Slice of Life: The Wedding Ring

I can probably count the times on one hand when, sometime over the last 14 years, my ring finger has been empty. I just almost never remove my wedding ring. I do remember the first week after our wedding when we were wearing our rings for the first time, and it felt like I had a little golden spider on my finger, and I would catch glimpses of it from time to time out of the corner of my eye. Now, it’s just part of me, a  symbol of how far my wonderful wife and I have come over the years on this journey we are on (along with our three sons).

Last night, I was keeping the score book for my middle son’s basketball tournament game (they won!) and then I helped break down the equipment and put it into storage for today’s tournament game. As my boys and I were walking down the hallway to go out to the van, I reached into my pocket for my keys. Something felt odd. The keys were there, but normally, my wedding ring scrapes across the pocket of my pants (something I don’t ever remember noticing before except now it was a clue that something was amiss). My hand went a bit too smoothly into my pocket. I pulled out my left hand, puzzled.

The ring finger was empty. I stopped dead in my tracks. My sons, who were chatting about the game, stared at me.

“What?” one asked.

“My ring. My wedding ring.” I held up my empty hand. “I don’t have it.”

My brain rushed to remember: when did I last see it on my finger? I could have sworn it was there earlier in the day. That means it might still be in the gym. Great. We rushed back to the basketball court and began scouring the floor with our eyes. I was thinking, a gold ring on a wooden floor … like a needle in a haystack. I went into the equipment room, and opened up some of the boxes with wires for the scoring machine.

“There it is!” my son, who has followed me, shouted. And there it was. My ring had come off when I was wrapping up wires, I guess, and fallen into the box. Phew.

At home, as my wife and I were getting ready for bed, I told her about losing the ring. She got this panic look on her face.

“I took mine off, too,” she said, and now began scrambling around her bedside table. She couldn’t find it. I went downstairs to the “shelf” where she takes it off when she does baking or cooking. She doesn’t want to lose it in the pizza dough, you know? Nothing. Then, “I found it!” The ring had fallen off her bedside table and rolled under the bed, I guess.

For a second there, I was wondering about bad omens and such. But the night ended with two ringed fingers, held together by years of marriage. Disaster was averted!

Peace (in the ring),


Slice of Life: Quidditch Comes Around Again

Fellow Slice of Lifers from the past know that March and April mean Quidditch at our elementary school. In about three or four weeks, we hold an entire day of Quidditch for the four sixth grade classes, using rules first invented by a student and refined over the years by other students and teachers.

My homeroom class color is blue, and the names that the class comes up with usually is associated with blue and/or cold. Yesterday afternoon, we launched into the collaborative discussion around names. They brainstormed as many cool names for our team as they could, and then we went through an entire election process — sort of like a presidential primary but without the negative ads. And no Super Pacs either. As far I know, no money was pushed under the table.

In about 30 minutes of fun and heated discussions, and after three rounds of voting, the majority arrived at this year’s team name.

Our Name is Permafrost!

A few were wondering just what permafrost is, even though they liked the sound of the name. I guess a little science lesson is in order, eh? The photo here shows the way voting took place, and how we ended up with our consensus. Next step? Coming up with an icon for our class team that represents Permafrost.
permafrost quidditch
And so we’re off into Quidditch season …

Peace (and magic),
PS – and this is how we play our version of Quidditch!

Celebrating International Women’s Day w/Women in Science


I know every day should be a day of recognition for women in all fields. But it is nice to have today designated as International Women’s Day around the world. I try to do my part in my classroom by countering the gender biases that my sixth grade boys are already beginning to develop (just the other day, this happened when we were using a Time for Kids magazine that featured women pioneers) and to remind my students of the inequities of history, where women were often forgotten or shunted aside.

Google has a cool Google Doodle today.

And I wanted to share out (again) a video game that I made for my students about Women in Science.

