Kingdom Come: A Short Pilgrimage to Kingdom Trails

On the first full day of my recent mountain biking trip to Kingdom Trails, in East Burke, Vermont, I was taking a moment to rest on Darling Hill Road, a main thoroughfare to the trail network, when a truck came along lazily, pulled up along side me. Inside was a grizzled sheep dog and his equally grizzled person with a dirty Budweiser trucker, holding down a mop of brown hair.

From inside the cab of the truck, the driver croaked something at me both inaudible and indecipherable.

“Excuse me?” I said.

“Want some marijuana?” and with that he extended his arm and at the end of it was a small glass pipe.

“No. No, thanks,” I said.

“Your loss.” And, with that, the truck pulled away.

Quintessential Vermont. A place of stark contrasts in it’s people, landscapes and possibilities.


Kingdom Trails & East Burke, Vermont

Every summer, we pack our daughter off to camp in mid-August. As soon as she’s gone, I’m freed from summer Dad-duties. I pack my car, and take off on my own adventure. Some summers it’s the Whites or the Adirondacks or the Gunks. But, as a new mountain bike rider, I wanted to go explore a place that I’d been reading a lot about.

Kingdom Trails is a network of 80 miles of mountain bike trails in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. Located in East Burke, about 7 hours from Rochester, New York (my home base), Kingdom offers a playground for all sorts of riders.

I’m fairly new to mountain biking, and I’m a very conservative rider. I’m not into bombing down hills or shredding technical trails. What I’m looking for is a chance to be on my bike, outside, and to be able to experience a lot of nature in a day.

Kingdom accommodates. I’ve rode there about four days, covered much of the green and blue trails without repeating anything. But, for those looking for more challenge, there’s plenty of black trails for steep downhills or technical riding. I saw plenty of riders, like myself, rocking their dad bods. I saw groups of families with dads on full-suspension rigs with their kids on Walmart Huffies. I saw retiree couples getting rides in.  All are welcome.

East Burke also provides an excellent hub for travelers. I stay in a lean-to in the Burke Mountain campground, which was perfect for my budget and plans, as well as providing a central place for riding from. The first day, I drove down to the main parking lot in town (a 2 mile trip), but the second day I rode directly onto the trails from the campground. The campground is on a mountain directly above a ski resort. So, if you are looking for upgraded accommodations, this might be the place for you.

The campground the the resort are owned by the same people, so campers have access to the pool and hot tub at the resort, as well as the pub, which offered great food, and more importantly, a dozen taps of excellent Vermont craft beer.

In town, there are rentals, hostels, motels. And, for a small town, there’s several gastro-pubs, ice cream shops, and delis. Everything is very low-key and friendly. It’s a great mountain town.

In town a popular spot is the Tiki Bar, great for post-ride beverages. Atop Darling Hill, I found a bike shop-Espresso Bar-Beer Garden. To dip into my cliche bucket–a little heaven on Earth. Talk about contrasts–one minute you can be riding in what feels like the back country, but a few minutes later you can be indulging in the finer points of civilization: an espresso, or a cold double IPA, or a plate of house made sausages over piles of mashed potatoes. Or all perhaps all three.


The Riding

Pretty much anyone going to Kingdom is going to find themselves stopping in the Trail Network Office, where you buy a $15 pass to ride for the day and get a trail map. My first time, I told the person I was a first-timer and that I was fairly new to mountain biking. I got suggestions for a 20 mile ride on manageable trails, and with that, I felt pretty oriented to the area.

Some of my favorite rides from this trip took me to what felt like remote places. While I had to take the steep River Walk, a black-square route to get down to River Run, it was worth the risk. River Run is several miles of either old logging-road or groomed single track. There are several places to access the adjacent stream.

I started the blog post talking about the contrasts that seem everywhere for me in a place like Kingdom and in particular the riding here. Sometimes in open fields and others through tight forests. Sometimes down steady declines and others off the bike pushing up big slopes.

