Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Best of Times: Floor Hockey

It is amazing how many experiences fade away into the background of our subconscious, only to be brought back by some random happening. Or, in this case, not-so-random.

You see, we've had several weeks now with hot, sunny temperatures, meaning that the kids at my school have pretty much worn out all the backyard game ideas multiple times. Usually, when rain rolls in, we throw in a couple of days on a cordoned-off section of the parking lot, which provides some nice variety.

But since everything has been dry, some children felt like they were all out of ideas. (In their words, "We're BORED!") Our principal wisely allowed them to use part of the parking lot for hockey.

We have these two old, beat-up hockey nets that usually are behind our dumpster area, along with some plastic hockey sticks in sorry shape, but these kids are really enjoying the new venture.

And it reminded me of some of my favorite times in grade school.

Our school was small, but it participated in sports in a conference with some bigger schools. In the fall there was boys' soccer and girls' volleyball. In the winter there was boys' and girls' basketball. In the spring there was track and field.

Volleyball season usually ended for us at the end of October with a weekend tournament. Basketball practices usually started the second or third week of December, with things really heating up after Christmas break. There was a gap in the schedule, but it was filled with the best sport out of all organized grade school sports:

Floor Hockey.

When floor hockey season started, I was always so excited. This was the chance for girls and boys to play on a team together. Out here in Colorado we do it for every sport, but back in Michigan it was almost unheard of!

My school was in Ann Arbor, and I went there in the 1990s, which meant that hockey was huge. The Detroit Red Wings were dominating and everyone wanted to be just like those players. Hockey leagues were all over the place, and most kids around there had skates. There was even a giant ice arena that was built in 1995 that is simply called "The Ice Cube" (or, if you know your Math, A2Ice3).

We had some kids at our school in hockey leagues, and they'd bring out their fancy sticks and giant gloves to practices. But most of us were just using the school's equipment as best we could. I know I had a favorite stick I always tried to get.

For some schools, they would use large tables put on their sides as side boards so that the ball (not a puck) wouldn't shoot away. But we had really nice wooden platforms that were usually used for seating at games or as the stage for our drama productions. We would put those along the wall, and it provided great bounce - much better than the tables did.

In practices we would learn how to pass and catch a ball (think that scene in The Mighty Ducks but regular balls instead of eggs), the positions of players on the floor, how to center the ball on offense, and how to clear it on defense. But honestly, we just scrimmaged a lot.

I was defense. This is definitely the place where I learned that defense was my best position...in pretty much every single sport. I am not an attacker - I am one that wants to break up the other team's attack as much as humanly possible. Luckily, I was good at defense, so I was usually placed back there by the coaches.

We didn't play a full season of floor hockey, since it was just a placeholder until basketball began. Instead, there was one glorious night - usually the first Friday in December - where all the schools would gather together and have a tournament. There weren't many schools in our conference - I'd say 5 or 6 - but most schools had an A team (grades 6-8 most of the time) and a B team (grades 3-5 most of the time), and all of the teams would have to utilize one gym.

To say that the tournament was chaos would be an understatement. It was also the best night of the year. Where I didn't have much finesse or technical prowess in volleyball (we were definitely not a "bump-set-spike" team...we were just "bump"), and I wasn't a great shooter - or conditioned enough - for basketball, and I didn't discover I was good at shot put till later in my grade school career, I was always good a floor hockey.

My first year on the B team was the year that the A team won the whole thing. My brother was on that team. If I recall correctly, it was the only first place trophy my siblings and I ever earned in our grade school careers. (I blame it on our "evil" rivals, St. Paul's. They weren't actually evil, but we considered them as such back then. That's just how grade school brains work.) That trophy helped propel me to a love of floor hockey, because it always felt like our school had a chance at winning the thing.

We never actually did, though. But you know what? I don't remember what places we got. I'm sure I could find out if I looked. But what I do remember was being a giant pain-in-the-neck to a hotshot hockey dude on the other team who thought he was the best player since Gretzky. I remember playing side-by-side with some really talented boys and girls, and thinking how cool that was. I remember scoring a couple of goals, including a wrap-around goal that was likely nothing spectacular but I will always remember like this:

Most of all, I will remember having so much fun! The other sports were often stressful and a struggle, but floor hockey was just pure joy. I loved participating, win or lose. I loved hanging out with my friends, being a pretty decent player, and having the time of my life.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to see if there are any adult floor hockey leagues around here...

I am Claire Nat! I am a teacher and write for TouringPlans.com. I write about anything that interests me - mostly music, Olympics, and fandoms! Follow me @CeePipes or facebook.com/blurbmusings. 

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Star Wars Saturday: The Music Zone

There have been many constants in the Star Wars movies: lightsabers, blasters, flying ships, and the Force. But another wonderful constant has been the epic music that accompanies the movies.

If you've read my posts for a while, or have taken a look at my AtMousePhere music posts on TouringPlans.com, you know that I love music of all genres. But there has never been a time in my life where I haven't known or loved the music of Star Wars. 

Because of this, I was one of the unfortunate when I picked up the soundtrack to The Phantom Menace in 1999. It came out two weeks before the movie, and I just had to have it right away. I wanted to be thorough, so I looked at all the photos and details of the CD and case...only to see a major spoiler in one of the tracks' titles. ("Qui-Gon's Noble End") 

This time around, Lucasfilm and Disney have wisely decided not to release the soundtrack to The Force Awakens until December 18 - the same day the movie is released. At least we know the soundtrack won't spoil anything for us before the movie comes out.

Although I felt a bit betrayed by that information, I still loved the soundtrack. It felt very much like a Star Wars soundtrack, even when the movie itself didn't at some points. (More on that in a later post.)

The six Star Wars soundtracks are some of the best you'll ever hear, but as always, there are some standouts. Here are my choices for the best pieces of Star Wars music you'll ever hear - all composed by John Williams.

(But seriously. Just go and buy all the soundtracks. You won't regret it.)

"Main Title/Rebel Blockade Runner" (A New Hope)

This was the first time that Star Wars main title was revealed, and it blows me away every time! Once the main titles were known as Luke's theme, and I still like to think of it that way. 
Another great part of the piece is the Rebel Blockade Runner sequence. It's so large and demanding, and you can envision the Star Destroyer getting bigger and bigger on the screen when you listen to it!

