Upward Bound Summer 2013: Adventures in transportation

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Every summer the University of Idaho’s Upward Bound STEM Access program focus changes in order to give students a experience exploring a new side to STEM careers. Last summer we looked at ecology and students created a model future city called Ecolibrium. This summer we’re looking at transportation — specifically, ways to make the transportation systems of the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley more liveable for present and future residents.

This summer our enrollment has jumped, from 12 to 25 high school students. They come from Lewiston, Moscow, Post Falls, and Coeur d’Alene in Idaho, as well as from Clarkston and Asotin in Washington. Our program is taking them through three chapters in their transportation study: 

As they process all that they’re learning, students will post their photos, videos, and reflections on this blog and our Facebook page. Their work will culminate in a collaborative academic research paper, project model, and presentation. It’s a lot of fun, it’s a lot of work, and it’s all to help high-school students make their way into college and STEM careers!

In the Lewiston Tribune: Transportation study drives summer program

Our students hit the streets this week, visiting several spots in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley that they agreed were traffic problem areas:

  • Bridge and Diagonal intersection, Clarkston
  • Walmart intersection, Clarkston
  • Fleshman Way bridge, Lewiston/Clarkston border
  • Thain and Powers intersection, Lewiston
  • First and Washington intersection (highway/residential), Asotin

While the students were out and about, the Lewiston Tribune caught up with us for this story, published June 27. Reporter Elizabeth Rudd talked with our students (Dana Gilchrist, Rachael Morrow, Dishonna Arnett and Meghan Curtiss) about the traffic problems they chose to study, along with their perceptions of careers in engineering. And photographer Kyle Mills got these excellent shots of STEM students in action.


Stop by our Facebook page for more photos of our L-C Valley traffic exploration!

In the Lewiston Tribune: UI program aims to tune in students to careers in math and science fields

Just as we were gearing up for our two-week community exploration of transportation systems in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley, our program was featured in the June 13 Lewiston Tribune. Our director, Kirsten LaPaglia, talked with reporter Elizabeth Rudd about our summer video project, “How I Do STEM,” which will showcase our students’ career explorations and interviews with STEM professionals.

Kirsten LaPaglia may have discovered a way to answer the question raised by many high school students about the importance of learning math and science: When will I ever use this in the real world?

The answer, LaPaglia said, is in more careers than many Idaho students – and even their parents – realize, but she’s hoping after this summer that misperception will change. …

Stay tuned here for links to students’ “How I Do STEM” videos and updates from our students as they work through their summer transportation study.

Rewind: Three writers on their process

From October 2010 — At Wordstock 2010 in Portland, Oregon, the writers’ panel What Works for Me was probably the single most useful hour I spent at the event. We got to hear from three seasoned writers — Karen Karbo, Joanna Smith Rakoff and Heidi Durrow — about their writing processes and the quirky things they do to generate ideas or sharpen focus or enforce self-discipline. My notes from the session are below (gotta love the smart phone), and here are the three key points that have stuck with me in the weeks since the event:

  1. Writing is hard. It is WORK. It requires discipline and perseverance at least as much as inspiration and talent.
  2. Writers often carry a great sense of anxiety surrounding their work. The blank page is daunting, and even moreso when you are expected to fill dozens, or hundreds, of them with original brilliance.
  3. When you honor your craft enough to develop a process and writing routine that works for you, the work of serious writing can become a downright pleasurable activity.

And, now, my session notes from Karen Karbo, Joanna Smith Rakoff and Heidi Durrow:

