Showing My Work on Back To School

I know many parents are facing the same decision as our family.

Background – my main job for the next 18 months is stay healthy, love my family and educate my kids. When COVID clears up, I can sort everything else.

Location – we live a half mile away from CU Boulder. The university administration will shortly welcome back 30,000+ students, during a global pandemic. ~40% of those kids come from out of state. ~6,000 students live in our zipcode.

Community Transmission – it’s been rolling all summer.

Our positives have moved from our at-risk population to our younger residents. There’s plenty of hospital capacity.

same source as above, orange is long-term care facilities

Testing has been coming back 96% negative since the start of June. This is great news as our actions are misaligned with our words. With social distancing and masks, we talk a better game than we are executing. Collectively, we are not acting like COVID is a serious situation.

Taking all of above together, our district will be reopening in late-August with a hybrid model. For the full details go HERE and click “Level Three.”

Basically, every Monday off and the other four days are split between at-home (2 days) and at-school (2 days). Kids will be placed in cohorts to reduce mingling and staff will limit their interactions with the cohorts.

Positive test results will trigger 14-day at-home periods by cohort, or school, to be determined.

Testing expected to be offered to staff on a 14-day basis, aiming for 2-day turnaround.

Paywall article in our local paper.

We have a great school district by the way => lots of smart, dedicated adults and kids.

Here is an extract from a note I sent the head of the School Board…

With 30,000+ CU kids returning, and testing on a 14-day cycle, I don’t see how we catch the outbreaks early. Off-campus transmission, in the 20-something age group, seems likely to lift the City of Boulder community spread. We might not see that in the numbers until after Labor Day. Denver’s decision to combine a delay with two-weeks online makes sense for City of Boulder schools. This is an observation, not a criticism of the Phase 3 reopening plan.

Cohorts make sense to me. It wasn’t clear to me if cohorts, or schools, were going to be moved to online-only after a confirmed positive. With each confirmed positive, please consider shutting the whole school for 14-days. Shutting schools will be an inconvenience early in the year but you will find out quickly if you avoided a much larger outbreak. I see avoiding large outbreaks as fundamental for keeping the BVSD in-person system operating.

As a family, we greatly appreciate the option to start online with our neighborhood school. We’re going to start online: (a) to reduce in-person class sizes and let teachers focus on the kids who have fallen behind; (b) to support teachers, who wish to work online-only; and (c) to eliminate the risk of disruption from rolling closures, which appear inevitable.

We’re going to wait until the end of the summer to make our final decision.

Our local situation is fluid and the district might be forced by external circumstances to change their plans.

Personally, I want to pull back the time that COVID took away from me. Going in-and-out of school openings/closings will cause more hassle than the benefit we get from sending kids back for a couple in-class days each week.

Most importantly, I have a guiding principle… if ruin is avoidable then avoid it. If I get sick, even mildly, it is a large hassle for my family. If I die, or get long-term disabled, then it’s a disaster for them.

The district is offering me a option to reduce my risk of ruin. My premium is foregoing two-days a week of in-class instruction. Properly framed, their offer is very attractive.

Their offer is online support four days a week, that’s a big increase from our summer school plan where we had to organize everything. In the “time of COVID,” the online-only offer is good enough to meet my objectives for my kids, while helping me work towards a personal goal of “get sick later”.

My kid objectives are easily achieved within the framework of online school.

  • Girl, nearly 8, going into Grade Two => reading, spelling and intro to times tables
  • Boy, 9, going into Grade Four => just keep him ticking over, Summer School got him where he needs to be for post-COVID (hopefully) Grade Five
  • Girl, nearly 12, going into Grade Six => #1 stay busy! Home school without outside support doesn’t work for her, or me. Continue with essay skills, start Grade Seven math, intro to basic sciences.

Overall, I’m brainstorming at-home modules the kids can do.

#1 // Each kid picks a scientist and teaches the family about them — create a huge white board about the person and dress up (as the person) for the presentation. If this goes well then pick a country and do the same. That gets me to Halloween (or beyond) and I can figure out 2021 later.

#2 // Duolingo for kids on iPad. We’ve had a couple false starts with Spanish as an after-school activity. A little bit each day might enable the (very) basics to get into their heads.

#3 // Teach the kids to uphill, and nordic, ski. Dropping the significant costs associated with resort skiing (especially seasonal accommodation) is a simple way to create space in the family budget for extracurriculars and supplemental schooling.