"The Return of the Jedi" (Return of the Jedi)

If any piece makes you sit up in a theater and say, "Yep, this is Star Wars," this is the piece. After a whole movie of depressing things happening to Luke, Leia, and Han, this segment says, "We're not gonna lose any more!" I love everything about this piece - it is definitely one of my top three favorite Star Wars tracks of all time. The last 60 seconds - when the speeder is racing away from Jabba's exploding barge, followed by the Millienium Falcon and Luke's X-Wing speeding off into space - is my favorite segment of Star Wars music!
(Bonus: the version below has the final film version first, followed by the first version written - and not used.)

"The Imperial March" (The Empire Strikes Back)

Speaking of "The Imperial March," here it is. This was the second piece I learned to play on the piano, and I always loved playing it. The initial Imperial theme from A New Hope was merely adequate - this piece brought out the threat of the Empire in full force. And if you want to signify that someone - or something - is evil and dangerous? You play this song. 

"Duel of the Fates" (The Phantom Menace)

This first came out as a music video on TRL. Yep, somewhere in my parents' house is a videotape with that Total Request Live episode on it. To my delight, the video lasted quite a while on the TRL chart. Even without the accompanying clips from the movie, the music is incredible. It's the most expansive that Williams got up to that point, because he had so many resources at his disposal. And the language? It's a Celtic poem translated into Sanskrit. *The more you know!*

"Burning Homestead" (A New Hope)

The string bass section really nails it here, as Luke realizes the stormtroopers were heading for his childhood home. You can just sense that something is wrong. Plus, I love the transition to the burning homestead to the shot of the Death Star. It doesn't get any better than that. 

"The High Council Meeting and Qui-Gon's Funeral" (The Phantom Menace)

This reintroduces us to one of the most iconic themes in all of Star Wars - Yoda's theme - and also brings in a new piece of music during the funeral pyre scene. I loved that Yoda's music came back, along with a small hint at the Imperial March as well, implying some future danger hiding in the shadows. The somber funeral music, to my delight, returned in Revenge of the Sith as Padme (and Anakin, too, in a way) dies. 

"The Forest Battle" (Return of the Jedi)

Not only does this piece signify the turning point of the Battle of Endor - Chewbacca and his two Ewok pals take over an Imperial AT-ST and rescue Han and Leia, which allows Han to come up with a plan to overpower the Imperials inside the bunker, capturing them and blowing up the shield generator, and finally allowing Lando and his men to invade the Death Star - it is a great piece to run to!

"Hyperspace" (The Empire Strikes Back)

They used part of this piece at the beginning of the movie when Rogue 2 goes looking for Luke and Han in the snow. Then it came back in the end. I can understand why it was used multiple times. There is real urgency portrayed in the strings with their mad bowing skills. 

"Anakin vs. Obi-Wan" (Revenge of the Sith)

This one is very similar to "Hyperspace" from Empire because it has that fast pulse at the beginning, and then throughout the piece it intersects "The Imperial March." As expected, this is from the start of Obi-Wan's fight with Anakin, and the best part of that fight was at the very beginning, when it's just lightsabers blazing and no extra set pieces getting in the way.

"The Moisture Farm" (A New Hope)

We hear the theme for the Jawas again, but we also get that first glimpse of the hero of the story, Luke Skywalker, and a beautiful horn solo to introduce his theme. I could listen to that horn solo on a 10-hour loop, as some YouTube people are prone to make nowadays.

"Qui-Gon's Noble End" (The Phantom Menace)

I chuckled putting this one on here, since I am so upset that so many people thought it was okay to release this title name on a soundtrack! But it is a piece where you know its exact location in the movie. (Even without the title.) There's that Sanskrit mumbling, and suddenly the music swells, and you can hear Obi-Wan yelling, "No!" (Sometimes I yell "No!" at that point when listening to it.) The drums and the pregnant pauses are used very well. 

"Battle of Yavin" (A New Hope)

I like this whole piece a lot, but the best part is at the very end, when every instrument is just going Bam-Bam! Bam-Bam! Bam-bam-BAM-BAM-BAM! and then...nothing! This would be where the Death Star explodes in the movie. So usually I add my own sound effect of the Death Star exploding at that point. The triumph at the end isn't huge, mind you. It's happy, but it's not final. You just know there's more coming. (I usually insert "The Imperial March" right after this piece, just to put the Rebels back in their place.)

"Yoda and the Younglings" (Attack of the Clones)

This track brings in the lovely theme of Anakin and Padme (which is used quite a lot all over the soundtrack), but also brings in innocence with the younglings' "theme". It's the only bit of innocence that is ever seen in the movies, to be honest. To wrap it up, the Force theme comes back with a sense of foreboding. 

"The Battle of Hoth" (The Empire Strikes Back)

I love all the battle tracks, but this is one of my favorites. The best part is the beginning, with the low percussion banging away and the piano only using the low keys, with the low brass bringing in the melody line first. It's fantastic!

"Augie's Great Municipal Band" (The Phantom Menace)

Yes, it's another end-of-movie celebration song, hearkening back memories to the ends of A New Hope and Return of the Jedi. But have you ever really listened to this triumphant song? First, listen to the Emperor's theme from Jedi. Then listen to this. It's the same melody, but in a major key!!! How's that for foreshadowing?! (Plus this one is sung by youthful kids instead of serious old men. What a change.)

"The Asteroid Field" (The Empire Strikes Back)

This piece defines insanity. To perfectly portray Han Solo's crazy attempt to fly through an asteroid field, you could only use this track. At its height, the piece introduces not only the insanity, but the helplessness as the ships survive merely by the luck of the rock. This segment of the movie is stellar in so many areas - sound effects, visual effects, acting, and music.

"Zam the Assassin and the Chase Through Coruscant" (Attack of the Clones)

I like this track because of the risks that it takes. It has a frenzied feel, plus it brings in electric guitar. These things definitely don't make you think of a remote village in space somewhere, but rather a busy city chase. Fits pretty well, doesn't it?

"Into the Trap" (Return of the Jedi)

I love this piece thanks to a memory. Over 10 years ago my older brother and I would have to drive 12 hours to get back to where we went to college from our home in Michigan. We listened to a bunch of random stuff, but the Return of the Jedi soundtrack was one of them. When this piece came on, my brother would recite all of the dialogue to this segment - Lando, all the X-Wing fighters, Ackbar - right where it would have been in the movie. Then, in unison, we would both shout together in our best Ackbar voice, "IT'S A TRAP!"

