Blackboard Deconstructed

Blackboards tell stories. This one tells about our science class. The lesson was about the fossil record. I began with talking about the geological column. Scientists have discovered that sometimes as they dig deeper into the earth’s crust they find simpler life forms. This leads them to believe that simpler life forms existed before complex ones; and this proves the theory of evolution. They have then standardized the geological column and use it to date fossil findings. However many times they find the order of life in the column mixed. In fact, scientists have found places where the column is perfectly inverted.

So evolution doesn’t make so much sense after all.

This shows how scientists suppose the geological column formed. Deluge and dust covered the primitive life forms as more advance forms evolved.

At this point in the lesson we moved to talking about fossils of dinosaurs. The seal-like object is a dinosaur. The item above it is a rooster head.

I was trying to point out the difficulty of arranging pictures and models from skeletons. This dinosaur has a horn. And I want to suggest that for all we can know it may have had a long membrane of skin running down its neck like a mane. The skin may have been the texture of a rooster’s comb and would have decayed quickly, leaving no evidence of its existence. Or maybe the “comb” got frostbite and fell away in the ice age.

We really don’t know. I continued my attempt to prove my point with a picture of a pig. If all we found was the skeleton of a pig we would have little idea as to its real shape. The odd little squiggles in the top picture are the couple bones a scientist may find. From these alone he is tasked with constructing a whole hog. In fact I have caught male pink salmon who had huge humps on their necks. These humps would be hard to know about if a scientists had only a fish skeleton.

Geological columns prove little. Dinosaurs are great, but we may be way off as to what they really looked like. Creation is the best. Class is dismissed.


Transposition Tool

I wonder how the earliest men learned to invent tools. Necessity is the mother of invention. But what made it necessary for them to invent? Or more directly, how did they know it was necessary to invent?

And what exactly is invention? Is invention by definition creation ex nihilo? Or is it simply an orderly assembly of available resources?

In my teaching I rarely invent. In fact, here’s a full disclosure – I’m not sure how I would know to create the things I am missing when I’m not even aware of what I am missing.

Instead I beg, borrow, or steal. I copy all the hard work of wiser men. I not an inventor; I’m the generation before him. I’m the hunter-gatherer.

Last week my hunting-gathering came back empty. So I turned to creation. But not creation out of nothing (as this post is created).

But wait, is this post truly ex nihilo if there was a specific something from which it grew?

This much I do know. I was trying to teach music transposition.

The lesson objective was to teach that a major scale is made up so many tones and semitones in a specific order; and that when major scales are written in any key other than C, flats and sharps are needed to make the semitones of the staff align with the semitones of the major scale.

I remembered a wonderful sliding scale printed in the back of Rod and Staff music curriculum I once taught. The scale could be shifted up and down to place Do on any pitch, and my students could easily recognize which pitches needed accidentals.

I needed thirteen of them. Prints, not accidentals.

So before music class, I slipped off to the office and googled sliding scale, sliding scale modulator, tool to teach transposition, tool to align scale with staff, tool to teach key signature, and may other variations.

I found zero.

Nothing was left me but to create my own. I passed out clean sheets of paper in music class and we did some measuring and cutting. Try it with your own students.

Take a clean sheet of paper. Turn it to portrait mode. Start at the center of the bottom edge and measure up one inch. Make a horizontal line about an inch long and label it with Do on the right side and C on the left. Mark off another inch for Re/D and a third inch for Mi/E. Make a fourth mark only half an inch higher for Fa/F. Continue marking off a whole inch for a tone and a half-inch for a semitone until you get to the top of the paper. Label the marks with the Major Diatonic scale on the right and the pitches of the staff on the left.

Cut the paper up the center. If everything is precise you can place the Do on whichever pitch you like and see at a glance which lines or spaces need accidentals to make them align with the major scale.

Or follow this link for a printable pdf.

Happy transposing.

Perhaps you have a sure-fire and easier method of teaching the same thing. Perhaps you are holding a missing piece I don’t even know I should be hunting for. Feel free to suggest that or any other comments below.

Hissing at a House

Read 1 Kings 9:1-9  Focus on verse 8.

The temple was extravagant beyond measure. It was set high and very beautiful. Solomon had poured his life into it, and when all was finished God Himself came to meet with Solomon.

God had some words for Solomon and all the people.

God said He would dwell there perpetually, and the place would have His glory if…. only if the people served Him alone.

But if they turned aside, the temple would be as awful as it was beautiful. Those who passed by and saw it would be disgusted. They would hiss. They would ask questions. The ugly truth would come out.

Our lives are a bit like that temple. What shape is our temple in? God created us clean and beautiful. He created us as a temple fit for His own dwelling. If we keep ourselves clean, if we serve God alone, our lives will be beautiful. If we are gentle and if we do small acts of kindness, we will bring beauty to this world. And others will see beauty in us.

But if we live carelessly and our lives are tumbledown, those who pass by will notice that too. If we serve ourselves and are rude and unkind, our lives will be disgusting to the people around us. Don’t be the kind of person who astonishes those you meet and makes them hiss.

You are building your own life. Today.

Build well.

The Scrawl of a Child

I’ve had my share of bad luck over the years. But there comes to every person a break once in a while. A few years back, I got mine.

Meet Claudia.

