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One of my 2013 UIWP goals was to submit a piece of writing to an English journal during the Summer Institute. I’ve been through the publication/working with editors thing enough in the past that I don’t feel in need of an acceptance at this point. Submission itself was the goal.

Based on the nudging of colleague Elizabeth Majerus, I decided I would submit a poem to English Journal (EJ). I closely read the “Call for Manuscripts” at the front of the journal, though I didn’t initially read deeply enough to realize that the poem submission process was significantly different than the general manuscript submission process.

That error led me on a particularly enjoyable romp through the National Council of Teachers of English’s “Guidelines for Gender-fair Use of Language”. The document begins with:

“Language plays a central role in the way human beings behave and think. The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) is concerned about the critical role language plays in promoting fair treatment of women and girls, men and boys. Through careful selection of gender-fair language, NCTE members have the opportunity to influence thought and behavior both directly and indirectly. These guidelines offer suggestions for language use that will open rather than close possibilities and that speakers and writers should consider when engaged in communication activities…”

That’s reasonable, though I’ve never encountered anything like that in the apparently gender-free, race-free world of science and science teaching publications. NCTE’s document clearly outlined exclusionary words and phrases and their more inclusive alternatives. For example, I should avoid using words and phrases such as mankind, man’s achievements, man the controls, or man the ticket booth when writing my MANuscript.

I encountered the poetry submission guidelines three pages deep into the “Call for Manuscripts.” EJ is looking for well crafted poems of any style… written by teachers, students, or those who love them. Those who love them… Again, something I haven’t encountered in the science and science education journals I’ve written for in the past.

Authors are encourages to submit up to five poems for blind review, with only our initials and phone number on the page. Additionally authors are required to submit an e-mail message with brief biographical information. This took me off on my second adventure of the day. Science and science education journals author information is typically limited to author’s name, title and institution. A quick browse of EJ’s author information includes statements such as poet, silversmith, rustic woodworker, creates with silver, stone, and wood as well as words, and working to improve her skills as a teacher and a parent. Initially these seemed awfully self-focused, self-indulgent and excessive, but I was entering someone else’s world and someone else’s culture, so I accepted that as part of my journey.

I plunged forward, crafting my biographical information with the guidance and cleverness of Adam, Ellen, Libbie, Kaia and Wendy, submitted my poem and biographical information, and promptly received an e-mail informing me that the general editor “has asked that poems reflect in some way the thematic concerns announced for each issue. The poetry editor is free to interpret these themes broadly. Upcoming themes, deadlines and details appear in each issue of EJ and at the NCTE website.  General Interest poems are not considered.  We are currently considering work for the following theme:

PREVENTING BULLYING BEHAVIORS:  Deadline November 15, 2011.”

Yes, November 15, 2011.

“Indicate the theme you are addressing in the email subject line.  If you have already submitted without indicating a theme, it’s okay to resubmit.  Type “Resubmit” in the subject line along with the theme. You may expect a response within two to four months, sooner if possible. Thank you for thinking of the English Journal.”

I resubmitted as they requested, noticing the deadline was well past. In the end I really don’t have any sense of what the fate of my poem will be. And that’s OK.

On the positive side, I enjoyed the poem submission process much more than I ever imagined and can now share with the world my fifty-seven word EJ biography:

David M. Stone teaches Introductory Biology, Field Biology, and Genetics and Society at University Laboratory High School in Urbana, IL. He is also a Teacher Leader with the University of Illinois Writing Project. An avid macrophotographer, his insect portraiture blog, Things Biological (http://thingsbiological.wordpress.com/), was created during the 2010 UIWP Invitational Summer Institute. Email him at stone2@illinois.edu.


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I purchased this book in May with high hopes regarding its application to my inclusion of blogging into next year’s Introductory Biology curriculum. The book is good, though it is much more focused on new math and science standards than I would have liked.

Blogging as Change… is divided into three sections. The first section is an excellent introduction to blogging. The second section deals with blogging in the classroom. The third section deals with individual teacher professional blogging.

