Graphing WASB Titration Curves on Giant Graph Paper

Note: This lesson could totally be adapted for SASB titrations as well. Here’s the lesson I used for SASB this year.

Before Class
(introducing WASB Titration & pH Calculations)

Before my students came to class, they watched this video I made and took notes on this notes sheet. In the video, I do pH calculations at six different points along the titration curve, plotting each point as I go.

It’s…a lot. But the nice thing about using this video is that ALL of our class time on this topic is now them practicing, rather than me taking up multiple class periods lecturing on this.

At this point, my students have seen all the calculations, but not tried them themselves. And they’ve seen particle diagrams for SASB, but not for WASB or WBSA. I also forgot to include the idea of a “buffer region” in the video, so I briefly go over that in class.

Introductory Activity – Michael Farabaugh’s Practice

I started class by having students complete this matching activity in their groups. Farabaugh has a video explaining all of this, but I found that my students could successfully complete the matching section without it. (The writing activity that Farabaugh has posted would have been a challenge though).

The Task – Graphing the WASB Titration Curve

I got this idea from AP Chemistry teacher Rafael Betancourt on the AP Chemistry Teachers Facebook group.

As soon as students started finishing the matching activity, I presented this task (also embedded below), but with considerably less silly fanfare than my SASB activity.

The startup costs for this were about $50 because the giant, 2′ x 3′ pads of graph paper are really expensive. Luckily, we only used four sheets of it, so I’ll be able to keep using the pads for years to come. I got 0.75″ diameter colored stickers, which worked well. I wish I’d have gone with the 1″ stickers though, so they could have enough room to write the ion symbols directly on the stickers instead of relying on the key.

Students got right to work. I imagined they would lay the paper on their lab tables, but all four groups taped the graph paper to their vertical whiteboard. They’ve really taken to the whiteboard format, even when I don’t prompt them to. I love it though; they collaborate super well when at the boards.

The results are below. You can move the slider to compare what the projects looked like at the end of the first day and at the end of the second day. What I love most about this is that it encompassed nearly all aspects of the titration curves: pH calculations, the graph itself, important points like equivalence and 1/2-equivalence, and particle diagrams.

Some great collaboration within this group of two students.
This group struggled the most, but they also had the most challenging titration (WBSA). Still, we were able to address a lot of misconceptions, even if the calculations weren’t quite there.

Student Misconceptions Uncovered

As a teacher, it can be disheartening when misconceptions like these crop up (did I not teach this clearly enough???). But in reality, part of the point of tasks like this are to bring these misconceptions to light, name them, and help students correct them. So with that mindset shift, here are a few uncovered student misconceptions that are worth celebrating.

  • Net Ionic Equation is the same as SASB – One group had their net ionic equation written as H+ + OH = H2O. They had separated the weak acid HA into ions on the reactant side and canceled A on each side as a spectator.
  • H+ included in particulate diagram in the buffer region – HA dissociates into H+ and A as the acid is titrated, but the H+ that is produced is immediately neutralized by the OH, becoming water. A couple groups were including those hydrogen ions. I pointed out the N.I.E. for the titration, showing there were no hydrogen ions produced. It felt wrong to at least one student that there were then fewer ions in the particle diagram, so we talked about how those atoms are still there, but not they’re part of water molecules, which we’re not including in the diagram.
  • Equivalence point pH not in the middle of the vertical section – You can see the mistake in the “before” image of the first titration curve above. The group plotted the equivalence point, then had the graph going immediately up and to the right, instead of continuing upward before curving over.
  • Difference between neutralization and dissociation – One of my groups was conflating the two of these, which led to a lot of difficulty in their calculations. I’m glad we had the chance to get this straightened out, since it’s pretty essential to everything in this unit.

Reflection

Afterward, I asked a few students if they thought I should do all this next time I teach AP Chemistry. Once student replied that she thought it was worth it, even though it took a long time.

And that’s my main concern. This took two full 90-minute blocks. Overall, I think it was worth it. Between exposing misconceptions, getting practice with particle diagrams, practicing all the calculations, and comparing these curves with the SASB titration curves, there was (hopefully) a lot of learning going on.

