Saturday, 21 January 2017

Not Teaching: Week 29

Booked a massage. Am trying to fix my posture now, including sitting at the kitchen table, not slouched over the ottoman. Still not good at relaxing, per se, despite all the yoga - every week has a certain schedule to it. Including figuring out dinners. This week’s schedule included figuring out a fiction story for Post #300 (which crept up on me) and doing a big “Day in the Life” roundup for MTBoS. Those items took up four days, so yet again my “next items” list is unchanged/deferred.


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In other news, I gave a writing interview late last year, and it’s now live! See me answer questions here, at Alastair Luft’s site - he’s a writer and veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces. Stick around on his site to read lots of other interviews and content.

Item counts run Sunday (January 15) to Saturday (January 21).

Step Count: About 53,400.
The counts are all over the place as I try to balance bad with better.

School Email Count: 78 New (3 sent)
Minutes sent out. Gr 9 EQAO was this week. Exams start next week.


Writing/Art Related Items (from Sun to Sat):
 -Wrote + illustrated a 3,000+ word story for “Post #300”
 -Wrote an MTBoS “Day in the Life” post that involved compiling, summarizing and commenting across 26 different blogs.

Non-Writing Items for the past week:
 -Saw movies “Moana” and “Collateral Beauty”
 -Yoga Monday
 -Math Meeting Monday (with Minutes)
 -Met with friends on Monday (+random brother-in-law encounter)
 -Some trips to the bank, and phone calls
 -Had massage to try and deal with arm issue
 -Got back into tumblr, sort of, need to do more there

PROBABLE PROJECTS in the coming week:
 -Write, draw, ink Monday’s math comic
 -Another MTBoS post is likely
 -Movie viewing with friends
 -Complete video editing and/or write a new parody. Really. For reals.

POSSIBLE NEXT WILL-THESE-EVER-HAPPEN items:
 -Split up “Time & Tied” into short parts for RRL
 -Post recap about OAME (from May)
 -Post recap about Math PD (from Feb)
 -Post recap about Anime North (from May)
 -Post recap about CanCon 2016 (from Sept)
 -Post recap about COMA Social (from Sept)
 -Catch up with web serials I’ve enjoyed
 -Write a TANDQ article on Polling and Bias
 -Write a post about types of praise/encouragement
 -Organize all the paper clutter from school
 -Organize all the electronic clutter from school
 -Weed through/organize emails
 -Do another Parody Math Video
 -Replace smoke alarms with Christmas ones
 -French Citizenship project
 -Actually market some of my creative stuff
 -Binging Anime (Magical Index)
 -Binging Anime (Steins Gate)
 -Binging Anime (RWBY borrowed from Scott)
 -Read some of the books sitting at my desk

The weather’s been unusually mild; I’ve tried to chip ice off our road.
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Friday, 20 January 2017

Sharing: Days in the Lives

This post is again part of the “Explore the Math Twitter Blog O’ Sphere” 2017 initiative. (My first post in the sequence was about a media assignment, my second about trouble with soft skills.) This time, we were asked to read posts by other math educators and then write or compile information - with a shoutout to the “MTBoS Google Search” by John Stevens. (I didn’t put my blogs there, but feel free to correct my thinking.)

I decided to use this opportunity to check in with an initiative that started back in August 2016 - Tina Cardone’s “Day in the Life Book Plan”. Effectively, a team of teachers, all writing up a day in their lives, which could ultimately be compiled together to illustrate what the year of a teacher is like. I signed in to be a cheerleader, and have been meaning to read more, since it’s the sort of thing I would be on board with - if I weren’t taking my year off.

A few warnings: My master list is old, I’m hoping I haven’t missed anyone - if that’s the case, add a link in the comments. For my Canadian readers, know that some schools start in August and run through May (Canada runs September to June). Related, the United States has 180 teaching days (here in Ontario we have 194, with no snow days - if there’s 20 inches of snow forecast, schools are open). And, of course, the US Thanksgiving provides a break in late November, not early October.

For more of this: I discovered I’m not the only one with this roundup (great minds think alike); David Walker (at “Geometry, Common Core Style”) has focussed on the Middle School DITLife Bloggers this week. (Click there, if you’d prefer to see a focus on those grades.) Also, there’s the DITLife Tumblr, where you can see links to posts. With all that in mind, let’s check in on the following blogs, which are in no particular order. If you see something you like, consider clicking through, reading more, and leaving them a message!

EARLY IN THE YEAR


1. Kent Haines: The Process Column. (Aug 12th)
This was Kent’s second day of class. As a “get to know you” activity he did math autobiographies, and he says he knows more about his students after that than 4 weeks in for the previous year. (He has a separate post on these.) One of the classes at his school is split in the middle by lunch.

2. Geometry, Common Core Style. (Aug 19th)
This was David’s third day of class, teaching middle school. He played a “Square One” song (“Count On It”), did number patterns, and started seeing some of the social dynamics between students. Did I mention the SQUARE ONE song?! (I’ve used “Change Your Point of View” in Grade 9.)

3. Ottograph Blog. (Aug 23rd)
Alexandra, a 6th grade teacher in Alaska, is doing district-wide in-service before school begins. She finds that she’ll have a class set of iPads this year, attends sessions on data work in Excel plus literacy training, and has an online math book club chat. She’s also a board member for Kodiak Teen Court.

4. Those Who Teach Do More. (Sept 8th)
Thursday was Kit’s first day of class. He took the subway, met a student teacher, dealt with a lack of translation forms, and there was much labelling, ice breaking (including ‘Which One Doesn’t Belong’) and debriefing. He was teaching 6th grade after years of teaching 8th grade; his second day is also included in this post.