Our school is moving to a 1:1 student laptop environment, which means my students will now have daily access to computers. Because I blog (I write a blog entitled “Things Biological”) moving toward inclusion of blogging into the classroom is a logical extension.

Incorporation of blogging into my classroom will increase frequency of student writing. I anticipate blogging will accelerate development of community and support topics discussed in class. I clearly can take advantage of the experiences of others offered throughout the book. The book has really been particularly invaluable in helping establish blog introduction and our focus, which will be current events relating to biology.

I anticipate the chronological structuring intrinsic in blogs will allow students to see how early events impact later events. The ability to link to various online resources will allow all of us to share a myriad of online resources. Flexibility in student topic selection will accelerate student identity development as educated individuals regarding the sciences and important contributors to our classroom community.

Because the blogs will be structured based on current events and controversies, I don’t know what the topics will be ahead of time, which will make me more a part of the learning community. I like that. Postings early in the year will allow for later reflection by all of us.

Chapter seven, “A Search for Best Practices in Classroom Blogging,” uses the findings from eight teachers in developing an organized structure for introducing blogging into science/math classrooms. Divided into three design phases, the authors focus on 1) defining the goals for classroom blogging, 2) creating specific activity structures, and 3) roll-out as articulated by teachers for the students.

I was able to learn from many of the challenges experienced by others. Reading various accounts made clear the need to establish particular focus (in my case, current events) from the outset. It is essential that teachers be explicit and clear with themselves, as well as their students, regarding the goals we hope to achieve with the blogging. The importance of NOT overstructuring became clear. Teachers who overstructured saw less student self-direction and risk taking.

Blogging will serve as an excellent way to foster knowledge brokering among students, as well as introduce various specialized science resources in a meaningful way. I still need to delve into some resources (e.g. delicious.com) that will help organize shared web-based resources. To make this successful, I will need to commit regular classroom time to blogging work.

I look forward to designing my own guidelines and instruction materials regarding blog purpose, structure, and introduction over the next month. The book is certainly invaluable to me in that regard.

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The immediate aftermath... It got worse over the next several days. Click image to enlarge.

The immediate aftermath. It got worse over the next several days. Click to enlarge.

Today is the five year anniversary of what has become my wife’s favorite “My Husband’s So Dumb” story. Though she wouldn’t refer to it that way, she has gotten a lot of mileage out of this story.

We have a large number of trees on our property. We had neglected pruning, as well as removal of the larger weeds and volunteer trees, for several years. Prior to this incident, we spent several months pruning and trimming. Our burn pile became taller, and taller, and taller.

In late June the vegetation had dried sufficiently. The grass around our burn pit was thick and lush, reducing likelihood of spread of fire to virtually nothing. Finally we had a cool evening with virtually no wind. Conditions for burning the vegetation in the burn pit were perfect! I lit some of the dry grass near the bottom of the pile, but was unable to get the fire to take hold. Crumpled newspaper lit and burned quickly, but the vegetation around it remained unburnt. Evening was coming, and I wanted to complete the burning before nightfall.

I thought about adding a slow burning bag of charcoal to the pile, but didn’t want to take the time to drive into town and purchase one. The red plastic gas can caught my eye. A little bit of gasoline, introduced correctly, should do the job. After all, nightfall was coming.

I carried the gas can about 40’ to the burn pile. I poured a small amount of gas into an area of dry vegetation, and then walked about 40’ at a right angle from my path of entry, restopping the gas can along the way. I walked back to the fire pit, lit a match , and tossed it several feet away, onto the pile of gas-soaked dry vegetation.

At that point, everything occurred in slow motion. Gas fumes had pooled along my paths both to and from the burn pile, and subsequently merged. The entire area around the pile erupted in flames. It was beautiful! Orange-blue flames enveloped the area around me. As I looked down, I could see the dark green grass through the flames. The hairs on my legs simultaneously stood out, singed and disappeared. My wife says there was an explosion, but I did not hear it. The flames were gone as quickly as they came. I ran into the bathroom, jumped into the shower, and turned on the cold water. I still felt nothing.

