Tuesday, February 6, 2018

A Message to an Old Friend

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

I Don't Support The Military

Yes, I suppose it is a provocative title, but no, I do not support the military as I do not support the police, teachers, doctors, any group in general. Further, when I see people proudly saying they do support these entities globally, I really think they are making different statements. For example, to support the police (globally) is a nice way to pronounce one's racism. To support the military (globally) is a nice way to pronounce ones's bigotry and indifference to the plight of other peoples, other countries. The proclamation of support is a thinly disguised declaration of hate.
I don't support soldiers or policemen and women globally either. To do so would jeopardize any sense of integrity, honor, and critical thinking ability that I have tried to embrace. And most importantly, I decry the members of those organizations or my sounding community that would urge me to do so.
Let me start again - I support all members of the military, police, and other social and civic employees who act honorably and ethically. Those who do not condone the improper actions of their peers, let alone assist in the cover up of said offenses. I have much less faith in the organizations they work for and the demagogues who occasionally lead them. I have remarked in the past how amused I am by acquaintances who have almost total distrust of the government while gleefully supporting any military action the same politicians initiate. These people and organizations represent incredibly responsible and important functions in our society - they should be held to a commensurate level of accountability.
As a teacher, I would make the same parallels. I have failed at times in what I do. I have failed to indict peers who have victimized students in the past. I don't want any ascribed recognition or respect for my career choice - I want to continue to earn it. I don't need to be thanked incessantly for what I do, or the services I have provided for my country and the international community. Instead, I would prefer to be judged fairly and honestly, making the good things I do even more sincere in the wake of my failures.
Being a male, I sometimes chuckle at guys in the military and the police force. They are macho and loud, feeding off of glory yet to be obtained. The folks I know (family and friends) who have served honorably, have done so quietly and humbly. I have seen my share of weak and corrupt policemen, and I have to remind myself constantly that they are a very small but impactful minority. Each one of those anomalies wipes out countless poignant and genuine human interactions police personnel make in their communities every day if the proper perspective is not held. And no, it is not my job alone to balance these things, this is a responsibility of the organization they belong to. To do less and to demand respect is cowardly.
I have often said that good teachers deserve the pedestal society would place them on. But I often find that those teachers who fall short expect the same elevation, and we feed into this when we decide to pretend that the whole profession deserves our respect and esteem. It is difficult for me to fathom how some people in  many walks of life want the honor, distinction, and entitlement of the badge, uniform, title, without performing the duties and selfless service that underpin the reverence a society justly bestows upon them.
So, if you are soldier, cop, teacher, lawyer, doctor, etc. who does your job lawfully, ethically, and humanely, you have more than my support - you have my respect and that part of my admiration that comes from that quiet place in my heart that truly wonders if I could do what you do. But I will not mindlessly afford these gestures to everyone who would pretend to do what you do so well.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Kipp's Dice Tower

Kipp's Dice Tower

Before Kipp left for Texas last week, he sent me the link below and asked if I could build this dice tower for him. I looked at it and thought I might play with the design a bit:

Kipp likes to play D&D (had a fun but futile time trying to explain this game to Hazem the other day) with his nephew and friends on the weekends. I have only played this game once while visiting Kipp, Theron, and Theseus at Theron's lake cottage. I think I won, but they told me I didn't do it the right way. I do remember a TV movie with Tom Hanks about a teenager who gets lost to the darkside playing D&D, so it is probably better I leave the game alone. Anyway, the game is very popular and I was intrigued by the design of the dice tower. The dice are different shapes and I wanted an internal mechanism that would tumble them sideways then propel them forward from the bottom. Here was my sophisticated design:

The hole at the top is where you would drop the dice. The dice then would hit the first baffle and bounce over to the second. Finally, the dice would hit the 45 degree ramp at the bottom, rolling them out the front of the tower. I chose walnut and maple for the tower and it didn't take me too long to construct:

I was pleased with the way it came out. I put my special oil concoction on it and the walnut and maple really looks good. The only problem at this point was that the dice come hurtling out all over the table. I thought about a solution that would catch the dice but also hold the tower horizontally as case. After lots of calculations, errors, and resizing, I came up with the box:

