Week 1, Day 4

It’s officially laundry day. For those of you who counted my underwear before I left and are thinking laundry day should’ve been a while ago, you need to know that I also brought some pairs of sports boxers which technically are underwear.

I just love the L. For a kid who spent an inordinate amount of time building model railroads, the L is an absolute treat. In the morning, on my way into the Loop, I love to stand near the front of the train and watch the tracks, the other trains, figure out the signals, and little signs along the tracks. There are so many switches and crossovers between the parallel sets of tracks on the way downtown. In the Loop is even cooler, since there is a T junction at the start of the Loop, at least where I first encounter it, and then a full double-wide crossing on the opposite corner of the Loop, diagonally. That is super cool, because it is like a giant tic-tac-toe board made out of train tracks, and it is very busy.

I took these last Saturday, the day I went to the Harold Washington Library. I take pictures of train tracks. That is how much of a geek I am. I guess I’ve outed myself. I’d take more if I wasn’t afraid of being mistaken for a terrorist. I think tracks are beautiful.

L1This one of those great sets of crossovers. The Red Line runs on the center pair of tracks. The Orange Line, which is the one I usually take downtown, runs on the outer two tracks. Just looking at all those switches makes me a bit giddy. OK, a pause while I take a few yoga breaths.

This next one is a bit further down the line, and shows that the tracks are not always flat; sometimes they lean way in toward the center of a curve.

L2Finally the T junction near the Library stop. The train takes a sharp left just past the second double red signal in the center, past that neat double crossover.  My next job is to figure out what the signals mean. I cropped this picture so you can’t clearly see the logo of a rich man running for president.

I couldn’t get a shot of the double crossing because part of the Loop was under construction, and the train didn’t pass there that day. I’d love to catch it near sunset, with the sun glinting off the rails. I’ve seen that once. So stunning.

Actually, there are just a ton of train lines all over the city, especially here in the southern part. A few of you might have heard of the Back of the Yards – rode through it this morning on my bike. It’s largely an outsized industrial park now, but it still has plenty of track laid down, in many very interesting configurations. I have to wonder what they are all for.

OK, enough geekery, it’s time for MORE GEEKERY! This last picture is the school across the street from where I am living, Philip D Armour school. It is a K-8 school founded in 1901. P.D. Armour made his fortune in the meatpacking industry, and is the subject of some scandal. There is a nice playground over one the far side. That’s where kids were hanging out last night.


One more day of classes. We had two new students today, Mia and Kiara, to replace the two who couldn’t stay. We had a busy day programming Jukeboxes and getting the new students caught up. Tomorrow, we go back through some of the stuff students aren’t quite clear on (there are quizzes at the end of everyday), then move on to the Python (named after Monty Python) programming language for the next two weeks.



Week 1, Day 3

The scene: I’m sitting here next to Ellie (Week 0, Day 6) on the second floor porch, where I can see the Sears Tower. I don’t remember what it’s called now. It is just too nice to stay inside and write, so I am trying this experiment. It’s quarter after 8pm, about 74 degrees with a gentle breeze.  There are a lot of birds around, sparrows mostly, I think. I can hear children playing in the yard next to the school across the street, a couple of male voices conversing downstairs. A yappy dog is barking, in spite of what I said yesterday. There is music, too far off to distinguish, but it has the familiar echo of an ice cream truck. Earlier, a man walked by pushing a cart with shaved ice and two flavor bottles. He honked a horn, that kind with a rubber bulb and sounds like a duck, to get the attention of the kids in the park. There are quite a few people out and about. I’m eating dinner: a steak shawarma wrap from Zaytune, about two blocks from here. It’s more than I can eat tonight, but the rest will make a nice breakfast.

I went to yoga this morning at 6. To my surprise, there were quite a few people there. The small studio, Southside Om, was almost full – only one or two more could fit comfortably. The instructor, Meg, said it would be a challenging class, and it was. Ten minutes of uninterrupted, self-paced sun salutations was just one of the challenges. I met Meg on Saturday at her morning Hatha yoga class. She was the second instructor I met there. Erin was the first.