I began teaching school as a single guy. While I thought it would be great to get married, I figured it might be best to teach while I was still single and could afford to.

But after four years I could see where this was going. I was teaching at a small school in southern British Columbia. It was a four-hour drive to the closest associated church. I was very busy teaching in the boondocks. Which meant I’d never really meet the girls at all.

So I gave myself a year off. In that year I learned that God wanted me to teach. But I still felt like I could be a much better teacher if I were married because of the balance and insight a wife would bring.

In that recess I learned that the plans for my life need to be in hands that aren’t my own.  I learned how much I need to teach. So I committed to another year. If God wanted me to get married I would let Him work it out. He knew how I felt about it. Why hold myself back from His call just because I didn’t feel as complete as I wished to be? Why waste another minute with work I didn’t love?

And God did work out the details. I was dating Claudia by mid July.

Today she teaches with me here in Paltinis. I’ve struck it rich, and am more complete and happy and humbled than I knew I could be.

Excuse me for saying it, but from the looks of things I’m not the only one. This evening I made a final round through the school, flipping off lights in the lunch room. There on the windowsill lay a scrap of paper with the understatement of the year. “Miss Claudia is a good teacher.”

On a Snowy Morning

I suspect that very soon after the invention of cars there was the invention of mission vans. The community here in Paltinis shares four of them.

Three are in decent enough shape. One is old and rattly. Riding in it can give you the sensation you are in a cattle car, or a worn down stage-coach. My earliest memory of it is opening the door and seeing the straw strewn about on the floor. Someone had been hauling a few hay bales. This van is considered the property of the VS boy. He’s a fine fellow and take pride in his ride, shifting gears and passing slow vehicles like a local.

Claudia and I were in the United States for Christmas. The weather in Pennsylvania had been rainy and not so cold. We returned to a winter wonderland. I’m told this area of Romania hasn’t seen this much snow in quite a few years. It must be that global warming thing.

While we were gone, a new baby was added to one of the church families here. That meant vans were shuffled so the expectant mother could have constant access to wheels. Claudia and I hardly need a van, we live a kilometer and a half from school. So it happened that the old rattly van fell to us. It had changed a bit while we were gone. A back window was missing.

The second morning we awoke to fresh snow falling.

As we backed out onto the road, I mentioned to Claudia that I was glad it wasn’t the front window. She shivered.

Halfway to school I rembered Robert Frost and he kept me laughing all day.

Whose van this is I think I know. /His house is in the village though; /He will not see me stopping here /To watch his van fill up with snow.


A Whisperer


Why/when do people whisper?


Read Proverbs 16:27-30

Is this whisperer causing good? What are his whispers? Why is he whispering?

Friendships are valuable to all of us. And we don’t like separation.

Do you like to hear bad things about friends?

Let’s learn to keep evil from passing our lips, in fact, we should not even think evil of others.


Let’s treasure friendships and think before we talk. Be a true friend. Only think good of others. The next time you whisper, analyze why you are whispering, and be sure you aren’t destroying your friends.

Owl Pellets

Sometimes teaching is one hundred percent salesmanship. How else would students ever be induced to extract square roots and sample blue cheese?

Or dissect owl pellets.

Several years ago, I was exploring my brother’s farm and was delighted to discover owl pellets scattered in his commodity barn.

I’ve been interested in the small clumps since I was very young. A pair of barn owls nested in our abandoned silo. My grandma was a photographer. So she sent Grandpa up the chute for some pictures of the fuzzy little owlets. He got some remarkable shots. Father Barn Owl sat above the chute and the pictures I remember most are of Grandpa when his feet had regained the ground.

Now, as a teacher, these owl pellets are more gold than gray. Amazon sells them for better than two dollars apiece. My hand had been hovering over the “add to cart” for a few months already. I wanted so badly to dissect one of these regurgitated morsels with my student. It would be a learning experience. And inside, all those little bonesies! It’s like Christmas to me. You never know what lives or stories hide within the wrapper.

I scooped up five pellets and dug through my car for a suitable container. I found an empty truffle box.

That’s when the scheming began. Boys usually don’t mind owl pellets too much, but there were two girls in my sixth-grade class. And sixth grade is just that age where a girl is growing into a lady; the age when she becomes especially sensitive to all things unladylike, but has not yet developed an adult ability to look beyond the wrapper.

I took the pellets to school and buried them in a drawer at the back of my room. I needed time to plan.

Ruthie cut the time short a few days later when she was digging for colored pencils in the same drawer.

“What are these?” she asked, holding the box at arm’s length.

“What does it say on the box?” I returned.

It wasn’t my best day. The cat was out of the bag before its time. My lines were not prepared. I explained that they were owl pellets and that inside each lay a mystery. Perhaps a mouse skull. Perhaps sparrow feathers. They rate among the most interesting things on earth. By pulling these clumps apart and reassembling the pieces we could discover what the owl had for night lunch.

Ruthie turned up her nose.

I promised that I would make latex gloves available on the day of the dissecting.

Ruthie put the box back and shut the drawer.

Several weeks later we cut open the pellets and both those girls entered right in. It was one of the boys whose stomach was weak.

The owl had fed on mice.

We took a large poster and clustered the different bones into beautiful arrangements: our own manifesto of an owl supper reconstructed.

With money left over for truffles.