5. Function of Reflection. (Sept 8th)
In contrast, this Thursday was not Jake’s first day (his first quarter will end in October). Desmos helped with handling intervals in precalculus class, students self-selected tutoring blocks, and there was both a busy prep and sixth period. It seemed to go better than his Week 3?

6. Drawing on Math. (Sept 14th)
Tina is in her tenth year teaching, and her school has an every-other-day schedule. There’s mention of wait/think time, working with honours students on her prep, tech support, and a fire alarm. Then a staff meeting, to go over Interventions.

7. Reflections of a Type-A Teacher. (Sept 20th)
Kate wakes up before 5:30am that day, whoa. Among other things, she deals with Chromebooks, a fire alarm, a logarithms scavenger hunt, hall duty, and her dog’s obedience class. Note Kate is in her fifth year of high school teaching.

8. Alternative Math. (Sept 26th)
Micaela is the only math teacher at her alternative high school. On this day, she gets five new students - balancing her Algebra class, which has only two today - does discussions in a “community circle”, and handles paperwork on her prep. Her necessary lengthy commute includes a police report, oh no.

9. Run the Numbers. (Sept 30th)
Kevin does a five mile run in the morning. He returns to his classroom on this day after being away on the 29th. There are mini-assessments, remarks on help with autism, and trouble with Windows 10 updating; note Kevin teaches 7th and 8th grades.



THROUGH HALLOWEEN


10. The Roots of the Equation. (Oct 5th)
James is resuming school this Wednesday, after Rosh Hashanah. He’s carrying too much to bike in to work. His teaching involves a Mathalicious lesson (Sweet Tooth), a formative observation, documentation alignments, then there's some walking with Pokemon Go.

11. Ms. Z’s Mathematical Mess. (Oct 6th)
Dawneen’s entire region was evacuated for Hurricane Matthew, meaning no school for the latter part of this week. She reflects in this post with the DITLife questions about procedures, low morale, literacy and an all-boys class she has.

12. M Brunner Math. (Oct 17th)
Mariam arrives at school early to offer help (having forgotten her lunch at home), restructures lessons to accommodate, discusses with colleagues, and sets up for an activity in the science lab. Also, she needs to work online for over three hours that evening.

13. Hazel-Eyed Math Nut. (Oct 26th)
Tara starts her day at school with a parent meeting. She’s recently acquired two new classes, 8 weeks into the school year. This particular day includes grading, polynomials, and (eventually) a 30 minute break with her family for dinner.

14. [Slightly] Skewed. (Nov 4th)
Hannah’s Friday was a Professional Development day, because their quarter had just ended. She helped lead PD discussion on productive struggle, there was talk of grade distributions, then she spent the afternoon grading the unit exams students had done earlier that week.

15. Busy Miss Beebe. (Nov 7th)
Brianne has her clock correctly set for Daylight Savings, but her body was awake before 4:30am. She put together SMART Notebook files for the week, taught a geometry course she developed, then had hall duty, and a faculty meeting. Watch for mention of a principal “learning walk”.

16. Pythagoras was a Nerd. (Nov 16th)
Mattie has to put together a packet for his International Baccalaureate (IB) class today. Said day includes re-creating slides, planning team work on polynomials, trying not to rush. See his reflection at the end for some fallout from the recent US election.

17. Mathematical Musings by MathTeacher24. (Nov 21st)
Leigh arrives at school realizing she needs to create a test by 2pm, and her day is already quite full (a bit like Mattie, above). She manages it, going a bit “old school”, and still has the energy to be part of chorale after classes. Read to the end for her postscript on retesting.

18. Hilbert’s Hotel. (Nov 22nd)
Jonathan blogs here before Thanksgiving, meaning it’s a two day week. There’s a number of benchmark tests, extra tutoring at lunch, and then after school, a “Mathcount” activity and parent emails (among other things). Should one measure based on cars left in the parking lot?



AFTER THANKSGIVING


19. My Random Ah-hA Moments. (Nov 28th)
Bernadette had trouble sleeping prior to this return after Thanksgiving. She explains how Infinity, her “Elf on the Shelf” will provide questions of the day, there’s a 3-act task on sugar in soda, and she has to prepare for a substitute on the following day. Like Kent (above), she also has a period split in pieces by lunch.

20. 8 is My Lucky Number. (Dec 8th)
Jennifer goes through a typical Thursday. There’s an ALICE (intruder) drill, a new class contract to handle disruptive behaviour, extra help provided after school, and a run at the end of the day (contrast Kevin who ran in the morning). Her Christmas tree is up; mine wouldn’t be.

21. Math by the Mountain. (Dec 9th)
Audrey’s school district closed schools on this Friday, for the third day in a row, due to the snow and ice storm on the mountain. So she worked on activities and flowcharts for upcoming units, then got out of the house for the first time since Tuesday afternoon, to visit her parents.

22. Math yes you can (Dec 16th)
Kathy’s last day before Christmas Break. Students drop off cards for her (she teaches younger grades), they make origami cards for support staff, there’s a party in the music room, and after the students leave, she decides to bring their scale drawing projects home for grading over the break.

23. Her Mathness. (Dec 21st)
Wendy has three days until Christmas Break. Within her post, she’s embedded a Task in Scribd. She was visited by a student on her prep, and an illustrated task project had students including bad math jokes for her. She also does private tutoring.

24. Lazy 0ch0. (Dec 24th)
Brian’s first day of Christmas Break is also Christmas Eve. He does some morning reading (and considers math-themed books for his students), uses old newspapers to wrap gifts, reflects on a post-observation meeting with his principal... and references the hospital Emergency Room.