Peace (in the recognition),


Slice of Life: A Little Jabberwocky

Yesterday was Read Aloud Day. How could I pass up an opportunity to take part in that? So, I dusted off Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll and we spent part of our classes reading and discussing poem as part of our explorations of poetry. The kids had fun with the made-up words, and we had some deeper discussions about the story underneath the nonsense.

It was interesting how quite a few know of the Jabberwock (the creature) but not the poem because it was featured so heavily in the Alice in Wonderland movie a few years ago. (It also meant they had an image in their mind before we read the poem, which is too bad). Two of my students said their older siblings were memorizing the poem (I had the siblings, too! Can I take credit?) for fun.

We ended our discussion on a note of craziness — watching The Muppet Show version of the poem.

Peace (beneath the TumTum Tree),


Book Review: Gregor and the Marks of Secret


Regular readers here (hi, you!) know that I am reading the Gregor the Overlander series by Suzanne Collins with my youngest son. We have just finished up the fourth book — Gregor and the Marks of Secret — and are now starting the final book in the series, Gregor and the Code of Claw. The Marks of Secret has been the darkest of the bunch, no doubt about it. A quick summary of the series: Gregor is a 12 year old boy who falls through a grate in New York City, finds an entire underworld of humans and creatures below the surface, and is hailed (and feared) as the Warrior of various prophecies carved into a wall.

The rats emerge as the clear nemesis in this fourth book. Collins also alludes to the Holocaust in no uncertain terms, as the rats (the gnawers) are driving the mice (the nibblers) to their death by forcing them into a volcanic area known as the Firelands where the poisonous gasses are killing the mice by the hundreds. Gregor and his friends are on a mission to the stop the rats, and save the mice. There is no resolution of that storyline in the fourth book, as Collins is clearly setting up a confrontational plot line for the end of the series.

I think I mentioned last book: I am ready to leave the Underland, but my son isn’t, so I am staying with it. The writing is fine, and Collins does a decent job with character development, but the dark overtones of the setting and story weigh on me as a reader.  The death of characters in each book is sad. And although the book has not crossed any lines for the young ears of my son, I worry about it. He seems fine, though, and is rooting on Gregor and the good guys with all of the enthusiasm of a good listener/reader. And so, I keep going.

Peace (in the overland),


Slice of Life: The Video Game Challenge

In December, my students worked on an entire unit around science-based video game design. They created and published their own video games. It’s more complicated than I can explain here (but we did capture it on our website about the gaming project). Many kids are still working on revising and improving their video games long after the project ended. One of them has almost 1,000 plays of his game in the Gamestar Mechanic community.

Yesterday, I helped a handful of students achieve a goal of theirs. We submitted their science-based video games into the 2012 STEM Video Game Challenge.

I have no idea how they will do on the national stage against other middle school game designers, but they were very excited to get all of the application completed and to know that their video game creations (which are excellent examples of gaming, science and writing, if you don’t mind a very biased opinion) are in the mix for a national award.

Me? I am proud of them for sticking with it and having the confidence in their abilities as game designers, and I am very glad that we seemed to have gotten everything done that we needed to get done for moving their game into the challenge (as far as I can tell. To be honest, the application process is not as clear as it could be).

2012 National STEM Video Game Challenge [image courtesy].

And now, we wait until May, when the winners are announced. But we will still be playing and building games. That never stops.

Peace (in the game system),


Graphic Novel Review: Baby’s in Black (and the Beatles)

This upcoming graphic novel from First Second Publishing provides an alternative look at the early days of The Beatles. Told mostly through the experiences of photographer Astrid Kirchherr and her love affair with the so-called “fifth Beatle” Stuart Sutcliffe, Baby’s in Black by Arne Bellstorf brings us into the club scene of Germany where the future pop stars of the world would begin to hone their skills. Sutcliffe came on as a bass player at the invitation of his friend, John Lennon, but he really wanted to be an artist.