I really enjoy visiting new yoga studios and taking classes with new instructors. If at all possible, I go to a new studio in every city I travel too. I can almost always find a class that works, timewise. Every instructor is so different, and I never fail to learn something from each. Every one uses slightly different words or emphases. This one suggests to hold your belly in during a certain transition, that one says to line up your fingers and toes in a pose. In some classes you move pose to pose quickly, in others you hold poses for what seems like forever. Some instructors are hands on, making sure to help align the poses of every student in the class, while others never leave the front of the room. Generally, if they are going to align you, they tell you at the beginning of the class and give an option to wave them off. I always accept whatever the instructor has to offer – I like to get my money’s worth. Sometimes the instructors apply essential oils, usually to your temples and the back of the neck, other times to the insides of your wrists. There’s one studio, in Burlington, VT, where the instructors (I’ve had two there) mist you during final relaxation.

Somehow, there’s a unifying whole to all this variation. There’s a deep core to yoga that exists in every class, but maybe is harder to discern from just one perspective. It’s almost like trying to discern the meaning of the bible by reading many different versions. You know there’s an underlying truth to it all, and particular words or phrases from different versions make it clearer.

After yoga, I headed straight downtown, without changing – I brought a change of clothes with me and changed at work. Stopping home was feasible, but would’ve made me rush to be on time – adding an extra twenty minutes or so to my journey.

We had a long day of coding today – little direct instruction. Two labs: the first was a simple Pong like game, the second was the game Pig. More students struggled today than yesterday since the challenges are mounting. What’s a little frustrating, but par for the course if you teach teens, is that students will disengage from the activity, but still ACT as if they are doing it, hoping you won’t notice. Fortunately, I have a lot of experience with this and can spot it from across a room without even looking at the student’s laptop screen. I just watch the patterns of their fingers on the trackpad, their eye movements, and their facial expressions. They are like open books. The hard part is getting to all of them and staying with them long enough to get through the rough patches. Tomorrow is another difficult task: programming a jukebox.

One of the challenges for me today was physically getting to a place where I could help (see the screen, talk quietly, etc.) because they were sitting so close together. I like to sit or kneel next to students rather than looming over them.  I think I’ll remove about half the chairs, so they can only sit two on a side of a table instead of three. That’ll make my job a whole lot easier. And isn’t that what it’s all about? Less work for me?

It’s a little after nine, now. The birds have become silent, and the children went home about ten minutes ago. All this while, a couple have been moving in upstairs, trying not to disturb me while they move their earthly possessions up three flights of stairs. They seem like really nice people.


Week 1, Day 2

From the classroom: We had another student drop today, due to a family emergency. That makes a total of two. This is a fairly strict program: students are allowed only two absences all summer. We may get two replacements tomorrow, but after that it’s probably too late to begin. We are moving at a very quick pace. We cover much the same material as a first semester college Computer Science course.

Students have all different levels of ability. We have three students who are struggling mightily. One is due to a language barrier, I suspect. If English is a second language for a student, learning a technical subject can be very difficult. As it turns out, technical English is very different from social English, so a student who is socially fluent may not be fluent technically, even if they have way above average math skills. I’m not sure where the difference lies. It may be because although we often use the same terms to describe the relationships both culturally and technically, the technical meaning is often both different and more precise. (Cf. the use of the term “regular” in the next paragraph.)

On the other hand, in the “draw a square” computer lab, many students went beyond drawing just a square and moved on to modify their programs to draw regular polygons with any number of sides, and even further to draw  pinwheels with rainbow colors.

My TAs continue to amaze and delight me by just handling things. Student absent? Handled. Software not installed? Handled. Fifteen extra minutes before lunch? Handled.

From the rest of the city: Chicago is a city of smells. I remember Paris being a city of smells also, but the odors were different. Here’s a list of some of the smells I’ve noticed walking and riding around in the last two days:

  • Sour dough rising. Bruno’s Bakery is about a block and a half from here, and I walk past it nearly daily. It is reported to have some of the best sour dough rye in the city. Sadly, it’s open only 10 to 5, and I am working or commuting beyond those hours.
  • Dog poo
  • Good coffee
  • Maple bacon doughnut – OK I may have stopped at Jackalope Coffee Shop for those last two.
  • Diesel exhaust
  • Really nice perfume – kind of citrusy and spicy – like a citrus curry.
  • Body smell – not unpleasant, just body
  • French fries
  • Mexican food
  • Pot
  • A cherry cigar
  • Seaweed
  • Train smoke
  • Grilled hot dogs and hamburgers
  • AXE body spray. Kind of a lot of it for that early in the morning.
  • Wild flowers – there is prairie restoration going on in a nearby park, and the flowers are amazing.

