Category: Family

Helping with Math Homework (When You Don’t Understand)

Math HomeworkThis post was originally written for and published on the Presbyterian Day School blog.

Generally speaking, my wife and I take a hands-off approach to our kids’ homework. We certainly want our four children to do well in school. We want to encourage and assist them along the way, but Debbie and I also want them to be independent and resourceful so we think it’s good for them to struggle sometimes. Therefore, when it comes to our kids’ homework, we avoid being too helpful and encourage them to figure things out on their own.

For the most part, this approach has served our family well. Our children usually complete their homework independently, and homework rarely results in any familial trauma–but not always. Occasionally, we have homework agony when one of our kids struggles with an assignment they just cannot understand–especially when the endeavor involves math. I’m an English language arts teacher. My wife teaches the visual arts. Neither of us feels particularly proficient when it comes to math.

Here are five things we do to help with math homework (we don’t even understand):

  1. Watch the teacher’s tutorial or read through the student’s notes with our child. Then, we ask our child to explain the lesson in his own words. I’m amazed how often this solves the problem as my child sees or hears something he missed during the initial instruction. Additionally, if my child can teach it to me, he’s most likely going to understand and remember it.
  2. Check out a different video tutorial. Sometimes my child just needs the concept to be explained in a different way than the way his teacher taught it. Fortunately, we live in a time when one can learn just about anything through the internet. Two places we’ve tried for math tutorials are PatrickJMT and Khan Academy. Both provide quality videos on many different math concepts.
  3. Plug the problem into an online computational problem solver. Both Wolfram Alpha and Discovery Education’s WebMath are immensely useful tools. They not only answer problems but also provide explanations so my child can see how the problem is solved and have another explanation of how to approach the question.
  4. Have my child phone a friend. In the wise words of The Beatles: “I get by with a little help from my friends.” Indeed I do and my kids do, too. Everybody needs help sometimes, and it’s important my kids learn how to ask their peers for help. (We’ve been known to ask grandparents, aunts, and uncles, too.) In college, I always made new friends and exchanged phone numbers with other students in my classes. Then, if I missed a class or needed homework help, I had friends I could call.
  5. Have my child email his teacher, ask his question, and move on. I have my child send the email in order to take ownership of his own learning. And believe it or not, I’ve found most teachers to be helpful, reasonable people. While they may not respond to the email immediately, they’ve always taken the time to help my child understand the concept with which he’s struggling. Then, we move on. If my child needs additional help, he’s responsible for talking with his teacher or joining the next help session.

Having made an attempt to do his best, my child can leave for school the next morning with looming questions about last night’s math homework. That’s perfectly okay. As parents, Debbie and I are less concerned that our kids get all the right answers and more concerned that they learn to ask questions, seek help, and find creative solutions when they struggle.

Lennon, John, and Paul McCartney. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The Beatles. Capitol Records, 1967. Vinyl recording.

No Victory Lap

birth storyI awoke at 2:37 AM. I know because I looked at the clock next to my bed. I heard the shower running in our bathroom, and Debbie was no longer lying beside me in bed. I stretched out my ankle like I always must after sitting or lying for a long time, then I went to the bathroom and poked my head inside the shower to ask Debbie if she was okay.

“I think my water has broken,” she said calmly. She’d been through this before three different times.

“What should I do?” I questioned.

“Go get dressed, pack your bag, grab the baby’s diaper bag, and get her dress and blanket.” My wife is always very patient with me.

I shot back into the bedroom, threw some clothes in a backpack, dressed, then changed clothes again before returning to the bathroom to ask Debbie if I should wear pants or shorts to the hospital. I was afraid it might be cold in the delivery room.

She replied, “It doesn’t matter, but you need to call Mom and Dad to come watch the boys while we go to the hospital.”

I dashed back to the bedroom, called my father-in-law, then continued scurrying about gathering belongings and throwing things in the mini-van. After a few minutes had passed, I noticed Debbie leaning against the van.

“If Mom and Dad don’t get here soon, we’re going to have to leave the boys alone.” Her voice was serious. Her look told me she was in a great deal of pain. I ran back into the house for one last item, and as I returned her parents had just arrived in the driveway.

I jumped in the driver’s seat, and Debbie climbed in the front seat next to me. I noticed she had placed a towel on  the seat beneath her. I backed out of the garage and sped down the driveway. Debbie told me to call the hospital so I dialed information for Germantown Methodist Hospital as I raced through our subdivision. From our door to Highway 70 is approximately one mile. When we reached the highway, Debbie told me I had to HURRY! I stepped on the gas, and we careened westward toward Germantown Parkway. I spoke to the hospital, and they told me they would be waiting at the door. At the light at Highway 70 and Germantown, I barely braked to make the turn, and Debbie was annoyed that I slowed at all.

Less that .10 mile down Germantown, Debbie informed me that we needed to change our plans. We weren’t going to make it to Germantown Methodist, we’d have to go to St. Francis-Bartlett instead. I again picked up the cell dialing 9-1-1. Then, I accelerated to approximately 90 MPH and turned on my hazard lights. There was only one other car on the road, and it was heading toward me. I knew it was a Bartlett police officer, but Debbie warned me not to slow down for ANYTHING! We were NOT GOING TO MAKE IT! The cop passed me, made an immediate U-turn, and chased me with lights flashing (I don’t know about the siren). I never slowed except to turn.