25. Miss Calcul8. (Jan 10th, 2017)
Elissa is the only math teacher, teaching at her alma mater. Cutting and folding turns out to be a challenge for many students, her lunch is quick, subbing takes over her plan period, and there’s more to do after school. 12,000+ steps, I’m impressed.

26. Math State of Mind. (Jan 12th, 2017)
Jen is a math coach, see an earlier DITLife post for how she had to leave for major surgery last year. She spent this day covering kindergarten duty, getting math kits together, helping with a 2nd grade skip counting lesson, and participating in a Twitter chat. Also, Uber.



WRAPUP


That’s all I’ve got; if you know of more, feel free to link out to them in the comments. If you’re real keen, you could also read my DITLife Posts from prior years; I usually subvert them with quizzes or odd narratives. Oh, and one last message to the WRITERS of all those posts - well done! And even if you fell out of the blogging habit after a few posts, it’s never too late to jump back in.

I think that’s everything, let me know if something was unclear. I appreciate you reading, consider coming back to my blog again, or checking out my other writing projects!

-My personified math comic last posted “Dressing Down” on Monday.

-My time travel serial last posted “Connecting” on Friday.

-My “Not Teaching Year” weekly chronicle on this blog continues tomorrow.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

300: A Bunny's Tale

Post #100 of this blog was "Time for a Superheroine" (Oct 2013). Post #200 of this blog was "No Reason" (Aug 2015). My continued efforts to write short fiction continued in #246 "Suppression" and #261 "In The Dark", based on prompts from "Web Fiction Guide". Now, here we are at Post #300, and a tale that could have been R-rated, but decided not to be. As always, enjoy!

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A BUNNY’S TALE


I knew something was wrong as soon as I woke up - I wasn’t in my house, or indeed anywhere I recognized.

I was lying on a cold stone slab, instead of a bed. It was in the middle of a room which itself had been constructed entirely of stone. Meaning I was likely somewhere in a castle. Possibly in a dungeon, but I didn’t see any shackles on the walls, and there was no stench of misery or desperation surrounding me. In fact, the room, what little I could see of it, was barren.

Turning my head from side to side to take that in had made me dizzy, so I closed my eyes again, to prevent blacking out. Had I been captured by a sorcerer? What use would any wizard have for me, a twenty-something fledgling magic user who was so in debt that her business of producing charms and wards was in danger of going under before the end of the month? Or was it that one of my creditors had come to collect early, and without warning?

I wanted to sit up, but my body felt strangely numb. After a moment, I found I could wiggle my fingers. I reopened my eyes, and lay quietly for another minute, using the opportunity to gradually bend my arms, and then run my fingers over my body. I wasn’t wearing my nightdress, or indeed any kind of dress. I seemed to be clothed in some sort of leotard.

My ears twitched. My proportions, they seemed to be off. Had my consciousness been transmitted into someone else’s body? I hadn’t been messing around with any long distance communications stones today, had I? No - even if I had, the disorientation one experiences in their use is fleeting. This felt more like the morning after one too many mugs of ale. What was going on? I couldn’t even remember what I’d been doing just prior to being here. Hadn’t I been in the market?

My ears twitched again. Which was when I became consciously aware of that sensation, and my whole body tensed up. That... that wasn’t right. Slowly, fearfully, I brought my hands from my torso up towards my head. I slid them up my jawline towards my ears. Towards where my ears were supposed to be. Where my fingers instead encountered fuzziness. Because my ears were no longer ears, they were long, furry... somethings.

I screamed. For a solid minute, I couldn’t stop screaming, my hands squeezing at my bunny ears, my heart hammering in my chest, a chest which wasn’t even mine, because what in the world had happened to me?! At last, a more rational piece of my brain took over, closing my mouth, pointing out that my newly enhanced hearing had been registering some important details that deserved my attention.

Biting down on my lower lip to keep my mouth shut, I mentally rewound the last sixty seconds. There had been the sound of wood scraping on wood, a voice saying ‘she’s finally awake, get the boss’, and then the sound of the wood shuttering again. A Judas gate? A small peephole door within a larger door? Somewhere about three and a half metres behind me? (Wow, that was precise, go ears.) More to the point, a ‘boss’ was coming.

Okay Ella, get a grip on yourself, you probably want to meet the boss by giving him or her a blow to the head and bolting to safety, not screaming like a, well, scared rabbit. I released my lower lip. Part of me wanted to resume screaming, but I forced that part deeper down inside me. Instead, I pushed myself up into a seated position, taking stock of my surroundings.

My initial “dungeon” vibe still felt valid, though I now wondered if maybe this was some interrogation room, adjoining an actual dungeon. My stone slab could work as a central table, and there were hooks embedded into the side, which could be used to chain someone in place. If so, there was probably an annulment field in the area too, to prevent magic.

I swung my legs off the side of the slab, and attempted to fire off a simple light spell. Either I was right about the field, or my new bunny body couldn’t properly channel the forces, as nothing happened. But the glowing algae on the walls continued to provide enough light for visibility.

Doing a slow pan, I saw the only way in or out was that wooden door, and the only object in the room was a full length mirror, hanging next to said door. Obviously, my captor wanted to flaunt what he or she had done to me. However, shards of glass could be an effective weapon. I hopped down off the slab, then bounced my way over towards the mirror. Only to have my brain ping at me anew, and I stopped in place.

Why was I moving by jumping both feet off the ground simultaneously? I looked down, for a moment fearing that a spell was still in progress, busy turning me into an actual rabbit from the waist down. But no - I still had a pair of normal legs. I took a regular step forwards. Apparently this body merely had certain inherent bunny traits that tended to take over, if I wasn’t making a conscious effort. I wiggled my tail in relief.