Trumpery: (that is my new favorite for today – look it up)

  • Dogs are very quiet here. Walk past a fenced dog in Connecticut, and it will bark. I’ve walked past several here who haven’t made a peep. They barely look up.
  • There are a lot more interracial relationships here: friendships, romances, marriages.
  • Even with public transit and a bike, I walk a whole lot.

Week 1, Day 1

We met as a class for the first time today. Well, we met minus one who dropped and who we should have a replacement for tomorrow.

Without further ado, here are the girls (they are OK with being called girls.I checked. I sort of prefer young women, but it is Girls Who Code, after all.

GWC_ACN_CHITop row, starting from the left. I’ll name the student, and something I know about her. I’m trying to do this from memory, let see how it goes.

Briannah likes anime, Dami likes to cook and dance, Anna one rode 1,000 miles on a bike in 1 month, Bella likes to work with kids, Karen knows Tae Kwon Do, Yu Jing likes to play Ultimate Frisbee, Vanessa works at her high school radio station, Kyndall is going to the Nationals in spoken word poetry.

Middle row: Shanzey (a TA) wants to buy a guitar pick maker, Amy has a dog named Teddy and two older brothers who are nicer now than when she was young, Karen has a telescope, Carolina likes to draw cartoon characters, Anisha just got back from a trip to England and Scotland, Meriem can do a full twisting layout which is a Level 7  gymnastics move, Kayla likes theater and choir and can use the word thespian correctly, Cyan i have not had a chance to talk to yet, me.

Bottom row: Jessica like church and dog sitting, Naissa plays tennis, Erika has not filled out her Bio yet, Isis was in Girl Up and Courtney (a TA) loves to dance.

Later in the Day, Ellie took me to see this.


Week 1, Day 0

Today, for the third time in my life (at least that I know of), I attended a Latin Mass, because hey, why not. I’m pretty sure this guy was free-styling it, though. You would think, after say, nearly a couple thousand years, they’d get this kind of thing straight. I will tell you straight out that no two of the three were the same. Not even close, as far as I can tell.

The first I remember going to was the wedding of my childhood friend, Karen Miller (now Karen Zavarella) at Our Lady of Victory Basilica in Lackawanna, New York, about a million years ago. I took Latin in 7th and 8th grade, and this mass was easy to follow, in part, because they gave you a very easy to read booklet with the Latin on one side and English on the other and no extra stuff.  I saved that booklet and gave it to Alice when she became interested in, and started taking Latin. It was my experience at this mass that drew me to the others (you don’t find them all over the place, and especially not a block and a half away as today’s mass was). I’m pretty sure that wedding mass was a Novus Ordo (New Order) Mass, though the Wikipedia article on this stuff is pretty dense (IOW, TL;DR).

The second mass was in Providence, RI. I had taken my family there to see a productions of Cats, and the next day I saw there was a Tridentine Latin Mass. I think Alice was already taking Latin, so I took the family. Those of you who are old enough and Catholic enough are snickering right now because you know a rookie mistake when you see one. This is the mass that was popular from 1570 (Remember then? Good times, good times. Who can forget Ivan in Novgorod and Pius V’s Quo primum?) This mass was about two and a half hours long (no joke). I remember that most of the women were wearing black lace chapel veils on their heads. My family still has not let me live this down.

Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, about two blocks from here, offers a Traditional Latin Mass at 8:30 Sunday morning. Having learned my lesson in Providence, I noted that the next scheduled mass was at 10:30am, meaning this could not be a two and a half hour liturgy. See, I’m a quick learner.

The church building itself was finished in 1892, about 10 years after the founding of the parish, and I will tell you, they built them BIG back then. I think, though, that St. Barbara’s, a few blocks away, is even bigger. We shall see.

I found a place to sit, on the side of the one of the center rows of pews. I was in the first row after the aisle in the crossing. That’s the technical term. Look it up. I’m not kidding. This is important because as the procession went by, I smelled incense, a lot of it, even though they weren’t carrying any. At least three generations of altar servers (all male) went by, although none looked younger than thirty something.

Before mass started, I found the Latin Mass Missal on a rolling book rack placed in the center of the crossing (Aren’t you glad you looked it up?). This is the book that has Latin on one side and English on the other so people like me can follow along. Only one small problem; the book was over one thousand pages long! I quickly looked in the table of contents for some help. After eliminating some obvious dead ends (Eastertide, for example), I took my best guess that the mass started on page 569, and the pages went from white to pale yellow glossy with fancy illustrations, so I felt I was in the right place.

