All posts by Matthew Piercy

MATTHEW PIERCY is a middle school social studies teacher at International School Bangkok. His experiences in the classroom include every grade from 3rd to 11th. He also enjoyed a stint as an instructional coach. Prior to living in Thailand, Matthew worked in international and boarding schools for over twenty years. Tunisia, Ecuador, Hungary, Hawaii, along with the states of Colorado and Georgia all at some point were called “home.” Matthew also enjoys leading summer expeditions for National Geographic, to destinations like Iceland and Cambodia. A diverse pathway in life has led to Matthew’s passion for global mindedness and he constantly is searching for ways to enhance learning, meaning, and transference. His blog explores interconnection and purpose.

Bake a Difference

Cosmic Cookie Class Recipe:

2 ½ cups community creation

3 teaspoons all purpose empathy into action

2 sticks of “story” 

12 ounces choice

Directions: Preheat classroom with reflection and intentionality. In a large mixing bowl, add community creation.  Combine empathy and action into community creation.  Beat sticks of “story” in medium mixer bowl until creamy.  Gradually combine creamy mixture with community creation and empathy into action mixture. Stir in choice.  Drop by rounded tablespoon onto untreated learning pan. Bake for 9 months or until golden brown. 

“Have you tried Mimmie’s Bakery? They have the most incredible Cosmic cookie!”  My octogenarian neighbor recently reminded me of a child, as she hailed my attention while I rushed out the door the other morning. There was something heartwarming about an older person getting so animated about something many would consider so simple, a cookie.  Her excitement was contagious and stirred in me a bit of curiosity. 

What made Mimmie’s cookie recipe so different? 

As the day went on, I seemingly couldn’t get the Cosmic cookie off or out of my mind.  Instead of heading down to the bakery, I considered how I might transfer this idea of a perfect cookie recipe to what I care most about, teaching and learning.  Could I “bake” something similar in my classroom?

Teaching very well can be just a generic chocolate chip cookie but in reality, it is so much more.  And it has the potential to get people excited. In the case of children, “keep” them excited.  I often remind myself, a big part of keeping students love for learning ignited, is simply not getting in their way.  I think about how knowledge is cheap and with the web we are saturated in information 24/7.  It is what we do with learning that matters most.  After two dozen years “baking”in the classroom, I definitely have learned many lessons.  However, an end-of-year student survey allowed for a sort of distillation or surfacing of a “recipe” for my own Cosmic cookie.  

When eating healthy, nutritionists often say to choose those foods with the least amount of ingredients.  I’ve boiled my recipe down to but four “ingredients.”  It would be foolhardy to think I have perfected the recipe, though there are definitely ingredients and/or steps which I feel much more confident about.  Yet, perfection?  Even those cookies at Mimmie’s surely are a work in progress. 

Summer is a time of much needed rest for educators, but I trust is also a chance for reflection. So much news in education this past year was about the abandonment of  the noble profession. With a little distance this summer, I remain hopeful that many educators might remember back to why they chose (or were chosen!) to be an educator. And I hope there is a sense of rejuvenation and excitement.  Moreover, if the “Cosmic Cookie Class” recipe is helpful to even a single educator, I will feel a sense of satisfaction.  

Cosmic Cookie Class Breakdown

  1. Community creation: Community does not just happen.  Intentionality is of extreme importance. The critical skill of learning how to listen but also how to give and receive feedback are at the heart of functioning communities.  A “we do this together” sort of ethos exists. Routines definitely help.  Ideas for implementation include: 

*Philosophical chairs

*Class discussion and occasional  fish bowl strategy

*Feedback loops changed up and in a variety of formats: 

~Teacher to student

~Student to student

~Student to teacher (such a gift!)

~Parents (digital notebooks) and segments of conversations recorded with Mote

~Administration invited in at the start and during the process, not just in culmination

~Community (something I especially wish to improve)

  1. Empathy but also action:  This begins with awareness.  Several students commented how social studies class “was about becoming  more aware of what is happening around our world.”  Others suggested, “It is about joy, curiousity, and being inspired to create a positive impact that would affect people’s lives for the better.” And, one of my favorite pieces of feedback was how “the class is more a study of life, all subjects combined. Where we find solutions to problems in the world.”  Three ideas for beginning to transition from empathy into action include:  

~Start small and add a Virtual Reality experience or simulation

~Read aloud (a book well read and discussed is appealing to learners of all ages)

~Newsela articles citing students as examples of how youth  are making a difference

*Bonus: Partner with experts in the field and they may even broaden your audience for students (eg: Inspired Citizens)

  1. Integrate the power of story:  “Story, as it turns out, was crucial to our evolution — more so than opposable thumbs. Opposable thumbs let us hang on; story told us what to hang on to” (Lisa Cron). Be okay with being vulnerable as you become “known” to students.  Someone who students can connect with.  Sharing anecdotes can add not only “reality” to the classroom but also comfort. The intentional integration of stories, like the time I tacked a horse for a teen my age who had cerebral palsy.  How I was gifted an opportunity to learn gratitude and grace from such an experience. A story like this not only connects with the equestrian lover in the classroom but anyone who might have a beating heart, if the story is one students can re-live with you as you tell it.  Skills learned this past year from a migration project based on story-telling included:

~Slowing down and really practicing what it means to attentively listen.  This can be difficult as habits need to be broken for students and adults alike.  The digital age has sped us up in numerable ways

~As learners listen, challenge them to discern where a deeper “story” might yearn to surface.  Imagine it breaching as a 150- ton whale!

~Developing questions and being prepared to interview but also to design questions on the fly

~Creatively “tell” stories through a variety of mediums (eg. video, stop animation, and podcast)

  1. Provide student choice:  Choice boards can be helpful so there isn’t paralysis amidst a paradox of choices. Further, in an effort to help with scaffolding, suggested tech platforms, as well as process steps are offered as options to follow. The emphasis is always on process yet with sufficient time built in (a calendar proposed), along with feedback, a quality final product is ensured.  Building in a sort of celebration and/or “real” audience helps up the ante and leads to more student ownership and pride of their learning. On my final survey, several students commented with regards to choice.  One student shared, “I love how we get to express our creativity in our learning.”