Either way, it was definitely better than past years when I’ve just worked through the calculations in front of them and not saved time to practice.

Strong Acid / Strong Base Titration pH Calculation Practice

The Case of the Missing Data and the Dishonest Chemistry Students!

In the past, I’ve lectured on this SASB titration pH calculations, then because of time constraints, students had little to no time to actually practice it themselves. This year, I finally got around to creating a flipped classroom video of how to do these calculations, which freed up time for me to actually have them do something with it!

Before Class
(introducing SASB Titration & pH Calculations)

Before my students came to class, they watched these two videos I made and took notes on this notes sheet. The first video introduces what titrations are and show particulate diagrams at each stage. The second video shows how to calculate pH at each stage of the titration curve. After watching the videos, students had an idea of how to all of this, as well as a record of it in their notes, but…it’s a lot. They still needed (of course) a lot of practice.

This is a video I made back in 2016. I think my video skills have improved a lot since then…

The Assignment
(The Case of the Missing Data & the Dishonest Chem Students)

I immediately started class by presenting this task, also embedded below.



The basic premise is that they had all this titration data from a lab last week, but they lost the Vernier Graphical Analysis file and now have to create some fake data to fool their unsuspecting teacher.

Pretty silly, but I played it up a bit, going as far as putting the base volume on a sticky note in one member of each group’s lab book, pretending they wrote it themselves.

The purpose of this task is to get students creating the titration curve and doing all the pH calculations themselves. Instead of a list of problems, they’re doing the calculations in the context of the titration curve as a whole, creating as many data points as possible in the ~1 hour they had to work on this.

Student worked in small random groups of about 3 or 4 at vertical whiteboards (a la Building Thinking Classrooms principles, which I use in my classes) to calculate the initial acid molarity and the pH of points along the graph.

This group, which calculated the most data points, used the same Before/Add/After table and just kept changing up the numbers. It was a great way to sort of automate the process and get quicker results.

Results

Here are the graphs that each group produced. I was pretty happy with it overall. The first group, at least, could have fooled me with their graph, haha!

This group rocked it. They found pH every five mL, then went back and added some more points near the equivalence point to show how that section curves.
This group did pretty well too. Something went wrong in their calculations past the equivalence point, but we ran out of time to figure out what the mistake was.
This group took the longest, but they at least got practice calculating pH. I’m not sure why they didn’t include the equivalence point pH of 7, but I’ll follow up with them next class.

I’ll definitely do this again next year. The main thing I’ll change is to have them include a particulate diagram at each stage of the titration curve.

Designing the book cover for Malfunction Junction

If you haven’t heard me talk about it enough already, some friends and I made a book! It’s a Memphis-themed anthology called Malfunction Junction: Memphis Stories of Stops, Starts, Wrong Turns, and Dead Ends. You can buy copies at Novel (see photo of Alondra and I posing in front of the display below), and we’ll be signing copies and talking about the book at our author event on January 15th at 2:00 pm.

Also, if you come to the event, we’re going to have a special bonus (scroll to the end of this post to see what it is!).

This post is all about the cover design for the book, which you’ve seen. But the road to getting this final cover design was its own journey of stops, starts, wrong turns, and dead ends.

Pick me! Pick me! Pick me!

In the past few years, I’ve discovered (rediscovered?) my interest in art and design.

So when Daniel (head honcho of this anthology operation) asked if I wanted to work on the cover design, I jumped at the opportunity. I really wanted this project to have an excellent cover, and self-published books aren’t necessarily known for having the best cover design.

I got right to work.

I spent a few hours playing around with different designs and effects with Procreate on the iPad. We wanted to incorporate a map of Memphis as well as roads because of the loose theme of the anthology.

But all I came up with these were these hot messes…

I gave up on the first two midway. The design on the right was a crossroads for me, if you will. I knew the design wasn’t working. But I couldn’t explain why it wasn’t working. I’d reached the frustrating point where my tastes far exceeded my current skill level, and I was ready to give up.