Ok, go. The first problem is that this was a High Mass, so all the introductory stuff was sung (by a guy with a great voice) in Gregorian Chant. Try, just try, I dare you, to parse chant. No way. Then, with organ music over it. Hopeless. So I waited for that to be over, and then I’d sync up with the book. No such luck. Second problem: the priest was going all acoustical or something because he wasn’t using any amplification whatsoever, this includes not raising his voice. In a really big church. Plus, he was facing backwards, back to the people (I knew about this, but it didn’t help with the syncing up part.)

The readings, mercifully were in English (although it waseth the oldeth kind of English). Only one small problem: they weren’t today’s readings. I know this, because I preread them on the off chance that they’d be in Latin. The priest was really free-styling now. There were only two readings: the first reading and the Gospel. He did offer a short explanation. Apparently, tomorrow is the Feast of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and the parish was celebrating the feast with a BBQ after the 10:30 Mass. I missed that – I’ll tell you what I did instead later.

I never was able to sync up. Whole parts of the Mass which I have been used to, basically for my whole life, went missing. For example, the priest alone says the Pater Nobis (I’ll let you figure out what that means). Maybe there was a Greeting of Peace, maybe not. It certainly didn’t happen among the people. Also, way more instances of standing, kneeling and sitting that I am used to. Overall, I’d say this Mass was too far from my Zone of Proximal Development for me to get much out of it. I’ll try something else next week. There’s plenty to choose from here, even within walking distance.

From there, I came home, ate breakfast (asparagus, herbed-goat cheese omelette) and headed off to the Chicago Pride Parade. It was long, really long – over two and a half hours, so I’ll just hit the highlights. I took some pictures, but they didn’t come out so well, so you’ll have to live with a text-based rendering.

The first entry in the parade was a silent tribute to the people killed in Orlando. There was someone carrying a large picture labelled with the name of each victim.  Apparently, I’m not done  processing this whole event yet. I was, inwardly, a mess for about an hour after seeing this. I can’t even think about it without feeling hurt inside. Those were people who were killed. People. A moment of silence for each of them.

Back to the parade.

My first favorite entry is the Windy City Cowboys. I had no idea who they were, except a lot of men wearing straw cowboy hats and sleeveless blue gingham cowboy shirts. The car following them stopped, and suddenly a loud crack of thunder came from its speakers. They all ran to the center of the road and umbrellas popped open over them, then they began spraying water bottles all over the place – you guess it: “It’s Raining Men”. I laughed out loud as they all started line dancing in unison.

The next highlight for me was the Flaggots from Ohio. Similar to the Windy City Cowboys, only they’re a COLOR GUARD! So much fun.

I can’t not fail to mention Organized Chaos, a women’s motorcycle group. They are like the Shriners, only WAY louder on their Harleys, and so much cooler.

My vote for best group name:  Chicago Smelts Swim Team

It got pretty commercial toward the end – there were a lot of large corporations represented, airlines, hotel chains, radio and TV stations, etc. I was glad to see my host company, Accenture, was represented, too.

That’s all for now. Sorry about no pictures. OK, maybe just one. One of the most impressive displays was by Balloons by Tommy. So many thousands of brightly colored balloons. This level of color kept on passing for about eight or ten minutes.


Tomorrow – Week 1, Day 1 – the roller coaster begins its wild ride.


Week 0, Day 6

Week 0, Day 6

Serendipity, as it turns out, can sweep you up in its wings more easily when you are traveling alone than when you have agreed upon plans with another. I had planned to see the Museum of Science and Industry today, but it was SUCH a nice day, that I headed in the other direction (literally) and am glad I did.

The museum is to the south of the city, my plan was to head north, into the city. I took the Orange Line, which is the train I take to work daily. Rather than the usual destination, “The Loop”, the schedule board said “Downtown, Kimball”. Since I was headed downtown to get a bike to use while I’m here, I hopped on.