  • It takes three weeks to create a habit. Apply this to your writing discipline.
  • Enforce your own deadlines.
  • It really is excruciating to write about things you don’t care about.
  • Read The Artist’s Way and figure out which of its routines work best for you.
  • Think about which paying writing gigs you can afford to do. Make sure the money matches your time and energy.
  • Make a clear distinction between your paid writing and your personal/hobby writing projects.
  • Look into writers colony options. Imagine being in a place where all you have to do is write! The short-term experience can change your writing process for the long-term. (If anyone has suggestions for this, please let me know.)
  • Let writing become your most enjoyable activity, something you look forward to and actually make time for.
  • Break a goal down to where it seems manageable and doesn’t bring anxiety.
  • Be sure to visit the writing every day, even if its only to read what you’re drafting.
  • Keep a happy file with notes, emails and blog comments of encouragement about your writing.
  • It’s OK to step away from a piece and get a sense of control before you return to it.
  • Identify the activities that help you do subconscious problem solving. These activities should NOT include checking email, Facebook and the like. Think folding laundry, going for a run, calling a friend.
  • Challenge: Do one thing that gets your mind going (for one writer, calling her mother), then write while the energy is fresh. Do this thing every time before you write.
  • Give yourself achieveable goals
  • If you’re stuck in editing a sentence before you finish it, turn off your screen or change your font color to white for a set period of time.
  • Crying while writing something personal (even fiction) is common and means you are writing about something that matters. Don’t be afraid of it, but don’t get stuck in it. Let it be a vehicle to move your writing forward.
  • When it’s time to create, don’t edit. When it’s time to edit, don’t create. You can only do one thing at a time.
  • Read poetry when you’re gearing up to write prose. Poets’ careful word choices, concise phrasing and rich imagery will rub off on your prose.

Now, go forth and write!

Rewind: Classroom Publishing — Books, Blogs and Beyond

From December 2010 — Right now I’m in conversation with teachers about turning their fourth-grade students into members of an elementary school newspaper staff. The 9- and 10-year-olds would be responsible for interviewing each other, writing stories, editing each other’s work and establishing the design concepts for a quarterly publication. There’s a method to this madness, I promise.

Classroom publishing was the theme for this fall’s Wordstock for Teachers conference in Portland, and I was fortunate to assist with a workshop conducted by the Classroom Publishing team from Ooligan Press at Portland State University. The key concept from this workshop was that there are lessons all through the publishing process that translate to multiple content areas and skill sets. Here is a breakdown of the Ooligan workshop:


  • Before you do anything, identify your publishing intent and audience. This will help get students invested in the project and help your team shape its style, voice and format.
  • “The content and the form of expressing it need to match.”
  • Students can evaluate potential content for their publications by using criteria that they have established themselves. In turn, they learn to look at their own work more objectively.
  • The process of acquisitions helps students understand how literary anthologies and textbooks are put together, and makes assignments involving bibliographies, quotes and citations much more relevant to students.


  • It’s easy to get stuck at this stage if you don’t have a clear plan.
  • Emphasize to students early on that revising is a necessity in the writing process, not a punishment. Remind them that their work is worth revising.
  • Developmental editing is the first round, and involves looking at the foundations of each piece and the way it is constructed.
  • Copy-editing is what we usually think of when we hear the word “editing.” It involves checking for grammar and spelling.
  • Make time for fact-checking.
  • Proofreading comes after a piece is laid out on a page or website, prior to final publication.


  • The style and execution of your design will depend on who is creating your publication and who it is for. A publication that is made for students and by students will likely have a different design than one made by students for parents or by students for the community.
  • Design can go way beyond the printed page! Consider a website, a blog, a podcast, a web video, etc.
  • Web-based classroom publishing projects are a way for students to build a positive presence on the internet. A college scholarship committee will likely take note of a student with a web-based publishing project more than a student with a public Myspace page, etc.
  • Let design serve as a visual metaphor for your entire publishing project.


  • This can come in many forms (paper, internet, digital presentation on a CD, etc.). When choosing a production method, consider your audience, intent and, most of all, your project budget.
  • Here is a great list of publishing and production resources from Wordstock for Teachers.
  • Contact local businesses and community groups to see if in-kind donations or financial assistance is possible for your production efforts.


  • Marketing is often a dirty word to artists and educators, but a book that doesn’t get marketed doesn’t get read!
  • Marketing is more about connecting your audience with your project than it is about making money. But if you want to use a publishing project to raise money for another educational effort, it can’t hurt.
  • Ideas for marketing efforts include having students to read from their publication over the school intercom, having students design posters and bookmarks for the project, hosting readings and open mic events, hosting book fairs, and connecting with groups online that are conducting similar projects. Relationships can begin with something as simple as students students from different schools commenting on each other’s blogs.
  • Marketing is a great way to practice important writing skills such as persuasion, summarizing and identifying a target audience, and it requires clarity and conciseness.
  • Your project should have a hook and pitch. A hook is a short, attention-grabbing phrase (such as “Take student work beyond the classroom”) and a pitch is similar to an elevator speech — about 40 words that clearly describe your project.