Power to Make a Difference

It was Maya Angelou who said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  What matters most in our classroom is this.  How students feel. The four “ingredients” above contain tremendous power. Power to be rememembered? Yes.  But more importantly, the power to make a difference.  

Thank you for reading and for continuing to reflect and learn.

Enjoy the summer and happy “baking”!

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What Slowing Down Might Teach Us

Image: Iroquois Chiefs from the Six Nations Reserve reading Wampum belts in Brantford, Ontario

Poquaûhock sounds better than “clam.” Translated “horse fish,” this was the word used by the Narragansett people, an Algonquian American Indian tribe from Rhode Island, to refer to the “quahog,” an edible clam with a very hard shell.  The Atlantic Ocean-dwelling native is of much greater historical importance than an addition to a chowder. The shells of the quahog were initially invaluable in the creation of tools, for storytelling and for recording important historical events and treaties. Beads of the polished quahog shell were crafted and strung in strands, belts, or sashes called wampum.  And wampum belts sometimes were symbolic of ongoing treaties.  So treasured, First Nations’ wampum became Massachusetts’ first legal currency.  The species name mercenaria is even related to the Latin word for commerce. 

Yet, with such rich history there is even more to marvel. Inside the marine bivalve mollusk is a soft-bodied invertebrate. One that can live upwards of 500 years! Besides living in intertidal zones and the adaptability this may showcase, the mollusks behavior is one we might stand a chance to learn from. There is a sort of simplicity, a slowing down of time that anthropomorphically must result, as they spend their entire lives in an immobile and isolated state. Yet, the clam is capable of burrowing down or even migrating small distances if in danger.  Otherwise, they remain steadfast. Possibly for centuries!

This is not about becoming more like mollusks. Rather, a glimpse into what behaviors we might begin to bolster, in order to have longer but also improved lives. Moreover, lives where we do not simply exist, but relate as individuals, communities, and to all other life forms.  Connected, balanced, and in life’s flow, symbiotically moving with purpose and defined by shared values.  Slowing down may just be the secret ingredient. Daniel Christian Wahl, author of Designing Regenerative Cultures attests to how we have much to gain when we envision time differently, “A new cultural narrative is emerging, capable of birthing and informing a truly regenerative human culture.” Underlying is a notion of what may very well be our greatest currency, time. The pandemic assisted us in understanding this. Time to pause. Time to reflect. Time to spend time with family. To take more walks. An opportunity to realize what matters most. The frenetic mornings, claustrophobic offices, occupied minutes and hours in traffic and meetings better served as memos. A dawning realization, akin to the sunrise, of primordial potence.

Find More Than Humanity When We Slow Down

National Geographic explorer Paul Salopek, is retracing the journey of some of our human ancestors’ migration beyond Africa. Called, Out of Eden, Salopek is In his tenth year along the 24,000-mile odyssey. Humble Salopek repeatedly seems to pen the phrase, “I am walking across the world.” Said in passing much like one might say, “I’m going to stop by the store.” In the  tenth year of ambling, Salopek is currently in a Tibetan autonomous county in Sichuan Province. In a recent story Salopek shared how this fictional dreamland of Shangri-La was inspired by James Hilton’s 1930s novel Lost Horizon. “Hilton wrote breathlessly of the Shangri-La lamasery… It was a redoubt of ‘utter freedom from worldly cares’ where time paused and people lived for 250 years.”

Half the life of the quahog!

Though there is no univocal definition or description of Slow Journalism, an ambition of speed is absent.  So too are oversimplification and stereotyping.  Walking is the preferred mode of transport, in effect forcing one to slow down and observe carefully. One of the catchphrases of Out of Eden is, “Slow down, find humanity.” I am certain from reading the philosophical Salopek’s writings, what is learned goes beyond the limits of just finding humanity. Possible because time is re-imagined.

A Look to the Trees

German Nobel Prize novelist and poet Hermann Heese is remembered for his body of work centered on an individual’s search for authenticity, self-knowledge and spirituality. In Heese’s ​​1920 “Collection of Fragments,” one passage especially stands out, attesting to the power of time. 

“When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts… Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all…

So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.”

A New Currency of Connectedness and Time 

That we might take the time to root ourselves, like the trees. Trusting and patient. Wise, listening, and connected. 

In my third year living in a Southeast Asian city of upwards of 15 million inhabitants, concrete prevails more than the trees. Yet, I have repeatedly retreated to lone trees, as forests are seldom to be found. And I have received confirmation. A message of hope, remembrance that I am fortunate to have a life of choice. Conscious and unhindered, I am both imbued and revitalized by responsibility. Embracing uncertainty and ambiguity, while synchronously returning to a less complex story of unity. 

One where we are reminded of a new currency, connectedness and time.  Where quahogs and trees are more than mere metaphors of life and longevity. A purposeful and promising path forward.  May the summer help us all reimagine time.

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Abandoning Ordinary Pursuits

In a world increasingly topsy turvy by politics, hypothetical iterations of the Internet, climatic dystopianism and more, wisdom and laughter are of critical importance. Now is no time to revert to passivity or to remain idle and uncreative. Nor can we be as amenable school age children tethered to a desk, inside four walls, disempowered so much as to need to ask for permission to even use the restroom. 

We have all at one time or another felt this.  Lived this.  Confined to the recesses of a darkened cave. 

Graciously 2020 and 2021 allowed society to climb out of such a “cave.” Arguably a light, if not “THE” light was seen. However unpopular, and emboldened all the way to his execution, the great philosopher Socrates laid a groundwork for us to question but also “abandon ordinary pursuits.”  Authenticity, balance, and coherence are far finer than lives of compliance. Sam Haselby alludes in “What Type of Citizen Was He? of the profound heroism of Socrates. Courage, curiosity, and civic-mindedness traits similarly in dire need of today.  “Socrates likens his dialogical testing of the opinions of others to the agonising sting of a gadfly: the value of the sting is that it shocks its victim out of the slumberous condition of quotidian existence into a moment of moral clarity.”

The past few years provoked the dawning of this moral clarity. COVID, a sort of gadfly.

