." Not at all. Not through direct cash payments and not through the donation of consumer goods. Not a hundred points for a project and not two or five points for a box of tissues. Grades are a reflection of a student's academic record and course work. They represent his abilities in math, science, English, etc. Colleges will expect that the A- on the transcript was earned with high quality work. They don't expect that a B+ student can bump his grade up a level simply because he can buy and donate tissues.

I know, I know. There are plenty of justifications. "It's just a few points. It doesn't really affect their grades. It's an incentive. It's no big deal." But it is a big deal. It is at the very least an equity issue. How about the student who can't afford a box of tissues - much less five or six to donate to all his teachers. Granted, "they're only a couple bucks." But that is the perspective of a clueless middle-class individual who fails to understand that "a couple bucks" is still a big deal - and out of reach for some students.

Stop giving extra credit for tissues. Encourage kids to bring in a box out of the simple expectation that at some point during the year, they "will be snotty."

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

HILARIOUS - Gary Gulman Explains State Abbreviations

Gary Gulman, stand-up comedian, offered a brilliant explanation of the origin of two-letter state abbreviations. The brilliance of this piece is vast with its intricate use of language and its whimsical narrative tone. I don't know how I have avoided hearing about this guy over the last ten years, but I will most definitely be checking out his show the next time he comes through Denver's Comedy works. Give this piece 30 seconds, and I guarantee you will be looking up more Gary Gulman clips on YouTube.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Seinfeldia - "Not that there's anything wrong with that"

It was the "show about nothing" that was really the show about everything. Few shows have defined an era like Jerry Seinfeld's semi-autobiographical sitcom of the 90s. The brilliantly astute comedian Seinfeld and his sardonic writing partner Larry David held up a mirror to a whole host of "first world problems" and middle-class American neuroses, and we laughed at ourselves through the foibles of Jerry, George, Elaine, Kramer, and the madcap list of nutcases they interacted with. Even with all the brilliant television being produced today, we may never see a phenomena like the show that gave us "... yada, yada, yada." But if you're feeling a bit nostalgic for the sort of watercooler discussions that regularly followed a random Thursday night in the 90s, then you've got a treasure trove in a fresh look at some old friends.

Seinfeldia is the bizarro world of Kenny Kramer, who profits off his status as the actual former neighbor of “Seinfeld” co-creator Larry David and the inspiration for that hipster doofus, Cosmo Kramer. Seinfeldia features J. Peterman, whose real-life catalog company went bankrupt after it expanded too quickly on his bet, so full of innocence and mayhem at once, that the faux Peterman on “Seinfeld” would lure new customers. Seinfeldia is the realm of writers who desperately mine their daily lives for sitcom storylines, whether they’re dating a woman with man hands or sharing a real family’s fake holiday with the rest of us. And Seinfeldia is the home of Twitter accounts like @SeinfeldToday — frankly, a little hacky — that imagine plot lines for the show’s continued existence.

Pop culture writer Jennifer Keishan Armstrong, who has covered Seinfeld and other TV culture for Entertainment Weekly, has developed a thesis-worth of commentary on the big themes and historical significance of Seinfeld. Armstrong, a self-professed "pop culture nerd," has plenty of experience and insight regarding TV culture and the world of Seinfeld. Is a "television show about nothing" really so signficant that it deserves scholarly and cultural analysis? Well, that's the question that critics ask themselves continually. You can be the judge after you read Seinfeldia - and even if you decided it's not, you'll probably have a few chuckles reliving the zaniness of these "Masters of their domain."

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Colorado GOP must come clean about Trump support

I love many, many varied aspects of Colorado, from its status as a healthy outdoor-oriented state to its innovative spirit and its leadership in the artisan craft beer and spirit revolution. Colorado's fierce independent and libertarian streak creates for some interesting politics, and that is a positive when it comes to some legislation, but it's certainly a drag when we get to education funding. That said, Colorado is also a hotbed for education innovation, and I am truly impressed with the private sector support of groups committed to excellence and opportunity for all students. And, of course, Colorado has solidified its status as a true Purple State when it comes to the major political parties. As a moderate independent - with the standard mantra of "fiscally conservative, but socially conscious" - I am pleased to live in a place where people comfortably split their ballot between the two parties, and where the Gary Johnson/Bill Weld Libertarian ticket could actually make a big splash. 