I frowned, glancing over my shoulder. In two more strides, I was at the mirror, and able to confirm the presence of that little cottontail, poking out through a hole in the leotard. Lovely. Actually, I would call it adorable, if it were on anybody else. I wiggled it again. Actually, even on me it was... okay Ella, no, get a grip. I turned around to take in the rest of my appearance.

I was still a blonde, but my hair now stretched past my shoulders, down onto my back. I was more slender, and more busty, so either my mass had been redistributed, or this was an entirely new body that I was inhabiting. Likely the latter, given the rabbit accoutrements and those inherent traits that my mind was occasionally fighting against. Good thing I’m smarter than your average bunny.

Something about my intelligence being used in this way triggered a memory, but it refused to fully coalesce.

I supposed this new body still looked about twenty-three. Thankfully, my ears and tail turned out to be the only non-human abnormalities (and the only parts of me with fur). I double-checked on that, particularly in my mouth, ensuring I had no buck teeth. Whatever wizard had crafted this rabbit form, they had been going more for aesthetics than realism.

Granted, certain stereotypes may have been in mind either way, as I was starting to have a peculiar craving for carrots. As well as a slight craving for... I squirmed my hips. Okay, wow, definitely not the time for such primal thoughts. Focus, Ella, remember you’re more than some dumb bunny here.

As far as clothing went, my leotard was pink, as were the thigh length stockings that adorned my legs. I wasn’t wearing shoes, which was a shame, as they would have been useful for smashing the mirror. I suppose it’s good that I was clothed at all; in desperation, maybe I could strip down and use the fabric as a garrotte? But we weren’t there yet. So what could I use to break the glass that didn’t involve damaging myself?

I scoured around the room, hoping to find something. A forgotten chain, a loose rock, anything with decent mass to it, tucked away in the shadows. No such luck. Then my enhanced hearing picked up on the sound of footsteps, at the far end of the hallway, beyond my door. Out of time. New plan, random destruction.

I hopped - no, no, alternate your feet, there you go, good - back to the mirror. By grabbing it, bending my legs, and shoving up with all my might, the mirror became unhooked. I released it, springing back before it could flatten me, and was rewarded with a loud crash as it hit the floor.

Too loud of a crash. I clapped my hands against the side of my head, where my old ears had been, which was useless - but I had also instinctively folded my new rabbit ears in against my head, to try and mute the sound. My bunny instincts served me well that time, though I did end up with a momentary ringing sensation in my head. Through it, I heard someone fumbling with keys on the other side of the door.

I bent down, and with a grunt, shoved the upside-down mirror frame to the side. Fortunately, there was a nasty looking shard of glass from the edge that I could hold onto without slicing into my palms. I grabbed for it. As the door opened, I rolled back onto my tail, holding the glass up in front of me. “Don’t come any closer!” I shouted. My voice sounded not-quite-right.

A man stood in the doorway, wearing a blue wizard’s cloak. He sported that white beard that all wizards over the age of thirty tended to craft, supposedly as a measure of stature, but secretly, I think it’s to make it harder to tell them apart. Stupid male guild solidarity thing. Which meant it was hard to tell his age, but I pegged him as being in his forties.

The man smiled, then turned to the guy in armour holding the key ring. “See that we are not disturbed, for any reason.”

I twisted around to get back to my feet, still brandishing the shard of glass. “No, see, your annulment field here prevents you from doing magic as well. And I have this weapon. So you’re going to let me out of here. Now.”

He shook his head. “Ah, Ella Umber. Even in your youth, you had spirit. Tell me, once you get beyond this field, what’s to keep me from restraining you in a much less pleasant manner than behind a locked door?”

This guy was making all sorts of mistakes. He had now confirmed that he was magically powerless at the moment, and that he knew me - even though I didn’t know him. The ‘youth’ thing was weird, but one problem at a time. I hopped to the side, thrusting my arm forwards. He didn’t flinch, so he had that going for him. “Let me out.”

“Let’s chat first. You aren’t wondering how you ended up in the body of a bunny golem?”

A bunny golem. I cursed myself for missing the obvious. That made total sense.

Most magical golems were simple automatons. Some wizards personalized their forms, adding additional arms or putting them on wheels or whatever else made the golem useful for specific tasks. And of course, on the black market you could acquire cats, foxes, any number of fetish forms. Including bunnies. But all such golems were driven by pure instinct, acting upon their base programming and the orders they were given, lacking any human intelligence. Human intelligence, like mine...

That memory tugged at me again. Alas, as my mind drifted, it gave my captor an opening. Before I could react, he’d stepped in and seized my wrist. Goddamn it.

I pounded at his front with my free hand, but to no avail - I had smarts, not strength. He twisted, forcing me to drop the glass. Then he released me and stepped back, more glass crunching underneath his boots. “Go sit on your slab.”

I turned to comply, then overrode that instinct and spun back to face him. “No.” Part of me felt ashamed to be disobeying. I told that part of me to get stuffed.

The wizard made a gesture towards the door, and the person with the keys pulled it shut. Which meant a mad dash for the exit wouldn’t get me anywhere. I might have to talk my way out.

“Go sit on your slab,” the man repeated.

“No,” I repeated, without hesitation this time.

“Is Ella-bunny not at all scared to be disobeying me?”

I felt my heart rate increasing. The scared part of me that had screamed upon my awakening was stirring again. With effort, I suppressed it again. “N-No.”

“It’s hot in here, isn’t it. You look flushed, Ella-bunny, are you overheating?”