"Battle of the Heroes" (Revenge of the Sith)

This was the third track released with a music video before the movie came out. To be honest, I like this one better than "Duel of the Fates" because of the tragedy that is behind the piece. Sure, there is action and evil, but it's also very sad. The thing that you've been waiting for - Anakin's fall - finally happens. What's worse is the title: two heroes of the Clone Wars - friends, companions, and brothers - square off against each other!

"Luke and Leia" (Return of the Jedi)

Another song that is tops on my list. This piece doesn't get the recognition it deserves. It is so dramatic and sad - the revelation that Luke and Leia are brother and sister, and they were denied the chance to grow up together thanks to the evil brought into the galaxy by the help of their own father. Now they both have to stand up for what they believe in and help change the galaxy - how tragic. This is one of the very first pieces of Star Wars music I really latched onto, and will always hold a special place in my heart. 
(It is also used very well in the end credits, and the last part of the piece transitions beautifully into the Rebel Fanfare that concludes the movie.)

So what is your favorite piece of Star Wars music? Are you as psyched to hear brand-new Star Wars music in a few months? Do you wish they would do a music video like they did for the prequels? Did I miss a great piece? Comment below!

I am Claire Nat! I am a teacher and write for TouringPlans.com. I write about anything that interests me - mostly music, Olympics, and fandoms! Follow me @CeePipes or facebook.com/blurbmusings. 

More Star Wars articles by Claire Nat:
Fears and Star Wars
Why Star Wars is the Best Trilogy Ever

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Star Wars Saturday: Politics, Planning, and Palpatine

If you are only exposed to the Original Trilogy, the emergence of Emperor Palpatine in Return of the Jedi is quite interesting. After spending the first two movies elsewhere, and only appearing as a hologram in The Empire Strikes Back, the Emperor decides to move his base of operations (temporarily) to the new Death Star. While Darth Vader tells Moff Jerjerrod that the Emperor is coming to the Death Star to oversee the final phases of the superstructure, his real motive revolves around Luke Skywalker and what he has "foreseen."

In this movie, Palpatine is old, disfigured, and looks very weak. However, he packs a punch, and is incredibly manipulating to people around him. If he's been on the scene for so long, how much manipulating has he done to get where he is?


Let's go back in time a bit. Sheev Palpatine, before the events of The Phantom Menace, was trained as a Sith in secret. Publicly, he assumed the role of a politician (in the first movie, a senator), which seems to be very fitting for his character. He knew that, to achieve ultimate power, he had to rely on his own knowledge and cunning to move every piece into place.

For starters, he had to get the Trade Federation to be total jerks to his home planet of Naboo. To do this, he communicates only as "Darth Sidious" to the Neimoidians, hiding his face and lowering his voice. They didn't have a clue who he was. While everyone was feeling sorry for Naboo, he was able to convince the right people on Coruscant to remove the Chancellor and vote him the replacement.

He sent his apprentice, Darth Maul, to dispose of the Jedi who had been protecting the Queen of Naboo. He knows he has a worthy apprentice - someone to do his bidding while he sits back in the shadows with the puppet strings.

But there's a catch in his plan! Obi-Wan Kenobi is able to defend himself and cut Maul in half. While this demise might have been foreseen by Palpatine, Maul was certainly under the idea that he would rule this eventual empire with Palpatine.

But Palpatine had other ideas, especially when he saw the young, easily-malleable Anakin Skywalker.

*Sidenote: The Phantom Menace of Episode I refers to Palpatine, not Anakin or Maul! End sidenote*

The plan changed slightly. Anakin would not be ready to become a full Sith until a few years down the road. However, Palpatine's empirical schemes were right on schedule. While he waited for Anakin to be fully ready, Palpatine recruits Count Dooku (AKA Darth Tyrannus) to take the lead in the Separatist movement, while he himself took the side of the Republic. Doing this, he was assured that he would be able to control both sides of the war that eventually broke out!

With the Republic running around worrying about systems leaving the union and impending attacks, Palpatine achieves more power by convincing the Senate to give him emergency powers, which would allow him to make more decisions privately and without a Senate vote.

Three years are spent not only controlling both sides of the Clone Wars, but also continuing to mentor Anakin. He positioned himself many times to allow Anakin to confide in him over personal matters (remember, he was aware of the dreams Anakin had about his mother), almost like the grandfather Anakin never had. Anakin trusts him, and sees every act that Palpatine carries out as the right one, even while Obi-Wan and Padme are starting to doubt.

When he orchestrates his own kidnapping and rescue by Anakin and Obi-Wan, he tells Anakin (unbeknownst to an unconscious Obi-Wan) to kill Count Dooku. Anakin hesitates - he knows he shouldn't kill an unarmed prisoner - but at Palpatine's urging, Anakin kills him.

With that, Palpatine knows that everything is ready and Anakin is primed to join him as a Sith.

Anakin is placed on the Jedi Council (without becoming a Master) at Palpatine's request, and the Council wants Anakin to spy on Palpatine. At this point, Anakin is lost - his Jedi Order is creating a storm of doubt in his mind, and Palpatine is giving him reassuring messages that he could still save the one he loves from the death about which he is dreaming. Palpatine is trying to make sure that Anakin loses his trust in the Jedi.

His final touch is getting Obi-Wan out of the way. He feeds Anakin information about the Separatist leaders, and "recommends" Anakin for the job, knowing full well that the Jedi would refuse it. Who would they send? How about Obi-Wan? So Anakin sees his Master and friend take off, and Palpatine knows that the only other man that Anakin trusts - possibly more than Palpatine - has been removed from the equation.

Now is the time to strike.

Anakin's most vunerable moment is now, and his desperation to save his wife leads him to put all his trust in Palpatine (whom he now knows is Darth Sidious) and disown everything about the Jedi Order. To quote Obi-Wan, "He ceased to be Anakin Skywalker, and became Darth Vader."

Meanwhile, Palpatine is able to twist that the Jedi attacked him without being provoked - looking to take over - and freak out the Senate. He suggests that an Empire must be formed to squash all lingering questions about who is in charge in the galaxy, and is met with thunderous applause.

For a moment, Palpatine achieves triumph. He has his powerful Sith apprentice, he has total control of the government, and can pretty much do whatever he wants without anyone being able to stop him.

