Tag Archives: school

Last Days of School

Big transitions are afoot. Today is the last day of school for Griffin and Maggie at Cornerstone, and it is Andrew’s last work day at SPA. Not only are we all transitioning into summer mode, but Griffin and Maggie will be moving into new classrooms with new teachers next year. While this sounds entirely normal to those of us who attended regular schools, in the Montessori model, students work with the same teacher for three years.

Griffin has been in the same classroom since first grade, beginning as a neophyte being mentored by older students and ending, this year, as one of the third-grade leaders. Although Maggie first enrolled this year as a kindergartner, she was part of the top cohort in her classroom, working with younger pre-k students. In the fall, both of them, as fourth- and first-graders, will be entering a new world where they will grow for the next three years.

Maggie has been very excited about the transition, eagerly looking forward to her “Fly Up!” ceremony and the dance her class has been practicing. Griffin has more mixed feelings, leading to some conversations about the term “bittersweet.” He’s excited to continue learning and doing new work (in Montessori parlance), but he loved his teacher and will miss his many younger friends that he’s leaving behind.

Dungeon Fantasy In The Classroom

Two of my passions—teaching and roleplaying games—came together in this short piece. After running a gaming activity at school this year, the fine folks at Steve Jackson Games asked me to write up a blurb about the experience. It went live this morning.

The target audience is definitely gamers (who else ends up on the SJGames homepage?), but it shouldn’t cause Muggle eyes to glaze over too much.

(See also a PDF version in case the site goes down.)

Griffin’s Astronomy

While cleaning up the house over the weekend, we found a pile of work that Griffin created at school last year (first grade). This chart of the solar system reminded me of my recent post, Maggie’s Astronomy, so I thought I should add this here. Griffin is aware, by the way, that Pluto is no longer considered to be planet.

Revolution of the Planets, Spring 2016

As part of his astronomy research in first grade, he also took notes on some of the facts he unearthed. I picked a few to share below.

Comet 1
Comets’ tails are made of dust and gas.

Comet 2
Comets have three layers.

Shooting stars
Shooting stars are meteors burning in the earth’s atmosphere.

Asteroids are all different shapes and sizes.

Asteroids have little holes and when they crash they explode.

Note the creative (and phonetically reasonable) spelling of explode: “iiczplod.”

Maiden Voyage of the Artemis

Have you ever dreamed of being an officer on the bridge of a real starship? Now’s your chance! We will be testing out a sophisticated software program, the Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator. With this software, each of you can choose a particular job: Captain, Helm, Science, Communication, Engineering, and Weapon Control. Together you will operate your ship and defend the sector from evil aliens. This activity requires your laptop, the ability to work as a team, and a desire to save the galaxy. For our first starship this spring, we can only handle a small crew. If our mission is successful, we’ll sign up more officers next year!

So reads the description of my spring activity offering at school. For those that don’t know, Artemis is a computer game that basically recreates the bridge from the Star Trek enterprise. (It doesn’t have a Star Trek license, though, so the ship is called the Artemis, and you fight Kraliens rather than the other aliens that start with K.) It works best in a classroom or office with a large monitor or projection screen to act as the viewing screen at the front of the bridge. A series of networked laptops connect as different stations on the bridge. The Helm, for example, has controls to steer the ship. Weapons controls phasers and torpedos. Science can scan objects in nearby space and provide information (weaknesses for enemies, possible resources, etc.) Engineering manages ship resources, and can overcharge certain systems at the cost of other systems and at the risk of overheating. The engineer also directs damage control teams who can repair compromised systems.

“I’m giving it all she’s got, Captain!”

The communications officer sends and receives messages from space stations, allied ships, and enemies. Finally, the captain doesn’t have a computer at all. She or he sits in a chair in the middle and orchestrates all of it. (If you’re interested, check out this lively and not-school-appropriate video of the game being played.)

So, yeah, it’s basically my Star Trek boyhood fantasy.

But it’s also a brilliant software package for middle school because it requires discipline, cooperation, and strategic thinking, skills that were almost entirely lacking during our first misadventure.

On Tuesday a dozen students gathered in my classroom for their first mission. We spent some time installing the software, deciding which station each person would play and who would be their second. (There are only six stations, so one primary player and an apprentice at each station.) Then we launched the server and configured it for a peacetime mission so that we could learn how to use our new starship.

So far, so good. Then I discovered what happens when you set a group of 10-13 year olds loose on the command deck of a state-of-the-art spacecraft. Anarchy! Everybody gleefully pushing buttons at once without reading any of the documentation. Shouts from every person in the room with conflicting reports, questions, orders, and requests. It was awesome. In short order, the ship was travelling at its highest possible speed off the edge of the map into interstellar space. Unfortunately, the helmsman couldn’t manage to steer. Everyone thought this was very amusing, except that they kept getting distress calls from a space station that was rapidly receding behind them. And when other people tried to steer, they couldn’t manage it either. The session ended with everyone thinking it was some sort of bug in the software.