The tower lays over and sits in the walnut/oak box. I routed 45 degree chamfers around the inside of the box to make it easier to pull the tower out. I also made the groves for the oak bottom a bit big so I could pin it in and have sort of a trampoline effect that also produces a cool sound when the dice hit it:

Never one to leave well enough alone, I started to think of a way to distinguish this simple dice tower as one used for D&D. After a failed attempt, I created what I think is a cool turret for the top (Kipp calls it a battlement, and I have to yield to his expertise here):


I had a lot of fun with this project, and I got to use the new bandsaw I purchased the other day. Our generous staff gave me a gift certificate for Home Depot and I picked up some new tools :)

Monday, December 4, 2017

A Driftwood Hall Bench

Driftwood Hall Bench

Last week, a faculty member stopped by with a big slab of old pine driftwood. It measured about 36" by 12" by 3" - something you would be hard-pressed to find new these days. He generously offered it to me, but I decided it would be better served in his small cabin near Lake Michigan. We tossed around a few ideas, then decided on some sort of bench or table. Eventually, he thought it would work well as a small bench to be put by the door for folks to take off their boots. I worked out a small sketch, then gave Hazem a call for some metal working help.
The process was a lot of fun. Hazem bought the 1" square tubing from Menards and I cut it into the requisite sizes. While he welded them, I sanded then distressed the slab with chains, pliers, and other assorted objects of mayhem laying around the shop. I sanded and painted the base, then put a coat of tung oil and shellac on the slab. I had to chisel some tenon holes on the bottom of the slab in order to center it on the base, then put it all together. It was a quick project and I learned a bit more about metal working, a goal of mine. 

Hazem welding the square tubing to make the base

The distressed slab before the finish

The finished product :)

Friday, November 10, 2017

Connecting at the Conference

Fun at the National Symposium on Student Retention

Elicitation Model: Digging Into the Notion of Student Engagement

Michael Morsches
Dean, LECR
Moraine Valley Community College

Grant J. Matthews
Dean, Academic Learning Skills
Lane Community College

Abstract: Student engagement can encompass many different levels of interaction. Whether it be between student and instructor, among students themselves, with the actual subject matter, or with the various resources and departments on campus—getting and keeping students engaged is a challenging proposition. Frequently, students say they fear speaking in public, being called upon in class, going to the whiteboard, and being singled out by an instructor. Collectively, these fears could be conceptualized as a wish or need for anonymity. Faculty have cited student actions such as participation, question asking, volunteering, office hour visits, and favorable body language as preferred behaviors. These preferences could be conceptualized as a wish or need for engagement. “East is East and West is West, and never the twain…” (Kipling, 1929, p. 75). This paper will outline the authors' Elicitation Model and theoretical Student Engagement Constructs to explore psychological factors that prohibit engagement. The paper also presents many practical, proven examples of classroom techniques, gestures, and considerations for using the Elicitation Model that can help produce healthy student engagement in all academic spheres of interaction.
Guest Starring
Mariam Aslam
Student Success Research Analyst
University of Toronto

I don't always appreciate professional conferences. This was my fourth trip to the NSSR, and on a whole, I usually enjoy this particular conference. This year was different in many ways though - It was in a new location for me (the Florida Panhandle), we were publishing a refereed paper, I was reuniting with Grant, I had other colleagues from my school presenting a poster session, and I really needed a break from work. Despite these advantages, the conference exceeded my expectations.

I like this conference for two main reasons: 1) There is a lot of qualitative data by talented people,  and 2) I am surrounded by hundreds of people genuinely trying to crack some retention riddle with a lot of fire in their bellies. There is always a great deal of nerd energy in the room. And like most valuable conferences, there are  opportunities for young people to present their research and programs. It's not easy to get a paper accepted, but the organizers don't limit participation to the same old group of experts. It is a well run conference by intelligent, nice people.