...And then Obi-Wan ruins everything again!

Thanks to the terrible wounds afflicted on him by his former Master, Darth Vader is no longer the powerful apprentice Palpatine thought he was going to get. Instead, he gets a man who needs to be hooked up to a machine apparatus at all times in order to live. Don't get me wrong - Vader is still powerful, but in Palpatine's eyes, he is a failure.

Which is why he waits for Luke.

Once he realizes that Luke is becoming a powerful Jedi himself (just look at how fast he picked up everything in Empire) and could become even more powerful than his father, Palpatine knows that he just has to wait it out - like he did with Anakin. It was never Palpatine's intention to turn Luke to the dark side without killing Darth Vader.

He has the ability to manipulate Luke into attacking Darth Vader, and Vader takes care of the rest. He is able to anger Luke so much that Luke defeats him. Palpatine tells him to kill Vader. (Sound familiar? Like when Anakin was told to kill Dooku?) Luke hesitates, but at Palpatine's urging... Luke doesn't kill him.

Why? Well, because Luke knew what would likely happen to himself, thanks to cutting off Vader's robotic hand. Once he saw what he could become, Luke knew he couldn't do it.

And this drove Palpatine crazy! This wasn't part of his plan. This wasn't part of his manipulation. Luke was supposed to kill Vader.

When Palpatine had to improvise, it ended up ruining him. He was such a master of the long-term plan that he never understood how to deal with sudden changes. While Vader's major injuries after his fight with Obi-Wan was quite the hurdle, Palpatine could still use him for his plans. When Luke refused him, Palpatine didn't know what to do with him.

Might as well kill him. Big mistake.

That familial relationship between Vader and Luke ended up saving Luke from death. Luke was able to convince his father to save him, and that was definitely not in Palpatine's plans. The fact that the Emperor was so shocked by Vader's turn meant that he couldn't react quickly enough, and fell to his death.


Palpatine was a schemer. He was able to control the government and the Sith for over 40 years thanks to his politics and planning. But two quick minutes of unplanned chaos threw him over the edge.


I am Claire Nat! I am a teacher and write for TouringPlans.com. I write about anything that interests me - mostly music, Olympics, and fandoms! Follow me @CeePipes or facebook.com/blurbmusings. 

More Star Wars Articles by Claire Nat:

Thursday, September 17, 2015

How To Be An Organized Teacher (Or Fake It Really Well)

When I have my end-of-year meeting with my principal, we go over a lot of my strengths and weaknesses. In every meeting since I started teaching, one thing has always been emphasized by both principals I've had:

I'm really organized.

To be honest, I just do what's comfortable to me, and that results in impeccable organization. (It also results in Type-A behavior like timeliness and irritability, but those are for another blog.) Some people marvel at how organized I am at things, and I just shrug. If I didn't do things the way I do, I would always feel behind.

Here are a couple of ways I keep my classroom organized, and keep my sanity:

1. Assignment Notebooks

When I started teaching middle grades three years ago, this was a must. The first year each child purchased their own, and that was difficult to keep track of. The past two years - and this year - my school purchases the same assignment notebook, and the families pay for them when they register.

I have three giant notebook sheets on the wall - one for each grade I teach. When I give an assignment, I will go up to the wall and write the assignment, making sure that the kids also write it down at the same time. I'm glancing at their desk, thanking each child when I see them opening their assignment notebook.

At the end of the day, before we fill our Take-Home Folders and do our classroom jobs, I have to check their notebook. They need to have completed assignments crossed out, unfinished assignments circled, and assignments that are getting checked over get boxed. (I do the circling and boxing as well, so parents can see I've seen it.) I put a star next to the day once it's checked over, showing parents that I've seen the notebook and know what they need to do.

This has helped me avoid losing homework assignments in the shuffle or students completely forgetting an assignment.

2. Morning Devotion

Every Tuesday and Thursday we do a morning devotion from our Christ-Light materials. I have them open their hymnal and Bible to the number I have listed under the date in the front of the room. As much as I wanted them to read the Bible passage, I kept forgetting whose turn it was to read!

This is a more recent addition, but I had a card with the students' name (and number - more on that later) at my desk so I could memorize their numbers. But now I use it to keep track of who is reading the Bible passage for the day. After the child has read, I slide the paper clip to the next name. This prevents me from using Post-it Notes to constantly remind myself who is reading.

3. Francine the Chipmunk

I saw this idea on Pinterest, and loved it. Francine the Chipmunk is our classroom mascot. I hot-glued heavy-duty magnets onto one side of her, and now she is a permanent fixture on our whiteboard.

Every day Francine is the one to look at for fun facts or important information about the day. She has told us that the Giant Squid has the largest eyes in the world and that a tiger's skin is also striped, but has also reminded us that Junior Choir will be right before lunch and school pictures will be taken this morning. She also wishes a Happy Birthday to whoever is celebrating!

4. A Calendar's Multiple Uses

Right in front of my desk I have a monthly calendar. It's mostly used to tick off days till the next big thing, but now I use it for a few reasons.

The first is to verify that I have sent out e-mails. I use Boomerang by Gmail to create messages and schedule them to be sent at a specific time. The classroom newsletter ("The Multi-Grade Monitor" - I had a hard time coming up with a good name) is sent out on Wednesdays at 10:00 a.m., and the Memory Treasures for the next week are sent out Friday afternoon.

But how do I know if I sent the e-mail? Well, I could go into Gmail, go into Boomerang, and look up my messages to be sent, but that takes a while, and requires me to grab my Chromebook.

Now, after I've scheduled the message, I just put a check mark on the date it will be sent. Now if I need to know if I've scheduled my Memory Treasure e-mail for September 25, I can just look at the calendar and see that yes, I have.

5. Student Presentations

I teach grades 6-8 music, and this year they are creating their own Google Slides (think PowerPoint) presentations on famous composers past and present. They signed up to present their composer on a specific date, and I told them I would send a reminder one week before their presentation.

How do I remember to send it? This is where the calendar comes in handy again. I write that student's name on the calendar for the date I need to send the reminder e-mail. When that date comes and I've sent the e-mail, I cross off their name to show that it's done.

They will e-mail me their presentation and I will project it from my Chromebook. In my initial e-mail I attached the presentation instructions, so even if they lost the paper copy, they can still find it online.