Socrates’ student, Plato, left an indelible mark on Western literature and his famous Allegory of the Cave symbolized how human beings may be deceived by appearances. Two worlds, inside and outside the cave. A contrast of that which is real with our interpretation of it.

In some regions of the world, the “rush back to normal,” may have us wondering if a pandemic ever even happened. So too in our schools. As teachers return to delivering curriculum, standardization reigns supreme, and children continue to be herded through lackluster experiences which extinguish innate “flames” and fervors for learning.  Default to antiquated systems, so many crawl back inside caves and into the dark. 

What was Real?

Equity cannot be overlooked, especially with respect to the digital chasm and different levels of access to on-line education.  However, during the pandemic more exposure but also credence was given to “unschooling” and other not so well-known educational philosophies. Time was redefined, as the term “asynchronous” was a buzz overnight. Technology expanded the notion of when and how learning might occur.  Where, or a sense of place, suddenly shrunk as the world moved indoors. Life from beyond a screen became more important as borders were closed and we all were limited to just our immediate communities. In doing so, there was a realization of the important role education plays in connecting young people’s learning to a sense of place.  

Beyond spaces and places, “faces” and the conceptualization but also importance of “synchronous” became a glaring need. Consciousness developed around Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and students, teachers, and parents alike needed time to connect in “real” time. As an online and hybrid educator, “the synchronous” took on a significance similar to what photographers prize as “the golden hour.” Those special moments to engage one to another Outside of these scheduled times, greater balance could be achieved. Learners were empowered to speed up pre-recorded videos and soon found they could learn wherever and whenever. Empowered by default, they might remain in their pajamas all day, or be engrossed by Fermat’s Last Theorem at 11:30 at night.  As they wished.

And now?

From Wisdom to Laughter

“All I claim to know is that laughter is the most reliable gauge of human nature.” This is where we turn to humor and the irony of how the preceding quote is attributed to Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Someone who according to Britannica, “specialized in the analysis of pathological states of mind that lead to insanity, murder, and suicide and in the exploration of the emotions of humiliation, self-destruction, tyrannical domination, and murderous rage.”

For readers who lived through dial-up modems, you may remember when you first saw Baby Cha-Cha-Cha, also known as Dancing Baby. Do you remember? Considered the first meme to go viral on the internet, the rendered animation of a diapered baby performs a cha-cha type dance.  At the time, the second half of the 1990s, the term “meme” remained obscure.  Close to twenty years would pass before I really understood what a meme was. It was Harambe not Oxford Languages that in practical terms helped me understand that a meme was “An image, video, piece of text, etc., that is copied (often with slight variations) and spread rapidly by internet users.” Or simply an unserious response, created in an attempt to cause laughter. Some may say, as a result of a generational discord where youth are unable to regard major events with the “appropriate weight.” Whichever stance is taken, the motivation is one of humor. A valuable quality or state of mind.

Harambe was named after Rita Marley, widow of Bob Marley, and her song “Harambe” (Working Together for Freedom. The 440lb. 17-year old Western gorilla was shot dead while in captivity. Nearly instantly, thousands of memes were launched.  The power and virality of the internet would once again demonstrate how a collective online psyche can catch like wildfire. In “The Power of Memes,” Allexus writes how “the use of memes is important to our growing society where Meme Culture brings people together as it represents the media around us.” Whether people are “brought together” may be dependent on if the humor is shared. For at first glance, a meme may be deceiving, especially if it is re-mixed and out of context. Laughter is possible, democratization of discourse is certain.

Harambe certainly stirred emotion and became an overnight social justice sensation. Similarly, the Coronavirus, also not a topic inherently humorous, would be the brunt of countless memes. However, it is possible they helped us find our smile, if even under a mask.

In a world engulfed in fear, deceit, and distraction, we have a choice. Hopefully one of reflection, redirection, and focus. Not fooled by appearances or lulled back to sleep. The pig with pretty lipstick is still a pig. And as we identify it as such, might we too laugh a little.

But also move.

Jolted awake by Socrates’ gadfly, a new reality possibly already appears in our rear view mirrors. The past few years  allowing for a recognition of that which must dissolve.  Now, might we utilize the wisdom and vision gained, along with a sense of humor, to create a new narrative.  Pathways toward the light. Out of the caves.

Again.

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ABOVE AND BELOW

Say the name Theodor Geisel and few know who you are talking about. Then, mention the name Dr. Seuss and it isn’t just the educators who nod their heads in recognition.  Yet, the two are the same man. 

Growing up in Springfield, Massachusetts the delicious smells which wafted from Geisel’s grandparents’ bakery were at odds with the foul odors emitted from the Gasworks plant a short distance away. This formative experience was one which many readers feel was the genesis of the dark tale of the Lorax.  The foreboding narrative told by the Once-ler however, ends with optimism as one last Truffula seed is revealed. 

The same can be said for both the future of education and coffee.

Few “precious seeds” remain.  

The Future of Coffee

3 billion cups of coffee are consumed each day, nearly all extracted from but two species. Coffea arabica, known as Arabica; and Coffea canephora, known as Robusta are the backbone of the coffee industry…and our mornings! Arabica is the more expensive variety and what you likely will find in your cup at most cafes, whereas robusta dominates the instant coffee market.  Upwards of 80% of coffee production is Arabica and yet it has a low tolerance for rising temperature, produces less beans, and is also susceptible to rust. Journalist Maryn McKenna makes a clear case for the role of change not being optional, as the planet continues to shift.  Details of living with the relentless “rust rampage across the globe” can be explored in Maryn’s Atlantic article titled, “Coffee Rust is Going to Ruin Your Morning.” 

Robusta aptly named is easier to grow and produces a larger, robust or thicker bean. However, with its grainy or rubbery overtones in taste, it is far less preferred.

Though we consume just two varieties of coffee, analysts have identified approximately 120 species of coffee plants worldwide. According to scientists at Britain’s Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, “some 75 coffee species were assessed as being threatened with extinction: 13 classed as critically endangered, 40 as endangered, including coffea arabica, and 22 as vulnerable.”  What?  

“COFFEE ARABICA IS ENDANGERED?” 