I told Daniel maybe we find someone else to do the cover. I hear $30 can go a long way on websites like Fiverr. But Daniel said he thought we could do this, and that last design wasn’t all that bad. (I still thought it was pretty bad though.)

The breakthrough came when I made the roads as rectangles instead of hand-drawing them. I also got some great feedback from Justin Wells, a former student of mine who graduated at Memphis College of Art and is an amazing artist and graphic designer.

That’s how we ended up with this draft of the front cover. See below for the time lapse of my Procreate file! You can follow along with all my experimenting.

What about the Spine and Back Cover?

The what and the what?

Oh.

Right.

Um, well. Oops. Okay, I didn’t think this through.

Here was the problem. We had a cool front cover, but those roads I made needed to extend over the spine and the back cover (at least, that’s how I wanted it to be). Also, the dimensions were off. Since I had just been experimenting originally, I didn’t pay attention to the actual dimensions our book would be. Making all these changes in Procreate was going to be harder than it would be to start over and recreate the. whole. thing.

So that’s what I did.

That went a little quicker because I was mostly recreating what I had already made before. We added some text on the back, a publisher logo, and all the other important cover elements. You can see in the time-lapse that I created the design on top of the template from Ingram Spark (the printer) to make sure everything lined up perfectly.

Actually uploading this was a whole other ordeal, the trauma of which is still too fresh to talk about…

Okay, it wasn’t that bad. But it involved me fumbling around in Adobe InDesign, Daniel fumbling around in Ingram Spark’s online cover program, and lots of frustration because the process is incredibly convoluted and unclear. But we eventually got it.

Wouldn’t it be cool if we had…bookmarks!?

Rae Harding, a friend and fellow contributor to the anthology, had the idea (and a coupon or something?) to get bookmarks printed. I gave myself a little more creative freedom with these, and I ended up with a design I liked as much as the cover itself.

We’ll be giving these out at our author event at Novel. bookstore on January 15th! Hope to see you there!

I’m a science teacher. Next year, I’m teaching a Science Fiction and Fantasy English class.

I hated English in high school.

If there was one class I thought I’d never want to teach…it’s English. Reading was kind of boring, writing was a lot of work for little gain, and grading papers…no, no, no, no. Yet, here I am entering my 10th year of teaching at Collegiate, and I’m about to teach a section of high school English.

How did it come to this??? Let’s start back in high school…

Reading in High School

We read books like The Stranger and As I Lay Dying and The Scarlet Letter and the play Julius Caesar. All teacher-chosen books, and all excellent works (from what I’m told) of historical fiction literature by dead white men. But not books I was likely to ever get excited about. Falling in love with reading and becoming a life-long reader was not going to happen.

I never once (in high school) got to read a book of my choosing for class. I was a student, but I didn’t get to be a reader, someone who chooses books to read in order to learn and experience new things.

Writing in High School

We wrote research papers and literary analysis essays. I compared Denethor from Lord of the Rings (which I read in middle school…remember, I never got to choose a book to read in high school) to Willy Loman from Death of a Salesman. I made notecards for a research paper on the ethics of stem cell research (I think…I can’t quite remember). Never anything I would want to write on my own. I never saw myself as a writer.

Once, I did get to write a descriptive one-pager. I remember I wrote it about what I felt driving in my truck. I’m sure it was actually over-wordy and full of cringey purple prose, but I had fun with it and other students thought it was great. I was proud of it. I think it’s one of the only things I was proud of in high school English.

To be fair, I had great high school English teachers. Gurnow, Boyer, and Henningsen led their classes well. I have fond memories from my time in those classes, and I gained necessary skills for college. But I think the way English is traditionally taught fails too many of us.

What Made Me Want to Teach an English Class

Fast forward six years. I’ve graduated college (studying engineering so I wouldn’t have to read and write much) and am beginning a career in science education at a great school. Every day, all teachers and students in the building have this 15-minute block of time called R&R to read a book of our choosing. I’ve watched the first season of Game of Thrones on a bootleg website, and I feel a bit guilty about that, so I start reading A Clash of Kings, the second book in the A Song of Ice and Fire (i.e., Game of Thrones) series, and the longest stinkin’ book I’ve ever cracked open. And I love it. I can’t wait to get home each night to finish the chapter I’d started during R&R. I realize that all the books I’d ever really loved were fantasy. I start to think that maybe I am a reader after all.