6. Mailboxes

I have two set of mailboxes in the room. Neither of them have names written. Instead, they have numbers.

When I was student teaching 5th grade in Greenville, Wisconsin, my supervising teacher used the number-and-mailbox method. Each child is assigned a number at the beginning of the year, and all the work they do needs to be signed with their first name and number.

When a worksheet is completed, they don't put it in one giant pile, to be sorted later. Instead, they go to the back of the room and put the sheet in their numbered mailbox.

This makes it easy for me to go back and visually scan the boxes to see who is done. If the 3rd grade had Math to do and three of them have handed it in, I can make sure that the fourth student is working on it and hasn't accidentally put it in his desk.

When work has been completed, then the sheets get put into the mailbox in the front of the room, along with Scholastic Book Order forms, field trip slips, and newsletters. At the end of the day the child empties his/her own mailbox and puts it into their Take-Home Folder. That folder (and their assignment notebook) goes home every day, and hopefully the folder comes back the next day empty.

So there are just a few of the many ways I keep my classroom (and brain) organized. Do you have any ideas you use in your classroom? Feel free to comment below!

I am Claire Nat! I am a teacher and write for TouringPlans.com. I write about anything that interests me - mostly music, Olympics, and fandoms! Follow me @CeePipes or facebook.com/blurbmusings. 

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Star Wars Saturday: New Book Reviews

Another beautiful Saturday is upon us, and with it another Star Wars article! I have finished four new Star Wars books that were released last week for Force Friday, and I'd like to share my opinions! I will be sharing spoilers of the books, so don't continue reading this if you are planning on reading them!

If you're not planning on reading them, then I'll try to summarize the stories as best I can so you can follow what I'm talking about!

Star Wars: Aftermath (Written by Chuck Wendig, 400 pages, adult fiction)

This was the book I was anticipating the most. It is the first book released that covers events after Return of the Jedi, and I have been wondering what has been happening since the movie ended. 

This story, however, covers a few brand-new characters as they come together to create a group that will be hunting down Imperial evildoers in two subsequent books (to form a trilogy). The characters are Norra, a Rebel who is an ace at flying; Temmin, her 15-year-old son who is quite a mechanic and inventor; Jas, a female bounty hunter who decides to help based on her past upbringing; and Sinjir, a former Imperial who abandons the Empire after the failure at Endor. 

As much as I wanted to get into the story of these four and how they helped the New Republic (formerly the Rebel Alliance) discover a secret meeting of top Imperial brass on a planet called Akiva, I just wanted more on the stuff with which we're familiar. That's why I was thankful for the Interludes, which took place every three or four chapters and were little 3-4 page short stories on random characters across the galaxy. 

A few centered around Mon Mothma, new Chancellor of the New Republic Senate (and willing to get rid of Palpatine's emergency powers from 25 years ago), some had Grand Admiral Ackbar communicating with a secret hologram of a spy among the Imperial army, a few took place on familiar planets like Coruscant but contained unfamiliar characters, and some just explained the ravages of the war on people and places we didn't know about! 

I really, really loved those Interludes. I kind of wish the whole book had been 50 short stories about the time after the Battle of Endor. One even featured Han and Chewbacca! 

I think the final one was my favorite. It took place on...Jakku, a planet featuring prominently in The Force Awakens. The story covered a man escaping the war and finding the planet farthest from the action after his wife and child are killed. Little does he know that Jakku is going to be the home of one of the fiercest fights in the galaxy!

Some other notes: 
  • The book does mention that there was a medal ceremony after the Battle of Endor. Norra - who had flown into the second Death Star and had taken an alternate route to draw some of the TIE fighters away from the Millenium Falcon - won one of the medals. I had always hoped that there had been a medal ceremony, and in my head-canon, I'm sure that Wedge, Chewie, and Lando got medals, too.
  • There were lots of references to planets and ideas from the Prequel Trilogy and The Clone Wars TV show. Places like Naboo, Mustafar, and Geonosis got a couple of mentions, and the old Trade Federation droids ("clankers") got quite a few mentions. I, for one, loved Mister Bones - a lethal droid who had received some deatly reprogramming by Tennin. Some people hate bringing that stuff back, but I like making that connection between the PT and the OT.
  • Wedge is one of the main characters of the story (awesome!) and he doesn't die (awesomer!)! He also mentions that he had been in contact with a mysterious person known as Fulcrum. This, we have found out, is Anakin's former Padawan Asohka Tano. 
  • There was a moment in the book where a woman comes face-to-face with a Rodian, and the direct quote is, "The woman shoots first." I thought that was great.
  • I enjoyed the Imperial meeting a lot - aside from the Interludes, it was my favorite part of the book. I enjoy the Admiral, Rae Sloane, and seeing the Empire quibble with each other is most interesting. It turns out that Sloane is taking orders from another Admiral, whose name we never hear. My guess is that it's Snoke, who is a character in The Force Awakens and is known as "the Supreme Leader."
  • No Luke Skywalker. He gets mentioned a lot, but doesn't appear in the book. That made me sad. But someone pointed out that they're being really secretive about what Luke did after Return of the Jedi, and I'm hoping it results in something awesome. After all, he's my favorite character!

The Weapon of a Jedi (Written by Jason Fry, 184 pages, children's fiction)

This book is targeted towards younger readers, but it was great! The story starts out with a prologue around the time of The Force Awakens, and treats the actual story like a flashback (told to an X-wing pilot, Jessika Pava, by C-3PO). This is Luke soon after he has destroyed the first Death Star and done a few missions as a part of Red Squadron (he's a Lieutenant now). 

He is still shaky about his use of the Force, but he's beginning to sense how it can push him towards something or warn him away from others. It's amazing to see how much Luke figures out about the Force by himself! It also features Luke's first battle ("against the living," to quote Han Solo) with his lightsaber - and it's not against Darth Vader!

Luke does his training by himself at the ruins of an old Jedi Temple on the planet Devaron, destroyed by the Empire and closed off with stories of ghosts and demons to keep away travelers. But Luke finds an alternate way in, and is able to perform and improve on the Jedi techniques he knows.

One of the cool things about this book (and the next two I'm going to discuss) is on the back of the cover it says, "Hidden within the story are clues about the highly anticipated new film Star Wars: The Force Awakens."

So what is hidden?