The 911 operator was less than helpful. (You don’t ever want to have an emergency in Memphis!) As I explained my wife was in labor, we were switching hospitals, and I was presently being chased by the Bartlett Police, the operator told me I’d have to call the hospital myself to let them know we were coming. There was nothing she could do to help me. I thanked her for not being at all helpful and promptly hung up the phone. MEMPHIS!

We slowed slightly to make a curve in the road, and then raced across the parking lot to the St. Francis-Bartlett Emergency Room entrance. I slammed the car in park and dashed through the hospital doors screaming, “Come help! Come help! My wife is in labor, and she’s having the baby now!”

Nobody moved. Apparently, husbands tend to overreact when their wives are in labor. Unfortunately, I wasn’t overreacting. What Debbie had failed to relay to me was that while we were racing to the hospital, the baby had crowned.

“HURRY!” I screamed. “She’s having the baby NOW! This is her FOURTH baby!”

Suddenly, everyone moved. Three or four nurses came running out to our mini-van. One was pushing a wheelchair. (Behind my van sat the Bartlett police officer. When he saw me enter the emergency room door, he patiently waited in his car. When I returned with medical staff in tow, I yelled to him that my wife was in labor. His only response was “Okay then, I’m gonna go.” He put his cruiser in reverse and was never heard from again.) A nurse instructed Debbie that she’d have to get in the wheelchair. My wife’s response was that she couldn’t–the baby was already crowning. The nurse told my wife that she had no choice, and they would look at her as soon as she got inside.

The nurses helped Debbie into the chair and wheeled her inside but not before getting the chair stuck on the door. They rolled her directly into triage. A nurse lifted up Debbie’s dress to see how far along she was and shrieked, “THE BABY”S COMING NOW!” (Duh!) They rolled her behind the first curtain, and the admittance attendant asked me to go with her to get Debbie checked in.

As the attendant and I made about five steps down the hallway, I heard a nurse scream, “OH, MY GOD! She hit the FLOOR!” I turned to see nurses scattering in every direction. One in particular had her hand covering her mouth s if she’d  just witnessed something awful. I raced back to see what had happened. I didn’t know whether Debbie had collapsed, the baby had been dropped, or a nurse had fainted. My heart leapt. It was 3:04 AM.

Reaching the curtain, I saw my daughter, purple and crying, on the floor in the corner of the room. Blood was everywhere. Debbie was crawling onto the gurney, and the nurses were frantically trying to move the wheelchair out of the way to get to the baby. I ran to the other side of the curtain and jumped over a trash can to try to get to Debbie’s bedside. I shouted, “Are they okay? Somebody, tell me they are okay!”

Nobody said anything. They were as panicked as I. They looked at me, and someone gave instructions for somebody to get me a chair, but I leaned against the wall and declined. I just wanted them to take care of Debbie and the baby.

The attendant, who had followed me back to the curtain, reached out, grabbed me by the arm, and said, “Dad, we have to get them admitted. Can you please come with me?” I reluctantly obeyed.

Within five minutes, Debbie’s paperwork was in motion. She and the baby were moved to room 228. The attendant asked me a few really important questions like: “Is Church of Christ still your religious preference?” and “Do you know if your insurance covers our hospital?” Meanwhile, I still needed to know whether the two most important women in my life were okay.

Soon, we’d finished. The attendant led me to Debbie’s and the baby’s room, and Debbie quickly reported that she was okay. The nurse was examining the baby who appeared to be undergoing her first tanning appointment. I asked the nurse if my little girl was okay, and she responded that as far as she could tell the baby was fine.

For the next 30 minutes, I bounced between Debbie’s bedside and the side of my tanning newborn. Debbie explained that when they tried to move her from the wheelchair to the gurney, the baby had entered the world by falling to the cold floor and sliding under the wheelchair into the corner. The umbilical cord had snapped. Apparently, my daughter is a natural break dancer. Over the next two hours, the baby was thoroughly poked and prodded, and Debbie finally delivered the placenta and was feeling much better. By all accounts, mother and child were doing just fine. In fact, one nurse mentioned they were perfect.

Debbie was ready for another shower. So as the grandmothers, who had just arrived, together with the nurse and my bride made their way to the shower, I sat in the window seat, held my daughter close to my chest, thanked God in my heart, and bawled like a big ol’ baby.

I’d love to say that in the middle of all the chaos I had the faith to immediately drop to my knees and pray, but I don’t have that kind of faith. My faith is more of a “do-what-you-can-as-best-as-you-can-and-trust-that-God-is-here-somewhere” kind of faith. Saint Peter wrote, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by pure fire–may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” I have no idea why my heart and soul were put through the ringer during that little girl’s birth. However, as I hold her, I am trusting God will watch over her because I KNOW there’s no way I can. That’s already proven true.


This post was originally written on August 22, 2007 following the events of August 21. I’ve posted it a few times before, and I’m sure I’ll post it again. Today Evelyn turns 7. I asked her if she’d just stay six for another year and consider it a “victory lap.” After all, she’s gotten pretty good at being six. She responded, “Nope. I’m going to turn seven, but it’s okay because I still like to snuggle.” I’ll take it. Life is good. Life is most definitely good.

Seems Like Yesterday

Just ArrivedIt seems like only yesterday…

I awoke at 2:37 AM. I know because I looked at the clock next to my bed. I heard the shower running in our bathroom, and Debbie was no longer lying beside me in bed. I stretched out my ankle like I always must after sitting or lying for a long time, then I went to the bathroom and poked my head in the shower door to ask Debbie if she was okay.

