October 21st, 2015 and the Chicago Cubs

cubslogoTeaching as a Cubs fan on the south side can be challenging in October.  My students knew I was going to Game 4 of the NLCS between the Cubs and Mets.  They anticipated my sorrow and didn’t believe me when I told them I was glad I went to the game.  A lot of my students are too young to have seen the Cubs play in October, therefore never receiving a formal education on the History of the Cubs. I decided to write this recap to try and help them understand what it means to be a Cubs fan.

Seventy-seven degree days and Cubs baseball are rare occurrences for late October. Maybe, in the back of my mind, I knew this was the day that the season, just like the warm temperatures, was going to end. Helplessly viewing from the comfort of my couch wasn’t an option. I had to do my part, show my support. It was the least I could do after a season of hope. This was a team that attracted attention since April. April baseball in Chicago is often cold, but full of hope and promise. October baseball, when present, is usually cold and unforgiving. The Mets had been equally cold and unforgiving. Thirty degree wind chills and 95+ mph fastballs delivered by a young Mets rotation doing their best to live up to the legend of Sidd Finch had iced the Cubs bats in Citi-Field. The Mets also had taken advantage of every youthful mistake committed. In the NLDS the Cardinals may have been too old, hobbled, and forgiving to jump on these same mistakes, but not the Mets. If a miracle was about to take place or a farewell was to be given, I needed to be present. So I braved the 38.3 mile trek through rush hour traffic and construction to take it all in.
Seventy-seven wasn’t just the temperature, it was also the year I became a Cubs fan. Back when television offered around 6 to 8 networks and WGN was every child’s favorite. Mornings gave us Bozo and Ray Rayner and his Friends. Afternoons gave us Chicago Cubs baseball. Rick Reuschel, Mike Krukow, and Bruce Sutter on the mound. All-Stars Bill Buckner and Dave Kingman swinging the lumber. Billy Buck was anything but a goat to Cubs fans. The 1980 NL batting champion and 1981 All-Star gave the fans someone to root for. And Dave Kingman, known as “Kong” (another childhood favorite), treated Cubs fans to 48 home runs in 1979. I happened to be watching on May 17th, 1979, the day “Kong” clobbered a colossal blast over Waveland and smacked the side of the third house down on Kenmore Ave. The Cubs scored 22 runs that day; Bucker delivered 7 RBIs. They lost. In ‘84, the first year I would experience Cubs post-season baseball, my favorite player, Buckner had lost his starting job to Leon Durham and was traded to the Red Sox for future Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley. Although not happy about the trade, the Cubs would go on to win 96 games that year, one less that this year’s team, but good enough to finish with the best record in the National League. They went on to face the San Diego Padres in the NLCS. Even though the Padres only won 92 games that year, MLB made the Cubs forfeit home field advantage because Wrigley Field didn’t have lights and we couldn’t have a pennant clinching game take place while most Americans were still at work, or worse yet, suspended by darkness. So the Cubs won the first 2 games at home and then went on to blow 7th inning leads in each of the next 3 games. The 5th and deciding game lost when an easy ground ball miraculously bounced through the legs of Leon Durham. He did everything right to stop that ball. Lowered himself to one knee, glove on the ground. How did it get through? They never should have traded Buckner. (We all knew Buckner would have made that play.) How did we lose this series? Why are people talking about billy goats and black cats? I was still an adolescent in ‘84 and would learn all the details of the curse and Cubs lore through ominous Octobers to come. The future followed:

1989 93 wins, one more than the San Francisco Giants, yet lost that NLCS 4 games to 1. This time it was Will Clark who tormented the team from Clark and Addison.

1998 90 Wins, but were swept by the Braves in the NLDS. In ‘03 they won 88 games and defeated the 101-win Atlanta 3 games to 2 in the NLDS. They took a 3-1 lead in the NLCS. Game 6. 3-0 lead. 8th inning. 5 outs away. Bartman. Gonzalez error. 8 runs later it was over.

2007 85 wins, but they were quickly swept away by the Diamondbacks in the NLDS.