For me, the seven hour trip from home is too far for a weekend, so I’ll have to content myself with planning a trip back to Kingdom and East Burke next summer.

What Am I Doing Now?

Inspired this morning by A.J. Juliani’s new blog and newsletter, I decided to create a “What Am I Doing Now?” post and eventual page. It’s a great way to start the week, getting focused to be productive.

While I’ve been busy with planning and managing IB exams, I’m excited by a culture-changing opportunity to create a professional development session for Regents exam week. A draft of what we’re going to try to do can be seen below:

Working with other tech integrators in the district, we’re preparing end of year technology integration documents. One of these is a curation of tech tools and activities teachers can use for creating student-centered review or for cleaning up their Schoology classes and Google Drive in anticipation of summer vacation.

This is making me think about other such documents and resources we could start creating for the beginning of the school year: open-house & tech.

I’m also writing a presentation on blogging and personalized learning for a conference next week at Wayne-Finger Lakes BOCES, final units and projects for IB 12 and English 103, I’ve managed to squeeze in a few new books that I thought I’d share, so check out this recent post.

Cilantro & a Reading Round-up

Several books have come across my desk that I’d like to write about briefly.

The first is Beyond Literary Analysis by Allision Marchetti (@allisonmarchett) and Rebekah O’Dell (@RebekahODell1).

As I’ve written about these writers and what I’ve learned from them in the past on this blog, particularly around infographics. I’m a huge fan of their work and the Moving Writers blog. When I learned that they were writing a book about literary analysis, I flipped.

After over twenty-one years as an English teacher, most of the them teaching courses like AP Literature, English 102, and IB English Literature HL, I’m starting to feel pretty spent teaching literary analysis and explication.

Knowing that their book was coming, I had a feeling that I’d be rewarded in the reading, and be given ways to breath new life into analysis for students and for myself. That feeling proved true when the book arrived and I dove in. Full disclosure, I started the book on the beaches of Playa Mujeres, just north of Cancun in Mexico during winter break. I wasn’t going to work over break, but I just had to read this book. In writing my review I might be experiencing  a strange synthesisia of white pages, good writing, sunscreen and cilantro.

If you are familiar with Marchetti and O’Dell’s work you know that they preach the gospel of the mentor text. Not familiar? Well, the concept is simple enough. Have students read the work of professional writers, identify the moves made by these writers, and work to replicate it in their own work. Makes sense, no?

Beyond Literary Analysis is broken into three main sections, making for clear reading when reading from cover to cover, but if you are looking to surf the book, each section provides distinct information.

First, Marchetti and O’Dell redefine analysis into 4 simple parts.

Second, this book is practical. They focus on the common issues found when working with the four parts of analyssi in student writing, provide a chart of these issues, and then activities for each of these issues.

Here is an example of such a chart:

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Each of the exercises or protocols to improve writing is described on a later page.

In the third part of the book, there’s a close look at specific analysis assignment with different kinds of texts.

Throughout the book, these writers give lots of examples of student work and the moves that writers can make. Excellent models to use when working with students.

I’ll be honest. This is a book that I’ll reread over the summer, and put into action next year. While certainly, the strategies provided can be a savior when you are looking for dealing with a problem tomorrow, what I love about these writers is that they approach the concept of mentor texts as an entire driving philosophy that makes for good writing program. My IB kids are 5 weeks away from examining. We’re engaging in full on-slaught exam prep, so looking at analysis in NPR blogs or Radio lab podcasts isn’t where I’m going to focus my energy. Still, these teachers give us a way of approaching a curriculum and working with students over months.

Plus, I’m thinking about bringing back reading-logs. I want kids reading and reflecting and engaging in mentor text work on a regular basis. The sustained change in the practice of teaching analysis and getting kids to produce it, i’m not looking for the Friday bandaid. I want to practice in sustainable change. While I hated reading-logs when I first started teaching, and quickly abandoned them, I want students consuming input on a regular basis and reflecting on what they are learning about these texts as writers. Some form of reading-log combined with blog post may be a way to do this.