However, a line in the sand has been drawn for Colorado Republicans, and it is squarely focused on their connection to Donald Trump. The GOP Presidential nominee is a breaking point for millions of voters nationwide, both Republicans and independents, and they will place judgment on the words and actions of statewide candidates. Basically, it goes like this:  Donald Trump is a crass, unsophisticated, bigoted, misogynistic, egotistical, rash, unpredicatible, ignorant, and inexperienced individual who is historically and uniquely unqualified to serve in the world's most powerful position. Opposing him and his candidacy should not require a second thought. This decision has nothing to do with his opponent, and it should not be made via caveats about party or the Supreme Court or really anything else. As Dave Perrry of the Aurora Sentinel so astutely notes, history will judge Colorado candidates on where they placed allegiance.

The moment of truth, and I do mean truth, for Colorado Republican elected officials is now as they must either unequivocally denounce the catastrophic candidacy of Donald Trump or suffer the inevitable consequences. In the minds of rational, thinking Americans, conservative and liberal, Democrat and Republican and none of the above, Trump is an unparalleled political abomination in the history of the United States. As his critics from the left, center and the right have pointed out, and as anybody in their right mind can plainly see, Trump is uninformed, unintelligent, unprincipled, unpredictable, unrepentant and unable to exert even a modicum of self control over his anger or his ego.
Simply put, we cannot and should not have any respect or support for a candidate who will not disavow Donald Trump and pledge to not support his candidacy. Rep. Mike Coffman and Sen. Cory Gardner and all other candidates must publicly take a position that they do not support or desire Donald Trump to occupy the Oval Office and inherit the legacy of Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan. If these candidates will not refuse to vote for or endorse Trump, then they are explicity stating that they endorse him and want him to be the President of the United States. It's not about the lesser of two evils. It's not about partisan platforms. It's not about his opponent. It's about whether these leaders feel that Donald Trump should be President.

If they do, they will inherit and deserve all the shame associated with Trump.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Who's Teaching America's Students to Write

As school begins, and I engage in the long, arduous project of teaching students "how to write," I thought it be a good time to re-post this Mazenglish piece from 2012.

Is it possible that nearly half of high school students in this country write less than a paragraph a month in classes?  If true, that would explain the abysmal writing skills - and scores - of American students on tests such as the NAEP, or in college classes whose professors are baffled by their incompetence.  As the Common Core focus on literacy redefines how we teach and measure reading scores, some schools have awoken to the equally significant task of teaching students how to write.  This "writing renaissance" documented in much education news is both refreshing news and a depressing commentary on the state of American classrooms.

Teachers may be focusing on the teaching of writing like few have done before - or in a while - but still a majority of teachers claim their education and training did little to teach them how to teach writing.  And, of course, this skill must be developed across all curricula.  For, if it has left up to the English teacher, as it far too often has been, writing skills will continue to stagnate.  The connection between reading and writing should be obvious, and students need to be regularly challenged to synthesize information they read and offer their analysis in written form.

Building arguments and analyses from their existing knowledge, as well as new texts, is foundational for critical thinking.  And, students need to be writing much more.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Buy Newspapers - a free society depends on them

I've always been a newspaper reader. My mother was a newspaper reporter, feature writer, and editor - and I've always understood the value of print news organizations. For me, the morning paper on the driveway is an integral image of America, and my morning coffee and the newspaper is a ritual. Sadly, far too many people have failed to appreciate the fundamental role that newspapers play in our republic. This week on Last Week Tonight, John Oliver dedicated a twenty-minute segment to the value and importance of print journalism. No one explains it better:

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Failing Our Brightest Kids - More Attacks on Gifted Education

Last year I saw a commercial for a tutoring service which used the tagline: "Because every kid is brilliant in his own way." And, I thought to myself, "Yeah, .... uh, ... nope." Many kids have varied talents and interests, and we should honor and cultivate those in every way we can. But every kid is "brilliant"?  So, every person is "brilliant"?  Nope. Not even close. And anyone who thinks so has apparently never met or worked with brilliant people. Is every music student "Mozart in his own way"?  Is every swimmer "Michael Phelps in his own way"? Is every politician "Abraham Lincoln in his own way"? Not by a long shot. The world is filled with all sorts of people of varying talents and interests - but not everyone is brilliant or gifted. Not everyone can make varsity. Not everyone can ace Calculus at the age of fourteen. There are truly "gifted" people, and our education system - notably edu-reformers - are doing a great disservice by ignoring that reality.

The latest educational leader to commit the professional malpractice of dismissing diversity and talents of individual kids is Dallas Dance, a superintendent in Baltimore County, who wants to drop the legal identification of "gifted and talented" students. Dance is apparently unaware that the world has some specifically gifted people whose learning needs are separate from the pack based on their unique abilities. He focuses his criticism on the idea of "labeling" kids, mistakenly believing that if we stop openly identifying such unique gifts then all kids can somehow be brilliant. The problem of course is that "giftedness" is and should be a legally defined exceptionality with all the same respect that we afford other deviations from the norm, such as disabilities.

