Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Montpelier: Transition Town Meeting

I just returned from the Montpelier Transition Town Meeting where Transition Town Handbook author Naresh Giangrande from Totnes, UK spoke about how to transition to a post peak-oil community. It was very much about relocalization, addressing the community as a whole. A couple interesting points he brought up:

1) He uses human happiness metrics as an indicator of success (along with lbs of CO2 emissions averted).
2) For those who don’t have access to land to grow their own food, he and his team are matching up people with land and would like it to be worked with people who don’t have land and are willing to grow things. Pretty cool solution.
3) He noted that “common or shared things” will become more important, like garden spaces, tools, etc.

For my readers not in Vermont, oh gosh how I wish you could’ve seen the folks who attended. They were the best of Vermonters: The Cynic from Barre, the mustache-wearing soft spoken fellow who wore a black hat and coat and carried a long walking stick with colored string wrapped around the end of it, the bright-eyed wrinkly old farmers with no teeth left to articulate their questions, the alert high school activist, the 20-something bearded fleece wearer who reeked of pot when he came in, and my friend Nicko the heirloom tree farmer. There were a lot of suspenders, flannel, and fleece. I don’t know why I find it important to note what everyone was wearing, except for that perhaps it does give us a sense of identity and shared culture – which I hear will be important in the post-carbon society.

I do have one bone to pick with Mr. Giangrande, which is specifically about what a transition town is. He said it was a community that used “much less” energy and “much fewer” resources than what we do now. I disagree. I’m shooting for sustainability.

At least two friends have asked me in the last month “What is sustainability? Everybody talks about it, but I’m not sure I know what it means”. Fair enough, I think it’s overused, but here’s what I mean:

In order for a process to be sustainable it may only take resources at a rate that they may be replenished, and if the resource is non-renewable, then it shouldn’t be taken. This seems rather negative, let’s spin it more positively: A sustainable community uses resources at a rate that can be sustained indefinitely because they are harvested less than or equal to the rate at which they are replenished. Hm. Does that make sense? That seemed to take more words than I had hoped.

I would like to see some metric of success developed around that.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

National Board Certification: A Humble Post

Soooooo... some of you may know that last spring I applied for National Board Certification and in case you didn't guess from the title of the post, I didn't get it. Sad face.

It was definitely tough news since I received it in the beginning hours of a day-long training session with my other Knowles Science Teaching fellows, and Casey (a fabulous physics teacher, and Knowles fellow) from California did get it.

No, I didn't cry - I wanted to at times, but mainly I had to fairly quickly digest the details of my failure, accept it, let it go, and move on. Of course everyone was sad to hear it and the air in the room was understandably tense until the next break when I got to explain to folks the details of my failure.

I had a really strong portfolio (representing about 90% of the work), but my test score was abysmal. I knew coming out of that test that I had bombed it, and I knew ahead of time that if I didn't get it it would be because of the test. So at least I anticipated that piece correctly.

Here's the good news, my portfolio scores will be kept for 2 years during which time I have the opportunity to re-do any pieces I wish to redo for the required score of 275, which I only missed by 6 points. So here's what I'll do: I'll schedule another testing, study my butt off, and I probably couldn't help but do well a second time around.

Aaaaaand back to the bad news. Now I've got to break it to people at school, family, colleagues, students that I didn't get it. :P Not really looking forward to that. However, here's a story to go with this news:

It's like my own grading policy is being applied to me. I let my students redo any piece of work within a certain time limit, and now, I have that same opportunity as well. Learning will occur and I'll get better and I'll have a second chance to show it. There's something satisfying about the reflexive or pleasantly ironic nature of that thought. And I think my students will appreciate it as well.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

What if VSHI went National?

When we met with Peter Welch we asked him if we could go National with this program, if we could come to Washington DC to do some lobbying. And he jokingly said, "No", and added that we didn't need his permission to lobby in Washington. The only thing is, we don't know how to lobby in Washington. :(

I was talking with Bart my bus buddy today about this and he recommended getting someone with that kind of experience on the board of VSHI since we are, finally, a non-profit. Hm.

I guess we have a board. Sort of. It's Tom, the students, and myself. But we don't have bi-laws or regular monthly meetings. Anyway, talking with Bart made it seem possible to lobby in Washington, which brings up the question, what specific things are we looking for?