“I think my water has broken,” she said calmly. She’d been through this before three different times.

“What should I do?” I questioned.

“Go get dressed, pack your bag, grab the baby’s diaper bag, and get her dress and blanket.” My wife is always very patient with me.

I shot back into the bedroom, threw some clothes in a backpack, dressed, then changed clothes again before returning to the bathroom to ask Debbie if I should wear pants or shorts to the hospital. I was afraid it might be cold in the delivery room.

She replied, “It doesn’t matter, but you need to call Mom and Dad to come watch the boys while we go to the hospital.”

I dashed back to the bedroom, called my father-in-law, then continued scurrying about gathering belongings and throwing things in the mini-van. After a few minutes had passed, I noticed Debbie leaning against the van.

“If Mom and Dad don’t get here soon, we’re going to have to leave the boys alone.” Her voice was serious. Her look told me she was in a great deal of pain. I ran back into the house for one last item, and as I returned her parents had just arrived in the driveway.

I jumped in the driver’s seat, and Debbie climbed in the front seat next to me. I noticed she had placed a towel on  the seat beneath her. I backed out of the garage and sped down the driveway. Debbie told me to call the hospital so I dialed information for Germantown Methodist Hospital as I raced through our subdivision. From our door to Highway 70 is approximately one mile. When we reached the highway, Debbie told me I had to HURRY! I stepped on the gas, and we careened westward toward Germantown Parkway. I spoke to the hospital, and they told me they would be waiting at the door. At the light at 70 and Germantown, I barely braked to make the turn, and Debbie was annoyed that I slowed at all.

Less that .10 mile down Germantown, Debbie informed me that we needed to change our plans. We weren’t going to make it to Germantown Methodist, we’d have to go to St. Francis-Bartlett instead. I again picked up the cell dialing 9-1-1. Then, I accelerated to approximately 90 MPH and turned on my hazard lights. There was only one other car on the road, and it was heading toward me. I knew it was a Bartlett police officer, but Debbie warned me not to slow down for ANYTHING! We were NOT GOING TO MAKE IT! The cop passed me, made an immediate U-turn, and chased me with lights flashing (I don’t know about the siren). I never slowed except to turn.

The 911 operator was less than helpful. (You don’t ever want to have an emergency in Memphis!) As I explained my wife was in labor, we were switching hospitals, and I was presently being chased by the police, the operator told me I’d have to call the hospital myself to let them know we were coming. There was nothing she could do to help me. I thanked her for not being at all helpful and promptly hung up the phone. MEMPHIS!

We slowed slightly to make a curve in the road, and then raced across the parking lot to the St. Francis-Bartlett Emergency Room entrance. I slammed the car in park and dashed through the hospital doors screaming, “Come help! Come help! My wife is in labor, and she’s having the baby now!”

Nobody moved. Apparently, husbands tend to overreact when their wives are in labor. Unfortunately, I wasn’t overreacting. What Debbie had failed to relay to me was that while we were racing to the hospital, the baby had crowned.

“HURRY!” I screamed. “She’s having the baby NOW! This is her FOURTH baby!”

Suddenly, everyone moved. Three or four nurses came running out to our mini-van. One was pushing a wheelchair. (Behind my van sat the Bartlett police officer. When he saw me enter the emergency, he patiently waited in his car. When I returned with medical staff in tow, I yelled to him that my wife was in labor. His only response was “Okay then, I’m gonna go.” He put his cruiser in reverse and wasn’t heard from again, but I’ll let you know if a ticket arrives via the U.S. Postal Service.) A nurse instructed Debbie that she’d have to get in the wheelchair. Debbie’s response was that she couldn’t–the baby was already crowning. The nurse told my wife that she had no choice, and they would look at her as soon as she got inside.

The nurses helped Debbie into the chair and wheeled her inside but not before getting the chair stuck on the door. They rolled her directly into triage. One nurse lifted up Debbie’s dress to see how far along she was and shrieked, “THE BABY”S COMING NOW!” (Duh!) They rolled her behind the first curtain, and the admittance attendant asked me to leave with her to get Debbie checked in.

As the attendant and I made about five steps down the hallway, I heard a nurse scream, “OH, MY GOD! She hit the FLOOR!” I turned to see nurses scattering in every direction. One in particular had her hand covering her mouth. I raced back to see what had happened. I didn’t know if Debbie had collapsed, the baby had been dropped, or a nurse had fainted. My heart leapt. It was 3:04 AM.

Reaching the E.R. curtain, I saw my daughter, purple and crying, on the floor in the corner of the room. Blood was everywhere. Debbie was crawling onto the gurney, and the nurses were frantically trying to move the wheelchair out of the way to get to the baby. I ran to the other side of the curtain and jumped over a trash can to try to get to Debbie’s bedside. I shouted, “Are they okay? Somebody, tell me they are okay!”

Nobody said anything. They were as panicked as I. They looked at me, and someone gave instructions for somebody to get me a chair, but I leaned against the wall and declined. I just wanted then to take care of Debbie and the baby.

The attendant had followed me back to the curtain. She reached out, grabbed me by the arm, and said, “Dad, we have to get them admitted. Can you please come with me?” I reluctantly obeyed.