I just never realized fantasy and science fiction were genres that readers read.

Fast forward another six years, and I get the itch to start writing my own fiction. I start working on a novel (spoiler alert, novels are hard to write). The novel doesn’t happen, but I do start writing some short fiction, entering some competitions, and even get a few stories published (which you can read here if you’d like). I start to think that maybe I’m not just a reader; maybe I’m a writer too. I’ve started developing (as Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle would say) my identity as a reader and a writer.

Fast forward another few years to 2020. This past year, as part of a professional development unit at my school, I read The Book Whisperer with three middle school English teachers. Yeah, a strange turn of events that I, a high school science teacher, ended up reading a book about getting students to fall in love with reading. What Donalyn Miller describes in her book—a chaotic classroom full of students reading books of their choice, recommending books to each other, surrounded by thousands of books—was so contrary to anything I’d ever seen. It was what I wished my English class would have been. It made me excited about what an English class could be.

Then rumors emerged about a revamping of high school English at my school. (Credit to Thomas Pillow, Peter Bouck, and Shelia Morgan for pioneering this!) Instead of students signing up for required English 2 or English 3, students would have choices, getting to choose classes like Women’s Literature, Coming of Age Literature, Mysteries and Suspense, or Poetry. Classes would be semester-long, with fiction classes in the fall and non-fiction classes in the spring.

Just as I’d developed my identity as a reader and a writer, maybe I could help students do the same…

So I started dropping hints that I would love to teach a class on science fiction and fantasy, and people thought I was joking at first. I mean, maybe I was. It was ridiculous, but the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to share my love for SFF with a class of nerdy, SFF-loving kids. And here I am, prepping to teach it.

How This Class Will Be Different

For about half of the semester, students will read books of their choosing. So I took my classroom budget from this year (being most virtual all year, I didn’t need to spend that much on science supplies), went to novel. bookstore, and bought a ton of books that I think my students might want to read. They should have plenty to choose from!

The other half of the semester, they’ll read one whole-class novel and one small-group “book club” book. My plan is to read Dawn by Octavia Butler as our whole-class novel. I think it’s brilliant, and Butler is an important author to know. So much to unpack in the book, with themes of colonialism, consent, and what it means to be human.

For book clubs, students will rank their choices from a list of five books. Then I’ll assign their book clubs, and they’ll meet with their small group each week to discuss the book. I actually did this in my Physics class last year, and it went well. I’m excited to try it again with science fiction and fantasy. Aiming for diversity in author and genre, I picked these book club options: The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez (my favorite book of 2020), Wings of Ebony by J. Elle, Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson, Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas, and The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (the book that first got me into fantasy).

As for writing, we’ll spend half the semester actually writing in the genres of science fiction and fantasy. Students crafting their own characters and stories, learning how to write narratives and learning to read as a writer. During the second half, we’ll focus on literary analysis.

This structure mostly comes from the book 180 Days: Two Teachers and the Quest to Engage and Empower Adolescents. Highly recommend.

I’ve seriously thought about leaving education several times in my ten-year career. I have an engineering degree, after all. But what keeps bringing me back are things like this. The opportunity to try something new, to break out of the mold of the way class has always been done and into something that might better serve students.

I’ll still be teaching mostly science next year, and don’t worry, I can’t see myself switching over to teaching English full-time. But I sure am excited to talk to students about SFF books and help them learn how to write their own SFF stories.

A Year of Making Science Videos

A year ago, I sat in front of my computer, frustrated and on the verge of angry tears.

The pandemic had become real a week earlier. My school closed its building, and we spent a week planning for fourth quarter “emergency online learning.” It was a fast transition, but one my school did well. We went fully asynchronous for fourth quarter, and so as teachers we were planning lessons our students could complete without real-time guidance from us.