1) $100,000,000 for research grants regarding sustainable heating and cooling systems available to university students to do research.

2) 1% of each state's current LIHEAP funding to go towards helping low income families transition to sustainable heating/cooling systems.

This is what we've got so far - there are a few more details, but maybe they'll change. Now we just need to figure out how to get this in a bill or ... something. (?)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Peter Welch, David Sharpe converge on a LIHEAP-VSHI recipient home

This past Thursday the Vermont Sustainable Heating Initiative met with Vermont Congressman Peter Welch, and Vermont State senator from Addison County David Sharpe.

They and VSHI members from UVM, Mt. Abe, and Montpelier gathered at the home of a LIHEAP recipient whom we had given a stove. Peter Welch seemed enthusiastic about our work, and David Sharpe hopes to write some legislation to change the way LIHEAP is funded. He encouraged us to move now rather than wait for the next legislative session to begin.

We made the Addison Independent paper - pretty cool, but again I am eager for action rather than talk.

I was just on a conference call with Tim DenHerder-Thomas from MacAllister University along with Tom and Jessie-Ruth. The three of us may play host to Tim's new program called Summer of Solutions, an opportunity for high school and college students to spend their summer working on projects like the Vermont Sustainable Heating Initiative. That would be great. Last summer VSHI was basically my second job, and this might actually allow me to delegate some responsibility and make me freer. Perhaps that's a pipe dream, but I'm not committed yet, so I have some time to mull over it.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Physics War 2008: How it all went down

Oh man - this was by far the best Physics War yet. It was so exciting.

So here's the story:

Within the first 5 minutes Russia had taken over Pakistan, North Korea, and Iran; India had taken over China; and France took over Libya and Iraq. America (far away from everyone) just lobbed tennis balls without any success. The UK pretty much was just hanging out occassionally launching at Russia.

Then Russia took out China, which gave them control of almost all the launchers from the Asian continent. France held Iraq and Libya, but that's it. So it was Russia vs. France with UK's help. Libya got the winning hit against Russia, thus delivering them to France. So it was down to France, the UK, and the US.

France and the UK had a running pact since they were right next to each other so the UK and France (with everyone else's launcher) were all launching at the US. Only this is... the UK wasn't reeeally launching at them, because secretly they had made a pact with US. So they were like intentionally missing, but shooting enough to keep up appearances.

So then during a ceasefire, the UK went to the US and said, "we have 7 more shots left, and France only has 3, so we'll probably take over France and then it'll just be us two. So how about when that happens at that point we put down our arms and agree to split the m&m's 50/50?" The US wanted like 60/40, but the UK said, "We can just walk away; we don't need to make this deal." So the US said, "Fine. 50/50".

So then the UK turns on France and France is like "WHAT? I thought we had a pact!?" And so France and the whole rest of the world starts launching at the UK. And the UK gets his 4 more times and France gets hit 2 more times. And then out of no where, the US lobs the winning tennis ball that takes out France that for theirs last hit. The US now controls all the launchers except the UK.

Student energy and tension are so high; everyone is just buzzing. I don't think everyone's judgement was fully intact. The UK said to the US, "How about, we'll commit suicide and we'll go back to that original deal: 50/50." and the US said, "Fine." So that's how it ended. UK knocked over its own can enough times to be defeated - the US won and also made good on their deal later that day giving the UK team half the m&ms.

Highly exciting.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

What is TA for? Silliness.

Who knew that Frisbee skills would come in handy during school. Ok, well, maybe not Frisbee skills specifically, but post-Ultimate team building games. Speifically: Wa.

There’s no good way to explain Wa over the internet, but suffice it to say you stand in a circle and pass the “Wa” around if you mess up you’re out.

In the middle of the day is this funny 2 minute period called “TA” or Teacher Advisory. It’s like homeroom, where students from all grades come together and hang out and hear announcements. I have often felt a little funny about this time because its purpose is different depending on which teacher you talk to, and I never really feel like I know what to say to kids during this time.

Today, however, TA was a great success because I taught them Wa. They LOVE it and are excited to play it next time.

… Some days it’s in the little things…