  • The story is being told to an X-wing pilot.
  • Luke defeats the antagonist, but knows full well that he didn't kill him. Sarco Plank apparently has been in a few pieces of The Force Awakens merchandise, which implies that he is in the movie 30+ years after he was in this story.
  • Luke figures so much stuff out by himself. With minor communication with Obi-Wan, Luke is able to move a stone lever with his mind, as well as take on 3 remotes through his use of the Force. 
  • There is a story that Threepio would have told Pava if she hadn't been called back to her job - the one about the young Devaronian girl - Farnay, who had helped Luke in the book - and their reacquaintance when Luke returned to Devaron years later. Does she come back in the movie? 

Smuggler's Run (Written by Greg Rucka, 182 pages, children's fiction)

This book was a lot of fun - probably my favorite of the three! Han is telling this story - in the prologue and epilogue it's the white-haired, "Chewie we're home" Han from the second teaser. He's talking to some bounty hunters a story about himself and Chewie from after the destruction of the first Death Star - but they don't know Han is telling the story till the end. 

The story itself has four main characters: Han, Chewie, an Imperial Security Bureau commander named Beck, and the Millenium Falcon. Rucka does a fabulous job describing the Falcon and all it's quirks and strengths, and you really feel like it's a character.

Beck is after an important Rebel named Ematt, who has a lot of priority information about the Alliance. Han and Chewie are sent by Leia to retrieve him. As usual, chaos ensues, but they are able to escape Beck's grasp and live for another day. 

This is a classic adventure tale, different from The Weapon of a Jedi, which is a bit more philosophical at some points. Rucka was able to voice Han very well, which I felt like Wendig didn't do well in Aftermath

Some possible hidden clues:

  • In the prologue and epilogue, you never see the Falcon. Does Han still have it? 
  • Is Ematt an important character that develops later? Same for Commander Beck (maybe she's Captain Phasma)?
  • Old Han (Legacy Han?) speaks about Luke when he says at the end, "Got an old friend who's fond of saying that truth is greatly dependent on your point of view." Quote sound familiar? Luke is quoting Obi-Wan from Return of the Jedi. And Luke is not dead - Han speaks of Luke in the present tense. 

Moving Target (Written by Cecil Castellucci and Jason Fry, 230 pages, children's fiction)

I didn't enjoy this one as much as the other two, but it had some very important moments. Since this takes place after the Battle of Hoth, Han is in carbonite and Luke is in shock over the events of Cloud City. The Bothan spies had just collected the intel on the second Death Star, and the Rebels are starting to plan their attack. To avoid detection while they gather near Sullust, Leia volunteers to lead a small force to the other side of the galaxy, drawing the Imperials in that direction.

One of the crew is pilot Nien Nub, who was Lando's copilot in Return of the Jedi and gets a much more humorous characterization here. The story also mentions how Leia and Nien worked together to save the remaining Alderannians after the planet was destroyed - a plot that was covered in the Princess Leia comic miniseries. 

There are some odd points in the book - when they land on a sea planet, they blend in by wearing beachwear. (And it does provide some silly foreshadowing when Leia refuses to put on a 2-piece brown bikini.) Otherwise, we see a Rebel mission in action, as well as the securing of the shuttle Tydirium, which Han and his crew take down to Endor in Return of the Jedi.

This story all but erases the novel Shadows of the Empire, and I can't say I'm disappointed. The book was tolerable, but not great. 

Leia gets a good arc here - she initially refuses to go help Han because her responsibility is to the Rebel Alliance. But once she sees a relationship bloom between two of her crew, in very much the same way that hers bloomed with Han, she realizes how important it is to balance love and commitment, and not have either take charge. 

LOTS of hidden foreshadowing here:

  • We see Leia as her older self in the prologue and epilogue of the book. More importantly (major The Force Awakens plot points that might not be spoilers but really makes you think about the ramifications) she's addressed as "General Organa." This means 1) She has risen up to the rank of general in the army, (likely meaning she hasn't been doing Jedi training) and MORE IMPORTANTLY 2) She's not (at that point in her life) married to Han! Why? Did she ever marry him? We see in Smuggler's Run that Han at this time is off in a cantina of a female friend. Why is he not helping the Resistance? Is he searching for someone? Is he on a mission? Or is he off the grid? Or did they get married and she kept her maiden name? 
  • Our first main character of The Force Awakens is mentioned at the end of the book, when General Organa mentions how she's been instructing Poe Dameron, the character played by Oscar Isaac. 
  • She also mentions "Jakku" in her conversation, which might imply she knows who is hiding down there (most likely Rey).
  • Ematt returns here a couple of times, showing that he is an important figure. Firstly, he is Lieutenant Ematt in the time after Hoth. He also appears at the epilogue, when he's known as Major Ematt. 

I may have missed a few things here and there in my reviews, but the bottom line is that you should read the last three books, and you can skip Aftermath. I hope that Lucasfilm release more of these smaller novels, because they fleshed out the story and filled in the gaps in a small but important way. Happy reading!

I am Claire Nat! I am a teacher and write for TouringPlans.com. I write about anything that interests me - mostly music, Olympics, and fandoms! Follow me @CeePipes or facebook.com/blurbmusings. 

More Star Wars articles by Claire Nat:
Fears and Star Wars
Why Star Wars is the Best Trilogy Ever

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Running The Broncos 7K: Hot, Sweaty, Tiring Fun!

On Sunday morning my coworker Kim and I woke up early to run a race. I had been training for this race since the end of the last school year, and knew this race would help me kickstart my half marathon training, which officially begins at the end of the month.

"Waka Waka (This Time For Africa)," Shakira featuring Freshlyground

As I'd been told in the many running advice blogs I'd read, I kept everything similar to a normal run: I wore the same wardrobe I'd been wearing when I was training, I kept my waterbottle with me like I usually did, and I didn't time myself as I ran. Those pieces of advice really helped, because I ended up running a great race!

We arrived at Sports Authority Field at Mile High around 7:20 a.m. There was quite a lot of traffic trying to squeeze into one entrance, which wasn't fun. But there was ample parking once we got into the lot.

"Mon Petite Chou-Chou," Philmore

We tried to find a porta-potty to use before the race started, but even though they were all over the parking lot, only a select few were unlocked! The others had padlocks on them, which prevented the thousands of people racing to use them. That was frustrating - but fortunately that was probably the only frustrating thing about the race.