Research has shown that gifted and talented children have social and emotional needs that differ from those of other students. State law requires local school districts to identify them and tailor classes to meet their needs. Jeanne Paynter, a former director of gifted and talented education for the state Department of Education, said the county risks running afoul of state law. "Gifted and talented has 60 years of research documenting the needs of the student, the characteristics, the methods to identify and the methods to serve" those students, said Paynter, who now teaches at McDaniel College. "Lumping all the programs together is fine," she said. "But where is the policy that stands up for the rights and needs for this special needs group?" "The word gifted, complex as it is, really does mean something," Miller-Breetz said. "It takes students out of the purely academic sphere and into the unique social and emotional sphere that gifted and talented kids often inhabit."

Viewpoints like Dance's are simply part of a mindset that is primarily focused on ensuring that all kids achieve at grade level. And it is founded on the belief that all kids are the same. However, kids are unique with varying needs, and the use of age as a determiner of intellect and ability is only the easiest way to lump kids into a system. In reality, some kids are ready for Calculus, or reading Shakeseare, or composing music, or creating apps, and developing non-profits long before other kids their age who may never accomplish those tasks - and certainly not with the ease and fluidity that a true "gifted and talented" kid can.

Just one more example of how we are ignoring the needs of our brightest students.

What a shame.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

New Job? Make Your Bed before Work

Some great advice for making a new start from business writer and branding expert Chris Dessi, writing a feature for  Some of Dessi's advice is pretty common and even obvious. But I really enjoyed his first bit: Make your bed.

During his 2014 commencement address at the University of Texas, Admiral William McRaven talked about why it's so important to make your bed every morning. Admiral McRaven thinks it's a great way to start the day because it represents the accomplishment of the first task of the day, and it will make you feel good and will lead you to accomplishing other tasks.  

Equal Time for Both Sides in Scopes Monkey Trial

Do people still question the reality of evolution? I mean ... it's 2016. It's not really possible that people believe Adam and Eve were riding around on dinosaurs, right? OK, that was a bit snarky, I'll admit. The issue of evolution, intelligent design, creationism and the inevitable conflict between science and religion still exists even in the era of Mars landings and genetically-modified organisms. One place, however, that is surprisingly at peace with the conflict is the town of Dayton, TN, site of the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial. The town has long had a statue of orator and creation defender William Jennings Bryan, and it is now planning to add a complementary statue of Bryan's antagonist Clarence Darrow. This development is a modest sign of civility in our factured political times, and AP writer Travis Loller recently offered some insight and perspective on one of the most engaging and controversial legal issues of our time. 

Still, townspeople are resigned to the idea of a Darrow statue, said Christian writer Rachel Held Evans, a Bryan College alumna. "I think there is a sense that, 'Oh, it's only fair. We have our side, and they have their side. We have our statue, and they have their statue," she said.
Ed Larson, who wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning book about the trial called "Summer for the Gods," said that Dayton has historically been hospitable to both sides, and that outrage over the teaching of evolution in 1925 was manufactured. The trial is often remembered as the persecution of teacher Scopes for teaching evolution, which Tennessee had outlawed, but it actually began as a publicity stunt for Dayton, Larson said.
Larsen explained that locals had responded to a newspaper advertisement by the American Civil Liberties Union looking for someone to test Tennessee's anti-evolution law in court. No one had complained about Scopes or his teaching; he was recruited to be the defendant, Larson said. Scopes never spent time in jail and was offered his job back after the trial, Larsen said — and Bryan even offered to pay his fine.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

US Students Win Second Consecutive Math Olympiad

As Americans get hyped for the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics, most people will be completely aloof to the incredible math prowess of American high school students at the premiere math competition in the world. In late July, the United States math team took first place at the 2016 International Math Olympiad in Hong Kong. This was the second consecutive win for the American team, besting competitors from academic math powerhouses like China (Shanghai), South Korea, Singapore, and Japan. The IMO is the pinnacle of math competition for high school mathletes who begin their competitive drive with math contests like the AMC8/10/12, the AIME (American Invitational Math Exam), and the IMO.

Participants were selected through a series of competitions organized by the Mathematical Association of America (MAA), culminating with the USA Mathematical Olympiad. The six team members joined 48 of their peers at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in June for three weeks of immersion in problem solving at MAA’s Mathematical Olympiad Summer Program (MOSP). Established in 1974 to train the first U.S. team to the IMO, MOSP has expanded over the years and broadened its goals. 