I haven’t been riding the El long enough to remember the order of the stops, so I wasn’t sure where I was going, other than downtown. I soon found out. We got to the first stop in the loop, which is “Harold Washington Library-State/Van Buren”, always stated clearly by the recorded voice. As the train squealed to a halt, a new, less distinct voice came over the speaker, “This train is now a Brown Line train to Kimball” and repeated it twice, just to make sure we all got it. Pedagogy has something to learn from the CTA. Knowing I wasn’t headed to Kimball, I evacuated myself from the train and down to the street.

Several times, as I passed this stop, I’ve noticed a building with the most unusual acroteria I’ve ever seen. Take a look at the photo and see if you don’t agree – those are Oharold_washington_library_southwest_owlWLS! )
I decided that this must be the Harold Washington Library, so I found an entrance and went in. [Shameless plug here: I think I’m going to make the Harold Washington Library an honorary addition to my other (currently on hiatus) blog
librariesofnewengland.com. Really, I only have one entry and the “About” page done – this is a long term project.] Curiously, it was built starting in 1991!

I wandered a bit, and soon found the “What’s happening at your library sign”. There was an open Makerspace on the calendar, so I headed up to the third floor to see. In the “CPL Innovation Lab” as they call it, there were several 3D printers hard at work, and a gaggle of laptops ready to program them. They offer design courses, 3D printing and a bunch of other equipment.

Before long, I met AJ and his fiancee, Bethany, who were in from Cleveland. AJ told me about a cool product the company he works for makes called Gravi-tech, which is a plastic that can have the density and many of the properties of lead (imagine hunters using a lead shot substitute that is not hazardous to the environment – it has many other uses, too). Bethany was the librarian at a small high school, that was about to put in a Makerspace.

Harold HWLib_welcomeWashington Library, as you can see, is quite welcoming – this sign appears on all nine floors of the library. While I was there I saw several decorating ideas for Katie to consider in the new EHHS library.  A picture is worth a thousand words, so I’ll save myself some typing: 3D signs, a puzzle space, an atrium, and cannons.


I haven’t mentioned it, but Accenture gave us a lot of swag. Someday, I’ll take a picture of it to show you, but for now you’ll have to live with a picture I took with my new selfie-stick.HWLib_JWO

I must say, serendipity took over again in this part of my exploration. I was on the eighth floor of the library, which is where the escalators stopped going up. I was ready to explore some of the lower floors I hadn’t seen yet, so I entered the elevator to go down. The G button wouldn’t stay lit. The gentleman who got on with me suggested that since the elevator was headed up, that the doors would close and open again, and then the button would work when the elevator was in down mode. The doors closed, and the elevator went up! I had no idea there was an up! The ninth floor is where I found the atrium and special collections, so I learned how to make beer and who Harold Washington was ( a former mayor).

Back down on the ground floor, I found a large, well-lit room called the “Popular Library”. Having no idea what that meant, I entered to find all kinds of CDs, DVDs, romance novels, new books, “On hold” books to be picked up, and a bunch of other stuff. I wasn’t sure what united these disparate items, so (naturally) I asked a librarian. The Popular Library is where they keep parts of their collection so people can just stop in from the street and get something quickly, rather than searching in the upper floors for it.

I left the library and walked out toward Navy Pier. Along the way I met a new friend, Ellie. She has been in Chicago for about a year, and has done a lot of sightseeing in the city. We hit it off immediately and spent the afternoon together exploring along the lake shore and the south side of the city. Before I left her, around dinnertime, I promised that we would explore other parts of the city, too. I took a picture of her near Buckingham Fountain, which has turned out to be one of my favorite sights in the city.



Apparently, as the owner of the bike shop I bought her at told me, it’s bad luck to ride a bike with no name. I’d have named her anyway.


Week 0, Day 5

As part of the GWC Summer Immersion Program (SIP), the students journal nearly every day. A question arose in my head, and I’m sure in many of the other instructors’ heads: How can we make the journaling more useful to the students both during and after the program? Clearly, meaningful prompts are part of this, but could there be a product at the end of the journaling that can serve the students in some way?

Because in my other, non-GWC life I hang out with the wrong sorts of people (English teachers), an idea crept into my head that can address both those purposes. There is an archetypal pattern in stories throughout the course of human history called the Hero’s Journey. English teachers talk about this stuff all the time. You’ve all seen, heard or read a Hero’s Journey, it’s in just about every Disney movie and popular book: Hercules, Mulan, Lion King, Hunger Games, Harry Potter, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, you name it.

It occurred to me that the students experiences in the SIP fit the Hero’s Journey pattern quite well, and through journalling it, they can be lead to recognize their heroic inner selves.