Is classroom publishing really worth all the effort? As a writer who is about to make classroom publishing into a career as a Journalism and Language Arts teacher, I am inclined to answer with a resounding YES. Sure, I’m biased. But I’m biased because of the pride I felt in third grade when my teacher laminated the drawings I made to summarize The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I’m biased because of the pride I felt when my sixth-grade teacher stopped the entire class to read my poem aloud (reading aloud is a form of publishing, too, because it brings work to an audience). I am biased because working on my high school newspaper staff taught me a variety of skills that have had direct applications to my paying work in public relations, nonprofit administration, journalism, and even parking permit services (that one’s a long story).

To learn everything you ever wanted to know about turning your students into publishers, visit Ooligan’s Classroom Publishing site and get a copy of their practical guide for teachers.

Rewind: Portland’s artisan economy, Q&A with Charles Heying

From October 2010 — “We know, we know. Portlanders love bicycles and microbrews. Portlanders love all things artisan. Portland loves Portland, and the city is making a name for itself in the world.

But does that mean anything apart from providing unique options for an afternoon out?

It means plenty, according to Charles Heying, the author and editor of Brew to Bikes: Portland’s Artisan Economy. Heying is an associate professor of urban studies and planning at Portland State University, and his book posits that Portlanders’ way of working and spending money is reflective of a larger economic trend—one that brings liberals and conservatives together in support of local, and often small, businesses in order to enhance their own quality of life. …”

This week NeighborhoodNotes.com published my interview with the above-mentioned author and editor Charles Heying, whose book I was connected to this summer through my work with the student staff of Ooligan Press at Portland State University.

The more I dig into this book and Heying’s research, the more I am fascinated by this approach to boosting the economy. Can we really pull everyone up by supporting the little guy and pursuing quality over quantity? We shall hope, and we shall see.

Here is a link to my interview, along with a couple of other recent stories mentioning Heying:

Solo EP from Brad Parsons: “Anywhere the River Runs”

Here’s a heads-up for the forthcoming EP from my friend Brad Parsons. His first solo album will be available June 14 as CDs and digital downloads.

(By the way, when I’m not in the classroom, I enjoy working with musicians and other artists on print and digital materials to promote their work. If you could use some help promoting your own work, leave a comment and let me know!)

PORTLAND, Ore. — When Brad Parsons steps out on a stage, it’s not long before he overpowers a roaring crowd. With little but his voice and an acoustic guitar, Parsons channels raucous energy into original songs that are as hopeful as they are heart-wrenching.

Parsons is a Portland-based singer-songwriter with folk-rock roots extending to Idaho. After collaborating on albums with several bands in the Northwest, Parsons will release his first solo EP in June 2012. The EP, Anywhere the River Runs, showcases Parsons’ vocal power, vivid lyricism, and infectious melodies. The independently released EP will be available June 14, 2012 in CD form and as digital downloads, both through bradparsonsmusic.bandcamp.com.

Anywhere the River Runs offers six songs from Parsons’ 16-year catalog of original work. Collaborating with Jeff Albertson and Matt Stegner of Summer Babes, the recordings feature Parsons on vocals, guitar, piano, banjo, drums, harmonica and bass. The album was recorded and mixed by Matt Stegner at Blackout Studios in Seattle and mastered by Nick Moon at Tone Proper Mastering in Portland. The project was entirely funded by support of fans through Kickstarter.com.

After picking up guitar and drums in his early teens, Parsons studied creative writing in college along with the songwriting of Jeff Tweedy, Townes Van Zandt and Neil Young. “I’m not an art house songwriter. I try to make my songs simple,” Parsons says, citing influences from the early Beatles. “I try to write songs that are as real as possible, songs that people can understand.”

Parsons’ discography includes The Bellboys’ eponymous 2009 EP and their 2011 album, I’ll Be Here All Night. Parsons also wrote and performed with The Villains (now known as Rose City Thorns) on Meat in 2009. Parsons will also be featured on Hole-Hearted Fools, a full-length Southern rock album that is in production with Fruition String Band.