More parts of my golem bunny body started firing signals that I had to quash. “Nnngh. No,” I said, baring my teeth. I was not going to allow myself to become ashamed, scared, or worst of all, horny.

He pulled something out from his robes. “Does Ella-bunny want a carrot?”

“Oh, shut up!” I shouted. I was growing irritated at having to maintain control over all these very basic internal impulses. At least, out of all of them, hunger was the least of my worries. So I crunched down on the vegetable, continuing to try and corral the rest of the conflicting emotions running rampant through my body.

I froze. I pulled the carrot from my lips.

“Your golem body is the latest model,” my captor pointed out, pulling his hand back. “I know more about it than you do.”

I chewed my mouthful of carrot, and swallowed. “Obviously.” I wanted to throw the carrot in his face, but on the other hand, maybe if I kept it, I could jab it somewhere painful later.

“Go sit on your slab.”

A compromise position seemed to be in order, to prevent further humiliation. “I will lean against the edge.” I went over to do exactly that - by walking, not hopping. He stepped back to lean against the wall, crossing his arms. We stared at each other across the four metre distance for a short while, during which time I managed to subdue most of the rabbit urges inside me yet again.

“What IS the last thing you remember?” he asked me at last.

“I was walking through the market,” I shot back. “I was wondering how I might advertise my warding business better, and what might happen to me if I couldn’t, when someone..." I stopped. I had been about to say ‘abducted me’, but that was wrong. Someone had approached me - but it had been with an offer.

The memory that had been tantalizing me finally snapped into place. “Someone bought a copy of my baseline intelligence,” I realized. “I wasn’t going to do it, I was going to blow them off, but they offered me so much. It was enough to get my business out of debt.”

He nodded. “And that was twenty-five years ago. It’s that intelligence which I’m conversing with even now.”

My knees went weak. I threw more of my weight onto the slab to stay upright. “Impossible,” I assured him. “The spell, it captured intelligence. Not wisdom, not personality, not... not someone’s ESSENCE.” He half smiled. I glared. “The buyer assured me that it would be used to make golems more battle-capable, or lifelike. Not this. Not make something like another ME.”

“As time marches on, so does magic,” he remarked. “Did it never occur to the old wizards that they WERE capturing more, it’s merely that they weren’t able to transition anything out of the vessels other than the intelligence?”

“No. You’re lying.”

“Plus the human donor’s ‘essence’, as you call it, is usually diluted, by siphoning it out to many golems at once, or one over a span of decades. Here? Wham, all of you, crammed into a single bunny. It’s rather fortunate that your original buyer was killed before he could put you to any use.”

“N-No. I don’t believe it. Why, that means we’ve discovered immortality.”

“Ah, no,” the blue robed wizard said, now stroking his beard. Trying to look smarter than he was. “For there seems to be a threshold of viability. I’m already too old, for instance. Related, eventually your sense of self will be utterly consumed by the golem you inhabit. Oh, don’t worry,” he added, as I found I was unable to hold back a horrified expression. “It will be years, perhaps decades before that occurs.”

He wasn’t giving off any of the usual indications to suggest he was lying. “S-So I have years of living like this, as your slave, and then... then... w-why, why did you do this to me?” I whimpered. Inwardly, I wasn’t sure if I was speaking to him, or to my younger self, who had apparently sold me (her soul?) into this life of servitude.

I realized I was back to obediently sitting on the slab, and I couldn’t even bring myself to care. I crunched more carrot in my mouth.

He gave me what I decided was meant to be a conciliatory look. “Ella, I didn’t spend months hunting down your magical vessel in order to make you my slave. I’m above such a petty form of revenge. Rather, I’m hoping we can join forces against one of the greatest threats this land has ever seen.” He took in a deep breath. “Namely Ella Umber.”

I connected the dots. “My future self.”

“Present self. Let’s say she’s gone a little... evil.”

Good for me, I’d made a name for myself. Pity about the circumstances. “And you’re betting that I’ll have a unique insight into that self?”

“In ‘essence’, yes. So, what do you say? Will you join forces with me, and try to redeem yourself here? Because frankly, the alternative is being forgotten within the depths of my castle.”

I felt some of my indignation returning. “What I say is - you couldn’t do better than a BUNNY golem for me?”

He chuckled. “Their more timid nature will be of use in case you get any evil inclinations of your own. Besides, for all of it’s faults, the bunny model is equipped with excellent hearing.”

“Hmph. Point,” I yielded. “I can hear your guards fighting out in the hall even now.”

“What?” His head tilted. “I hear nothing. Why would they be fighting? Is this some sort of trick?”

I shook my head. “They ran away from the door as you were telling me I had only years to live. Something’s happening at the end of the hall now. I figured it was an argument over a shift change.” Except - I now heard metal on metal. Why would they be using swords?

“Nothing should be happening,” the wizard grumbled. He moved to the door, while keeping one eye on me. “If this is another escape attempt, you should know that--"

I never found out what it was that I should know. The door blasted inwards with the force of a cannon, propelling the wizard back into the far wall and knocking him out cold. The scared bunny part of me was screaming again before I could get it under control, my ears back to being flattened against the sides of my head. I had barely managed to close my mouth when SHE strode into the room.

Despite the difference of twenty-five years, and the dark wizard robes she now wore, I recognized myself straight away. Every detail. Well, except for the red eyes. The merciless red eyes. Those were new. My desire to scream resurfaced.

Ella snapped her fingers. “Take him,” she said, motioning to two people who had followed her in, pointing them towards the unconscious wizard. She then advanced upon me. “So. He did succeed.”

