I finally have a pair of cross-country skis. One step closer to being a real Minnesotan. (Ice fishing next year?) We went out as a family on Tuesday, after our first real snow, and then I went again on Thursday morning on my own. It’s a short, easy trail at Highland golf course, but I’m an unsteady amateur, so it’s exactly what I need.

This day…

Maggie is a verbal kid, talking pretty much all the time. She’s generally an effective communicator, conveying her points successfully, even if she doesn’t ultimately get what she wants. (So many foiled plans, resulting in extravagant drama.)

One quirk of language with her recently is that she has trouble with words relating to the past and future, especially todayyesterday, and tomorrow. She knows what they mean, and can use them in sentences, but she seems bothered by their fluidity: tomorrow becomes today becomes yesterday. To get around this, she’s taken to a using the phrase “this day” to indicate today. Then she adds events with before or after until she clarifies what she means.

Here’s an example that we just heard in the car—she’s excited about her grandparents’ visit tomorrow:

“Mama, this day, after we sleep and wake up, is it grandma and grandpa day?”

No reason to share this other than that Sarah and I think it is unbearably cute, and we know it will fade away in time and we’ll never quite remember how she worded it.

Update: I’ve since been listening to Maggie using this construction and noticed that she also has an alternative to the word yesterday: “last day.” She might say, for example, “Daddy, last day, did you go to school?”

Molasses Spice Cookies

Sarah had these cookies at a recent ECFE meeting. In Sarah’s words, they were “conversation stopping amazing — the perfect cookie, crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside, and bursting with flavor.”


½ cup granulated sugar (set aside)
13 cup granulated sugar
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 ½ teaspoons ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
13 cup  packed dark brown sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup light or dark molasses (dark gives a stronger flavor)

  1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Spread ½ cup of the sugar into a shallow dish for rolling. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, spices, pepper, and salt together.
  2. In a large bowl, beat the butter, brown sugar, and remaining 13 cup granulated sugar together with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 6 minutes. Beat in the egg yolk and vanilla until combined, about 30 seconds. Beat in the molasses until incorporated, about 30 seconds, scraping down the bowl and beaters as needed.
  3. Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly add the flour mixture until combined, about 30 seconds (the dough will be soft).
  4. Working with 1 tablespoon of dough at a time, roll the dough until balls with wet hands, then roll in the sugar to coat. Lay the balls on the prepared baking sheets, spaced about 2 inches apart.
  5. Bake the cookies, one sheet at a time, until the edges are set and beginning to brown but the centers are still soft and puffy, 8 to 10 minutes, rotating each baking sheet halfway through baking. (The cookies will look raw between the cracks and seem underdone.)
  6. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes, then serve warm or transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.

Makes about 34 cookies.

Originally from The America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book,p. 162. (Adjusted slightly based on our experience.)

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)

Ignoring the Speed Limit

My students are making movies. It’s one of my favorite projects of the year: inspired by StoryCorps, students record interviews with someone from an older generation, often grandparents or friends of their families, and then create short documentary videos based on material from the interview. Students narrate the video and include clips from the interview along with visual material to support their narrative. It’s challenging for students because it pushes them way outside of their comfort zones. Asking 8th graders to conduct extended, >30 minute, interviews with adults is a stretch to begin with. Then they have to identify a theme to focus on, write a script for the narration, find visuals (scanning photographs, finding internet materials, etc.), and master the technical tools to put it all together. Finally they share their movies with the class, often an excruciating moment for the neophyte auteurs.

All this exposition to provide context for the following conversation in class yesterday:

Mr. Roy: One of the roles of your introduction is to establish the mood and tone of your movie. Generally you want to be consistent, so if you’re telling a dark story, you don’t want to have a light, bubbly intro with goofy music.

<A student, let’s call him Joe, raises his hand, with a thoughtful expression.>

Mr. Roy: Yes, Joe?

Joe: What if you want to have contrast?

Mr. Roy: Say more about that.

Joe: I was thinking of trying to juxtapose my grandfather’s carefree childhood with the losses he faced later.

Mr. Roy: <silent> <mouth hanging open> Ummm, yes, that sounds … freaking awesome. If you can use “juxtapose” in a sentence, you can and should ignore everything I’m saying.

Keep in mind that Joe is a 13-year-old boy. I’m looking forward to his movie!

Student Reflections

Below is a collection of quotes from student reflections in my eighth grade social studies classes. There’s no real rhyme or reason to them; some are deep, others funny, others absurd. I added line breaks and corrected a few typos.

That’s what makes history so interesting,
the emotions that intertwine with the facts.

I am naturally good at
understanding stuff.

I love it when in group conversations there is a debate but the person with the best facts can show the other person how they are right, even if I was the one that was wrong.

Just like in science,
you can’t say something
without data.

I absolutely hate margin noting
more than I hate Activision
for making the same game
every year and brainwashing
people to buy that game.

In class, we learn about the history of our country, but notice, the class itself is not called “history,” but instead called social studies. This is because we are also learning about current and relevant events that affect us today. I can take the things we learn and connect them with things I see every day.

I have lots of opinions
and they are all
grounded in evidence.

I really want to work on speaking up more in class, and not being afraid of judgement when stating my opinion. I chose this skill because being able to talk in front of peers/people is very important, and one day I want to be a really good speaker. This class is the perfect opportunity to practice.

I know all the historical facts.

I am proud of how immersed
I am in the materials we study.

I have always been a crazy reader.

Remember that time where I corrected you on the start date of the revolutionary war? (No offense.) When I saw the incorrect date I thought back to my times in Assassin’s Creed III and remembered the date of the attack on Lexington and Concord (4/19/1775, my birthday) and my ego lightbulb went off and I thought “Aha!!! My video games have brought me a point of extra credit!!!”

Sometimes I am not the most thorough person.

I memorize facts by trying to use them
in outside-of-class situations instead
of just memorizing them for a test.

I am pretty good with speaking up in class,
though sometimes I do ask pretty dumb questions.

I think the trimester went pretty well,
though in the middle I kind of got lazy.

Sometimes I have trouble
paying attention to what
others are saying.

It is still a developing skill for me to take other perspectives, since I usually stay grounded in my own strong opinion and it is hard to get out.

It was really fun,
because when you know the facts,
you can ask a lot more question,
and you are able to debate the truth.

I think it’s hard to have an opinion without evidence, and that’s why I have a lot of screenshots of conversations in my phone.

One last thing.
I recently realized
how amazing my
NASA poster is.
I mean
just look at it.

Every November, as our first trimester draws to a close, I ask my students to write reflections on how the trimester went for them. I have some broad prompts like, “Describe your strengths in social studies,” and “Describe at least one specific skill you want to work on next trimester,” followed by a section where students rate themselves on various skills (reading, discussion, writing, using evidence, etc.). Finally, they give themselves a letter grade and explain why they think they’ve earned it. It’s the culminating assignment of the trimester, and I depend heavily on it while writing narrative reports and making decisions about borderline grades.

I love reading these reflections because most students take them very seriously and I learn a lot about them, their goals, and their perceptions of their strengths and weaknesses. This, in turn, provides me with a lens to consider how well I have communicated the goals and skills required for the class. I am most successful when my students’ self-evaluations are congruent with my own perceptions.