If you were taking a sip while reading this,“Pffffff.” You likely spray the coffee out of your mouth in pure stupefaction, 

Furthermore, the researchers suggest how these risk figures are higher than other plants. 

The Connection of Coffee and Education

Though there are not as many students enrolled in school as there are cups of coffee consumed daily, there are more varieties of education than just robusta or arabica. Some however might argue that we still lean on simplification and the labels “traditional” and “alternative” when speaking about education.  

A closer look at coffee and education, might reveal how the two have more in common than might be expected.  And though there is talk about “unschooling,” there is little mention of “uncoffee-ing.” So, we can bet education and coffee both have futures.  We just have to remain open but also take responsibility for how the choices of today certainly impact tomorrow.  

In 1987, the United Nations Brundtland Commission defined sustainability as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” The term has since become a household word and in 2015 the United Nations released the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), an exhaustive blueprint containing 169 targets.  The motivation being one of agreement amongst nations for a future of far greater peace and prosperity for people and the planet. 

The duality of people and planet, a fallacy.  The two, not mutually exclusive, as our species has not, nor probably really wants to, successfully find a way to live on another planet.  We need Earth!!  

Further, we must move beyond sustainability because sustainability is about keeping things going. Benjamin Freud spoke with eloquence about a great transformation in a recent Getting Smart podcast, sharing the importance of regenerative learning and about giving back. “It is about taking action and going through a process of creation…It is about living systems, understanding that we are all ‘nested wholes’”.  

So, how might our schools be hotbeds or boilerplates for this transcendence?  If we start with the crux of the matter, that our future depends on it, maybe then we will really get started.  The future does depend on it. Students and teachers alike, post or pending the finish of the pandemic, have seen the grass on the other side and it is in effect much greener. Numbered are the days of “sit and get.” Furthermore, any divisive lines being drawn between “encampments” might as well be dissolved. 

We need not fight. Unbeknownst to Thomas Hobbes, nature is not in a state of war. Rather, nature hinges on connection and collaboration.  

So must education.

Maurizio Giuli contributed in an article titled, “The beat of the global coffee industry” how short term thinking will have detrimental medium and long term impacts on social, environmental and economic drivers of prosperity from producers through to consumers” He, similar to the SDGs may be caught in dualism’s trap, unable to see how there is no coffee with a compromised environment. 

Let us sing from every mountain top, attesting to the value of diversity. Of our models of education but also of the learners in our midst. Of everything in nature, the children and I suppose….of the coffee too! Again, there is no reason to fight. Schools and systems entrenched in what used to work will continue to collapse. Meanwhile, choices inevitably will continue to emerge and will only multiply. .

As for coffee, a window into agroforestry, provides us a view of systems where there is a blending of diversity and structure. Possibly instead of the traditional cultivation of coffee plants in the shade of other trees, mimicking the natural growing conditions of plants in a forest understory, farmers will rely on even more natural production methods.

Stewards of Complexity

Beginning with soil, diversity is the focus. Healthy soil itself is regenerative and over time, more life is created within the system. Complex soil systems are connected and energetic exchange networks. Think “Gardening 101” and cover crops.  Where nitrogen fixing plants actually add nitrogen, an essential nutrient for healthy plant growth, back into the soil. And not just flora to flora, but also flora to fauna.  One example is how when elm and pine trees are attacked by leaf-eating caterpillars, the caterpillar saliva is detected. The trees in turn release pheromones which attract parasitic wasps, a natural predator for caterpillars. Case in point for the role of collaboration!

When what is below is either carefully prepared or allowed to exist in its naturally balanced state, we might turn our attention to what is above.  The sun and shade.  So too in education. Inside and outside of schools and classrooms, it will be increasingly important to promote a natural approach. 

Every child has a foundation, as well as strengths. Their “soil.” Might we as adults help enrich this. Then, concentrate our efforts on what is as natural as breath, learning. There’s evidence that learning is actually written in our very own DNA.  

So, maybe we just need to let the learning happen and not get in its or the students’ way!  But also, we have a role to play as educators.  How might we help prepare the conditions for optimal growth? To provide the right amounts of “sun,” “shade,” and “water”. 

Turning back to the Lorax, the last truffula seed is handed to the child protagonist as he is instructed,

“Treat it with care.

Give it clean water

And feed it fresh air.”

Gardeners ourselves, les us envision our role as stewards. Of the complex ecology of relationships and learning.

Enjoy your next cuppa’.

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OF FIRE AND ICE~A Tale of Sunken Ships and Education

There is good reason why Newton’s third law did not state, “What goes down must come up.” Two sunken ships more than 6000 km apart, are case in point.  Both will remain on the ocean’s floors, a distant 3,000 meters down but for very different reasons.  The first, protected and memorialized for its historical importance is also a symbol of perseverance, more valuable than any of its remaining contents. The other ship, a modern day toxic catastrophe.

As different as the two are, both have parallels to the field of education as we know it. Not just because some may say the system of education is fraught with challenge and ostensibly sinking.   

Little Drifting

Exactly 100 years to the day of Sir Ernest Shackelton being buried on South Georgia island in Antarctica, his ship The Endurance, was found.  After being trapped in dense pack ice for nearly a year, the ice floes opened, and the sea ice crushed the ship, eventually swallowing it up.  Shackleton reportedly cried out, “She’s going, boys!” At this time, Captain Frank Worsley recorded in his diary his best calculations of where the masts and hull were last seen.  Poor visibility on account of harsh weather did not allow for estimating the direction nor speed of the floes. Yet, more than a century later, The Endurance was discovered only 4.16 nautical miles from Worsley’s calculation! 

In effect, The Endurance did not drift much. Nor has the system of education. Its foundation poured in the later half of the 18th century, is oddly enough, about the same time Shackelton was of schoolboy age. Never distinguishing himself as much of a scholar, author Roland Huntford alludes to how Shackelton was “bored” by his studies. Shackelton was even quoted, “I never learned much geography at school … Literature, too, consisted in the dissection, the parsing, the analysing of certain passages from our great poets and prose-writers … teachers should be very careful not to spoil [their pupils’] taste for poetry for all time by making it a task and an imposition.”