Within five minutes, Debbie’s paperwork was in motion. She and the baby were moved to room 228. The attendant asked me a few really important questions like: “Is Church of Christ still your religious preference?” and “Do you know if your insurance covers our hospital?” Meanwhile, I still needed to know whether the two most important women in my life were okay.

Soon, we’d finished. The attendant led me to Debbie’s and the baby’s room, and Debbie quickly reported that she was okay. The nurse was examining the baby who appeared to be undergoing her first tanning appointment. I asked the nurse if my little girl was okay, and she responded that as far as she could tell the baby was fine.

For the next 30 minutes, I bounced between Debbie’s side and the side of my tanning newborn. Debbie explained that when they tried to move her from the wheelchair to the gurney, the baby had entered the world by falling to the cold floor and sliding under the wheelchair into the corner. The umbilical cord had snapped. Apparently, my daughter is a natural break dancer. Over the next two hours, the baby was thoroughly poked and prodded, and Debbie finally delivered the placenta and was feeling much better. By all accounts, mother and child were doing just fine. In fact, one nurse said they were perfect.

Debbie was ready for another shower. So as the grandmothers, who had just arrived, together with the nurse and my bride made their way to the shower, I sat in the window seat, held my daughter close to my chest, praised God in my heart, and bawled like a big ol’ baby.

I’d love to say that in the middle of all the chaos I had the faith to immediately drop to my knees and pray. I don’t have that kind of faith. My faith is more of a “do-what-you-can-as-best-as-you-can-and-trust-that-God-is-here-somewhere” kind of faith. Saint Peter wrote, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by pure fire–may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” I have no idea why my heart and soul were put through the ringer during that baby girl’s birth. However, as I hold this little girl, I am trusting that God will watch over her because I KNOW there’s no way I can. That’s already proven true.

Evelyn

This post was originally written on August 22, 2007. I’ve posted it a few times before and I’m sure I’ll post it again. Today is Evelyn’s 6th birthday. Wow. 6. I told her I don’t really want her to grow up–that I’m afraid I’ll miss my baby. She responded, “Well, don’t worry. I’ll always be your baby, but I’m still gonna grow and grow and grow.” I hope so. I really hope so.

Giving Notice to Notifications

notificationsA few weeks ago, Debbie and I went with our family (including two sets of grandparents) on a Disney cruise to Alaska. Additionally, we spent a few extra days enjoying Vancouver, British Columbia. Our trip was a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, and to say I enjoyed it would be an incredible understatement.

While traveling, I decided to take a break from social media, my iPhone, and my RSS subscriptions. I turned off all notifications including my email. (I will confess I did check messages a couple of times during the trip just to make sure I didn’t miss anything time sensitive, but my phone hardly if ever chimed.) We returned a week ago. I dipped my toe back into everything briefly when we first got home, but then I retreated again. I haven’t turned the notifications back on, and I’m thinking I might not do it ever. I don’t want my email and subscriptions being pushed to me every fifteen minutes any more. I want to leave my devices in another room and continue to forget about them for a few more days. I want to ride bikes around the park some more with Eric and Sam. I want to play more soccer with Andrew. (We dominated the sports deck one evening.) I want to watch more Pixar movies and talk about princesses with Evelyn. I want to take more holding-hands-and daydreaming walks with Debbie. Yes, I’m still clinging to my vacation, but maybe something has changed, too.

I appreciate technology. I find it immensely useful. I’m grateful for the connections I’ve made through social media and the opportunity to read and learn with people all over the world. It’s important and it’s worthwhile to be able to get access to information. I’m grateful for my iPhone, for Twitter, and for RSS feeds, but I’ve allowed the notifications too much power and control over me. I’ve become a dog salivating at the sound of the bell, but I’ve decided to stop. So, I’m giving notice to notifications. I’m taking charge again. If you need me, feel free to call, text, email, tweet or Facebook me. I’ll get back to you, it just may not be right away…

You may guess from this post that I’m way behind in my reading for the month of July, and you’d be right. I’ll get around to reading and catching up, but I think Im going to postpone my July “Supremes” post and combine it with August. Thanks for reading.

On Being One of the Extrinsic Rewards

extrinsic rewardsMost schools are full of extrinsic rewards. Teachers and principals use rewards and punishments to encourage students to do what we want them to do. It’s been this way for a long time. It’s the way my teachers tried to motivate me, and it’s how I originally learned to “manage” my students. Yet, as I’ve continued learning as a teacher and dad, I’ve started to reconsider extrinsic rewards.

I’m not much on extrinsic motivation any more. I’ve read Dan Pink’s Drive, and it resonated with me. I’ve also become a fan of Alfie Kohn, Joe Bower, and Chris Wejr. I firmly believe internal drive is the best motivation and one should do the right thing because it’s what he knows is right–NOT because there’s a carrot dangling at the end of the stick. I want my students to try because they want to improve and because they feel empowered to learn. I want my own children to have that drive, too, and so I’ve tried to reinvent the ways I motivate and encourage kids. (I admit I often revert to rewards and punishments when I become reactionary, but I’m working on it.)

I’m a 6th grade reading teacher in an elementary school that long ago fully embraced the Accelerated Reader program. We are all about AR at my school. Last year was my first year in an elementary school. It was my first time to really experience the madness that is AR at PDS. It’s over the top. We have all kinds of rewards and many levels of achievement where students receive prizes. The whole thing culminates in an enormous AR auction at the end of the year, and if I gave details of the event you’d claim they were hyperbole.