Below I’ve outlined a simplified Hero’s Journey, including how it corresponds to the parts of the SIP and a suggested prompt. The idea is that after journaling, the students can go back and read the selected prompts and see their own Hero’s Journey, and perhaps use it as a basis for school work or college essays.

Different sources break the journey down into varying numbers of steps, some as many as seventeen, others as few as eight. I’ve chosen to use eight since it fits nicely into about one prompt a week over the seven weeks of the SIP. I’ll pretty closely follow the stages found here.

1. The Call to Adventure

At some point before they started the program, the students got “The Call”, the opportunity to face the unknown (the SIP), and possibly come back with something of value (coding skills and more).

Prompts, all on the same day in Week 1:

How did you first hear about the Summer Immersion Program? What was it that attracted you to apply? What do you hope to gain from being in the program?

Note: we used this prompt in place of the similar one from the first week: “GWC is super fun, but also pretty intense and time consuming. Why did you decide to dedicate your summer to this program as opposed to another activity?”

2. The Threshold: Jumping into the Unknown

On Week 1, Day 1, students will jump into the unknown. They will cross the threshold between what they know, their life at home and school, and what they don’t know, a seven week commitment to work with a bunch of strangers on tasks they know nothing about. They have no idea whether they will be successful or not. At this stage, helpers often appear, sometimes with gifts that might be useful later in the journey. The most important helpers are mentors who guide the hero and help keep them safe.

Prompt – given during Week 2, asks students to reflect back on their first day:

Think back the very beginning of the Summer Immersion Program and try to remember some of the items that were waiting for you when you arrived. How might these items help you during the summer? Who are the people you have met since then who might help you, and how might they assist you?

3. The Challenges

Week 3 is full of challenges. Early challenges in the program are relatively easy, helping students build confidence and skill. At this point, even students who entered with some programming experience will face obstacles they realize they may not be successful overcoming. Some of these challenges will strike right at their greatest weaknesses as programmers.

Prompt – given during Week 3:

Think about some of the challenges you’ve faced in the Summer Immersion Program so far. Describe one or two of them and how you overcame them. What strengths did you bring to solving the problems?

4. Into the Abyss

The challenges and obstacles continue to mount. In this prompt, we address the greatest challenge and hint that maybe what made it a challenge is a skill or trait  they can work on improving.

Prompt – given during Week 4:

What has been the greatest challenge you’ve faced so far in the program (it doesn’t have to be programming challenge)?  What skill or trait could you develop to make that challenge easier for you?

5. Transformation

In this stage, the hero becomes transformed or reborn (sometimes literally) into a new being. At this point, the students too will have started to change. In this prompt, we ask them to reflect on the changes they’ve experienced.

Prompt – given during Week 5:

What is the biggest change you’ve experienced so far in the Summer Immersion Program? Make a list of things you can do now and things that you know now that you didn’t before that change.

6. Revelation

Now we are getting late in the program. Most of the students will have changed the way they think at this point.

Prompt – given during the first half of Week 6:

What event or activity so far in the Summer Immersion Program has had the greatest impact on the way you think? What new knowledge did you gain in that event? What assumptions did you make before it that were challenged?

7. Atonement

In this stage, the hero atones for a past wrong. In the SIP,  the students have created their final project proposals for using technology to solve a problem. The prompt asks the student to reflect on how they are using their new, improved selves to correct wrongs they see in the world around them.

Prompt – given during the second half of Week 6:

Your final project is designed to use technology to solve a problem. Describe at least three ways you can use your new skills and knowledge from the Summer Immersion Program to help other people.

8. Return

Now the students are ready to return to their old lives, but as renewed people with new skills and knowledge.

Prompt – given during Week 7:

What do you plan to do after the program ends to use your new skills and knowledge to improve the world around you?

How we are using these

We made a journalling template with all the prompts for the entire summer. We marked each of the Hero’s Journey prompts with an asterisk. Sometime after the response to the last prompt is written, we will explain the concept of The Hero’s Journey  to the students, showing them a short video (example) that illustrates examples of the Hero’s Journey, and then inform them that they have completed their own Hero’s Journey documented through particular journal entries.

Special thanks to Trish Seeley for teaching me about the Hero’s Journey.