Kirchherr would help him find his muse in the time before his early death, which was probably due to some brain hemorrhage (the exact cause was never fully determined). Strains of the cover songs that The Beatles were playing filter in and out of this love story, told entirely in black and white graphic illustrations. There’s a sort of melancholy feel to the story, as Sutcliffe is tired of playing music, drawn into his love for Kirchherr (a photographer who tastes fame herself with her images of the band), and ragged from an unknown illness that eventually takes his life.

Most of us music fans know parts of this story from the Lore of The Beatles, but Bellstorf does a nice job of keeping the graphic novel lens on Kirchherr, and we see German youth through her interactions with her friends, one of whom is a diehard fan of The Beatles who drags as many friends as he can to the bars to see them play.

I have a friend my band who is a crazy Beatles fan. I’ve passed this one along to him and he was very interested. He even knew who he was going to pass along to once he was done with ut. (It looks like the graphic novel gets published sometime in May, by the way.)

Peace (in the music),


Slice of Life: Shooting Sparks

I heard the gasp and saw the small crowd of kids jump back. Then, they began shouting for me to come over to our old PC cart.

“There were sparks!” one student yelled, in a sort of crazed voice. “There were sparks!”

I got them to calm down enough to realize that one of the power cords had become frayed from the pull and push of laptops coming in and out of the cart. It was nothing the student had done, as far as I could tell. I could see some bare wire near the plug. Sparks had flown. One student gingerly handed me the laptop with the frayed power cord still attached, like passing an undetonated bomb to the Bomb Squad. I turned off the cart and removed the plug from the laptop, and sighed.

I know we are lucky to have this PC cart – if you read this blog, you know I use it a lot with my students for digital composition — but the years are certainly taking the toll. This is the third frayed wire I have had to take off the cart this year. I am out of “extras” at this point in terms of power cords, and so now I am lobbying our tech folks to order a few more “just in case.” They will, I am sure, but it is an uphill battle to keep this cart in good working order as our school moves to become all-Mac, no-PC over time. (We also have a Mac cart and two Mac half-carts in the building).

I felt a bit frazzled myself, frayed around the edges, but determined to keep technology in my room moving forward, not back.

Peace (no sparks),


Slice of Life: What? No Book?

I usually pack a bunch of books for travel, but I somehow didn’t this time. So, on the way to Alabama, I finished the book I had (Wonder) and I was left with only a magazine (Wired). Ack. Not good. I was able to survive on Saturday, since my day was packed, but I had that strange, vacant feeling as I entered the airport yesterday morning and realized that I had many hours to go … and nothing to read.

I picked up the Sunday New York Times. That helped. But you know … I needed a book. (And of course, I completely kicked myself for not splurging on a Sharon Draper book while we were at the same conference together — what was I thinking?)

I wandered the small Birmingham airport in a sort of daze. I needed a book. And I needed one bad.

Gosh, though, the Hudson news stands in airports stink for their selections, don’t they? I was staring at the titles on display on the wall and thinking: I won’t get a hard cover book unless it is a must-have book because I don’t want to pay $25. There were no must-have books. I glimpsed at all of the paperbacks … I don’t mean to sound snobbish, but they were just weren’t to my liking (and just how many darn books has James Patterson written, anyway? Holy cow.)

I finally fingered a short story collection by Stephen King (but wished his book, On Writing, was available. I would have scooped that up in a second.). It’s been some years since I have dove into King but he seemed the safest bet of the bunch.

This short story collection — Full Dark, No Stars — is incredibly dark, and violent. Well-written, to be sure, but man, I was hardpressed to keep reading the second story here. I know King can do macabre, but this was difficult reading due to the content. I skipped to the Afterward at one point, and King talks about acknowledging the difficulty a reader will have, as well as the difficulty he had in writing these stories. I appreciated that honesty and wished I wasn’t stuck with only this book on a two-hour flight.

Now that I am home, and only halfway through the collection, I am putting it aside. I may return someday, or not. I can’t rightly say. What I am happy to do, however, is reach into my pile of books by my bedside and start a must-read.

Peace (in the airport),