And I returned to a former dream of mine: making excellent instructional YouTube videos for my classes.

I had a little extra time to do it, and I had a real need. It would be the only direct instruction I’d be able to provide to my students for the rest of that school year.

So I paid $50 to upgrade to the latest version of Screenflow, a video recording/editing program for Mac, and proceeded to start recording a video that I needed to post that same day.

The details of what happened next are fuzzy, but I had a really hard time with the program, which was recording laggy, unwatchable video. A few hours into it, I was frustrated, I felt like I was neglecting my family because of all the time I spent failing at video production, AND I just wasted money on a program that wasn’t working. (For the record, I don’t recommend Screenflow. If you stumble upon any of my older videos where I seem laggy, it was recorded in Screenflow, and customer service was unhelpful in solving the problem.)

I was ready to give up on the whole educational video thing. But after Carol talked me down, I decided to give it another try.

Fast forward a year, and I’ve made over 70 videos (mostly for my A&P classes), and the channel has had a ton of growth:

I get way fewer views in the summer, and the dip in January is winter break.

I also hit a particularly important milestone for any budding YouTuber: monetization!

To start receiving ad revenue on YouTube, you need at least 1000 subscribers and at least 4000 hours of watch time in the last 12 months. I just hit that second requirement last week. Today, after applying for monetization, I received this email:


So now when there’s an ad on one of my videos, YouTube only takes half the revenue instead of taking all of it!

Really, it’s not about the money (at this point, I have little idea how much I’ll get from this…somewhere between $1 and $150/month). It’s more about the validation that I’ve made something that others find value in, and I’ll get some small compensation for that.

Most importantly, it’s been rewarding to hear from people who have watched my videos. The messages I’ve received from teachers who watch my videos, teachers who assign my videos, or students around the world who kindly take a moment to leave a comment as they’re cramming for the next day’s test have been incredibly rewarding.

Wherever the channel goes from here, I’m glad I didn’t give up on video production that first frustrating night. See you in the next video!

Curriculum notes from my first year teaching Anatomy & Physiology

A few weeks ago, clearing out some storage space filled with long-forgotten binders of notes from my education classes, PDs, and conferences, I stumbled across my notes from the first year I taught A&P.

What I most remember was teaching myself the content over the weekend so I could teach it to my students the next day. Scrambling, trying to keep up. A friend of mine, Kelly, came to my rescue that year back in 2012 by sharing with me her old A&P binder full of notes she took. It was a freaking goldmine.

Anytime I didn’t know what to teach and what not to teach, I went to her binder. And as I crafted my curriculum that year, I ended up making my own binder of notes. Besides the intro unit, this is everything I taught that year.

If you are a new A&P teacher looking for a starting point, these notes could be just what you’re looking for.


Of course, these notes are not perfect. I taught in a weird unit order because my skeleton model was on backorder from the science supply company. I taught some things I think were completely unnecessary (like having students memorize 25 arteries and 25 veins). I lectured wayyyyy too much, and spent too little time making my students analyze and apply what they were learning.

But, as notes go, they’re not bad. And if you’re lost like I was that first year, they may be just the anchor you need, like Kelly’s A&P binder was for me.


For a better guide to what I teach now, click here.


And speaking of first year…here are a couple old photos from my first years teaching!

Class photo! I looked so different back then.
Look at that clueless first-year teacher…

Six Steps to Starting a Podcast!

by Someone Who Has Never Started a Podcast

Have you ever been in a class and wondered, “When will I actually use this in real life? Does anyone even need to need to know this?”

Well, my friend Andy and I are starting a podcast to help answer the age-old question:

“When will I need this?”

And in an effort to Show Our Work, here’s a step-by-step tutorial on how to get to the point where you’re ready to start recording a podcast! (by someone who has not yet recorded his first podcast)


1 – Talk a friend into starting a freaking podcast!

The first step is to get a stupid idea and share it with a friend who might think the idea isn’t completely stupid. And just like the time senior year of high school when Andy told me we should get tattoos, I thought starting a podcast sounded like a thing we could totally do and not regret it later. Here’s what that stage looked like for us:


2 – Make a shared Google Doc.