2008 97 wins, best in the NL, but swept by the Dodgers, who only won 84 games that year, in the NLDS.

2015 97 wins, they took out the Pirates 98 wins in the Wild Card Game and the Cardinals 101 wins in the NLDS.

Which brings us to tonight’s pilgrimage. A cool, bright haze hovers from the high intensity discharge (HID) bulbs above Wrigley feeding the high intensity discharge from the pregame crowd. The nervous anticipation includes chatter, cheers, flashbulbs, and an inspirational anthem. There is an electric hum to the atmosphere and the only source of desperation comes from the ticket scalpers concerned with turning a profit from a game that has already started. I begin negotiating with a reputable salesmen just outside Murphy’s when the first hindrance to history happens. Lucas Duda deposits a 3-run home run to deep center field and just like that, the power is out at Wrigley. The lights remain bright, but the anticipation is nowhere to be found. Silence. My negotiations are over and the salesman knows he desperately needs to find a new client. The whispers and murmurs begin…”3-0 already? Another first inning hole? … 4-0?” Travis d’Arnaud has followed Duda with a shot of his own to right center field. The Cubs had never enjoyed a lead in the first three games of this series and after this beginning of the end, it was clear they never would.

Outside of buying a ticket to get in, I do what any faithful fan would. I stay in Wrigleyville and tell myself it is early because the Cubs are capable of winning a high scoring affair. So I settle in at the first establishment where I can find a table and a menu and focus my attention to the HD gamecast above me. Between innings I study the crowd. There are no tears. There is no disinterest or changing of the subject. The focus of the fan base continues to look up. Maybe most are watching the game, or maybe some are looking for some assistance from Harry or Ron or Ernie. Maybe a few are looking for Doc Brown’s Delorean which was due to land only 90 minutes before the first pitch on this historical day that so far, is not living up to its fiction. Maybe Doc and Marty will get word of the Cubs dire situation and alter their plans, risking a butterfly effect of epic proportions in baseball lore.

After my meal, I decide a change of scenery might help so I relocate. New establishment, same silent hope. Every couple innings I continue to move, not driven by superstition, but driven by the desire to record these last moments of a meaningful season. There is one young fan, still in his business attire, trying desperately to repair Wrigleyville before it’s too late. He sees that I notice him and he approaches, “What’s wrong with us? Why is everyone so quiet? This place needs some energy! How do we expect them to rally if there is no energy???” A few fans pause and look to his pleading motions, but quickly return to the game. Like the rest, I have no answer for him, but instead wonder if the silence of 42,227 fans can do any lasting damage to these young players. It’s easy to perform when you have to block out the crowd and focus on the opponent, but what happens when there is no crowd to block out? When the silence makes you stop to see if anyone is watching and suddenly notice that everyone is watching. The silence give you time to think, time to overswing, time to misjudge. Crowd silence or Mob silence is a weight that weighs heaviest in Wrigley Field. Previous managers such as Baker and Pinella scoffed at history and dismissed the nonsense surrounding it. But when the playoffs enter Wrigley, and crowd is given reason to worry… that silence is suffocating.

In the bottom of the 8th, Kris Bryant broke that silence. He fought back. After series MVP Murphy (yes, the same name as the infamous goat who Cubs diehards have credited with more damage to Chicago than Mrs. O’Leary’s cow.) homered in the top of the 8th, Bryant put his foot down and launched a two run home run to left center field. One of the Cubs youngest stars was trying to ease Cubdom. “Don’t worry. We’ll fight back. Just give us time.” Some fans have time to give, but others aren’t so fortunate. So while these Cubs are young and may feel like the future is bright, the longer they take the heavier the weight becomes. Good Luck Mr. Maddon, Mr. Epstein, Mr. Ricketts. There is some substance behind the last 108 years and it has nothing to do with a lack of talent or desire, but as all have witnessed, it does have something to do with Murphy. Anyone who wants to dismiss the Murphy connection need look no further than Daniel’s performance in the World Series.  A textbook example of going from hero to goat.