Promoting Anywhere the River Runs, Parsons will tour the Western U.S. in the summer of 2012. Fans can watch for his solo tour in June and a July tour with Renegade String Band. Parsons has also shared the stage with The Shook Twins, Fruition String Band, Water Tower, and members of Elephant Revival. Since 2010, Parsons has played with bands at Austin’s SXSW, Portland’s Crystal Ballroom and Doug Fir Lounge, Seattle’s Tractor Tavern, and Oregon’s Mountain Stomp Festival. He shared the late night stage at the 2011 Northwest String Summit with Fruition and Jeff Austin from Yonder Mountain String Band, and has toured in New Orleans, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Colorado, Arizona, and the Northwestern states.

Brad Parsons is available for booking through Eric Schwieterman, eric.schwieterman@yahoo.com, and for media inquiries through Stephanie Wells-Gray, swellsgray@gmail.com.

Music, video and photos of Brad Parsons are at:

Rewind: Radiolab — Everything has a name

On the August 2009 episode of Radiolab, there’s the story of Susan Schaller and a 27-year-old man she worked with who was born deaf and did not realize that people interpreted the world through sound, let alone words. He assumed that everyone interpreted the world through visual cues, as he did. One day in Schaller’s sign language class, this man realized that everything had a name. And his world was changed.

This radio piece is put together so beautifully. It’s science that feels like story. Schaller asks, “What is it that happens in human beings when we get symbols?” and Radiolab answers: “Somehow (a new) word changes the world in some fundamental way.” The word allows us to communicate with others, as well as with ourselves, and to understand objects, people and places in ever-increasingly complex ways. The hosts explain that the basic process of living means, “You’re going to get filled up with all these things which you have to express, but can’t, until you get those words. Then BOOM! The door opens.” Everything has a name!

Here is the podcast episode.

Later in the segment Radiolab also discusses the idea that Shakespeare behaved more like a chemist than a writer — smashing words together as though they were elements, rather than layering them as we typically do. Both of these segments work quite well in lessons introducing high school students to Shakespeare.

Am I just a word nerd, or is all this stuff really exciting?

Rewind: Publishing as Pedagogy

From December 2010 — I still have a few crayoned, laminated, hand-bound books that I wrote in elementary school. In  many ways, the drawing and writing I did in those books was no better than the work that made it onto my mom’s fridge, or the work that cluttered my bedroom and was thrown away. But the fact that they were published means that pieces of my childhood were preserved, and that I felt a sense of legitimacy in my work, even as I was still practicing D’Nealian handwriting. Even if no one read the books, the sense of accomplishment they brought was similar to what I feel today when publishing a well-read news article or blog post, or even when I see that I’ve been “retweeted” by a stranger on Twitter.

As I mentioned in an earlier post about the future of the publishing industry, self-publishing is no longer considered a last resort for serious writers, but is becoming an increasingly legit way to share your work. This shift in thinking opens the doors for teachers and students to use new classroom publishing platforms and tools, and to share their work with increasingly wide audiences. All publishing industry issues aside, when I think of the way technology impacts publishing from a teacher’s perspective, fireworks go off. The possibilities for quality work are endless.

Classroom publishing was the theme for this fall’s Wordstock for Teachers conference in Portland, and I was fortunate to assist with a workshop conducted by the Classroom Publishing team from Ooligan Press at Portland State University. The event’s keynote speaker was Erick Gordon, formerly of the Student Press Initiative at Columbia University. Below are notes from his motivating presentation:

  • Publication is no longer for elite students only, but also for students who are at risk.
  • Publication raises the bar for all students involved in a project.
  • Explore the idea of publishing as pedagogy. Allow it to expand your ideas of what kids can accomplish.
  • Get linked up with teachers who are involved in publishing with the Student Press Initiative’s Ning.
  • “This work can set you up to really know who kids are.”

If you’re interested in the Student Press Initiative, check out the organization’s website for classroom resources and inspiring project videos.

Stay tuned, because highlights from the Ooligan Press workshop on Classroom Publishing are in the fryer.

