S-P-E-L-L-I-N-G

Today the seventh grader (and two other Northfielders) represented her school at the regional spelling bee in Rochester. 


Though nervous, Julia did very well, getting through five rounds on humble, grotto, benefactor, isobar, and mantilla

I was amazed at the attrition: 12 kids – a third of the field – went out in round 1 and then a third of the remaining complement went out in round 2. Going into round six, only seven kids remained – a magic number since the top six would go on to the regional final bee, with the seventh becoming the alternate. 

High tension! Julia missed Samaritan, which I blame on her parents, who never exposed her to Bible stories. Another girl (one of the several Indian-American kids repping Rochester schools) also missed in that round, which set up a head-to-head tiebreaker to determine who’d be the alternate and who’d finish sixth. Julia got asterisk but then missed teriyaki – a word she later said she knew – and wound up in seventh as the alternate. 

Such is spelling bee life! We were very proud of her, regardless: her hard work preparing for the local and regional bees paid off very well. After all our practice, she’ll never forget how to spell Huguenot!

And as a lifelong nerd, I loved seeing these smart kids not only recognized for their smarts but challenged to use them. Being able to shoot a three-pointer is nice now, but I like to think that the skills embedded in being able to spell synopsis will probably get you further in life.

Whatever Floats Your State

Vivi’s fourth-grade social studies project was a “report” on one of the United States of America. Kids could choose among various forms for this report, and she chose to make a “float,” which is in principle and reality a pretty cool alternative to a poster or even a paper. For whatever reason, she selected Idaho as her topic, which was nice since – after two trips out there – I feel like I know a little bit about the Gem State. It’s called the Gem State, for instance.

Predictably, the effort of assembling this float was a bit overwhelming for my smart little perfectionist. Some tears were shed on the way to making the final product resemble the image in her head. I tried to avoid doing much to help her, and wound up mostly just scaling back some of her overly ambitious ideas. But the final product was pretty neat, displaying all the required info (capital, date of joining the Union, nickname, state bird, etc.) as well as some other cool stuff about Idaho and a very realistic paper potato.

Idaho Float
Idaho Float

Word Girls

Being someone who makes a living with words, I’m very happy to see that my girls are word-lovers and lovers of manipulating words, too. Tonight was classic: I spent a half hour quizzing Julia for the middle-school spelling bee tomorrow night (she’s so nervous! so excited!) – infrastructure, esoteric, boycott, kaftan – and later fifteen minutes giving Vivi “hard words” to look up in the dictionary she got for Christmas: hibernal, speculative, theoretical, paschal, vernal

School’s Out Forever

Tonight I filed my final grades for the online history course I taught this fall at Metropolitan State University, a public commuter school based in St. Paul, Minnesota. Owing to their administrative chaos and budget cuts and to my own lack of time (energy, interest…), this is probably the last course I’ll teach for them, and thus probably the last course I’ll ever teach.

I can’t say that I’ll miss teaching, really, but it’s been a good run. I started my history-teaching career in 1999 by serving as a teaching assistant while in grad school at Northwestern. Altogether, I served as a TA in three courses and taught one of my own in 1999 and 2000. No “teaching” I’ve ever done was more terrifying than that first lecture delivered as a TA to a giant auditorium full of undergrads.

After Shannon and I moved back to Minnesota for her first post-grad school job, I taught at least four classes (or was it six?) at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul in 2001-2002, while simultaneously working on my dissertation. The first meeting of my first class at St. Thomas was postponed because of 9/11. I commuted to that job from our apartment in the western suburbs – my only real experience with hard-core car commuting. (#hatedit)

When my one-year contract at St. Thomas ended, I signed on to teach history courses with Metro State – always only one per term, and always one of two or three U.S. history survey courses. I was by then working full-time in an academic support job at a different university in Minneapolis while finishing my dissertation. At first I taught “bricks and mortar” courses in the evening at Metro State’s branch campus in Minneapolis – four courses from fall 2003 to summer 2005. I remember waiting amidst the bar-hoppers on Hennepin for my bus back home – first a late express (or was it a ride from Shannon?) out to the ‘burbs, then, after we moved into the city, a local to our new house.

When I took my new job at Carleton in 2005, we saw that we (Shannon and baby Julia and I) would need to move to Northfield, so I volunteered to help launch the department’s online courses. I developed online versions of two of my courses: a global history of World War II and U.S. history since 1865 through the lens of science and technology.

These, I’ve been teaching in rotation ever since – spring, summer, and fall, year in and year out, with the occasional term off. All together, I’ve taught them 25 times: 12 editions of the World War II course (which I really liked) and 13 editions of the U.S. survey (which no). Though I never learned to love the online format, and never had the time to master it, I think I did some good teaching – as good as I could while also adjusting to and getting good at a new full-time job, starting and adding to a family, moving to and getting settled in a new community, and getting hooked on bikes.

My Metro State students were fascinating. About half of each course’s enrollees were “traditional age” undergrads – say, 18 to 25. The other half were adults who were “finishing their degrees,” often years after starting them. Once, I taught someone who had served in the Korean War, and I had numerous Baby Boomers who offered their first-hand perspectives on the historical events, people, and trends we were studying.

Though most of my students lived in the Twin Cities or at least in Minnesota, a few every term were doing the course from elsewhere in the country or the world, including a few soldiers in some very remote locations. True to Minnesota, I had a lot of Andersons, Olson, Carlsons, and Larsons as well as many Hmong and Somali students – though, interestingly, very few Latino/a students. In one course, I had three Hmong women with exactly the same names – first and last (They were unrelated.) Regardless of background, virtually all of my students were working full-time while engaged with the courses, so we had that in common.