Who would have imagined that arguably the greatest leader of all time would reflect on how “school” seemingly stood in the way of his learning?  Yet still, he managed to hone his skills of compassion, strength, and bravery.  And what about Shackelton’s mastery of developing camaraderie and decision making? 

Note: skills. Not just knowledge.  

All the fervor around competency-based learning is legitimized as we transition away from mere atomic disconnected facts and towards unity, connection, and application. Students “showing what they know” as they transfer learning.

The Endurance drifting little amidst such extreme conditions, in effect helped with the ship’s preservation. Autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) recently captured images of century-old ropes, tools, and notably the emblazoned letters “E-N-D-U-R-A-N-C-E” completely intact on the stern. The frigid temperatures, darkness, and low levels of oxygen all contributed to little weathering of the craft.  Further, the absence of wood-eating microbes in the Antarctica seabed surely helped too.  This is not to say we should keep our classrooms cold, dark, and static.

A Passive Approach to Disaster

Robert Frost, considered whether the world would end in fire or ice. 

“From what I’ve tasted of desire

I hold with those who favor fire.”

Just weeks before the Endurance was found, The Felicity Ace was lost.  Fire the element taking the ship down.  A vessel more than four times the length of the 144-foot Endurance.  The three-masted Endurance is a complete contrast to the bunker fuel burning behemoth.  The Felicity Ace carried 2,200 tons of fuel, 2,200 tons of oil, and up to 17,000 metric tons of cargo.  The sinking cargo aboard the ship all the talk; not the waters, reef, and seabed they would eventually pollute.  4,000 luxury vehicles, some of which carried lithium-ion batteries for electric cars, went down.  The ship’s manifest listed more than 1,000 Porsches, 200 Bentleys and dozens of Lamborghinis.  An approximate dollar value exceeding $400 million.  But what of the destruction and environmental risk? Are we morally able to put a dollar value on it?

The latest press release from March 14 reads:

The oil slick seen at the time of the sinking has drifted as it dissipated, and experts say it will soon disappear. During this time, a trace of a small amount of oil was found to have surfaced as an oil film from the site of the sinking. We have also obtained the opinion by the experts that it will gradually dissipate as it drifts. In accordance with expert organizations opinion that it is unlikely that a large-scale oil spill will occur and it is appropriate to continue observation using satellite photographs for a while, we will continue to observe the situation using satellite photos and establish a system to respond quickly to the situation.

The situation with Felicity Ace is synonymous with the acceptance of  a status quo of education.  Regardless of tides and currents but also any hazards that might prevail. To merely observe when ecosystems are at risk. Fish, plankton, and our very own children. A passive approach as evidenced in a fire that would burn for two weeks, eventually leading to the demise of the “Blissful” Ace. 

Location: 64°Felicity – 56°Endurance – 12°Hope

In the case of The Endurance, the ship was trapped, crushed, abandoned and eventually sunk after 10 months. The value of finally finding the Endurance but deciding to leave it under water, can be ironically juxtaposed with the cost of keeping the Felicity Ace and its thousands of fuel-filled cars amongst the fish. The Endurance centers on respect and all that may be learned. Of great historical value, there is significance to leaving it literally in the darkness of the Weddell Sea.  Instead of being “monitored” as a toxic risk like the Felicity Ace, the Endurance is being protected.  The historic site is safeguarded under the Antarctic Treaty which ensures it will not be touched or disturbed in any way.

Schooling may be sinking, yet learning remains afloat. With excitement might we look upon the near and more distant past as opportunities to become wiser. Stories of sunken ships, fire and ice which in essence might stir our imagination.  Of yesterdays and todays.  Informing but infusing tomorrow with Felicity, Endurance, and hope.  

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Maps, monsters and the Importance of Redesign

“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.”  – Friedrich Nietzsche

How might two Icelandic maps, drawn hundreds of years apart, connect perfectly  to the changing landscape of education? The first is a modern day 5-minute scribble by a tourist.  Whereas legendary Flemish cartographer Abraham Ortelius is responsible for the second.

Signed, Sealed, and Delivered

Six years ago, a tourist sent a letter with no address.  Not knowing the address, the sender drew a map by hand on the outside of the letter’s envelope.  Accompanying the illustration was a city name and the description which read,“A horse farm with an Icelandic/Danish couple and 3 kids and a lot of sheep.” The fact that the city has less than 300 people is less important than the map maker’s good faith. Further, the Icelandic postal service’s willingness to deliver the unaddressed letter clearly depicts the beauty of  familiarity. And yes, the letter actually arrived! 

Borrowed from: https://mymodernmet.com/iceland-envelope-hand-drawn-map/
 
There Might Be Giants Monsters

Dating back to the 16th century, “Islandia” is considered the most revered printed map available.  Ortelius is credited not only with this creation but is also responsible for Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (“Theatre of the World”), the earliest modern atlas.  In Islandia, the  sea swarms with seventeen menacing looking creatures. Each is labeled with a letter and on the back of the map are descriptions like:

“Ziphius, a horrible sea monster, swallowing the black seal at one bite.”

“Hroshualur, that is as much to say as the Sea-horse, with a mane hanging down from his neck like a horse. It often does the fishermen great hurt and scare”

Education as we know it today has some “monsters.”  Problems which arguably are of mythological proportions. 

Borrowed from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/
A New Narrative is About Redesign, not Resolution

For early mariners, what lurked in the ocean depths induced trepidation.  Such unchartered waters are akin to education’s uncertain future.  Jeremy Lent, author of Web of Meaning theorizes how “the pervasiveness of technological change is tearing apart norms that have been entrenched for centuries.”  The cat (new ways of living and learning) is out of the bag!  Is education as we’ve known it in a state of total makeover, or takeover?  Regardless, days are numbered for the industrial model of education built upon compliance.  The new narrative requires not only critical thinking, and problem solving, but also the budding of a collective intelligence, if not connected consciousness.  Only then might we begin to navigate around, over, under, and through the many “monsters.”  The leviathans might be one or any combination of a broken social contract, the effects of artificial intelligence, gene editing, rising sea levels, climate disasters, and civilization collapse. Each demands resolution yet a future imbued with fear would be better shaped by redesign. One guided by wisdom but also choice.