Great. We knew we wanted to make a podcast. Next question: what the heck will it be about?

*crickets*

No, it won’t be about crickets, but Andy works as a biologist and I studied engineering and work as a science teacher, so we knew we wanted to do something science-y and informative, yet fun. We bounced around a bunch of ideas, and started loading all our thoughts into a shared Google doc.

We’re still loading ideas into the shared doc, refining it, leaving comments…it became sort of our central hub for podcast things. It had sections for potential podcast names, episode ideas, a plan for episode format, questions about recording logistics, podcast hosting platforms, and a ton of other stuff. Here’s an old version of the doc. (Excuse the messiness…like I said, it’s a brainstorming tool!)


3 – Come up with an interesting concept.

Tons of ideas, but we settled on the “When Will I Need This?” because of a few key reasons:

  1. It’s unique. We couldn’t any other podcast answering this particular question. Whereas there are a ton of science podcasts, this idea seemed somewhat novel.
  2. It can be explained in a single sentence. The concept is a pretty straightforward question that takes less than 10 seconds to communicate.
  3. Everyone can relate to it. Every time I share the idea with someone, they get a thoughtful look on their face. It’s like they’re instantly transported back to a time where they wondered this exact thing.
  4. There are plenty of topics to cover. We’ll start with some of the obvious things (mitochondria, cursive, algebra, five-paragraph essays, Eli Whitney inventing the cotton gin (which came up every single year of history class somehow)), but we could really take any topic we’re interested in and turn into an episode.

4 – Make a sweet thumbnail to feel more legit.

I made this in Canva. It wasn’t a necessary step at this point (we haven’t recorded an episode), but it sure makes the whole thing feel more legit and real! I’m sure this will change, maybe even before the first episode drops, but in the meantime it’s a pretty cool placeholder.


5 – Fumble around in Garageband until you have cool intro music.

I’m not a particularly musically-inclined person, but dang it if I can’t teach myself a new skill! Garageband has a steep learning curve, but I resisted the urge to throw my iPad against the wall multiple times and was able to find some pre-recorded loops and finagle them into something usable for a solid intro.

We’ve also considered paying someone on Fiverr to do some music, but free is nice too. Check out the intro music below! (We’ll both be speaking on the actual intro…I was just trying to experiment with how the music would sound with voices around it.)


6 – Record your first freakin’ podcast episode!

We’re scheduled to record our first episode (the powerhouse of the cell, baby!) next Thursday. More updates to come.

Oh! One more thing. Our fledgling, zero-episode podcast is now on social media! Follow @NeedThisPod on Twitter and Instagram!

First Day of Practice


The parking lot of the Glenview Community Center in Orange Mound is lined with campaign signs as my mom rolls my wheelchair to the passenger door of our battered Toyota Avalon.

“This all sounds stupid,” I say, grabbing my legs and swinging them outside the car door.

“Don’t call things stupid. Besides, Trey, you love basketball,” Mom says. 

“I used to. When I could still play.”

My mom purses her lips and raises an eyebrow. I’m busy pulling myself into the chair, so I don’t see her do those things, but I know the disapproving face she’s making.

“Trey, you’re only as disabled as you let yourself be,” she says for the millionth time since I got shot back in June. Like, what’s that even mean? She’s got these catchphrases for everything. It’s her way of avoiding the truth that I can’t do anything I used to.

This isn’t the first time she’s tried getting me back on the court. At rehab last month, she told the physical therapist I used to play ball and insisted I would again. So they made me try shooting baskets at the hospital’s gym. The previous year, I had the sickest crossover on the JV team. Now, sitting down, I could barely get the ball up to the net. When they started lowering the basket for me, I couldn’t take it. I just left. 

The therapist followed us out to the car to tell us about the Memphis Rollin’ Grizzlies, this whole team of guys who play basketball in wheelchairs. She gave us the coach’s number. When we got home, Mom dialed the number and shoved the phone into my hands because I sure as hell wasn’t going to choose to make the call myself. Seeing a group of grown men in wheelchairs pretend to play basketball like I’d just done sounded depressing. 