“Please,” I whimpered, seeing the lips of her (my?) mouth curl into a sneer. I was quickly gaining far too much insight into this particular future pathway. “Please, no.” My ears quivered.

“Adorable,” Ella murmured, reaching out to grab my chin. “Simply adorable. Oh, we’re going to have such fun together, younger me.” Her eyes flashed as she released me. “Now, be a good little bunny and finish eating your yummy carrot.”

Too busy trying not to be frightened out of my wits, I found myself chowing down on that yummy vegetable goodness in record time. Belatedly wondering whether there had truly been any chance of saving me from myself.


***
I'm not certain if there was a message or a metaphor in this; I have some thoughts, feel free to suggest yours in the comments. Other considerations: Was there a "horror" vibe to any of this? Am I still decent at playing with expectations? How's my pacing? What about "first person" perspective?

A reminder that I'm still publishing a time travel serial (updating Tues & Fri) and a comic about personified math (updating Mon). I also wrote "The Girl Who Speaks With Algebra" in first person (currently on Wattpad). Thanks for reading to the end!

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Not Teaching: Week 28

There was a pie on sale for 50% off this week, one of the good ones, and it was worth PC Plus Points. I didn’t buy it. I discovered I gained over 5 pounds during the last six weeks. Not sure if I can blame that on the holidays, but I need to monitor myself better now that TLC is done. Also, my left arm has been tingling when I move certain ways; I’ve pulled something, or pinched a nerve, and it’s been like this all 2017 so far. I seem to be falling apart. So, kind of good I’m not working.


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To that end, I went out for a long walk in temperatures below -10, to get my steps up today. I discovered the mystery of Pond Street. It actually curves around and goes past a pond. A pond called “Sandpiper Lake”. It’s smaller than the adjacent lake though, so I’m fine with calling it a pond. I need to walk more.

Item counts run Sunday (January 8) to Saturday (January 14).

Step Count: About 53,000.
Two poor days, with a couple over 10k to balance, including today.

School Email Count: 50 New (0 sent)
Bad weather delayed a staff meeting, and there was a wedding. (Also a fire?)



Writing/Art Related Items (from Sun to Sat):
 -Finished the next T&T Commentary post
 -Wrote, drew, inked the next math comic
 -Wrote an MTBoS “Soft Skills” post

Non-Writing Items for the past week:
 -Saw movie “Arrival”
 -Medical appointment Monday
 -Yoga Monday
 -Medical appointment Wednesday
 -Took down Christmas lights/decorations
 -Tried playing computer game on harder level

PROBABLE PROJECTS in the coming week:
 -Another MTBoS post is likely
 -Movie viewing with friends
 -Math Meeting Monday
 -Complete video editing and/or write a new parody. Really.
 -Dealing with financial issues

POSSIBLE NEXT items:
 -Split up “Time & Tied” into short parts for RRL
 -Post recap about OAME (from May)
 -Post recap about Math PD (from Feb)
 -Post recap about Anime North (from May)
 -Post recap about CanCon 2016 (from Sept)
 -Post recap about COMA Social (from Sept)
 -Catch up with web serials I’ve enjoyed
 -Write a TANDQ article on Polling and Bias
 -Write a post about types of praise/encouragement
 -Organize all the paper clutter from school
 -Organize all the electronic clutter from school
 -Weed through/organize emails
 -Do another Parody Math Video
 -Replace smoke alarms with Christmas ones
 -French Citizenship project
 -Actually market some of my creative stuff
 -Binging Anime (Magical Index)
 -Binging Anime (Steins Gate)
 -Binging Anime (RWBY borrowed from Scott)
 -Get back onto tumblr.
 -Read some of the books sitting at my desk

Saturday evening at home, it’s been a month since that happened.
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Friday, 13 January 2017

Soft Skills: The Middle Ground

This post relates to a series on soft skills in (math) teaching, which was initiated by Riley Lark in July 2010, and is extended here as part of the “Explore the Math Twitter Blog O’ Sphere” 2017 initiative. (You can follow those links for more info, and/or read my first post in the 2017 initiative, about a media assignment.)


I decided to run through a number of the prior posts from 2010, to get a better sense of what had already been said. Some of the themes included the ideas of using group roles, connecting with students beyond the subject, making the math fun and approachable... all through skills like trust, caring, being authentic and the usual things you might expect. More specifically, there were analogies given to quicksand and wolverines, there was a call to consider time of day - and then there was a post by Sam Shah.

Sam’s post is entitled “Not all of us have soft skills”. Within it, he talks about “mulligans”, and while I was not sure how a 1980s hairstyle that is long is the back connects to anything, other aspects of the post spoke to me. (I later looked up mulligan, to find it’s actually a stew. Odd. Looking further, it’s apparently also a second chance to perform an action, which explains the otherwise seemingly random mention of sports. Anyway.) Curiously, “Math Mulligans” is also a blog with a recent soft skills post that references Sam’s post too, so, small world.

Anyway, back to that question of soft skills. While, like Sam, I tend to keep some distance and know of awkward pauses, I’m actually going to take a slightly opposing viewpoint here. I’ll be claiming that I do have soft skills - ones which I don’t actively use. Also like Sam, I suspect I’m not alone in this. So, why am I (and others) not using these skills? Let’s look at that first, then I’ll clarify what I meant by “The Middle Ground” in the title. Feel free to skip down to the tip.

SOFT IS HARD


The key reason I believe I have soft skills is because I get along with people. Students, colleagues, administration, friends, relatives... I’m pretty sure people don’t actively shun me. That said, I couldn’t tell you why. It might be that I’m a good listener, or I have a certain mindset, or I know the right things to say, or I am (usually) aware of times NOT to let out another pun - or none of that. Hence the first reason I don’t actively use soft skills is because I’m not entirely sure how I’ve managed to have them in the first place.