A Future Free of Monsters  

The nature of transition is one of uncertainty. Education as a system is in a state of flux, if not decay. Knowing fully well that which we do not wish to recreate, such an opportunity to “redesign” rightly wells up in us, feelings of excitement. If anything, the past few years serve us well as a testament to the resilience of societies. Equally, we have looked on as trends move towards democratization and burgeoning decentralization. A glimpse of “the possible” continues to  become focalized.  Think Mastery Transcript Consortium. With this, more students are being empowered to determine paths of learning that are more exploratory and less dictatorial.  Further, a myriad of learning models continue to muster a new way forward.  

Four hundred years ago monsters were included on maps. Approximately three hundred years ago “modern” education was birthed. A monstrosity in its own right, as the model supposedly copied from a Prussian model was “designed to create docile subjects and factory workers,” according to David Brooks, writer for the New York Times. Though it may be enticing to contemplate a future free of monsters, it behooves us to instead center our attention on leveraging the accelerated change we are amidst. And then to amplify such precepts as relationships, creativity, and meaning. A future where more unaddressed envelopes are received won’t just happen. It will take a deliberateness in community creation, shared vision, and a continued awakening to possibility.  The choice to live and learn purposefully and collectively, is ultimately just that.  A choice!

Four Baby steps to Erase the Ubiquitous Monsters
  1. Focus on the future and not the past: while some schools and businesses seem to relish tradition, this history may lead to more brittleness than it does wisdom.  Turning around to the look at yesterday may not answer what lies on the horizon. Continuing to “operate as normal” will not prepare new generations for the “unknown.” 
  2. Emphasize listening, not speaking, in a concerted effort to learn. 
  3. Empower youth to willfully hack their way into tomorrow, excitedly determining paths less traveled and finding what works for each unique individual. 
  4. Invite failure and envision every opportunity to learn and grow.

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I Am Not a Moth and My Keys are Not Missing

Over thirty thousand people evacuated and a thousand homes ablaze in Colorado at the end of December? Difficult as it may be to believe, such impacts of climate change are predicted to be increasingly felt, unless we as a species move out of the heaving blackness and entrapment of the Anthropocene. That worldview which is dominated by a false dogma.  The one where drunken humans believe themselves to be at the very core of existence. Pivotal to the necessary upheaval and shift in human consciousness is a transcendence beyond activism and into action. 

The past few days, I coincidentally came across two very similar jokes. The first about a moth who goes into a podiatrist’s office. When asked about his problem, the response is a long-winded account of all of his troubles. Amongst these is tragic loss and cowardice.  The punchline comes when the doctor suggests the moth see a psychiatrist instead and asks why the moth came to a foot specialist. 

“Cause the light was on!” 

How many of us are similarly drawn to whatever glitters, speaks loudest, or successfully garners our attention? A currently trending stirring satirical film on Netflix called, “Don’t Look Up” does a fantastic job depicting this. The plot centers on how a planet-killing comet imminently hurtles toward earth and yet politics, economics, and society’s addiction to the frivolous divide the world.  Stall followed by avarice, are the only response offered.  Parallels might be drawn between the inappreciable ground gained (or lost!) since the 2015 Paris Climate Change talks.  

The second joke, actually stemming from a 13th century parable, also involves light.  A helpful police officer questions a man on all fours hunting for his lost keys under the streetlamp. “Are you sure you dropped your keys here?” 

“No, I am sure I lost them across the street.”

Dismayed, the officer inquires, “Then, why do you search here?”  

“Because the light is much better here.”

Doing Something Different

People’s propensity to search in easier places than those which are likely to honestly yield results being the crux of the joke.  Yet, laughter aside, both jokes contain truth at the core. In vulnerability, I consider my own experience. One which in the past may have been quick to step out on a ledge, even to select “adventurer” as one of three words to define myself. Yet, the moth in me began to be drawn into the known, the comfortable, and the compliant.  Foolery. Or, like the man in search of his keys I seemingly began to illogically camp under the light of a 20 watt bulb instead of under the myriad miracles of the skies.   ​

Obviously, I am not a moth and my keys are not missing.  Yet from time to time I think about how at one training a gong was struck, followed by a call to “do something different!” Anchored by an excitement for uncertainty and a wellspring of curiosity I am ready to do something different. Fussing over school standards or lunch duty responsibilities seemingly dilutes the larger sense of purpose I feel. Especially when I consider how indubitably countries, businesses, and schools are continually shifting. Human consciousness beginning to result in action.

Net-Zero Cannot Wait

Net-zero is a critical concept rightly abuzz. It occurs when the amount of greenhouse gas emitted is no greater than the amount removed from the atmosphere. Measuring carbon emissions is important because it has an effect on global warming.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported how a planetary warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius “would be an unacceptably high risk, potentially resulting in major extinctions, more severe droughts and hurricanes, a watery Arctic, and an increased toll on human health and well-being.”  See: Colorado fires at the start of this article. 

Many countries have committed to reaching “net-zero” by midcentury.  Indonesia and Saudi Arabia by 2060.  And India by 2070.  Not only does each lack a detailed plan for how to achieve this, a band-aid will not help resuscitate like an AED.  Thankfully, there are bolder approaches being taken. The Kingdom of Bhutan was ahead of the times when back in 2009, they achieved net-zero. Further the country promised to remain carbon neutral for time  immemorial but in effect progressed and became carbon negative. Little wonder exists if a correlation can be made between Bhutan’s love of the planet and the country’s choice to measure gross national happiness (GNH) as opposed to GDP.

After Secretary-General António Guterres called a, “code red for humanity,” many multinational corporations committed to achieving net-zero carbon emissions.  The likes of Amazon and other companies vow to do more to protect the Earth.  Their goal of reaching net-zero carbon emissions is 10 years ahead of the Paris Agreement goals. However, “greenwashing” or the process of conveying false impressions about a company becoming more environmentally sound, is legitimate.  This especially so after Jeff Bezos decision to add 300 metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere during a 180 second space odyssey.  A figure equivalent to nearly 3 million miles of automobile travel!  