Screenshot of the engineering interface. The sliders at the bottom allow you to shunt power to and from different ship systems, which can dramatically affect game play.
Screenshot of the engineering interface. The sliders at the bottom allow you to shunt power to and from different ship systems, which can dramatically affect game play.

But then I did some research afterwards and discovered that no, it was not a glitch. The engineers, in fact, had reduced power to the maneuvering drives which meant that the ship couldn’t, um, maneuver. (In their defense, they claim that the captain told them to maximize power to the warp drives… so they did exactly that.)

I sent an in-character email to the entire crew that afternoon, explaining what the engineering team at DS4 had discovered. After some frantic finger-pointing, they were all a bit sheepish, and are hoping to do better next time. They even agreed to watch a short set of training videos which will help them understand what, for example, a maneuvering drive does.

We have five more sessions lined up. I am hopeful that the crew will pull together so that we can actually, you know, explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations, and boldly go where no middle schooler has gone before…

Artemis Screenshot


Golden Eagles

War Thunder
War Thunder

Golden Eagles are the premium in-game currency in the video game, War Thunder, that I’ve been playing this fall with David, Ed, Tyler Rust, Ross, and occasional other California friends. The game is free to play, but Golden Eagles cost real dollars. They allow you to purchase special upgrade and other “premium” content that you don’t get if you’re taking the budget route.

I talk about the game from time to time in class meetings with my 8th graders, usually to make some point about perseverance, learning from failure, or to illustrate design thinking concepts like iteration and prototyping. Video game analogies are always popular, especially with a particular segment of students who are not otherwise prone to paying too much attention at these sorts of gatherings.

All of this background to understand this student holiday card. It included a Barnes and Noble gift card with the following scrawled note:

“Sorry but I don’t think Barnes and Noble sells Golden Eagles…”

Golden Eagles (5000 would cost $24.99 today at the Gaijin store... and they're not, alas, sold at B&N)
Golden Eagles (5000 would cost $24.99 today at the Gaijin store… and they’re not, alas, sold at B&N)

A note from Griffin

I received the most awesome gift from Griffin yesterday after school: a hand-written note that he spent 70 (!!!!) minutes composing and writing. My heart is bursting! It reads:

Dear Mom, Thank you for the notes. They make me feel good. I love you, momo. I want to make granola.

<I write him notes in his lunchbox everyday, and that day, we planned to make granola after school.>


Everything below is in Griffin’s words. It’s a bit stream-of-consciousness, but we just asked him to talk about Kindergarten. Occasionally we prompted him to give further details. – Andrew & Sarah

The bus stop.
The bus stop.

Maggie was there to see Griffin off on his big adventure.
Maggie was there to see Griffin off on his big adventure.

I like the puzzle maps. They are maps but they are puzzles: Africa, United States, and the other one that kind of looks like Africa (“South America?” “Uh-huh!”).

The trinomial and binomial cubes are boxes with blocks inside them and you try to match the pattern on top of the box.

Reading while waiting for the bus.
Reading while waiting for the bus.

I like the reading corner because it has a chair and there are two reading corners, one in the back of the room and one in the front of the room. I like the the one that’s up high with the stairs to go up, in the front of the room. I like to read the garden books and I like the pretend books and I like sitting in the reading corner too. There is only one garden book; it’s like a pretend garden and it goes all over the roof and he goes through it. It has lots of white flowers and yellow ones too. The pretend books are not real so like they are real books but they are not real people and stuff.

I like the computers too in the multi-purpose room. We try to match words sometimes.

We eat with silverware and sometimes our fingers. We have lots of tables which we have to set up. We sing this song before we eat:

For the golden corn and the apples on the tree,
for the golden butter and the honey for our tea,
for fruits and nuts and berries that grow along the way,
for birds and bees and flowers, we give thanks every day.

We also have another song that we sing at the rug:

Choo choo choo choo,
Choo choo choo choo,
Going up the tracks,
Choo choo choo choo,
Choo choo choo choo,
Then we come right back.

First we go to Malaya’s house,
Then we go to James’s house,
Then we go to Crosby’s house,
Then we go to Tegan’s house.

Choo choo choo choo,
Choo choo choo choo,
Going up the tracks,
Choo choo choo choo,
Choo choo choo choo,
Then we come right back.

First we go to Griffin’s house,
Then we go to Harrison’s house,
Then we go to Serenity’s house…

We keep singing like that until we go to everyone’s house.

The play structure! I love recess. Now we go on the play structure. The grass is medium new and medium not-new. The play structure is new; it was already built when I started school but the grass was new so we played out back instead of in the front. We like to play and tag and in the sand box. I like playing on the play structure too. We get to go outside every day, except when it is raining or super super cold.

I like my teacher Kristen and also Angela and Corinne, my side teachers. Angela passes out the food and she speaks Spanish.

I miss my sister when I go to school. It is a long day; I sometimes get tired.

When I get home, I like to snuggle with Maggie and also I say, “Hello Mommy and Daddy” if Daddy is home. I like to play with Maggie and when Mama and Daddy make dinner we like to play.

Griffin's first day: "Ten thumbs up!"
Griffin’s first day: “Ten thumbs up!”