We were assigned corrals based on the pace we'd put in our registration. Kim and I had both put down a pace between 11 and 12 minutes, so we were assigned to corral G. There were many corrals behind us, which meant people with strollers, as well as walkers (no, not those walkers, Dad!) were relegated to the back. This helped me at the start of the race, since I remember the hardest part of previous races was maneuvering between the walkers and strollers.

"A Model Day at the Magic Kingdom (AKA Good Morning Cleveland)," Daniel Holter & Matt Smith

After we found our corral, we slowly were ushered up to the starting line. We had chip timers attached to our bibs, which started as soon as we crossed the timer indicator. They released 2 corrals every 5 minutes or so, which spread out the amount of people and made it much easier to start the race!

Kim and I both played music - I on my iPhone and her on her iPod shuffle. We kept the music low so we could still talk to each other. I'm not sure about her, but I was glad to have the music in my ears, keeping me going. Especially later...but I'll come back to that.

"Ways to Go," Grouplove

I also experimented with using SnapChat to send videos back to my family during the race so they could keep up with me. I hope they didn't get sick of it. I want to do the same thing in Disneyland...there will be far more to show off at those races for sure!

Mile 1 was uphill. I was thankful for that, because it meant that the rest of the race would be mostly downhill. I started at a pretty easy pace, and the fact that I was passing person after person who were walking made me positive that I was doing well.

"Call Me Maybe," Carly Rae Jepsen

Kim and I ran together, and we ended up using a few techniques my father taught me in our walks to Michigan Stadium for football games, like the split-around-the-slow-person, the point-to-the-right-or-left-and-go-around-the-slow-person, or the single-file-formation-to-go-around-the-slow-person. There were lots of people in front of us that were doing a runwalk or had gone out too fast and were now walking for quite a ways. I was determined not to be one of those people.

Kim and I also had fun spotting a pretty odd piece of clothing some people were wearing. They were Broncos leggings - navy with a huge splotch of orange and the word "BRONCOS" on the rear. We actually saw five people wearing those leggings. We both decided that those were a little too bold for us!

"I Wanna Get Better," Bleachers

The entire first mile was run on 23rd Street, taking us from the stadium to Sloan's Lake - a great lake with a very nice trail. Mile 2 was almost entirely spent on the Sloan's Lake path. I enjoyed the route around the lake, but didn't enjoy how narrow the trail was. This meant I had to slow down and speed up even more around slow runners and walkers, and occasionally run in the grass.

"The Forest Battle (from Return of the Jedi)," John Williams

I had been to Sloan's Lake for the Dragon Boat Festival a few weeks earlier, but that only took up a small section of the park and lake. I was surprised to see how much bigger the lake and the trail were once all the festival stuff was gone and the trail was fully utilized!

"Shut Up and Dance," Walk the Moon

Along the trail there would be small signs saying how many kilometers we'd run - this was a 7K, after all. But the cool thing was that they converted the kilometers to yards (I know, I know, going between metric and American measurements is awful, blah blah blah), and told you a Did You Know fact with that number.

"The City," Madeon

For example, when we reached 5 kilometers, they converted that to 5477 yards, which just so happened to be the single season passing record, set by Peyton Manning in 2013 with the Broncos. There were five or six of these, and I enjoyed them!

Mile 3 was the completion of the lake route and the return to the streets of Denver - 17th Street, to be exact. This was blacktop, and by this time (around 9:15 a.m.) the sun was up pretty high in the sky and it made for some warm conditions. There were only two water stops for the whole race, and I was thankful I had brought my trusty waterbottle along for frequent hydration.

"And We Danced," The Hooters

Kim needed a few more walking breaks than I did, but it turned out that I could still do a light jog and she could still keep up with me! I think if I had just walked, I might not have started up again.

"Galvanize (from the London 2012 Olympics)," The Chemical Brothers

Mile 4 was hard, but off in the distance you could see Sports Authority Field. That really kept me going. What also kept me going was my music - if you've been reading, you've noticed song titles and artists listed in bold throughout the article. I do this every time I post a race article - it's my playlist from the race! And at this point in the race, the soundtrack for the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics kicked in - the music that played as the athletes entered the arena. And it was absolutely perfect for this part of the run.

"Minneapolis (from the London 2012 Olympics)," Underworld

Kim had been telling me it was okay to keep running even when she had to walk, and I'd told her I would do so when the stadium was in view. And at one point, she fell behind me and I just kept on going. I was going to finish strong.

Right when I was getting to the parking entrance for the stadium, the remixed song

"Where the Streets Have No Name (from the London 2012 Olympics),"  U2 

came on, and it couldn't have come on at a better time. Suddenly I was flying down the hill, knowing that I was almost done and I had energy to spare. We ran around the quarter of the stadium before finally entering a tunnel at field level, and I was tired but ready to finish on a high note.

I tend to do well with competition, and I was running side-by-side with another lady about my age. But when we got to the tunnel and I could see the FINISH line at the 50-yard line, I sprinted and left her in the dust. It was a great way to end the race!

"For Years (from the London 2012 Olympics)," High Contrast

Kim had caught up to me, and she finished right behind me! That was great because we could be in the stadium together (they shuttled us out pretty fast after we finished), and didn't have to search for each other. We received a water bottle and medal outside the stadium, and they had a large area fenced off for people to rest, get their canvas bags with food, and use their free beer token. (We did not get beer.)

I was ecstatic to get a running medal - I had never received one before! I immediately put it on and wore it the rest of the time at the stadium.

We stretched and ate fruit snacks in the grass and listened to a live cover band they had on a stage, and then changed out of our gross shoes and headed into the stadium concourse for their inaugural Health and Wellness Expo. It was crowded, but it did give us a chance to explore the stadium, and to get out onto the field!

I felt really good about this day, and my results make me optimistic for my future training I have to do for the Disneyland Star Wars Half Marathon. I'm especially excited that the temperature will be cooling off, and I can do fewer early morning runs and more afternoon jacket-weather runs. Before I know it, we'll be in January and I'll be pumped and ready to race again!

But this week? My feet are going to take a break. Until they start itching to go on another run, of course.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Star Wars Saturday: The EU and Star Wars Podcasts

It's Saturday again (the Saturday right after Force Friday!), and I'm here with another Star Wars-related Blurb. I finished the newest novel, Star Wars: Aftermath, late last night, but was too tired to put my thoughts into words. So my review will have to wait till next Saturday.