I understand and appreciate what we are trying to do with AR. We want our boys to read. We want then to read often, and we want them to read well. We hope to develop life long readers, and yes, we have many boys that are amazing readers. And yet, the AR system of extrinsic rewards makes me uncomfortable. I just don’t like it.

My son Sam is a 5th grader at my school, and he is an avid reader. He’s always got his nose in a book. He gets that from his mother. Sam reads because he loves it. He’s a sucker for a good story and enjoys talking about what he reads. I don’t doubt his motives for reading, but he also gets pretty excited talking about his AR points, too. I worry that when the extrinsic rewards of AR are gone Sam’s enthusiasm for reading will also wane. I hope I’m wrong, but I still worry.

Yesterday, teachers passed out AR prizes. Sam had read enough books to win a certificate allowing him to go out to lunch with the teacher of his choice. He could not wait to tell me about it when he arrived in my room after school, and I did my best to look happy as he reported his winnings. Then, with a big smile he showed me his certificate and said, “And look, Dad, I get to go out to lunch with any teacher of my choice. Guess who I choose?”

I looked back at him baffled.

“You!” he said.

—-

I’m still not a huge fan of extrinsic rewards especially in regards to reading. I’m still pretty certain extrinsic rewards are not in kids’ best interests, but for the moment–at least for today– as a dad, I’m okay with being one.

Running Thoughts: Birthdays and Street Lamps

[gigya src=”http://boos.audioboo.fm/swf/fullsize_player.swf” flashvars=”mp3=http%3A%2F%2Faudioboo.fm%2Fboos%2F928130-captured-running-thoughts-birthdays-and-streetlights.mp3%3Fsource%3Dwordpress&mp3Author=Philip_Cummings&mp3LinkURL=http%3A%2F%2Faudioboo.fm%2Fboos%2F928130-captured-running-thoughts-birthdays-and-streetlights&mp3Time=05.48am+21+Aug+2012&mp3Title=Captured+Running+Thoughts%3A+Birthdays+and+Streetlights” width=”400″ height=”160″ allowFullScreen=”true” wmode=”transparent”]

I ran 4.02 miles this morning in 37:10. I completed my run before 5:45 AM, but I’m just now finding time to write this. It’s been a full day, and I’m tired so I’m going to keep this really short. You might want to listen to the embedded Audioboo (above), which I recorded immediately after my run.. Two big thoughts came out of my run this morning.

First, I am really thankful for my wife and children. Evelyn turned 5 today, and I’m a little sad. She and the boys are growing up so fast. I want to slow time down. Debbie has a unique gift for making the kids’ birthdays special. We have banners, special meals, big celebrations, and personal treats. I envy her gift for making others feel loved, and I want to do a better job of treating my students like the unique individuals thy are.

Second, our neighborhood has no streetlights! And you can imagine how dark it is to run at 5 AM. However, on our street each house has small street lamp in the yard so I start my run with a little light, head into darkness, then return in dawning light. Do you think that might be a metaphor for learning? We start with our current understanding, head into the darkness (our inquiry), then return with better understanding? Does the teacher play a role similar to a street lamp? (I don’t want to carry the light metaphor too far.)

What do you think? I need rest.

She’s Turning Five

Me, Debbie, and Baby EvelynI awoke at 2:37 AM. I know because I looked at the clock next to my bed. I heard the shower running in our bathroom, and Debbie was no longer lying beside me in bed. I stretched out my ankle like I always must after sitting or lying for a long time, then I went to the bathroom and poked my head in the shower door to ask Debbie if she was okay.

“I think my water has broken,” she said calmly. She’d been through this before three different times.

“What should I do?” I questioned.

“Go get dressed, pack your bag, grab the baby’s diaper bag, and get her dress and blanket.” My wife is always very patient with me.

I shot back into the bedroom, threw some clothes in a backpack, dressed, then changed clothes again before returning to the bathroom to ask Debbie if I should wear pants or shorts to the hospital. I was afraid it might be cold in the delivery room.

She replied, “It doesn’t matter, but you need to call Mom and Dad to come watch the boys while we go to the hospital.”

I dashed back to the bedroom, called my father-in-law, then continued scurrying about gathering belongings and throwing things in the mini-van. After a few minutes had passed, I noticed Debbie leaning against the van.

“If Mom and Dad don’t get here soon, we’re going to have to leave the boys alone.” Her voice was serious. Her look told me she was in a great deal of pain. I ran back into the house for one last item, and as I returned her parents had just arrived in the driveway.

I jumped in the driver’s seat, and Debbie climbed in the front seat next to me. I noticed she had placed a towel on  the seat beneath her. I backed out of the garage and sped down the driveway. Debbie told me to call the hospital so I dialed information for Germantown Methodist Hospital as I raced through our subdivision. From our door to Highway 70 is approximately one mile. When we reached the highway, Debbie told me I had to HURRY! I stepped on the gas, and we careened westward toward Germantown Parkway. I spoke to the hospital, and they told me they would be waiting at the door. At the light at 70 and Germantown, I barely braked to make the turn, and Debbie was annoyed that I slowed at all.