Oct. 22, 2015 -There is another team in town and on this day they have coincidentally decided to parade their team’s colors. It’s their way of lurking like Nelson from The Simpsons, quick to offer their version of “Ha-ha!” as they revel in the latest occurrence of our team’s fate. They are as cold as the black steel beams that make up their home ballpark. Their history is buried under a parking lot and the cell in which they play has no room for romance. The only romantic notion they share is to compare themselves to the team to the North because in their minds a 108 year drought means their 1 title in 97 years somehow puts them on the same level as the Cardinals or Yankees. But this isn’t about them, and when you realize it’s never been about them their misdirected angst make sense.

Catcher in the Rye

Our school has moved away from Holden Caulfield. Maybe his time has come, I am not sure. I no longer teach sophomores, the curriculum that contains this classic, but I am pretty sure if I did, my classes would still be reading this novel. Some teachers in our department have grown tired of Holden’s whining, but I still feel this book is a right of passage, especially for boys. It’s not just about diagnosing Holden’s depression. We try to focus on Holden’s inability to have a successful relationship, whether it be with a friend or girlfriend. As the old saying goes, “you have to love yourself first…”


Here are some good reading/discussion guides… (sorry if the font is distracting.)

CR – chapters 1-2
CR – chapters 3-5
CR – chapters 6-7
CR – chapters 8-10
CR – chapters 11-14
CR – chapters 15-16
CR – chapter 17
CR – chapters 18-20
CR – chapters 21-23
CR – chapters 24-26

Please comment below if you use them, (or if you find any errors.) Hope they can help.

Writing: A Tiered Approach

hulk-letterThe main purpose of the writing instruction in our junior curriculum is to prepare students to write an argumentative essay. We often jump right in, trying to train our students to plug their ideas into a pre-made template or formula. For example: Attention getter + Attention Holder + Thesis + Preview statement = Introductory paragraph. This type of instruction often leads to formulaic writing that often doesn’t make sense as a whole. By beginning with a simpler form of writing, such as the narrative, and progressing to more complex forms before the argumentative, we can develop our students into stronger writers who are prepared to write for any situation.

To begin we introduce the levels of writing by having the students apply a single subject to the six tiers of writing. I have chosen to create these tiers based on the six purposes of writing Kelly Gallagher identifies in his book, Write Like This.

Express and Reflect – narrative writing based on personal experiences

Inform and Explain – expository writing that states a main idea and purpose

Evaluate and Judge – focuses on the “worth” of something, a review

Inquire and Explore – uses research to wrestle with a question or problem

Analyze and Interpret – uses research to analyze subjects that are difficult to understand

Take a Stand / Propose a Solution – argumentative essay of persuasion

Using the chart from Gallagher’s Book as inspiration, I have modified a top-down example with the Chicago Blackhawks as my writing topic. Carol Ann Tomlinson uses the ladder approach in order to get students to climb to the higher levels of learning. But for upper-classmen, I feel starting with the easiest on top and moving to more difficult levels below just works better.

The idea is that once students have applied the topic of their choosing to the chart, they can start at the writing level they feel comfortable. Once they successfully complete the assignment, their next writing assignment will be required to be completed on the next higher tier. Students who have already mastered narrative and expository writing can explore more creative options once they reach the highest tier of argumentative writing.

I’ve attached a graphic organizer found in Gallagher’s book: 1 topic = 18 possible papers
Here is a key to help the students complete the chart: 1Topic=18key

Below is an example of how to complete the template:

Topic of choice: Chicago Blackhawks

Express and Reflect
How I became a hockey fan
Game 5 vs Nashville
Watching them win the Stanley Cup

Inform and Explain
Who are the Original Six?
History of the Blackhawks
Penalties of Hockey

Evaluate and Judge
Best offensive player on the team
Best defensive player on the team
Blackhawks vs the rest of the league

Inquire and Explore
How was the game invented?
How did it become a professional sport?
How did they lose an entire season to a strike?

Analyze and Interpret
Why did the Blackhawks finally win a Stanley Cup?
Why did the city ignore the team during the 90’s?
Why did the team fall short last season?