But here we are.

I hear basketballs dribbling to my left as we enter the community center. Through double doors, guys in chairs streak past faster than I expected. We sit in the doorway and watch them shoot free throws for a bit. Empty wheelchairs similar to mine line the far wall. The chairs they’re playing in look way different, with slanted wheels and this bar that extends around the front of their feet. Practice started thirty minutes ago, but on the phone Al, the coach, said to get here whenever. He’d kept saying I just needed to get in to see a practice. 

“Alright, fellas, back on the line!” Across the gym, a small white man in a wheelchair calls out instructions, blows a whistle. The ten players push hard down the length of the court. At the end, they turn faster than I’ve ever been able to in my chair. One dude even goes up on one wheel around the turn. The coach waves us over.

Coach Al asks about my injury, and I let my mom answer all his questions while I watch the guys pushing down-and-backs up and down the court. I’m staring at the hoop when I hear Al explain that most of the rules are the same as “able-bodied” basketball, which is what they call regular basketball. 

“How high is the basket?”

“Ten feet. Everything about the court is the same.”

“You have to dribble?”

“Yep. You can’t do more than two pushes without dribbling.”

I nod, wondering how they’re supposed to push and dribble at the same time, let alone things like crossovers or three-pointers. I think back to our final post-season game last year. That three pointer I barely missed against Melrose that would have put us within one basket with under a minute left. Half of us were in tears after losing that game, and I vowed I wouldn’t miss the shot next time. 

“I guess y’all don’t really do three-pointers in wheelchair basketball,” I say, realizing I’ll never get that second chance.

Coach raises an eyebrow, then calls out to one of the guys. “Hey O! Shoot a three.” Al tosses a ball to this tall dude with no legs. He’s wearing a durag and a glove on one hand. He pulls up and drains a shot from a few feet behind the three point line. Someone tosses the ball back to him and he does it again.

I close my mouth, which was just hanging open. I try to picture myself making a shot like that, but I can’t shake the image of me struggling to get the ball up to the basket in that hospital.

Coach checks his watch, then blows his whistle. “Alright, gentlemen, get some water!” 

Everyone’s breathing heavily as they get water and start shooting around. A couple guys come over and introduce themselves: a redhead man in his thirties who towers over us. A lanky light-skinned black guy with muscled arms who looks like he could play for the able-bodied Grizzlies team if not for his skinny legs. 

They ask me questions, and I tell them about my gunshot injury, how I was in the wrong spot at the wrong time, running with some guys I shouldn’t have been running with. I leave out the depression that came after I woke up and realized I wasn’t dead but that my life was over. I don’t mention all the tears I cried about things I’d never do. Play basketball. Drive a car. Have a girlfriend, maybe a family some day. Talking to them is different though. Their faces say they feel sad for me, but not sorry for me like everyone else has up to this point.

This isn’t what I thought it was, and I finally admit to myself how much I want to be a part of it. But my mind flashes back to rehab…

“You alright, Trey?” Mom asks. 

I nod slowly and mumble, “I don’t know if I can do all this.”

Al puts a hand on my shoulder, and his voice changes to that of a father giving advice. “Don’t cut yourself short. These guys were all in your same position at one point.”

“This takes time, you feel me?” says Archie, the lanky, light-skinned guy. “We gonna get you out here hoopin’ though.”

Al calls out to the guy who was draining threes. “Big O! Come here for a minute.”

“What’s up, fam?” O says, shaking my hand.

Al points to me and tells Big O how long I’ve been in a chair.

“Man, you’re real fresh,” O says. “This junt don’t get easy, but it gets easier, you feel me?”

I nod and listen to Big O tell about his accident, how he coped with everything and still is coping, how he was intimidated to get out on the court at first too. I watch him go back out on the court and post someone up on the block, and I wonder how he was ever scared. 

“What do you think? You gonna come back Wednesday?” Al asks as the players scrimmage. “We’ll get you in a ball chair, see how that feels.”