Less that .10 mile down Germantown, Debbie informed me that we needed to change our plans. We weren’t going to make it to Germantown Methodist, we’d have to go to St. Francis-Bartlett instead. I again picked up the cell dialing 9-1-1. Then, I accelerated to approximately 90 MPH and turned on my hazard lights. There was only one other car on the road, and it was heading toward me. I knew it was a Bartlett police officer, but Debbie warned me not to slow down for ANYTHING! We were NOT GOING TO MAKE IT! The cop passed me, made an immediate U-turn, and chased me with lights flashing (I don’t know about the siren). I never slowed except to turn.

The 911 operator was less than helpful. (You don’t ever want to have an emergency in Memphis!) As I explained my wife was in labor, we were switching hospitals, and I was presently being chased by the police, the operator told me I’d have to call the hospital myself to let them know we were coming. There was nothing she could do to help me. I thanked her for not being at all helpful and promptly hung up the phone. MEMPHIS!

We slowed slightly to make a curve in the road, and then raced across the parking lot to the St. Francis-Bartlett Emergency Room entrance. I slammed the car in park and dashed through the hospital doors screaming, “Come help! Come help! My wife is in labor, and she’s having the baby now!”

Nobody moved. Apparently, husbands tend to overreact when their wives are in labor. Unfortunately, I wasn’t overreacting. What Debbie had failed to relay to me was that while we were racing to the hospital, the baby had crowned.

“HURRY!” I screamed. “She’s having the baby NOW! This is her FOURTH baby!”

Suddenly, everyone moved. Three or four nurses came running out to our mini-van. One was pushing a wheelchair. (Behind my van sat the Bartlett police officer. When he saw me enter the emergency, he patiently waited in his car. When I returned with medical staff in tow, I yelled to him that my wife was in labor. His only response was “Okay then, I’m gonna go.” He put his cruiser in reverse and wasn’t heard from again, but I’ll let you know if a ticket arrives via the U.S. Postal Service.) A nurse instructed Debbie that she’d have to get in the wheelchair. Debbie’s response was that she couldn’t–the baby was already crowning. The nurse told my wife that she had no choice, and they would look at her as soon as she got inside.

The nurses helped Debbie into the chair and wheeled her inside but not before getting the chair stuck on the door. They rolled her directly into triage. One nurse lifted up Debbie’s dress to see how far along she was and shrieked, “THE BABY”S COMING NOW!” (Duh!) They rolled her behind the first curtain, and the admittance attendant asked me to leave with her to get Debbie checked in.

As the attendant and I made about five steps down the hallway, I heard a nurse scream, “OH, MY GOD! She hit the FLOOR!” I turned to see nurses scattering in every direction. One in particular had her hand covering her mouth. I raced back to see what had happened. I didn’t know if Debbie had collapsed, the baby had been dropped, or a nurse had fainted. My heart leapt. It was 3:04 AM.

Reaching the E.R. curtain, I saw my daughter, purple and crying, on the floor in the corner of the room. Blood was everywhere. Debbie was crawling onto the gurney, and the nurses were frantically trying to move the wheelchair out of the way to get to the baby. I ran to the other side of the curtain and jumped over a trash can to try to get to Debbie’s bedside. I shouted, “Are they okay? Somebody, tell me they are okay!”

Nobody said anything. They were as panicked as I. They looked at me, and someone gave instructions for somebody to get me a chair, but I leaned against the wall and declined. I just wanted then to take care of Debbie and the baby.

The attendant had followed me back to the curtain. She reached out, grabbed me by the arm, and said, “Dad, we have to get them admitted. Can you please come with me?” I reluctantly obeyed.

Within five minutes, Debbie’s paperwork was in motion. She and the baby were moved to room 228. The attendant asked me a few really important questions like: “Is Church of Christ still your religious preference?” and “Do you know if your insurance covers our hospital?” Meanwhile, I still needed to know whether the two most important women in my life were okay.

Soon, we’d finished. The attendant led me to Debbie’s and the baby’s room, and Debbie quickly reported that she was okay. The nurse was examining the baby who appeared to be undergoing her first tanning appointment. I asked the nurse if my little girl was okay, and she responded that as far as she could tell the baby was fine.

For the next 30 minutes, I bounced between Debbie’s side and the side of my tanning newborn. Debbie explained that when they tried to move her from the wheelchair to the gurney, the baby had entered the world by falling to the cold floor and sliding under the wheelchair into the corner. The umbilical cord had snapped. Apparently, my daughter is a natural break dancer. Over the next two hours, the baby was thoroughly poked and prodded, and Debbie finally delivered the placenta and was feeling much better. By all accounts, mother and child were doing just fine. In fact, one nurse said they were perfect.

Debbie was ready for another shower. So as the grandmothers, who had just arrived, together with the nurse and my bride made their way to the shower, I sat in the window seat, held my daughter close to my chest, praised God in my heart, and bawled like a big ol’ baby.

I’d love to say that in the middle of all the chaos I had the faith to immediately drop to my knees and pray. I don’t have that kind of faith. My faith is more of a “do-what-you-can-as-best-as-you-can-and-trust-that-God-is-here-somewhere” kind of faith. Saint Peter wrote, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by pure fire–may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” I have no idea why my heart and soul were put through the ringer during that baby girl’s birth. However, as I hold this little girl, I am trusting that God will watch over her because I KNOW there’s no way I can. That’s already proven true.