Rewind — Twilight: Actions speak louder than adverbs

This piece was originally posted on an earlier incarnation of this blog. Three years later, it’s still one of my most highly-trafficked posts.  Most recently, it got a mention in this excellent piece on teen dating and gender roles by Sean Hackett at The Good Men Project.

From July 2009

Unexpectedly, he was on his feet, bounding away, instantly out of sight, only to appear beneath the same tree as before, having circled the meadow in a half second.

“As if you could outrun me,” he laughed bitterly.

He reached up with one hand and, with a deafening crack, effortlessly ripped a two-foot-thick branch from the trunk of the spruce.

… I’d never seen him so completely freed of that carefully cultivated facade. … His lovely eyes seemed to glow with rash excitement. Then, as the seconds passed, they dimmed. His expression slowly folded into a mask of ancient sadness.

“Don’t be afraid,” he murmured, his velvet voice unintentionally seductive.

… He sat sinuously, with deliberately unhurried movements, till our faces were on the same level, just a foot apart.

— Excerpted from Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, pages, 264-265

While camping last week I was sucked in to the Twilight book series. I’m a little slow on the uptake, but after reading the first book I see what all the hoo-rah is about. I was absorbed in the story, reading it in less than three days. But I was also irritated with the author’s writing conventions, as many word nerds are.

I’ve never been a best-selling author, so rather than write a snarky piece about Stephenie Meyer’s writing, I would like to channel my snarkery into a lesson on adverbs, which run rampant in Twilight.

First of all, what’s an adverb? The clearest answer I’ve found is in a cartoon called “Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here.” I’m not kidding!

Key points from the Lollys:

  • An adjective is a word that adds description to nouns — people, places and things. (Example: I am a slow runner, even when I wear expensive sneakers.)
  • An adverb is also a descriptive word, but it has the power to describe or change verbs (action words), adjectives and even other adverbs. (Example: Very unexpectedly, he was on his feet.)
  • As the Lollys told us, adverbs are words that help answer the questions How?, Where? and When? They also help show conditions, reasons, comparisons and contrasts.
  • Often, but not always, adverbs in English end in -ly. (Examples: Neatly, sloppily, indubitably)
  • Adverbs that don’t end in -ly include very, quite and rather.

So why does it matter that Twilight is full of adverbs? Adverbs are useful, but too many can weaken a piece of  writing. As one of my professors hammered in college, if you’re depending on adverbs for description, it means your verbs don’t cut the mustard. Or that you might be burying verbs that would be perfectly effective on their own. Since a verb is an action word and an adverb is an add-on, an verb is often more powerful than an adverb.

Choosing effective verbs instead of relying on adverbs often means you’ll have clearer, more succinct sentences. And in many ways, brevity really is the soul of wit. If you’re using ten words when five would do the job, you’re not impressing anyone — you’re making it harder for readers to see your point.

Here’s my rough attempt at revising the previous Twilight passage, this time with the adverbs toned down and the verbs emphasized:

He jumped to his feet and disappeared, then reappeared beneath the tree, having circled the meadow in a half second.

“As if you could outrun me,” he laughed.

He reached for a two-foot-thick branch on the spruce and there came a deafening crack as he ripped it from the trunk.

… I’d never seen him so free of his facade. … But then his expression folded into a mask of ancient sadness.

“Don’t be afraid,” he murmured.

… With care, he inched toward me until we faced each other a foot apart.

OK, I have no idea if my revision is much better than the Twilight original. It’s still a teen vampire romance. But I will say this: The Twilight passage had 129 words. My version had 91 — about 30% less. In theory, this means the 498-page novel could be at least 150 pages shorter. But that’s another post altogether.

The point of the revision is to show how writing can change with an emphasis on verbs instead of adverbs. Why say that he “sat sinuously” when we already know he has rippling muscles? Why say he “effortlessly ripped” the branch from the tree? Clearly, a guy who can rip a branch from a tree is crazy-strong, no matter how much effort he puts into it.

I could go on and on about this, but I’ll end with a reminder: If you see adverbs pop up often in your writing, go back and identify each one, then see if you can replace it with a strong verb — a solid action word. In many ways, actions speak louder than adverbs.