Take a Stand / Propose Solution
More high schools should sponsor Hockey teams
Games should not end in shootouts
Parks should create rinks in the winter

Shooting par on the PARCC

Will your students shoot par for PARCC?putt

This past week, our department was able to take a practice PARCC test in order to give us a peek at what all of our juniors will be experiencing in the Spring. From the the very first question, I knew this was not going to be a successful assessment for my students.
The question reads as follows:

In paragraph 2, what does the phrase inherent aloneness suggest about Helga?
A. She dislikes the company of others.
B. She is uncomfortable interacting with others.
C. She feels that other people are judging her.
D. She is uncomfortable being alone.

When we look to paragraph 2, here is the context the students are given.

Helga stared into the approaching night, glad to be at last alone, free of that great superfluity of human beings, yellow, brown, and black, which, as the torrid summer burnt to its close, had so oppressed her. No, she hadn’t belonged there. Of her attempt to emerge from that inherent aloneness which was part of her very being, only dullness had come, dullness and a great aversion.

When I attempt to answer this question from the standpoint of my students I see the words, “glad to be at last alone,” and I immediately see a connection to answer A; she dislikes the company of others because she is glad to be at last alone. How many of my students will mark answer A without a second thought? A is a powerful distractor. But what if the students go deeper? How many students will take the time to ask themselves, “Why is she glad to be left alone?” This is not what is being asked by the test, but my teachers are always stressing to read between the lines? We all hope that our students will see that she is glad to be left alone because “…the great superfluity of human beings…oppressed her” and the fact that she felt oppressed probably meant that she feels other people are judging her. So I could make a case that the aloneness Helga feels has become inherent because she always feels like others judge her. Answer C is another distractor and quite honestly, my choice after I initially read the passage. So I can make a case for answer A and a reason I would be led to answer C, but there is no specific text that leads me to the real answer B. I understand why B is the answer when you take in the selection as a whole, but when I look to the text for clues, it doesn’t initially jump out at me as the best answer. So when you factor in the student’s individual interpretation of the question, the time limit, the distractors, and the chosen vocabulary, (people described as colors, superfluity, inherent, and maybe even aversion) the odds are definitely stacked against a majority of students choosing answer B.

We know a majority of our students are not ready to tackle the PARRC, so how will we get them ready between now and March? Even the most experienced educators in our department couldn’t help but to once again feel overwhelmed by a new mandate. As I spend a part of my weekend considering this new challenge, it reminds me of my other job in education, varsity girls golf coach.

What do coaching golf and teaching reading have in common? A lot more than you might realize. Golfing and reading are two activities that most of my students spend little time doing on their own. Golf is a “country club” sport; it’s expensive, and it’s time consuming. It is not popular in our community, however our school does offer the chance for girls to be exposed to the sport by joining the golf team. When most girls join as freshmen, they have little to no experience with the game, but that’s ok. We welcome them to the team; we take them to practice; we teach them fundamentals, and they practice how to pitch, putt, chip, and drive at the driving range. Once girls can hit at the range, they feel a sense of accomplishment. They feel like they can golf, and they enjoy practice. Then the first match occurs. The conditions are different; the tee boxes aren’t set up like the driving range mat; the fairways aren’t level, the sand is more compact, there is a lot of water, the greens are faster or slower or sloped. The girls, who have never golfed this course before, don’t meet the “acceptable” score of par on the scorecard. They walk off the course with the same uncertainty that my fellow companions walked out of our institute. So I encourage the girls, and we go back to practice at the driving range. Next match, new course, same result. Now the goal of our program is that the girls will enjoy the challenge of the game and will then seek to go out and play as many courses as their time and financial resources will allow them. Some girls do, and it’s very rewarding to see the steady improvement in their game. However, other girls are only able to golf during our 8 week season, and when they come back the next year, they show no improvement out on the course.

Students, who at some point in their youth learned to enjoy the challenge and fun of reading, should be able to navigate a score close to “par” on the PARCC. However at my school, the non-readers outnumber the book worms. Society has become too fast paced for the slow delivery and delayed rewards of a good novel compared to the instant payoff of social media. It’s not that all students aren’t capable of shutting off the outside world for a period of time each day to devote to a school assigned reading. Many just don’t see the point. Their brains process the text too quickly and journey too many other places during the time they spend staring at the inherent aloneness of the pages.