Perhaps, someday our politicians, billionaire philanthropists, edu-reformers, and the media will seek to promote academic competition as a way of elevating the stature of education in this country. For a country obsessed with media coverage exposing weaknesses of American schools, there is almost no media coverage of the incredible successes our students achieve. Imagine if young students were offered and encouraged to pursue scholarship opportunities in competitive math or science or speech/debate. Wouldn't it be incredible progress to promote media coverage of academic college signings as much as athletic. Nearly all the mathletes will use their skills professionally - almost no athletes will. 

Just one more example of how in America we are ignoring our best and brightest.

This year’s IMO featured an unusually large number of non-standard problems which combined multiple areas of mathematics into the same investigation. The most challenging problem turned out to be #3, which was a fusion of algebra, geometry, and number theory. On that question, the USA achieved the highest total score among all countries, ultimately contributing to its overall victory — a historic repeat #1 finish (2015 + 2016), definitively breaking the 21-year drought since the last #1 finish in 1994, and the first consecutive #1 finish in the USA’s record.
Let’s give it a try. Here’s IMO 2016 Problem 3:
Let P = AA2 … Ak be a convex polygon on the plane. The vertices A1, A2, …, Ak have integral coordinates and lie on a circle. Let S be the area of P. An odd positive integer nis given such that the squares of the side lengths of P are integers divisible by n. Prove that 2S is an integer divisible by n.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Summer Slide? - "Enrichment Gap" is the Real Problem

As students head back to school, the edu-reformers and edu-critics will began their annual rant against summer vacation, arguing that the alleged "summer slide" in achievement is reason to end summer break. Of course, while much of the argument against summer vacation is based on myths, the evidence of a slide in learning is valid. However, it's much less true among middle-class, educated families, and Michael Petrilli of the Fordham Institute has clearly identified the problem of the "Enrichment Gap" between socioeconomic groups. Thanks to Joanne Jacobs for spotlighting the article.

Late July might be famous for potato chips and trips to the beach. But it’s also the time when America’s inequality, like the hot summer sun, is at its zenith, particularly for our children. Affluent kids are spending their days (and often their nights) at camp or traveling the world with their families, picking up knowledge, skills, and social connections that will help them thrive at school and beyond. Needless to say, these experiences are seldom accessible to their less affluent peers.
As Robert Putnam argued in his landmark book Our Kids—and again in his recent report, Closing the Opportunity Gap—there is a growing class gulf in spending on children’s enrichment and extracurricular activities (things like sports, summer camps, piano lessons, and trips to the zoo). As the upper-middle class grows larger and richer, it is spending extraordinary sums to enhance its kids’ experience and education; meanwhile, other children must make do with far less. (Putnam got the data for his chart from this study.)

Petrilli is spot on, and this issue has long been a key component of the "summer slide." Enrichment programs are in many ways as important as basic academic curriculum in the development of a child. If edu-reformers - especially deep-pocketed ones like Gates & Zuckerberg & Welch - really wanted to make a difference, they would start using their vast funding to grow these opportunities. This requires a neighborhood approach and focus on "fixing a school," rather than fixing schools.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Classroom Management - Don't Bribe Kids to Behave

RE-POST - Mazenglish, 2012

Far too many teachers see classroom management as a burden that can only be controlled through a bribery-based incentive system.  In fact, the use of rewards for good behavior - which is really just how they should behave - has become accepted practice.  Not good, says Dr. Tracey Garrett who writes "Classroom Management: Not Just a Bag of Tricks."  There is too much research out there on effective strategies for managing a classroom for experienced professionals to continually cede control of their domain for a few skittles or worse.

The concept of reward-based discipline has always bugged me - though it's not surprising that people resort to it.  Certainly, a quick look around the community reveals that many adults parent this way as well.  But it doesn't have to be this way.  From early in my career, I knew the tools of classroom management, even as they were reinforced to my through a series of videos from Dr. Harry Wong.  The basics are always the same.  Effectively managed classrooms are, in fact, managed.  Systems and procedures must be in place with a level of expectation that is clear.  Basically, successful classroom management is grounded in:

  1. Organizing the physical environment
  2. Creating rules and routines
  3. Establishing caring relationships
  4. Planning and implementing engaging instruction
  5. Clearly addressing - not ignoring - discipline issues.

It is, uh, that simple.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Quiz Students Every Day

RE-POST - Mazenglish, 2012

"The students don't read ...."