I also got to read Angela Stockman’s (@AngelaStockmanHacking the Writing Workshop. I’ve been into Stockman’s work for a couple of years now since I read her first book. Stockman is very accessible on Twitter and friendly at Edcamps.

Like other books in the Hack Learning series, Stockman’s new book offers concrete suggestions both in the book as well as with QR codes, which take the reader to shared Google Drive folders with additional resources. Reading this book was a multimedia extravaganza where I read and highlighted the book, and zapped QR codes on my Chromebook.

If you are looking to start a workshop, or looking to reinvent what you do currently, this is the book for you. Here at Canandaigua Academy, we are slowly working to redesign one of our classrooms to be a project-based, learning space with flexible seating. Stockman’s book will help us elevate that space into a room that works to foster productive work for students.

These books are made by writers who get the teaching profession. I believe they know the needs and temperament of the weary, March-drained teacher, much because I suspect that they live these lives themselves. As such, these books are straight-forward, practical, and give you stuff to work with immediately, if that’s your need.

 

 

How & Not What

Part 1: The Request:

The following hit my Outlook in-box yesterday morning from our district Public Relation specialist:

Hi,

I have a tough ask, but I hope that you can help.

Due to the concerns of our students, staff and community around school safety and security, Jamie [Canandaigua District Superintendent] has authorized me to draft a Digest [Our District Community Newsletter] publication that will focus on the District’s response to the tragedy in Parkland, Florida and the difficult issues brought to the public debate in the wake of that crime. We know this is a very sensitive issue that requires real care from us.

Thus, the theme of the publication is that the Canandaigua City School District’s mission is to “teach kids how to think, not what to think”.

I want to develop a central article entitled “How, not What”, so I’d like to gather your perspectives on what “How, not What” looks like in the classroom. What are your thoughts on how skills such as research, inquiry, argumentation supported by evidence, etc. are taught as they relate to how to think, not what to think?

To help you, maybe you could include some concrete examples around such items as [And you’ll see these in the questions below]:

Part 2: The Q& A:

Andy’s questions gave me a lot to think about, and helped me to reflect on my practice. I’ve put his questions below and my responses to his request in red.

How appropriate research technique is actually taught?

If we are really going to emphasize “How, not What” then classroom spaces need to start with questions. Questions that come from teachers to model what good questions look like and then working with student’s to foster curiosity around topics, and develop questions that they want to seek answers to. This is the foundation of the curriculum in the IB, where all courses are driven by inquiry approaches where students are expected to ask questions, and work together to find answers. It culminates in the capstone project, the Extended Essay, which is supposed to expose the student’s ability to engage in sustained, independent research, and reflect what the student has learned about asking important questions and finding answers.

In English 103, students engage in semester long research projects developed around topics they are passionate about, and perhaps more importantly, we ask that these students take their research and work to make it authentic by sharing through creating informative websites, and then ultimately developing arguments written as, again, authentic texts: blogs, wikis, editorials, op-eds, speeches, problem-solving proposals. In this course, students are guided through research—preliminary phases, information collection, evaluation (more below), synthesis, creation. These students get something very similar in approach to what the IB students get. A course in how to conduct college-level research.

In “Media Maker,” student generation of topics and writing is at the center. There is no “content” in the course other than what the students bring. They are asked to ask questions, and then answer them in their blogs and 20-time projects. All of what students create in the course is driven by their own interests. Thus, they are “researching” all the time—through listening to podcasts, reading others blogs, newspapers, articles, following You-tubers.

Another important part of this, and one that I don’t think we do a good job at, is modeling our own curiosity, learning and research. Teachers need to show their students how they authentically learn.

  • how we have students learn about and develop primary and secondary sources?

I think we do a lot of damage with students when all we focus on is primary and secondary and tertiary.  These distinctions are only somewhat helpful to students when we are trying to get them to think about collecting information. Another damage we do is when we get students to think about sources as objects—when a teacher says I want you to collect 5 sources—an article, a website, a newspaper source—we’re having students think about information only in terms of where the information resides.