Figuring 30 students per course, I’d estimate I’ve taught about a thousand undergrads since my first course at St. Thomas in fall 2001. Yeah, it’s been a good run. I’m not sad to be at the finish line.

 

Area Man Leaves Committee

Today – July 1, 2015 – was my first day since starting at Carleton (in October 2005) that I was not a member of the College’s Institutional Review Board, the federally-mandated committee that oversees all of the research on “human subjects” (i.e., any living person) conducted by Carleton faculty, staff, and students or at Carleton by others.

I’ve enjoyed serving on Carleton’s IRB. As a member of the board and then, over the past nine months, the chair of the board, I’ve found the work thoroughly educational, pleasingly challenging, and, I hope, institutionally valuable. If nothing else, I got to see virtually all of the human-subjects research happening on campus, which has been an amazing boon to my work raising money for research by Carleton faculty.

My service on the IRB actually predates being a grantwriter at the College. Even before my first day on the job, I came down to campus to meet the professor who was then chair of the IRB and participate in a seminar led by a visiting expert on human-subjects research.

When I formally started my job a few weeks later, I joined the IRB, learned the review process, and started reviewing cases. Over the nearly ten years I was on the Board, I saw its caseload increase from about 70 a year (an average of 1.3 cases a week) to – just this last year – more than 130 (2.5 cases a week). As a member of the committee, I helped to reconfigure the IRB’s membership, to update our application and review systems, to do “outreach” with students, and to stay current on the sloooowly changing federal regulations concerning human subjects. I also reviewed a crapload of cases – about 200 of them over those ten years, just under 20% of all the cases that came through.

It’ll be nice to have a break!

American History Wax Museum

Today was the long-awaited, much-anticipated American History Wax Museum, the culminating event of a big historical project that third graders at my girls’ school work on for weeks each spring. (When Julia was in third grade, she was Abigail Adams.)

Vivi, who has a scientific rather than a historical bent, chose Albert Einstein for as her figure. She did some great research on Einstein (who was, it turns out, not that nice a guy), wrote up a great speech in his voice (and memorized most of it), did the requisite almost-life-sized drawing (over about a week of evenings and weekends), and today dressed up as him (or as a third-grader’s vision of him) for the Museum. She did a great job!
Albert Einstein

Science Rocks!

Julia’s fifth-grade classes are doing their “Science Rocks” musical this week: a set of songs about science, accompanied by some dialogue, a few short skits, and even a little dancing.

Julia at Science Rocks
Julia at Science Rocks

I went to see the big show on Wednesday morning, and found the whole production very entertaining and educational. The kids were really into it, which was funny and inspiring in its own right. Dedicating hours and hours to songs about the elements and genetics? Brilliant!

Vivi Art: Mrs. Zublowski’s Second Grade Class

Vivi periodically makes a sort of "class photo" drawing of a bunch of kids that belong to some imaginary class. She enjoys drawing the silly faces as much as making up the silly names.

Here for instance are Mrs. Zublowski’s second graders – but interestingly not Mrs. Zublowski herself:

Four square: A Crazy Game

This spring, the girls got very interested in the playground game four square. I never played the game growing up, so I had no idea how to play, and in fact at first I confused four square with tetherball, another game I never played.*

Now, the girls love this game, and want to play it almost all time, which is excellent because we have a great driveway for it. In trying to play with them, though, I’ve learned that their grasp of the rules is either a little shaky or brilliantly egalitarian: there is basically no way to lose, or at least to lose badly enough to be eliminated from the game. You can “go out,” but that just means that… someone has said you have to go out. You can go right ahead and keep on playing.

This is fine, since it’s usually just three of us playing, and even a cursory glance at the rules shows that you really need five people to play a real game – one in each quadrant of the “board,” and one to come in when another player goes out. But still, it’s clear that the girls enjoy the game half because they get to call out all kinds of arcane rules and conditions at the start of each round (“King has double lives, regulars, double touches, no cherry bombs, no volleys.”) and half because they love whacking the ball as hard as possible, ideally at my face.

I find both aspects of the game amusing, so I’m okay with this.


* The most common playground or gym games in my elementary school were kickball, tackle football (at least until Mr. Belmas made us stop), and “boomerang,” which is like a full-court version of dodgeball.

Track and Field, Fourth Grade Style

Yesterday, Julia’s school put on its annual "track and field day" for the fourth and fifth grades. I enjoyed volunteering (the kids ego did the 4×100 relay were intense!), but I also loved seeing Julia run! She did the 100 meter dash and then -despite saying she was exhausted – also did the 400, after seeing her friends do it. I was so proud of her for gutting it out!
Dashing

Dadlife

What a week:

Recovering from Saturday’s race. Dealing with more bizarro situations at work than usual. Eating everything in sight but losing weight. Accidentally returning an LL Bean shirt to Eddie Bauer. Hanging out with the guys (and a gal) at the pub, talking about the races. Troubleshooting the home computer network. Setting PRs at the gym. Trying to figure out exchange rates. Watching the girls at tae kwon do. Installing a new router. Buying a new computer. Hiring a student worker. Having a bird shit on me. Hanging out with different guys at the pub, talking about kids. Disposing of a dead shrew. Getting through an evening with an overtired, crying kid.

Thursday Music

My streak of good music finds continued on Thursday at the elementary school choir concert, in which Julia sang. The whole performance was good, but the highlight was the last song: Stevie Wonder’s amazing “Heaven Help Us.” A ’70s protest song sung by innocent fourth and fifth graders?