#4 // Create a board game the family can play.

The kids have told my wife that it’s OK for me to be the Home School principal but they don’t want me teaching!

I’ve always been respected for my project management skills.

People skills, less so.

Adversity Reveals

This picture reminds me that leaning into the difficulties of fatherhood has one of the highest returns on investment, in my life.

Saturday’s entry in my Daily Stoic (link is to Amazon) was a reminder that adversity reveals, an excellent topic during these times.

I have a hunch, Colorado is in a lull in our virus process. I’m taking advantage of the lull to get outside.

This week, my kids are wrapping up an academic year’s worth of math.

Five weeks to learn, one week of review – on to the next year’s concepts.

Financial price was ~$500 per kid. The price in time was 4 classes a week (1-on-1, 30 minutes) and 4-6 homework sessions of 20-45 minutes each. The classes were led by a Middle School teacher. Her skill is how we made such rapid progress.

My role was making it happen and dealing with the occasional fallout when the kids struggled with the new concepts.

  • Financial investment – less than expected.
  • Time investment – less than expected.
  • Emotional Investment – more than expected.

It’s probably like that with a lot of things.

The true skill lies in pushing through the emotional hurdle of the status quo.

Bison Peak, Lost Creek Wilderness.

Our experience with Summer Math reminded me that harder is more meaningful. The kids have gotten a lot out of their struggles. In overcoming “math,” they know they have achieved something.

The challenges of these times have demanded more from all of us. Hopefully, you’ve seen the benefit of having to step up.

Difficult does not imply worse.

Right around 12,000 feet in the Rockies.

Governance matters.

Our local and state governments have done an excellent job at navigating through the early stages of this crisis. I disagree with a lot of what they’ve done! Part of what they’ve done well is manage all of the disagreeing voices.

The process of translating “the choices of government” to “an outcome in society” requires social trust and cohesion.

America has trust issues and many are making them worse. However, the lesson here isn’t for our country or your local jurisdiction. The lesson is for your family and your marriage.

There’s a balance between competence and cohesion. To lead, to govern, you need to be keeping both in mind and acting in a way that builds social cohesion.

Time and time again, I have been surprised by outcome.

We are 15 weeks into a process that will take far longer than I expect.

Adversity will continue to reveal.

Home School Stuff

Top of Hogback Loop, Boulder, Colorado

Science Wednesday was Plastic Milk – the girls weren’t interested and opted out – Axel enjoyed the session.

We’re going to take a break from experiments for a week and build ourselves a Volcano!

Eating the “plastic” was a highlight for him.

Workout Thursday saw Axel do more in 20-minutes than I can do in 25-minutes.

It’s a pattern you can do at home: (a) sandbag getup and run to the next room, repeat 4x; then 20 squat jumps (step down, never jump backwards) => keep rolling continuous.

Body slammed himself on the bench on the final rep of his 9th round (180 jumps total).

True savagery – once we were sure he hadn’t cracked a rib, we shared a laugh.

My daughter and I have been butting heads with her math.

This must happen to other families so I’ll share the workaround we discovered.

Like their Dad, my kids are good at pretending they understand when they have absolutely no frickin’ clue!

As you can see from the world around you, being clueless isn’t usually a problem. However, it is a suboptimal method to learn new math concepts via Zoom call.

In a typical school, the learning rate is slow enough that most of the kids figure things out on their own. At the Byrn Family Academy of Personal Excellence, we’ve been learning at a faster rate.

I didn’t realize how much faster until I noticed our youngest was nearly finished Unit Three of next year’s math. Five weeks to do half a year’s math curriculum => keeping things in perspective, it’s Grade Two and I give the kids supplemental lessons when they ask me about concepts. We’re not blazing AP Calculus but the pace for our Grade Four and Grade Six is legit.

With the new concepts, our oldest was reprinting the assignments on a clean sheet and handing in 100% correct work. Behind the scenes, I had been subjected to a half hour of tears and abuse => “Sweetie, it’s math, our opinions don’t change the answer.”

Anyhow, we both got sick of the struggle. She has no interest in receiving lessons from me => “Just tell me the answer, Dad!”

Not being able to teach is frustrating because I’m a great teacher! However, the goal is for student to learn, not the teacher to teach!

Family Value => It is OK to say “no.”

On the basis of “relationship before all else,” I resigned.

My resignation resulted in more tears. She’d rather struggle through with me than admit she doesn’t understand with her teacher.