We need to get kids to think about sources as PEOPLE. Who is giving us this information? What is the person’s bias or perspective? Who does this person work for? What platform is this person publishing on? Who asked this person to create?

Additionally, we need to get students to think about sources not as primary or secondary or article or database, but in terms of their functionality. How is this source being used? How can I or how should I use this source? What about this source must be included or discarded from my work?

Tomorrow Jamie will be talking to all English 103 classes about his recent encounter with Channel 13. We want our students, who are currently working with evaluation of sources and thinking about fake news, to see what happened between what information he had and how it was portrayed. Their story changed the reality of the situation—they created something that is different from what is actually.

  • what we require in the way of “papers” and where those fall on the developmental scale?

Certainly, for many of our students, the academic essay is an important document to learn how to produce. However, we do a disservice to students when all we ask them to produce is a “paper.” When was the last time you wrote an “academic essay” or a paper. Your writing for Gradudates of Distinction, the article you are producing for the digest move outside of the boundaries of this genre. The pieces that Jeanie writes for the first day of school, the BOE presentations that Matt or Jamie create, the emails that come from Jamie—none of these are academic essays or papers. Many of our students are going to need to write leaving CA, and they’ll make arguments—in editorials, presentations, cover letters, blogs…when we think about the product of research only as a “paper” we’re doing damage.

  • how assignments/projects build to mastery and how that skill is reflected/assessed in subject examinations and short answer essays?
  • How we handle the specifics of the Bill of Rights?
  • How we handle discussion of current events in class?

I didn’t answer these questions. I won’t go into that here, but perhaps there’s another blog post in thinking about making some responses as these questions apply to the English classroom. 

#EdcampFLX17 Top 10

Yesterday’s Edcampflx brought almost 100 educator’s from across the Western, New York area together for a morning of personalized professional development. Here are my top 10 moments from the morning:

10. New apps. Can’t wait to play more with Letrecap.com and Mentimeter.com. Both of these look like great feedback and formative assessment tools.

9. Even thought she wasn’t there in person, it was cool to know that Rachel Murat (@mrsmurat) was following us on Hootsuite, liking and retweeting our adventures.

8. A fantastic conversation with Ned Dale (@nedatthegrove) about Digital Citizenship and Leadership. I gained a lot of insight into how a school district goes about giving skills students need, and using non-traditional ways to do it.

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7. Coming early and doing some setup for Katie McFarland (@katiemc827). With coffee and a little tape, I got to see the goings on behind the scenes and learning about the effort it takes to get an Edcamp off the ground.

6. Conversation about Schoology. I had the chance to facilitate a session on Schoology, and I really tried to invite conversation. Many of the teachers in the room were self-described beginners, but as I listened to the work they’re doing, I wouldn’t use the word beginners. In our district, “beginners” are creating quizzes and assessments, delivering Nearpods and other online activities to students, and providing 24/7 access to their course materials. Awesome!

5. I also got to facilitate a talk on student blogging and discussions. It was a far ranging session from using Edublogs, Blogger, Schoology Discussions. But, at the heart, was a great conversation with teachers who want to give their students more choice, voice, and avenues for self-expression.

4. Working with the always positive, hard working model for technology integrators everywhere, Steve Holmes (@kylelaurie).

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3. An empty session board. Oh, the possibilities…With Chromebook in hand (it would have been nice to have the new tablet model our students have in the district), I got lucky and helped to get the physical board into the digital version.

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2. Stepping up. As we built the session board, we had to approach a number of our teachers who came to Edcamp expecting to be a participant. Little did they know that they’d be called upon to facilitate a session. It was cool to see people move from hesitant to excited as they got the opportunity to lead a session on something that they had some knowledge about. Thanks to these folks from Canandaigua who stepped up.

1. A full session board. Oh, the possibilities.

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It was my second year at EdcampFLX, and my third camp overall. Looking forward to more adventures in the future.