The second reason for not using soft skills is that some are simply not applicable in a classroom setting. Someone who is really good at giving hugs, for instance, would not be able to avail themselves of that skill with students. (Not without raising issues.) And while I’m not a hug person, when faced with large groups, my observation skills do tend to fail me. Instead, I show as much enthusiasm as I can (is that a skill?), in hopes that it gets shared by the audience, rather than focusing on the individuals. Not always, granted, but it’s something of a default mode. One that requires effort to overcome. Which brings me to the third reason.

Soft skills are physically EXHAUSTING. I say this as someone pretty high on the introvert scale. We’re at “I won’t call you, you call me” levels of socialization here. To the point where, if I am in trouble, I am much more likely to shout “Help!” into the wind, in hopes that someone noticed, than to actually approach an individual. (Note I don’t recommend that, it tends to lead to bottling up issues until the container explodes... but when I’m in trouble, expending additional precious energy on an analysis of who to engage in a civilized conversation? Can feel crippling.) Thing is, once we’re over the inertia, I can carry on a conversation well enough.

The fact that I don’t approach people, I wait for them to approach me, well, that can be an issue in teaching. Consider, if there’s a like-minded student waiting for me to approach them first... we’re in a stalemate. Until something happens to overcome the initial block (an outburst, a failed test, a third party, or otherwise). So, in essence, my soft skills are there, but they are accessed by request, or by routine. It’s rarely a conscious effort. Am I truly alone in that?

THE MIDDLE GROUND


Here’s how this connects to a tip. There’s a “Star Trek: The Next Generation” episode titled “ETHICS”, in which Worf sustains an injury that means he may never walk again. Being a Klingon, he considers his life to be effectively over. That situation leads to Captain Picard saying the following to Dr. Beverly Crusher:

"Beverly, he can't make the journey you're asking of him. You want him to go from contemplating suicide to accepting his condition and living with the disability, but it's too far! The road between covers a lifetime of values, beliefs. He can't do it, Beverly. But perhaps he can come part of the way."

In a similar way, expecting me to jump into a conversation at a party is a bridge too far. It’s about finding that middle ground, the compromise position. Which is something that also applies when one is teaching mathematics. Because if you’re anything like me, you'd have a certain passion for the subject you teach - while students may be on the complete opposite end of the spectrum.

When a student says they “hate math” or “can’t do it”, my concern is that love, or even enthusiasm, is too far of a journey. Leading them to shut down. But perhaps they can come part of the way? To that end, I ask the 'haters' to move towards ambivalence. For those who like analogies, know that if you’re in a car with a stuck throttle that’s barrelling down the highway, the answer is not to turn off the engine. With the engine off, the wheel locks up, making the car hard to control. The answer is to shift the car into neutral, thereby maintaining control.

For the student who “hates math”, see if they might accept that it’s useful, or necessary, and that it shouldn’t be hated any more than one might hate spiders. For someone who “can’t do it”, surely “it” isn’t all math; more likely it’s a particular concept, perhaps even a specific problem. Again, find the middle ground, some piece or problem that was possible, and restart from there. Shifting into neutral - it’s a bit like “de-escalation”, or finding common ground. That's all I've got for you.

ONE MORE THING


Okay, I feel I should mention something else which can help (or possibly hinder) with soft skills, that being familiarity. I’ve been fortunate enough to be at the same school for close to ten years now. This means, among other things, I feel more comfortable approaching other teachers for advice. For instance, with a student I have now, whom they previously taught.

And while the students themselves change year after year, word of mouth can spread in the student body. To that end, I seem to have gained a reputation for the math songs I sing, along with the statistics course I teach. So I suspect my classification is akin to “Mostly Harmless”. I’ve even been approached by students to film in my class, and on one occasion, to help with a theatre related issue when the usual teacher was unavailable. It’s the sort of thing that lowers the chances of an entire class turning against me.

Now, does it always work, this "using soft skills more passively while finding middle ground"? Of course not. In fact, I have this tendency to back off towards the middle ground even with very positive things, meaning I’m not one to celebrate victories either. To pull in more Star Trek, I’m a bit like Spock, not really understanding human emotional outbursts, yet somehow I am able to deal with them. I can only hope that’s still the case when I return from my sabbatical.

I think that’s everything, let me know if you have thoughts, or if something was unclear. Thanks for reading, consider coming back again, or checking out my other writing projects!

-My personified math comic last posted “Re: Cycling” on Monday.

-My time travel serial last posted “Timeline Five?” on Friday.

-My “Not Teaching Year” chronicle on this blog continues tomorrow.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Not Teaching: Week 27

Things are almost back to normal - with the exception of medical issues, which is mostly one thing for now. Moreover, my “Time & Tied” edits were finished the end of October, and my NaNoWriMo finished in December, so I have no particular projects... aside from Song Parodies, Organizing Courses, and all the other items on the list I’ve been publishing below now for half a year. Maybe that list can be reduced to ten items within the next couple months?? The new question is where to start.


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Item counts run Sunday (January 1) to Saturday (January 7).

Step Count: About 52,000.
Back to normal here; most of the week was poor, but two days over 12k to balance.

School Email Count: 5 New (0 sent)
School returns this Monday. I feel like going to Dec 23 was the correct move, otherwise you’re back to work as soon as holiday stress ends, no time to decompress - but then, I wasn’t teaching.


Made snowmen while shovelling too.