So, we struck a truce…

  • Side by side, we review
  • When I find an error, she works through again
  • We arrive at the step that’s causing problems
  • Chip away until she gets it right

So far, no more tears and I don’t feel an ulcer coming on.

PE with Dad. Ax-man has 5L of water on the his back. Mountain Lion country (notice the bushes above, right). I had to tell him to stop dropping us!

Axel finished The Everest Trilogy by Korman.

He loved it and he’s going to do a book review with his English teacher.

My next summer essay is on the life cycle of an athlete.

Stage One is the Sporty Kid.

  • It is easier to have sporty kids if you lead the way.
  • Sporty kids have more energy for everything, ie learning.
  • If you want to develop sporty kids then the program is about their current ability level – not your workout goals (train daily before they wake up).
  • Use outside experts to teach technical skills.
  • Focus on enjoyment of the “doing” – resist the urge to teach.
  • Only positive feedback.
  • Focus on activities without a score and no judges.

Corona Diary 27 May 2020

Home School Wednesdays are for catch-up and personal focus. So that means no new work and no video tutoring.

Why use a tutor? Here’s a practical example from today.

Use of a tutor makes it more difficult for a kid to push back on me, particularly a kid who loves completing her assignments.

Towards the end of recess, I asked our Alpha Tween to come into the house first, and alone. This lets me get the most challenging kid transitioned to her next assignment without any distractions, and inside a quiet house.

Up next was DEAR (drop everything and read). This can be a tough transition. Over the next five minutes…

“This is too tough, I need an audio version of this book.”

Sweetie, you’ll need to take that up with Mr. R. I think you should probably read this first block for him.

“This is too tough, I already read this morning.”

Sweetie, you are at page 30 and Mr. R wants you at page 120 by Friday. You don’t want to have to read 70 pages tomorrow. Why don’t you read 40 pages now.

After she settles and the reading is done => Sweetie, I want you to know why we read a lot. We read a lot so we can teach ourselves. Being able to read well gave me an enduring advantage in my life.

What I didn’t say => I see myself in her.

I need challenging goals, and accountability, or else I will default to the path of least resistance. To avoid a constant battle against the easy way…

  • Schedule it
  • Create a daily habit (of one small step)
  • Do it first
  • Ask, “What’s important now?”
  • Place myself in an environment where I want to set an example

Bella’s key session was vowel sounds and Peter Rabbit on PBS Colorado Classroom.

It’s been taking us about double the video run time to get through the lesson. A total lesson of 40-45 minutes is a LONG time for her to stay focused so we isolate in the house. It went well.

More Bella => After two weeks of “strictly the minimum” contribution, Bella’s been cleaning everything! I’m glad I didn’t push when she wanted to take a break.

Lots of positive feedback, and a bit of extra pocket money, when she goes above-and-beyond.

Two thoughts on regulating (the speech of) others…

When I get the urge to control someone else, I remind myself to direct that energy into making myself a better person. I have an endless (!) amount of material to work with AND I have a better chance of making progress.

Second, I remember a Peterson quote along the lines of, “If you dislike a type of speech enough to regulate it then you’re going to really dislike the sorts of people who will end up regulating your speech.”

The quote reminds me of my time at McGill University and the folks who controlled our campus press. A lively bunch, who were deeply convinced they knew what was best for us.

Science Wednesday saw us make LED Flashlights from Mystery Science. Huge hit. Positive, negative, batteries, switches, current flow… fun.

Before Science, we watched a travel video on Shanghai. Each kid gets a pencil and paper and we do Q&A at the end. I choose videos on places where I’ve worked, or lived, in the past.

Lunch, Shanghai and Science took up a three-hour block of our day.

I’ve been working on my essay topic for the week => Marriage.

It’s not quite where I hoped to get it. Might hold off on publishing as our 15th wedding anniversary doesn’t arrive until July.

Writing my essays has me re-reading my most popular stuff. WordPress lets me see what connects with y’all.

Next week is the 16th anniversary of meeting my wife => I wrote How I Met Your Mother for my kids. It is one of my favorite pieces.

Here’s my absolutely favorite piece => The Person You Will Become. It’s about getting to better.

I borrowed Bella’s chef hat for Taco Tuesday.

I am guessing the stress of this crisis has many going one of two ways…

All the bullshit is gone.


All I’m left with is bullshit.

Find the win.