And if you must know, yes, I am listening to the Disney music channel on Pandora. (I‘ll make a Man Out of You – Mulan)


Week 0, Day 4

We were able to get into our classroom for the first time today, but that wasn’t the best thing that happened, although, as you’ll see, our classroom is pretty nice.

We (my TAs and I) met at Accenture at noon today, and were greeted by Katie and Jen who brought us up to our room on the 36th floor. Richard and David were there setting up the laptops for the students. First, I have to commend every Accenture employee, about 20 so far, we’ve interacted with – they have been so, so responsive, friendly, helpful, and absolutely bent on making this the best experience possible for both the students and the teaching staff. They all have full time jobs, but have made this program an exceedingly high priority. Props to Accenture for allowing them to follow their passions. They all work so well together, even though many are meeting each other face-to-face for the first time.

Our room. Wow. It was completed less than a year ago in a remodel and has a lot of the latest meeting room technology, like a single, removable panel (almost like a tablet) which controls the lights, display monitors, shades, audio, everything. The building is about a block and a half south of the Chicago River, across the street from the Thompson Center. Our room, as I mentioned, is on the 36th floor, facing north. From it, we can see the river and miles and miles to the north-northwest. Simply spectacular, though the view from the cafeteria, where Accenture will generously be providing us with daily lunch, is even more so – it faces east and looks out over Millennium Park and the lake.


The most exciting part about today was finally getting to meet the students and some of their parents at our Meet and Greet. It was almost like an open house at school, except the food and the view are way better. And there was a lot of food – the guacamole alone would have overfilled any bowl I have at my home in Connecticut.

The students – so bright, excited and friendly. I met Vanessa, Dami (whose first name is much longer than that and means “God has rewarded me with wealth” – I promised to learn her full name before the end of the week), Naissa, Yu Jing, Bella (and her sister Rosie), Erica, Kayla, Briannah and Jessica, as well as many of their family members. This is a very diverse set of young women, in terms of ethnicity, socioeconomic background, personality, and level of coding experience.

I happened to remember some of Vanessa’s application – namely that she was involved in  her high school’s radio station and an anti-substance abuse program called Operation Snowball, which she will be the director of next year. She was completely stunned (and pleased) that I knew anything about her (so were her parents). In all honesty, I had just read her bio about an hour before and thought she might be a good candidate for one of the GWC media outreach programs.

Because of her excitement, right here, right now, I am taking a personal (and since you’re reading this, public) vow to know every student’s bio before they walk in Monday morning. That should set a positive, respectful tone for the rest of the summer. Plus, it’s only memorizing a bunch of stuff. Hmm, I also have their pictures, so maybe I can also know their names as they walk in – since I met so many tonight, I’m already halfway there.


Week 0 , Day 3

She set me at ease immediately, “Would you like a glass of water while you wait?” Admittedly, I was already pretty chill after a challenging yoga class, but her offer took me down another notch. That was not to last.

I’ve been eyeing this restaurant for days; my bus stop is across a little side street from it. When I first walked past on Monday, it looked kind of like a closed business (there are lots of them around here, though this neighborhood has the feel of an impending resurgence). The sign outside was no help: Nana. Sort of a comforting name, especially if you are alone in a new city, but a quick glance inside as I walked past yielded no clue as to what their business was.

Then, as I was searching for a place to eat yesterday (I googled “restaurants near me”), Nana (nanaorganic.com) came up as a well-reviewed, local, organic, sustainable restaurant, and the prices are decent; PLUS it’s only a six minute walk away! I knew I had to try it before the summer was over. When I can, which is almost always when I’m traveling alone or with my family, I try to patronize locally owned businesses. I prefer to have my money stay in and support the community I am visiting.

I was parched after yoga, so I relaxed even more when another waitress offered me a second glass of water. I don’t think I’ve ever been offered a drink while waiting for take out  – certainly not twice. As I settled into my tranquility, I gazed absently down South Halsted Street, watching the infrequent foot traffic meander by.

Suddenly, the sky strobed white, then became dark again. I was a little taken aback, but I had conversed with several classmates at yoga: thunderstorms were expected, I thought at eight o’clock, they had heard later. One mentioned the possibility of a tornado. Still, that was later. I relaxed again and waited.

The sky began to flash more ominously and frequently. Were we going to get hit early? I slid to the edge of my seat (about half the chairs in restaurants here are those high stools), and began to look around. I saw, with a sense of relief, the waitress put a box into a bag. I was the only to-go customer, and I was ready to go! The wind was beginning to pick up. She looked into the bag, then set it on the counter in front of the chef, and said something to him I couldn’t make out, and walked away.