My classroom has become our driving range. We can read passages, answer multiple choice questions on pre, mid and post, type I,II, and III assessments, and reflect on what answers are right and what answers are wrong. But all these assessments don’t introduce my students to the rewards of reading. Our practice doesn’t inspire them to seek out novels on their own. If anything, this “skill and drill” approach often hides the rewards of reading. So when my students take the PARRC, they will be competing on an unfamiliar course, and when they don’t shoot par, it doesn’t mean that I’m a bad coach or that they are bad players. It just means that the golfers, like Helga, are used to being inherently alone, because the course just isn’t very crowded these days.

Ready Player One

Meeting Ernest Cline at an Armada book signing.
Meeting Ernest Cline at an Armada book signing.
Great on so many levels!

Update 9/24/15 Meeting Ernest Cline during his Armada book tour was one of the cool highlights of my summer. He spoke to the audience for over an hour recalling the inspirations of his youth growing up in Ohio. It was inspiring to hear him explain how he got to where he is now. I have filled in a few missing chapters below, so take a look and see if any of these additions can help you!
Last year as we were updating our Senior Studies in Contemporary Literature course one of my colleagues suggested Ready Player One by Earnest Cline. Being a child of the 80’s, I read it and LOVED it, but I still wasn’t convinced my students would feel the same way. All the 80’s references were great, but I wasn’t sure my students would enjoy the book as much as I did without the same sense of nostalgia. So I sought a second opinion. I asked a female colleague, who wasn’t a gamer to give the book a chance. She loved it. Then I asked the school librarian (not a child of the 80’s, (she was younger) and not a gamer.) She also loved the book. That was enough for me, I was able to purchase enough books for two classes.

This novel has been the most rewarding novel I have been able to teach since Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend. Actually it has been the most rewarding novel to teach for many reasons.
1. Love – My students love this book. Granted not all of them do, but I have had more students tell me that this is the best book they have ever had to read for school than ever before.
2. Research – This book has excited my students to the point of independent research. We have created a community on google+ to share information on the many 80’s references. Many pdf’s, youtube videos, and postings have helped bring my students back to the 80’s.
3. Fun – On Fridays, we play Atari. I have hooked up my old Atari 2600 to a projector and the class tries to replicate some of the challenges listed in the book. Adventure, 30,000 pts on Joust, Swordquest, etc. If they succeed they are given a free homework coupon.
4. Projects – The book provides unlimited possibilities for projects. Some of the themes deal with the future of education, the future of our planet, and even the future of gaming and social media. I even have students who are creating their own flash based video game based on the novel.
5. Imagination – Maybe the best thing about teaching this novel is that there is no movie yet. I know they have plans for one, but right now there is no movie for my class to turn to. (Although I have found that showing the movie Wargames makes for a good introduction.) Because of this, more students have been hooked on the book and they are using their imagination to interpret what they are reading. Sadly, imagination has become an endangered species in the classroom today, but this novel inspires imagination and conquers reading apathy like no other book I’ve taught.

So as you can tell, I highly recommend this book. Much like my I Am Legend lesson plans (which have become very popular) I have attached a few reading/discussion guides. Too many of these can take away the enjoyment of the novel.

Ready Player One Chapters 2-3
Ready Player One Chapters 4-6
RPO Chapters 7-9
RPO Chapter 12
RPO Chapters 13-15
RPO Chapters 16-19
RPO Chapters 20-22
RPO Chapters 25-27
RPO Chapters 28-30
RPO Chapters 32-34
RPO Chapters 36-39
Please comment below if you are interested in more.
For another good source I suggest you visit this site created by students at Western Illinois University.

Update! Here is a list of projects.
RP1 Projects
And here is a picture of some of the projects completed. These include Anorak’s Alamanc, Contact Cards, A final battle diorama, and this Atari is constructed from cardboard!
rp1caseThe Shogun Warrior is mine… a treasured birthday gift from my childhood.