Thursday, January 30, 2014

Choosing the Given

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo by
Marko Kivelä:
I would like to live as I should, as the weasel lives as he should. And I suspect that for me the way is like the weasel's: open to time and death painlessly, noticing everything, remembering nothing, choosing the given with a fierce and pointed will." ~Annie Dillard

Another bitter, cold day hold up in my den. Time to recognize the gifts the world offers that we rarely notice because they are given with such nonchalance. Ice crystals on the windowpane. The merry whistle of the tea kettle. The warm body of a sweet companion.

It is true that we tend to undervalue that which is freely given. And yet, these "daily presentations"* are so often the very things that make life worth living; kindness, comfort, rest, everything in the natural world. As important as it is to pay attention to these serene miracles, it is equally as vital to tell others. 

You may find it odd that I choose to tell about a tool and the generosity of the company that provides it. However, I was so completely blown away by the folks at EduCanon and their support for the technology they offer educators, on the house, that I simply must. For those unfamiliar, EduCanon is a relatively new service that allows teachers to post video content on YouTube, TeacherTube, or Vimeo to their class with pop up questions embedded at intervals of their choosing. For each assigned video and questions, teachers get a response spreadsheet with information on student log ins, graded scores, and unanswered questions. Essentially, it allows educators to flip their classrooms while holding students accountable for viewing the instruction. Through EduCanon, students can rewind and rewatch the video as many times as is necessary, but they cannot fast forward through the process. This was the missing link my brave, innovative colleagues needed to make flipping their classrooms successful.  

I shared EduCanon a couple of months ago with my staff at Grosse Pointe Academy because many of them are using the vast wealth of educational videos out there for instruction, or creating their own videos for students to watch at home. Then, using person to person class time to coach learners as they apply the lesson. The greatest setback to this process was the students who did not complete their homework and actually watch the videos. Or those who grew impatient after thirty seconds and fast forwarded through the meat and potatoes of the teaching. You know of whom I speak.

My headmaster latched onto the enormous learning potential of EduCanon and charged me with making it so that every student in middle school could log in easily and have a consistent experience each time. I wrote to EduCanon asking for their assistance in this. And, they gave it. Kindly. Patiently. And Consistently. This was no small task, mind you. We had to match every student's schedule with every teacher and every class. Add to this confusion the fact that classes are titled one thing in our school database, known by another by each instructor, and listed under a third on student schedules. I give tremendous kudos and thanks to Susan, and especially to Benjamin Levy, at EduCanon for never failing to ask me questions and persist in accomplishing our goal. And so, dear readers, please do yourself a favor and also support them by exploring their wonderful tool and telling others.

*Mary Oliver talks of daily presentations in her wonderful poem "Mindful"

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Polar Vortex Dog Fishing

That's How Much 
Being forced to spend all day indoors with nothing but time on my hands is my idea of heaven. It is Coco, my high-energy, 7 month old puppy's idea of unadulterated torture. She had nightmares last night and awoke shaken and whimpering. Who knew dog's had nightmares? 

Not that Coco doesn't have a reason to have nightmares. She's been through hell and back. Which is why she sports a blue Kong collar and a t shirt in the photos. The Kong collar is a compassionate alternative to the collar of shame and keeps Coco from licking her wounds. She has been in one nearly half of her life thus far and still has a few weeks to go. 

Given the extra time and my inability to withstand endless games of tug 'o war or hide and seek, and given that I did not want to venture out to the store in forty below wind chill factors, necessity became the mother of invention. I found inspiration to work on the following diversions. In the spirit of the Maker's Movement I offer evidence and cite my sources. 

The Doggy Rattler 
This first creation is for smartypants dogs. I believe Coco Pup to be the Madam Curie of the canine world but right now she just rolls this jar of fun around and barks at it from frustration. All things in time. I bet Neil deGrasse Tyson had a few temper tantrums in his infancy too. The Doggy Rattler consists of a toilet paper roll inside an old peanut butter jar that I cut a hole in. I put duck tape over the hole to protect her from any sharp edges and in case she decides to bite through the plastic, which let's face it, will inevitably happen. The toilet paper roll makes treat distribution extra challenging. 

The Pooch Pole
Coco and the Rubber Chicken 

Next comes the impetus for the title of this blog, The Pooch Pole. Take a length of clothesline, run it through a section of PVC pipe, tie a rubber chicken to the end and viola, you can fish for Fido. I've spent a pleasant hour or two casting off from my sofa and Coco Loco got her wiggles out. 

Because the Doggy Rattler proved a bit too much for Coco Butt, I adapted one of her all time favorite toys, a tennis ball, into a treat ball. Simply cut along the seam, squeeze it, and put the treats inside. She has been able to get a couple of treats out but still hasn't put two and two together. Every goody is astonishing. She'll flip that ball and roll it for a good half hour before it gets lost under the couch. 

My last bit of experimenting has nothing to do with Minerva Poopsalot (Another of Coco's pseudonyms), but has everything to do with the Polar Vortex visiting Detroit. Our heater is close to 20 years old and on its last legs. Due to some hefty Vet bills, a new one is no where in the near future. It was recommended to keep the thermostat set lower, especially when it is extremely cold out, so as not to overburden it. I am an unabashed wuss bag when it comes to cold. I learned of the flower pot convection heater from a Facebook Posting and realized I only need to go to the garage to put it together. I did. It works! It is more noticeable in smaller rooms, but there is a difference even in our open living area. 

Light four tea lights and place them into a bread pan. Put a smaller terracotta pot on top. Place an empty tea light tin over the hole. Put a larger terracotta pot over the smaller one. You're done. 

Terracotta heater 

Here's my kindergarten understanding of how it works. 

Terracotta Heat Convection

Soapbox Alert: None of this would have happened if it weren't for snow days. Three glorious days in a row on the tail end of winter break. Making, creating, experimenting, and exploring possibilities require time. The time to be bored and the time to decide what to do with our time... as Gandalf would say. 

FlowerPot Heater

DIY Dog Toys

If you really want to get fancy with the Terracotta Heater, you can try Household Hackers method