Schools also are beginning to net-zero call. In October of 2021, Hawaii Preparatory Academy made a bold move in committing to eliminating its carbon emissions over the next nine years. In an official press release they pledged to reach net-zero emissions by 2030. Colby College in Waterville, Maine paved the way in 2013 when it became the first  carbon neutral university. Nine other colleges and universities in the United States have similarly achieved this goal.

Ironically or not, it was the natural world and a snowstorm that extinguished Colorado’s wildfires. The influential writer Alice Walker suggested that the most important question in the world is, “Why is the child crying?” For the sake of this post, the Earth is this child. Pretending to not hear, only will offer up more piercing shrill and devastation. Fires, floods, and famine. The answers remain in the actions we take. Not in 2030 or 2070. Resolute must we be.

Now.

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For more on how your school might begin to educate for a more sustainable future, click on Green Schools National Network.

World Economic Forum Video: “Incredibly, these countries absorb more carbon than they emit.”

Returning the Joy to Mudville

“Yes, please order a pair of gloves for my daughter,” the email response read from a parent of one of our middle school softball players. Her confusion in not knowing only one glove was needed to play the sport was similar to the memorable and mildly entertaining scene the first day of practice. Our equipment included several gloves and the girls put them on every way but the correct way. Backwards, upside down and even on their dominant hands.  Once this was corrected, they began to toss the ball from the mitt, akin to a lacrosse stick. This pre-test of sorts was perfect because as coaches, we knew exactly where the team was beginning.  

This was exciting. Known as America’s favorite pastime, none of the girls are from there. So, baseball or softball is as foreign as sepaktakraw was to me. Sepaktakraw, originating in Thailand, is much like volleyball but only with your feet! Such clarity of unfamiliarity was extremely refreshing. No knowledge would be taken for granted. Further, how rewarding to share the diamond with children that show up three times a week, simply eager to learn and play a “new” game.  The concept of ego nowhere to be seen nor felt on the field.  This beginnerdom, a melding of earnestness and joy, connects well with being a new teacher, yet the actual experience may run counter. 

Death by a Thousand Paper Cuts?

This past week I chatted with a relative of mine who nobly joined the educator ranks within the last year. Before hanging up I pondered the probability of a first year teacher self-reporting that teaching is easy.  Leslie Gray Streeter  of the Washington Post writes about educators, “They’re more than the people who give math and science lessons: They might find themselves makeshift social workers to troubled students, surrogate parents checking if children eat, security guards breaking up fights and funders of the most basic of classroom supplies from their own shallow pockets.” Though the later may not so much be the case for teachers in independent schools or those working internationally, other roles surely are assumed.  As coaches and advisors, but likely also participating on  a slew of committees and assuming other duties. In effect, being extended so thinly that maybe even the phrase,“death by a thousand paper cuts” applies.  Literally, it is all the small actions added up which leads to “the bleed.”     

Undoubtedly the pandemic negatively impacted educators’ experience.  Safety measures and lack of trust high on the list of unfavorable factors, as was adapting to emergency, remote, and hybrid models of education. Surveys and polls the past 18 months align with what is termed the Great Resignation.  Some predict an exodus so great that anywhere from one-fourth to more than half of U.S. educators  are considering a career change. Such potential crisis is not mirrored in international schools, however the start of 2022-23 academic year is already positioned for far greater mobility than seen the last few years.

Mindset Atop the List

Several reasons drive the decisions of teachers to switch careers. However, for teachers who are just beginning, why couldn’t their introduction to teaching be like the girls on the softball field? Frustration simply cannot take hold. Carol Dweck, a well-respected researcher in the field of motivation cites a poll of 143 creativity researchers, who concur that mindset ultimately tops the list of creative achievement.  And to educate is clearly to be a Creative.  No one, first year teachers included, must assume a sense of failure.  Yet, seldom do we “get things right” the first time and there remains inordinate power in reframing failure as something positive.  An example I often allude to, is learning to walk. Close to the ground, we as toddlers bounced off our backsides. Without even thinking, we simply popped back up and attempted to put one foot in front of the other.  A fine balance.  Akin to teaching! The mentality clearly one of, “I got this.”  Dweck contrasts fixed and growth mindsets by saying, “In one world (fixed), effort is a bad thing. It, like failure, means you’re not smart or talented. If you were, you wouldn’t need effort. In the other world, effort is what makes you smart or talented.” A network of support and both strong leadership and mentorship are essential for first year teachers to want to sign up for year two. Though it is not enough alone, to claim a teacher just needs to adjust their mindset or try a little harder, however resiliency definitely needs to be in the line up. 

Play Ball!

As far back as 1888, Casey at the Bat, appeared for the first time in the San Francisco Examiner.  The first 12 of the 13 stanza poem foreshadow Casey’s success at the plate.  Yet, a twist comes the final line, “But there is no joy in Mudville—mighty Casey has struck out.”

Failure.

Though the poem may have been about letdown, it might help to examine it from another angle.  Of its success. After Ernest Thayer authored Casey at Bat, a stage actor and comedian, by the name of DeWolf Hopper made the poem somewhat of a national heirloom. For nearly five decades Hopper performed it, upwards of 10,000 times. He just kept “hopping up.” 

A similar spirit of just hopping up is to be assumed by teachers. 

Batter up!  

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Possibility. Purpose. Action.

I am not an old man.

10 print “Hello, I am cool.”
20 goto 10
Run

“Hello, I am cool” would cycle down the screen.  Early days of coding with BASIC in my later elementary years on an Apple 2E.

In high school my relationship with the phone was a bit adversarial and yet I dreamed of a day when I would see on a sort of screen, my aunt and uncle as I spoke with them on the phone.  Likely this was not entirely of my own imagination but influenced by the popular animated sitcom, “The Jetsons.”

During six years of university I borrowed a friend’s Brother word processor to type papers before toting around both floppy and hard diskettes, external writable storage devices. These were helpful when I managed to reserve computer time at the only computer lab on campus, a university with 16,000 enrolled students. 

Imagine 16,000 students sharing 15 computers today!