This post was originally written on August 22, 2007 and posted on a previous blog, and I’ve posted it here before, too. Today is the 5th anniversary of Evelyn’s grand entrance into the world. Yep, 5 years–and I wouldn’t trade a single moment. Last night as I was getting her ready for bed, she said, “Daddy, even though I’m going to be five, I’m still going to do most of the things I did when I was four–like snuggling. Okay?” Yes, Evelyn, it’s okay, and it’ll be okay even when you’re 25 and 45, too.

Learning From The Lego Story

One of the favorite toys around my house is Lego bricks. We are pretty big Lego fans. My wife and I have been to the Carlsbad to visit Legoland twice. We even took the kids with us once. 🙂 For our vacation this summer we only made a quick trip to Atlanta, but our first stop after dropping our bags at the hotel was the Lego Discovery Center. And we stayed until it closed.  It’s funny. The boys and I hate going to a mall, but as long as there’s a Lego Store it’s all good. So, you can imagine my excitement when I came across a post on GeekDad about Lego’s 80th birthday. The best part of the post is “The Lego Story” animated short. If the history of Lego intrigues you at all, I highly recommend you take the time to watch the video. It is seventeen minutes long, but it’s well done and worth watching.

As a teacher and dad, I found the following important ideas in the video that I think warrant consideration:

  1. Resilience – The Kristiansen family faced numerous obstacles on the way to building the Lego company, yet they never stopped bouncing back from the setbacks. They were resilient people. Certainly, there were times when they were down, but they never considered themselves out. They didn’t quit. When their original wholesaler went bankrupt, Lego founder Ole Kristiansen didn’t give up; instead, he decided to take it upon himself to sell his toys. When the company workshop burned down, Ole’s responsibility to his family and employees inspired to rebuild the company and fight their way back into the market. We, too, mustn’t let disappointments force us to quit. We must press on and view problems as hurdles to overcome rather than permanent barriers to achieving our goals.
  2. Risk-taking – Innovations occurred because the Kristiansen’s took risks. Ole purchased a plastic moulding machine even though it was expensive and their previous toys were all wood constructions. Godtfred Kristiansen, Ole’s son, took a chance by adding system to the Lego bricks allowing children to build toys for themselves. The system of play became so popular that Lego was able to sell the toys outside Denmark. Additionally, he took a risk to build an airport and eventually decided to go all out and build a whole Legoland, which welcomed 600,000 guests its first year. Growth requires risk-taking. We mustn’t rest on our laurels or become complacent and satisfied with things as they are. We must venture into new areas and take chances if we want to develop and mature.
  3. Embrace the E’s – Kjeld, Ole’s grandson, is now the vice chairman of the board at Lego, and I love the vision he (via his animated self) shares at the end of the video. It’s one we should embrace as parents and educators, as well. He seeks to encourage children to “explore, experience, and express their own world–a world without limits, and we are still convinced that only the best is good enough (excellence) because children deserve the best.” Isn’t that what we want for our children and their learning? If we are “educating for the unknown,” as David Perkins suggests we should, I cannot imagine a better preparation than for students to explore their world, to experience humanity, to express their understanding, and to do it with excellence.

What do you think? What jumped out to you about the Lego story? How do we help our children become resilient risk-takers? What do you think we’d be missing if we educated for the 4 E’s? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Rethinking My PLN

Three recent posts by members of my PLN have had me thinking. First, in September, Mark Schaefer pricked my heart g in his post “Social Media and the Big Conversation Fail.” (That post led to a cool Skype conversation with Mark.) Then, William Chamberlain posted “EdCampKC: A Rather Painful Reflection” in which he revealed his pain that his online connections are not a meaningful substitute for the face-to-face relationships he needs in his building every day. Finally, Hadley Ferguson wrote in “Why We Go to Conferences” about the need to solidify online connections by spending real, quantity time in each other’s physical presence. These posts struck a chord deep within me, and I’ve been stewing over them for some time now.

For the past year I have worked hard at developing an online presence and connecting with other educators online. I have built a personal learning network (both digitally and face-to-face) of folks that have become quite dear to me. Some are here in Memphis and West Tennessee while others are scattered around the globe. I have done this mostly through web 2.0 technologies and a handful of conferences, face-to-face meetings, and Skype phone calls. Most of these folks are professional educators, but not everyone is. My knowledge has grown exponentially and hopefully my practice has improved as well. The number of connections in my network has grown tremendously as well – a situation that is both a blessing and a curse.

What I long for is genuine connection and friendship within my network. I don’t have a personal need for lots of close friends, but admittedly I long for close friendships. I want to connect with educators around the world, but I want several of those connections to be real, primary connections. I want to know and be known in my network not just as a professional, but also as a real friend. I also want to be faithful in my relationships with my family and my off-line friends. So, I’m making some decisions about what I want to do with all of this, and I think I’m going to take a step back.

At one point I subscribed to almost 250 different blog feeds in my RSS. It was a lot of good stuff, but keeping up and reading that many feeds became oppressive. In trying to consume that much information, I wasn’t able to slow down, reflect, and comment on what I was reading. I also found myself spending way more time-consuming than creating. I want that to change. So, over the past few days I’ve unsubscribed from a lot of great blogs. I’m sure I’ll miss out on some great learning and conversations, and I’ll still check in occasionally, but those posts won’t be in my reader waiting for me when I log in. Instead, I want to spend more of my screen time reflecting and commenting on those subscribed blogs and to those individuals with whom I have connected. My goal isn’t to become a snob, but more to make a deeper connection with a few. If someone reaches out, I’ll still reach back in the hope of making a meaningful friendship.