I had ordered their grilled chicken sandwich (chicken from a local farm – I asked. By the way, if you’ve never had chicken raised in a sustainable way, by a farmer which you are only one or two degrees of separation from, I recommend you do. It’s a different bird. There is something extraordinarily comforting about knowing who grew your food. Seriously.), and it came with a side dish. I ordered “farmer’s vegetable, seasonal selection, ask your server” which turned out to be grilled zucchini. It’s early for zucchini, I know, but it was delicious after such a long hiatus. Although it’s early for zucchini, this particular zucchini was taking it’s sweet time getting cooked. “It’ll be ready shortly,” the waitress told me. She must have noticed me beginning to fidget and offered me a third glass of water. I declined – the sky was flashing like a dance club. Mercifully, they brought the bill before the food, so when my meal was ready, I grabbed the bag and headed out the door. No rain yet.

I walked the half block to my street, and as I turned the corner, a man lurched off the step of what used to be a corner store, and said “Come on, let’s go.” I was startled, but because he had his back to me, not too worried. I turned the corner, and his dog, a small schnauzer mix,  ran toward me barking. When she saw I wasn’t afraid of her, she immediately calmed down and walked up to sniff me. She bored of that quickly and moved on.

I had to hoof it. I started counting the seconds between the flash and the boom, “One one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand, … seventeen one thousand”. Ok, not too bad. All the way home I counted, over and over. I started with every really bright flash, hoping for a clear report to make the count certain, but the flashes were coming faster than the thunder, rendering my task impossible. The wind continued to pick up, and at one point brought the oddest scent: watermelons. For about three full breaths, I sensed their unmistakeable aroma.

Finally, I reached my gate, pushed through and climbed to the second floor. I unlocked the door, and dropped my bag on the table as the skies opened up, glad to be safely at my home away from home. Man, that was a good chicken sandwich.

The storms, swinging down like a battle axe.


Week 0, Day 2

I walked in a different direction this morning, so I can report this: that civil engineering project where they raised the streets is HUGE. It is at least two miles across. Just wow. I can also report that mulberrries are plentiful here, and hardly anyone eats them, except for that woman who had a quarter shopping bag full of them and was still collecting with thousands on the sidewalk around her. PLUS there is this type of blueberry bush used ornamentally around here that is just delicious. What can I say? My mom didn’t do such a great job of teaching me not to stick things in my mouth. But, as she would say (and has on many an occasion), I was her first try.


I spent the majority of the day working: fixing slides, adjusting our lesson plans and calendar and actually doing the programming activities that we will ask the students to do. Yesterday I programmed the computer to play Pig, an easy dice game you could play with even little kids (old enough to count to 100) on a rainy day. Today I will be programming a Jukebox, and tomorrow it will be an image posterizer and a video game. That’ll get me through the first three weeks of what the students will be doing.


We had a meeting with our hosts at Accenture today. I bet you don’t know what Accenture does. I know I didn’t until today, when a twenty-something (that’s the term he started using when some of the new employees were younger than his tenure) year veteran at Accenture told me about some of their projects. Sufficed to say, they’re everywhere. Remember way back in the eighties, there were those really kind of unnerving commercials “We’re Beatrice” (example), and we all thought “Who’s Beatrice?” It’s kind of like that, but not so unnerving. They work as consultants for (at least) all the Fortune 1000 (not a typo). So, if a grocery chain wants to do some big tech project, like those hand held scanners for shoppers some stores have, they call Accenture to help them. (I don’t know that Accenture actually did that, but from some of the other projects he described, that would be exactly the type of thing that they’d do). We don’t know the name so well because “Buy’N’Large announces that they hired consultants to make these nifty new scanners” doesn’t sound as good as “Buy’N’Large announces their nifty new scanners”.


I hate to disparage my new classroom at EHHS, even though my view improved from a close up of view of the brick side of the old LMC to a grand panorama of the VFW, the Peacemaker (an Apache helicopter) and the surrounding neighborhood, but my view this summer will be incredible: Our classroom is on the 36th floor facing north looking out over all of North Chicago and the lake. I’ll post pictures when we get in the classroom full time on Thursday.


I’m taking my own advice and heading to bed early tonight.