What is Star Wars: Aftermath, you say? Well, a long time ago (in a galaxy...that's this one) sci-fi authors were publishing Star Wars books in what was known as the "Expanded Universe." These would mostly have been stories that took place after Return of the Jedi. Eventually there were so many books, with amazing and terrible storylines, that the EU was kind of a mess.

Two years ago, Lucasfilm decided that none of those EU stories were part of the actual Star Wars universe, deeming them "Legends" stories. I had no problem with that, since it wasn't like they were getting rid of all evidence of the EU (you can still buy them, read them, and enjoy some of them).

But now the Lucasfilm Story Group is releasing novels that do tie into the official canon of Star Wars, and Aftermath is the first novel that tells the story of what happened after Return of the Jedi. This is one of many stories that is meant to bridge the gap between Jedi and The Force Awakens.

As a matter of fact, they are under the category Journey to The Force Awakens.

So enough about the novels; let's get into our topic - great Star Wars podcasts!

Podcasts have become a wonderful companion to me over the past six years. It all started when I was researching for my 2010 trip to Walt Disney World and I started listening to the WDW Today Podcast, which was four or five people discussing trips, trip planning, and changes to the parks. That led to listening to all their older podcasts (I think they were at 800 at the time) and discovering Inside the Magic, a Disney podcast that was more like a news show - news at the beginning, interviews and reviews in the middle, and listener letters at the end.

As the years progressed, my podcast list has expanded to include Doctor Who (Radio Free Skaro, Reality Bomb), other Disney areas (The Disney Dish with Jim Hill, Mousetalgia), random movie news (The Weekly Planet), and Star Wars. My summers are spent fixing up the classroom, and podcasts are great for this purpose.

With all the craziness of Star Wars this year, as well as the amount of time spent working over the summer, I blew up my podcast feed with all sorts of new Star Wars content. I'm going to give you my picks as some of the best:

(Click on the name of the podcast to go directly to their website.)

Star Wars Oxygen

If there's one Star Wars podcast you must listen to, it's this one. And I don't just say that because it's all about John Williams' music in the Star Wars saga. It is a fascinating study of the themes and leitmotifs of the music as it's fitted perfectly into place in the films.

This is hosted by Jimmy Mac and David W. Collins, who used to work at Lucasfilm. He does a fabulous job dissecting the soundtracks for the six Star Wars films and brings in musical ideas without sounding highbrow about it.

There have been multiple times that I've listened to his discussions about Star Wars music and I've learned something new. I get really excited when I see a new podcast has been released - they come out once a month, and they spend about 3-4 months talking about one movie. They did the Original Trilogy already, and they are currently wrapping up Attack of the Clones, which is fascinating, regardless of the quality of the movie.

A lot of people are jumping on the bandwagon - just check out this article from IGN about the podcast.

Rebel Force Radio

This was the first one I heard, and one of the best produced. Hosted by Jason Swank and Jimmy Mac, RFR covers current events in Star Wars around the world, as well as their commentary on the most current movie news. Their friends are far and wide - they often talk to Dave Filoni (in charge of Star Wars Rebels), Kyle Newman (big movie director) and Sam Witwer (voice actor and TV actor).

One issue I have with this podcast is that the two of them (especially Jimmy Mac) tend to go off on tangents for unnecessarily long periods of time. Their podcasts run for 2 hours, and most of it is great. They also do some cut scenes that are pretty hilarious (when it was rumored that Michael Jackson had wanted to play Jar Jar Binks, they created a cut scene for that which still makes me grin).

Coffee With Kenobi

This podcast is still trying to find its legs and is trying something new every podcast. The original premise was that they would have conversations with people about Star Wars as if they were just hanging around in a coffee shop. Dan Zehr and Cory Clubb are the hosts, and they are my favorite hosts of any Star Wars podcast, because they are very knowledgeable and you are guaranteed an educated discussion instead of heated reactions.

I'm not a big fan of their collectors segment (I don't collect, so it's boring to me), but they have had great talks with Jim Hill about Star Wars in the Disney Parks and with Cole Horton about history and Star Wars. They also let fans know about the next week's topic the week before so people can submit their e-mails and they can be read in conjunction with that segment.

Dan is also a teacher and introduced me to Star Wars in the Classroom, where teachers can get ideas about how to incorporate Star Wars to their students. That will always perk my interest.

I'm also hoping someday to be interviewed by them, because they end every interview by asking their guest the same five questions: favorite Star Wars movie, favorite Star Wars character, best scene or line of dialogue, favorite collectible, and which theme of Star Wars speaks to you. (I'm still forming my answers.)

Full of Sith

This podcast is not as dirty as the title suggests. I like this podcast because of the discussions between the hosts. There are normally four hosts - Tha Mike Pilot, Amy Ratcliffe, Bryan Young, and Bobby Roberts - and they are kind of curmudgeons. But in a good way. They can get very passionate about the subject they're talking about (especially Bobby), and they're constructive in their criticism - not always positive, but not always negative.

Amy probably is the most knowledgeable Star Wars female podcaster I listen to, and can hold her own against these guys. Mike has a tricky job wrangling all these personalities, but handles hosting duties very well. And the opening title music is the best opening of any of these podcasts.

One of my favorite podcasts of theirs is when they talked about the Clone Wars microseries produced by Genndy Tartakovsky, which I adored when I finally saw it (and actually made me dislike the "new" Clone Wars TV show for replacing that version). They had many of the same opinions that I did, and listening to their love and passion for it was great to hear.

If you're looking for some great discussions about the Star Wars saga, these are some of the best. You'll hear comments made that you'd never hear by someone in mainstream media. These podcasters really think the Star Wars Saga through and give thoughtful insight into every aspect, and not just the stuff you'll hear if you go onto any random entertainment website claiming it knows about Star Wars.

Don't know about podcasts? Check out your phone - you've probably got a podcast app already built in! Download something and start listening!

I am Claire Nat! I am a teacher and write for TouringPlans.com. I write about anything that interests me - mostly music, Olympics, and fandoms! Follow me @CeePipes or facebook.com/blurbmusings. 

More Star Wars articles by Claire Nat:
Fears and Star Wars
Why Star Wars is the Best Trilogy Ever