A few minutes later, the pain came. As long as I kept my legs in a bucket of cold water, all was fine. Remove the cold water, and everything again was excruciating.

A week later, the skin came off. Underneath it was a nice, new shiny layer of hairless skin. Except for a small area about half the diameter of a dime, for which I had to go through the skin scraping process you hear about on the news. The hair on the outside and back of each leg is gone and has never grown back.

Looking back on it, I’m actually quite glad I had the opportunity to see, hear, and feel what fire really can do. Just as importantly, I have a greater appreciation for what REAL burn victims go through.

I’m a little smarter, and a lot more careful, than I was five years ago.

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My wife, Marian, and I met Linnea’s parents in the late 1980s. Pete, Sue, Marian and I ran our dogs on our local flyball team for several years prior to their move to Chicago. We had a child, they had a child, and we continued running flyball together for several years. Our kids grew up with flyball as part of their world.

Linnea, Josh and Sophia continue to run flyball, so I borrowed part of another poem and modified it for today. The original poem is called

“Falling in Love is Like Owning a Dog” by Taylor Mali.

Falling in love is a big responsibility,

So think long and hard before deciding on love.

But once you’ve made the decision,

you’ll never go back.

On cold winter nights, Love is warm.

It lies between you and lives and breathes

and makes funny noises.

Love wakes you up at all hours of the night with its needs.

It needs to be fed so it will grow and stay healthy.

Love doesn’t like being left alone for long.

When you come home, Love is always happy to see you.

It may break a few things accidentally in its passion for life,

But you can never be mad at Love for long.

At times Love can be difficult. Love makes messes.

Love leaves you little surprises here and there.

Love needs lots of cleaning up after.

Sometimes you just want to get Love fixed.

Sometimes Love just wants to go for a nice long walk

Because Love loves exercise.

It runs you around the block and leaves you panting.

It pulls you in several different directions at once,

Or winds around and around you

Until you’re all wound up and can’t move.

Throw things away and Love will bring them back,

again, and again, and again.

Throw things away after teaching Love flyball,

and Love brings them back even faster!

But most of all, Love needs love, lots of it.

And in return, Love loves you and never stops.

Congratulations on your wedding day, Josh and Linnea!

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Please keep in mind that there is flexibility in the order of the presentation components. Be certain to address each component somewhere in your presentation.

  1. Begin with an appropriate title slide
  2. Introduce your activity/classroom practice/proposed classroom practice
  3. Provide background (who, what, when, where, why)
  4. State your goals/beliefs/challenges (your contentions)
  5. Literature-based support (supporting contentions of others)
  6. Standards (provide a slide dealing with selected standards, discuss as time allows)
  7. Delve more deeply into your topic
  8. Activity (provide sufficient time to complete the activity)
  9. Explicitly state the anticipated future direction of your activity/classroom practice/proposed classroom practice
  10. End with a bibliography of references used in your presentation

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During the second day of the University of Illinois Writing Project 2013’s Summer Invitational Institute I anticipate showing Episode #9  of the Failed Writer series, Non-Crappy Writing Groups. The author, Yuvi Zaikow, has posted all twelve episodes of the Failed Writer series at http://yuvizalkow.com/tag/im-a-failed-writer/.

No matter what you do for a living or your avocation, I think you’ll be able to relate to Zaikow’s angst-ridden presentation of the many things those involved in long-term initiatives so often experience.

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We sit in rows

Second graders, avoiding the wrath of a malicious overseer

Bobby, be quiet

Bobby, be quiet, repeats Bobby

I mean it, states the overseer

I mean it, repeats Bobby

We tremble, knowing what is to come

Grab, drag, slam

We hear Bobby’s screams behind the door

The overseer returns

It has a name today, Tourette

It had a name then too, Misbehavior


The situation appearing in this poem took place in my second grade classroom in 1966. Tourette syndrome is a neurological disorder characterized by physical, jerky movements (tics) and involuntary utterances. Echolalia, involuntary repetition of vocalizations made by another person, is a third symptom experienced by some individuals with Tourette Syndrome. Bobby never returned to school after this incident. None of us, his classmates, had the courage to ask why…

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