I plan to take a similar approach to Twitter. If you know me, you know I believe in growing my digital PLN. I follow lots of educators and a smattering of people in other professional fields that interest me. I also like to connect online with members of my local community. I’ve met some incredible, fellow Memphians just by following them on Twitter. Having said that, my Twitter feed has become quite noisy with all the folks following me and my willingness to follow people back. (I don’t follow everyone back, but if I believe you might add value to my learning or I can add value to yours–you’re in. If you’re selling something, you’re ignored. Spammers always get blocked.) My new approach will be to establish a micro-PLN feed through a Twitter list or a Tweetdeck group. I plan to work hard to get to know those I include on a deeper level. My goal isn’t to be exclusive (I’m sure I’ll continuously add and subtract from the list) but to focus my energy on building real friendships where I can. I want to chat, call, and Skype with these folks, make plans to meet at conferences, and get to know them beyond their online personas.

I want to do more writing, so I am setting a short-term goal of averaging two posts a week from now until the end of the year – 12 posts, starting with this one. I’ll still do the occasional In Retro Cite from Diigo, but those don’t count toward this goal. I’ll also continue to share things on my Posterous, but I’m not counting those either.

As for my face-to-face learning network, I’m going to be intentional in those relationships as well. I want to spend more meaningful time with my wife and kids and more focused time with my friends. I’m going to try to silence the smartphone and be fully present in those moments. I also plan to write some personal notes to my co-workers, make a few phone calls, and line up to some gatherings with local friends. Who knows? Maybe we will even have a holiday party this year.

In conversing with Hadley after her post, we talked about the idea of a PLN road trip, and I invited her to Memphis to spend some time and see where I live. I’d really love something like that to happen. I’d love to introduce her to my family, to show off my school, and to tour her around town. I’d  love to deepen that connection and others, as well. (Let me know if you’re interested in a trip to visit and see Graceland, Stax, or the Civil Rights Museum.)

In my former life as a youth minister, I learned that quality relationships only happen through quantity time. I guess it’s time I prioritized mine.

Any thoughts? Do you long for deeper connections? How are you solidifying your face-to-face and online relationships? What are you doing to grow closer to other members of your network? What do you think of my plans? Feedback is always appreciated.

More Than Just Learning, It’s Friendship

(Photo credit: Stuart Seeger via Flickr under Creative Commons license)

By now you might be aware of the nightmare my family is going through as we try to get our refrigerator repaired. It’s a long story, one that is written and ready to post once I receive permission from my bride to release the hounds on Sears and Samsung. Yes, we are still without a working refrigerator, but I digress. The bright spot in this whole ordeal occurred a few days ago when a valuable member of my Personal Learning Network (PLN) offered to have my family over for a home-cooked meal.

Rabbi Akevy Greenblatt is the lower school principal at Margolin Hebrew Academy, an Orthodox Jewish school here in Memphis. It’s a school and community about which I knew very little. Over the past few months, Akevy and I had connected several times via Twitter. I subscribed to his blog and even commented on a few of his posts, but the two of us had never had the opportunity to meet in person.

After my last post asking for feedback on whether or not I should go public about our refrigerator woes, Rabbi Greenblatt left the following comment:

I’m always interested in meeting members of my PLN, so I responded to him on Twitter that getting to meet him would be fantastic and he then invited our whole clan to his home during the celebration of Sukkot. After a few more exchanges to provide me with resources to teach my kids and sort out the details, we finally had the opportunity to meet last night over a fabulous meal. It was wonderful to meet the Rabbi’s wife and daughters and to know that I’m not the only father/educator who gets grief from his family over his obsession with Twitter. I enjoyed the conversation and the stories of the Greenblatt’s  journey that brought them to Memphis. I also appreciated their sharing a little of their religious traditions with us. My oldest son was fascinated with the Rabbi’s library of religious writings. It was a fantastic evening full of great conversation, new learning, and delicious food, and I am so grateful for the hospitality of my new friends.

After returning home, I quickly sent a post to say thank you to the Rabbi for his generosity and received a message from him just as I hit send. It appears we had similar thoughts  at the same time. Funny how that happens.

As I was reflecting last night on our visit, I realized how much the Rabbi and I have in common. Sure, we come from different religions, cultures, and regions, but we are also both fathers, educators, and men of faith who are passionate about our families, our students and their learning. It was good to share a meal together. I hope it happens again soon.

Just today, Jason Bedell wrote a post about the benefits of TweetUps and meeting members of his PLN. Mark Schaefer also posted last night a story that has led him to want to get to know his online connections better. He even offered to arrange some Skype sessions. I totally agree that the face to face meetings and video calls are an important part of our professional learning and networking. While I enjoy getting to know people through what they write, it’s even better to get to shake a hand, look a person in the eye, or simply hear the sound of their voice. Such interactions, however, require time and purposeful planning. I’m grateful Akevy was so hospitable and intentional in making our meeting happen (and Mark’s already put a Skype session on my calendar).

Having said all of that, I’d like to invite you to our next Mid-south EduTweetUp this coming Friday night, October 1. You can see all the details here. If you are in the area, I really hope you’ll come. I’d love to see you and shake your hand.

So what about you? What has been your experience with meeting in person the folks you know online? What are you doing to solidify those connections? I’d love to hear your thoughts and stories.