Saturday, January 28, 2006

Anything I Can Do

I have a show for you to watch. It’s called “Anything I Can Do” and it’s on PBS. It’s one of those do-it-yourself shows. The hostess is Mag Ruffman and the project today was building a child’s bench. The bench is made from 4 pieces of plywood all glued and screwed together and then decoupaged with little squares of colored fabric. The clever part about the project was that Meg designed it with her eyes shut. You might be thinking, “What? How could someone design a piece of furniture with shut eyes?” Well, you obviously don’t know Mag. She is very free-spirited. She just took a pencil, shut her eyes, and drew out the sides of the bench on a piece of plywood. Then she instructed us in the finer points of a jigsaw, eye and ear protection, and cut away. She assured us it didn’t even matter if the two sides of the bench were different from each other, because they are kind of like the sleeves of a dress—it doesn’t matter if they are different because they aren’t right next to each other so nobody will notice. Brilliant. Plus, she pointed out that one of the great things about designing furniture with your eyes closed is that if it turns out badly, you can always say, “Not bad, considering my eyes were closed.”

One thing I love about Mag is that she uses catchy little phrases throughout her show and she always gives her projects clever titles. This little kiddie bench she called “Glue Me Like You Did Last Summer.” A show about making garden pots she called “Pot and Bothered” and her show on making and wiring lamps she called “Interview with a Lamp Wire.” Now how did she come up with all that?

Mag really speaks to women. As you watch her floundering with glue and falling pieces of plywood, you realize it’s okay to be a girl who has a tough time with stuff. As long as you’re cute and say funny things, no problem, and your fun little projects will turn out just fine regardless. Skill and technique don’t really matter that much. Mag reminds us that “there's nothing like hefting a power tool to tighten important muscle groups.” There’s my new workout! And I think high-waisted, peg-legged pants must be coming back in style if Mag is any indicator.

Mag is in touch with her inner child. It’s not uncommon to watch her running and playing in the big field outside her barn. Or sliding down the pole from her loft, twirling as she descends.

My very most favorite part of the show is when Mag has a reflective moment. We hear Mag’s introspection as she thinks or writes in her journal. She really has a few things going on in her head, and she shares them freely with us. Doing it yourself is a sort of spiritual thing, and you can find yourself in one of Mag’s projects.

If you haven’t ever watched Mag, I think you should. Let me know what you think. You can go here to see more of Mag and her clever ideas:

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

So Where Have You Been?

That’s what I think you, reader, might be thinking. Where have I been since my last post? Richfield, Utah. Okay, not the whole time. But I was there for one day, anyway. Occasionally I go out of town without the rest of my family. Yep, just by my lonesome. Sometimes I have a conversation with a friend and the subject of my absence comes up. The conversation goes something like this:

“I can’t do this-or-that tomorrow. I’ll be out of town.”

“Oh? Where are you going?” my friend asks with interest.


Pause. “Where’s Richfield?”

Rural Utah towns don’t get a lot of hype. I explain that Richfield is about 2 hours south of Provo, past Scipio and near Aurora. That usually doesn’t help much. The conversation is losing steam.

“Ohhhh. Why are you going to Richfield?”

“I’m teaching at a workshop.”

I gain a little ground and my friend now seems slightly impressed. I even get a little bit of an eyebrow raise, as if I had just announced that I was an architect.

“Oh! A workshop about what?”

I take a deep breath. How do I explain what I do? “About writing tests. Assessment.”


Conversation killed.

Really, the workshop is about much more than writing tests. It’s a workshop that teaches science teachers different ways to find out what their students have learned, and then to adjust their teaching accordingly. To folks in the field, that’s called formative assessment. The title of the workshop is “Using Formative Assessment to Inform Instruction.” But to the lay-person, and even to many teachers, that just sounds like a bunch of mumbo-jumbo. So each time I do this workshop, I try and think of a way I can explain this to my friends in a simple way and make it sound interesting and fun. But the best I can come up with is, “It’s a workshop about testing,” which it really isn’t. Pretty much a guaranteed conversation killer.

I've been doing this type of stuff--either teaching workshops about assessment or working at workshops where we create assessments--for about 6 or 7 years now. And at the end of each workshop, I’m exhausted, worn out, and completely fulfilled. I’ve also experienced a change of scenery and a little get-away, which every mother needs. I find myself in a conversation with my friends and co-teachers Hugh, Janis and Kevin, and hear myself say, “Gosh, that was fun.” And then I step back and go, wha…? This is like major geek fun. Oh well. I’m pretty good at it, I like it, it’s fulfilling, and I get paid. Plus, the two workshops we’ll teach this summer will be in Heber and we’ll stay for 4 days (each workshop) at the Homestead. Not bad accommodations for someone teaching about tests.