For the first few years of teaching I did not have a personal or laptop computer.  There were no projectors in the classroom, aside from an overhead projector.  Next to it were printed transparencies to share and a stack of blanks for writing notes for the class to copy. 

I am not an old man.

A few years into the 2nd millennium and classrooms began to be retrofitted for the digitization that was underway. Digital projectors began to be mounted on classroom ceilings and in one school I worked, SMART boards debuted. The interactive white boards all the rage before they quickly fizzled out.

The intention is not to look fondly back as if to say, “These were the days.”  All the contrary and instead, this short bit of history points at how far and fast we have come. Moreover, might we imagine what is next?  Anything is always possible, as I was reminded of this past week in class.

Oculus Provides a Glimpse Into the Future

“Ten years from now, everything is going to be virtual,” proclaimed one of my quieter eleven year-old students.  Her shyness overcome by both her passion and resoluteness.  We were preparing to have an introductory experience with virtual reality.  The device, the Oculus, aptly named for it means, “eye” in Latin.  Further, oculi are architecturally structural elements that are round openings at the tops of domes or cupolas. The Pantheon in Rome is one of the best examples. Originating in antiquity, the oculus is the perfect name as we begin to challenge ourselves in learning from the future. 

The actual VR experience proved stimulating for students, the connection being one linked to our current unit on innovation and how access clearly is a social justice issue. More provocative than virtually dancing with a robot, was the captivating conversation that ensued. One which reflected how students need not wait to create their own reality and how entrepreneurial mindsets  can drive transformative experiences in our schools. A definitive juxtaposition from the default where educational models often result in teachers and students senselessly passing back and forth assignments.  Free of audience and purpose. 

An Entrepreneurial Spirit Remains Alive

“So much is already virtual. I am selling my art as NFTs,” voiced probably my second most reserved student. He went on to broadcast the platform where five of his digital art pieces are being auctioned. Students enquired about the cost and the artist further imparted what he understood about non fungible tokens (and though English is his second language, he pronounced this perfectly), cryptocurrencies and Ethereum in particular.  In effect, between the five pieces of his artwork, the value was equivalent to more than $18,000USD.  I remind you, this is an eleven-year old.  So, it’s possible he could enter school, sit all day being talked at by teachers, and exit at 2:30 with thousands of dollars in his virtual pocket, or wallet.  

Why not tap into this?  

None of the art was done at school.  None of the computer platform learning or marketing if you will.  None of the background on cryptocurrencies and NFTs.

Yet, he and so many other students, find a way to learn.  To follow their passions.  In this case, business and art.  But what about the child studying the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6, ensuring a clean and stable water supply and effective water sanitation for all people?  Is she effectively contributing to making a difference so this goal might be realized in the next eight years?  Or, might she simply be researching, taking notes, and making a Google slides presentation?

Possibility.

Purpose.

Action.

Seems these three words might best become a mantra of sorts in our schools.  

10 print “Possibility. Purpose. Action.”
20 goto 10
Run

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I’ve Always Kind of Thought Greek History Didn’t Seem Real

Could there be a better time for students to understand the importance of evaluating the sources where they get information?  Not only a common core standard but a valued life skill. One creative hook is to introduce students to an article from “”America’s Finest News Source,” the Onion.  Any satirical source for that matter would work just fine.  One of our favorite articles is titled, “Historians Admit to Inventing Ancient Greeks.”  It was especially near and dear when Percy Jackson books were all the rage.  A teacher might think a students’ precursory examination of the ads on the page, or even the “shop” button at the top, would be a dead give-away.  But they aren’t!  

“Sorry Alexis, being from Greece, I’m sure this is kind of a bummer to find out,” I consoled one seventh grade student this year.


“Ah, it’s okay.  I’ve always kind of thought Greek history didn’t seem real.”

Even greater credence giving to the value of learning to evaluate sources.

5 W’s Introduced
Thankfully questions inevitable do however always surface. In response we take the Onion through the 5 W’s of Website Evaluation.  The following table was built on a Britannica breakdown.

WHOWho wrote the pages and are they an expert? Is a biography of the author included? How can I find out more about the author?
WHATWhat does the author say is the purpose of the site? What else might the author have in mind for the site? What makes the site easy to use? What information is included and does this information differ from other sites?
WHENWhen was the site created? When was the site last updated?
WHEREWhere does the information come from? Where can I look to find out more about the sponsor of the site?
WHYWhy is this information useful for my purpose? Why should I use this information? Why is this page better than another?

Research, Note Taking and Evaluation

After students designed their own research questions and received feedback, peer to peer and teacher, time is provided to research.  Paraphrasing is practiced in note taking form and sources cited. Then, students are tasked with identifying any one source they used and putting it through the 5 W’s to determine if ultimately they should trust where their information came from.

For the Love of It

I would like to say there was intention in how the lessons culminated but it seemed to happen more organically. Careful not to come off as the boasting type, I wanted to review what was learned and what better way to make this memorable than to look at a professionally published piece by their teacher?  One, where at the top the author was listed as “Guest Author.” 

“Sus!” students were quick to blurt, meaning suspicious.

As I scrolled down I asked volunteers to share their observations. They were quick to note how images were credited, the article was recently published, and several active links to find out more were included. The links to reputable sources like the New York Times and Harvard. Then, at the bottom they saw my name and possibly even more surprising to students, was the invitation to click on my Twitter handle.  

I didn’t anticipate any further questions but may have guessed someone might ask, “How did you get your work published?” Or, “How long does it take you to write an article like that.”

Instead, the only question was an expected one.

“How much do you get paid to write those articles?”

Remembering back to more than two decades ago and my Masters work, the teachable moment seemed to scream in my ear.

“Get paid?” I quizzically asked.  Honestly disbelieving in a sort of way,  

As if artistry and joy are any less meritable than money. Base but also aligned with the experience of many students. The “is this on the test” mentality perverting the wonder and excitement of learning.

“I don’t receive any compensation in the form of money.  Instead, I write because I love it,” I imparted.  Finishing with such a message seemed like the perfect closure. To share out of generosity but also in gratitude for the one reader to whom my words might resonate. 

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