Grant and I are very passionate about our presentation topic this year - Student Engagement. I believe we both are fairly good at engaging students, and we have really tried to break the construct down to meaningful components in order to present a practical model to elicit good engagement in classrooms. Judging by the feedback we have received, we were successful :)

Grant and I always have a lot of fun together when we go off to conferences. We tease each other and make all sorts of meaningless bets (most of which I won this trip). Grant is very intelligent and is also very personable. Those two attributes, combined with his high sense of integrity, provide for a lot of good, clean fun. This year, we decided to attend the first evening's ice breaker (mainly because the food is usually good), where we met several very interesting people. The two most enduring folks we met were Mariam and Dave - two Canadians who independently ended up at the same table. Mariam is from Toronto and Dave is from Newfoundland. There were a few other folks who drifted in and out, including the very southern Leon, who I am not quite sure was drinking or not - but who I liked immediately. We chatted away for a few hours, finding lots of  personal and professional points of interest. And if Dave hadn't suggested that we get together the next night for dinner, it would have been a vastly different conference and this post wouldn't be written.

Dave is a very energetic and jolly guy. He laughs loudly and sincerely. I was a bit surprised to hear that he was married and that he had a young daughter. He is very witty, and I suppose that gets him into a few scrapes sometimes. I wouldn't have tagged him as a Canuck though - more Irish, though I suppose it could have been the hair.....Dave is one of those people who can bounce back and forth from naive to wry with very little warning. I found myself preparing for the inevitable yet subtle innuendo that was surely around every corner. Dave tried a raw oyster, a hush puppy, and key lime pie for the first times over several meals. Pretty adventurous, I thought, for a Newfoundlander. One thing for sure though, I was totally convinced after a very short time that Dave was a wonderful husband and father. 

Mariam was another story - from Toronto, she was far more cosmopolitan than the rest of us, and maybe quite a bit smarter. A self-confirmed extrovert, she slowly and judiciously doled out little bits and orts about herself over the few days we were all together. She is very tall for a Pakistani woman, and carries an intriguing constellation of east and west sensibilities and orneriness. I smiled as I quickly realized that she was a feminist that I could talk to without a lot of filters. She has a dignified demeanor, but when you strike the right chord, her passion surges to the surface. By the end of the first night, Grant and I decided to invite her to co-present with us a few days later (alas, Dave, who evidently lives on the edge of the world, had to leave the conference on the morning of our workshop). She trusted us and gamely jumped in with both feet. 

I thought our session went very well, and that Mariam was an excellent match to our two different styles. She and Grant modeled everything our paper was about!

It was so energizing to be with several young people (Grant sort of included) who were so passionate, funny, and engaging. They reminded me of several good people we have in our office. Mostly, I appreciated the fact that these folks were out there in the world helping others in so many ways. There are times when I lament my tardy and inconsistent arrival at professionalism, but I am in no way jealous or envious of these young people who are so far ahead of me in their quests to make the world a better place - I am instead hopeful :)

Image may contain: 4 people, people smiling, indoor

Exploring hush puppies, key lime pie, and other assorted cultural artifacts together.

*If you would like to have a copy of our paper and related handouts, please email me

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

A Little DNA

This board is in our department break room. We had our college photographer print several pictures from my trip to the Congo and one picture of Carmela's trip to Tanzania. He put them on canvases, but they turned out sort of small. We originally just put them on the wall, but they were swallowed up by the large space. I took some of the leftover hickory floorboards from Kipp's house and used the scraps from Patricia's door to trim it out. I like these pictures - at 1 o'clock, is the picture of the bunk bed the camp carpenter and I designed for one of the blind students and his four children. At 4 o'clock is the Pelagie Tree. Pelagie was the very efficient and friendly administrative contact I had in Zongo who helped me with all my needs. I named this tree after her, and her curves, and the drivers had a lot of fun teasing her about it. At 6 o'clock, there is a picture of one of the town children peaking in on a lesson I was giving. At 8 o'clock, there is a picture of Carmela ascending part-way up Mt. Kilimanjaro while on a study/service trip to Tanzania. At 10 o'clock, there is a picture of Christine, Benjamin, and one of Juliet's daughters who the B260 staff donated dress materials for. At the center, there is a picture of me working with the Girl's Empowerment Group at the carpenter's shop. They were making the furniture for their new English Club space. It's nice having these various memories and artifacts nearby :)