How many times over the years have I heard this complaint. And it should be no surprise to any English teacher in the country. Students don't read unless A.) they want to, or B.) they have to. And the only way to make sure they have to is to evaluate them regularly and strictly. Whether it is a graded discussion, or participation points, or daily quizzes, the only way teachers can guarantee that the students are prepared is to make it hurt if they aren't. Granted, this theory only works in schools where students are reasonably motivated to pass. Most suburban schools and all schools with college-bound populations have students who care enough. However, if they have been conditioned to believe they can get by without reading, many will not crack open the Scarlet Letter or Readings in American History or any book for that matter.

So, quiz everyday and they will respond. Let them know they can get away without reading, and they will.

UPDATE - So, I posted these thoughts back when I was teaching full time, and I don't disagree with my original point. However, in looking back, I am a little put off by my assertion that the "only way to guarantee that students are prepared is to make it hurt if they aren't."  Something about that rubs me the wrong way these days. I do believe in accountability, and I know that many students won't read if they don't have to. And, I will concede to my students that often it is nearly impossible for them to efficiently and effectively read everything that is assigned to them. I get it - I really do. So, there has to be a comfortable compromise to encourage and inspire the reading of literature. "Making it hurt" just doesn't sound right.

What do you think?

Monday, August 1, 2016

Chef Tregaye Named Food Network Star - Longtime Viewers Shocked & Disappointed.

Well, as I tweeted several times last night, I don't know why I keep watching Food Network Star. It just seems that since winners like Arti  and Jeff Mauro, the show has become less about choosing a true "Food Network Star," and more about ... well, I don't know what. Chef Tregaye - who is clearly a talented chef and reasonably engaging person - won on the basis of "fleek" and "gettin things poppin'," and some unexplained focus on "food fusion," which I think I understand but never saw from her. But, clearly, there was an early bias from the judges - especially Bobby Flay - who obviously decided that he wanted Tregaye to win when he said, "This is yours to lose," while many viewers were still trying to figure out why Tregaye was even interesting. In fact, the pre-determined selection was so glaringly obvious that the Food Network gossip is already accusing Bobby Flay and Giada of "rigging the contest."

Of course, Chef Tregaye winning wasn't nearly as shocking as Chef Damiano Carrara being eliminated first. He was clearly the most talented of the chefs - though I will agree that Jenard can bring it. But, beyond that, Chef Carrara has the widest appeal. I mean, heck, the guy is a walking GQ cover - he is charming with that old world accent, and the women in his pilot were clearly infatuated as much with him as with his knowledge of pastries. I mean, come on, doesn't the Food Network need a smokin' hot chef?  Don't answer - they do. But beyond that, Damiano was just so consistently good and likable. While his camera presence wasn't always stellar (ie., he didn't have to phonily ham it up), he was always well-liked - there's just no downside to him. There are no obvious criticisms like many viewers would make of Tregaye's "Millennial tone and lingo" or Jenard's really uncomfortable "love" vibe? What does "Chef of Love" even really mean?

Now, granted, some viewers will argue that the choice of Chef Tregaye is intended to bring in a young, new audience that likes a casual gossipy "fleeky, poppin" show. But I don't really think that's a solid approach for the Food Network. The FN doesn't understand its audience - Tregaye should be an online feature and Damiano should be allowed to become a true Food Network "TV" Star. Tregaye can appeal to a group on YouTube videos, but she is nothing like Bobby or Tyler or Giada or Zakarian or even Guy. And, of course, the "Guy Fieri" problem is a big part of this issue. As I've noted before, the Food Network developed a hit with Triple-D, and now they have decided that Guy's style and show is the only thing people want to see. It is certainly just a "Food" network now, as opposed to a culinary and cooking network. Guy has a great show where he cooks - but that isn't on five times in a row. And, why have the last two seasons of pilots just been the finalists filming a Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives type of show? There's not even any specific skill to that. What ever happened to these aspiring chefs actually developing a Point of View and a show of their own? Now the Food Network just wants to mass produce Guy Fieri. That's a shame.

As far as the "rigged" accusation is concerned - that's not exactly fair. Bobby and Giada are the judges, and they decided that a young, "poppin," social media personality is where the Food Network needs to go - and they decided that a few weeks in. They wanted her, and they chose her. The "rigged" part is that despite Damiano's potential and success, he never had a chance because they wanted a social media, slangy, gossipy girlfiend type of show. That's not who Bobby is or Giada is or Tyler is .... or who Jeff and Geoffery used to be. And, their laughs and cheers for her "fleekiness" was just so staged and fake. That's not a Food Network Television Star.

So, whatever. Good for Tregaye. Hope this is a nice opportunity for her and her family. I won't be watching.