Writing/Art Related Items (from Sun to Sat):
 -Roundup of Statistics across all blogs
 -Started the next T&T Commentary post
 -Created new 2017 Math-Tans banner, including analemma
 -Wrote, drew, inked the next math comic
 -Wrote an MTBoS “My Favourite” post

Non-Writing Items for the past week:
 -Drove back into town, handled snow
 -Caught up on “Bones” in time for Season 12 premiere
 -Last dinner gathering with visiting relatives
 -Saw Adam K’s “BTTF IV” and “V”
 -Saturday brunch with friends
 -Saturday dinner with aunt

PROBABLE PROJECTS in the coming week:
 -Medical appointment Monday
 -Yoga resumes Monday
 -Movies with my wife
 -Take down Christmas lights and decorations
 -Complete video editing and/or write a new parody

POSSIBLE NEXT items:
 -Split up “Time & Tied” into short parts for RRL
 -Post recap about OAME (from May)
 -Post recap about Math PD (from Feb)
 -Post recap about Anime North (from May)
 -Post recap about CanCon 2016 (from Sept)
 -Post recap about COMA Social (from Sept)
 -Catch up with web serials I’ve enjoyed
 -Write a TANDQ article on Polling and Bias
 -Write a post about types of praise/encouragement
 -Organize all the paper clutter from school
 -Organize all the electronic clutter from school
 -Weed through/organize emails
 -Do another Parody Math Video
 -Replace smoke alarms with Christmas ones (*NEW*)
 -French Citizenship project
 -Actually market some of my creative stuff
 -Binging Anime (Magical Index)
 -Binging Anime (Steins Gate)
 -Binging Anime (RWBY borrowed from Scott)
 -Get back onto tumblr.
 -Read some of the books sitting at my desk

Third week in a row I’m cueing this post up, coming back from Hawkesbury this evening.
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Friday, 6 January 2017

My Fave: Media Math

With my first post of the year having remarked on how my ties in 2016 gravitated away from Education and towards Writing, I now put this post out as part of the “Explore the Math Twitter Blog O’ Sphere” 2017 initiative. So, what, am I still a part of that then? I guess when you produce over 200 posts in a year, you can afford to be a little random. (Feel free to join in too, follow that link.)

The theme this week is “My Favourites”. So I’m going to mention a media assignment I devised which has evolved over the last five years or so, which I rather like. It fits into the “Statistics” strand of MAP4C or the “Data Collection” strand of MDM4U (for those of you who know Grade 12 Ontario course codes). Effectively, students write a short report (2-3 pages, double spaced) on a news/media article that mentions statistics.



Note that the main page for my courses contains a number of articles, many of which are pretty good for this task - feel free to check it out. That said, some of those articles are more probability or census related, so picking a good article is the first key step. Also, I really need to get around to updating that site. I think that’s partly why I picked this topic to blog about, maybe it will motivate me.

As far as the Media Task itself goes, after providing me with a brief summary, the following questions need to be answered (if we’re in MDM 4U, a statistics course):

  • Address sampling bias. Specifically mention how and when data was gathered, and whether their sampling can be considered representative of the population in question. (If the article does not state how it was done, mention what an average reader would assume, and whether that’s reasonable and representative.)
  • Address the margin of error. I use the Raosoft webpage, and kind of hope it never goes down... it’s this “website I love to use”, again as per the MTBoS “My Favourites”: http://www.raosoft.com/samplesize.html ; while the actual math is beyond the scope of the course, they only need to enter a reasonable population size (might require research), and adjust the margin of error until the sample size is close to what the article gave. (Confidence can stay at 95%.) Then, the student should state whether their confidence in the article changed, and why (or why not).
  • Address response, and non-response bias. Were they possible factors here? Why (or why not)? If they’re not even relevant, be clear why not.
  • Address possible secondary source bias, regarding the tone of the article. Pay specific attention to the headline. (Maybe I should say to rank it on a scale of “neutral” to “click bait”.)


That’s it for specifics, now the student can conclude with whether they agree (or not) with the results, and what might have convinced them (or not) about the topic in question. NOTE: If we’re talking the MAP4C course instead (which is not all statistics), I have replaced the whole “margin of error” point with this: Address whether this is one variable or two variable data, and how you know. Then mention what sort of graph could best illustrate the results (or comment on any graph already existing).

As far as the grading goes afterwards, it’s a simple “critical thinking” rubric. Bear in mind that in the province where I teach, Level 1 is 55% (a pass), and Level 3 is 75% (provincial standard):

  • Level 4. Makes connections to class concepts, answering with depth.
  • Level 3. Addresses all points with some connection to class concepts.
  • Level 2. Addresses all points in a limited manner.
  • Level 1. Addresses only some of the necessary points.
  • Level 0. Little or no evidence of actual statistical links.


Nice things about this assignment are when a student finds an article NOT off my website (often I’ll end up adding it), and the fact that I can allow re-submits here (to a maximum of 75%) if their first attempt is lacklustre - as long as they pick a new article. I’ve never experienced problems with two different students using the same article either, since opinions can/should differ (in fact, that’s less reading on my part) though once they’ve been handed back, I tend to keep track just in case.

The main issue I have? The extra grading time, what with reading the articles myself before even doing the marking, coupled with my need to fix grammar and the like in the report as I go. (Though with MDM they’ll need to do an even bigger report later, so experience is a good thing.) I’ll mention at least one other teacher at my school has adapted this for use though, so there must be something useful about it.

I think that’s everything. Let me know if something was unclear. Thanks for reading, consider coming back again, or checking out my other writing projects!


-My personified math comic last posted “Secretive Service” on Monday.

-My time travel serial last posted “New Recruit” on Friday.

-My “Not Teaching Year” chronicle on this blog continues tomorrow.