I look to my mom, who I can tell is holding back an I told you so smirk. “Maybe. I’ll think about it,” I say. I’m sure Mom is rolling her eyes because she can tell how much I want to be part of this.

Once practice is over, everyone convenes out in the parking lot. While most of the players debate about what defensive set they should run against some of the teams they’ll face in an upcoming tournament in Alabama, the guy who was hitting reverse layups before comes over to me.

“It was Trey, right?” he asks.

“Yeah. And your name was…”

“Justin,” he says, giving me a fist bump. “Four months ago, huh? That’s tough. You’re still relearning how to live life. I bet you have a lot of questions.”

I shrug. 

Another guy leans over to us. “He’s wondering the same thing we all wondered after we got injured, and the answer is yes, you can still have sex.” 

“Manners, A.G.!” Justin says, nodding toward my mom. 

I’m avoiding eye contact with her and dying of embarrassment inside, so I change the subject.

“Well, like, how do you drive a car?” I ask.

Justin takes me and Mom over to his car, and he shows me how the hand controls work, how he gets his chair inside. He shows me a picture of his wife and his two-year-old daughter sitting in his lap. He tells me about playing basketball in college, becoming a science teacher, about how disability is never an excuse for not doing something in life. 

Then he says something that makes me cringe.

“You know, I’ve seen a lot of disabled people never try things because they’re afraid of failure. Don’t make yourself more disabled than you actually are.”

My mom is beaming. “Now that’s some great advice! Sounds like something I’d say.” 

I glare at her, then roll my eyes. “Mom’s got a new catchphrase now. I’m going to be hearing that twice a day.”

Justin laughs. “Well, I think there’s a lot of truth to it. Anyway, I need to go. We going to see you Wednesday?”

I look to my Mom, who indicates it’s my decision, then back to Justin.

“Yeah. Yeah, I’ll be here.”



Author’s note:

I wrote an abbreviated version of this for a flash fiction contest a few years ago. A few years later, I rewrote and expanded the story for publication in the Memphis-themed anthology, Malfunction Junction.

I think Memphis is a lot like a kid going to a wheelchair basketball practice for the first time. Down on his luck, going through some really hard stuff. But also so full of potential, just needing permission to dream of what he could become. That his life isn’t over yet.

That’s what wheelchair sports do for people.

And special thanks to Quain and Al for keeping the team going here in Memphis all this time, despite all we’ve put you guys through 🙂

Best Books I Read in 2019!

Hey! So, everybody’s doing these posts at the turn of the New Year, but you know what?

People like reading them, as evidenced by the fact that you clicked on this post and the fact that:

  1. you clicked on this link, and
  2. more people read my Best Books I Read in 2018! post from last year than any of my other posts.
So, as Mario would say, here we gooooooooooooooooooo!

5. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

A single caption cannot adequately describe this strange book. You got to read it for yourself.

This is the weirdest book I’ve read (in some ways).

I first heard of this book at MidSouthCon a few years ago. On a panel, Ellen Datlow (well-known horror editor) described it as this book where you had to start

Most of the book is a series of essays written by a guy named Zampanó. The essays are about a documentary made by a filmmaker Navidson, who discovers his new house is…strange. The inside dimensions are a fraction of an inch larger than the outside dimensions, which is impossible. From there the house grows stranger and Navidson becomes obsessed, at the expense of his relationship with his wife. Also, while you read the essays, there are footnote commentaries by a guy named Johnny, who is reading Zampanó’s essays about Navidson’s documentary.

Okay. It’s hard to explain. Even harder to describe is the text layout. See below for some examples. In the first picture, the characters are wandering through a frustrating maze while the reader is reading through a frustrating footnote-laden maze of text. SO META, AMIRIGHT?

If all of that interests you, then GO READ THIS BOOK. If it doesn’t, then DON’T GO READ THIS BOOK. It’s not for everyone. But it’s weird and strange and awesome.

Buy it at novel., on Amazon, or borrow it from me if you live in Memphis!

4. Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James

It is said you have a nose…

This is the other weirdest book I’ve read (in other ways).

This book was everything I secretly wished Children of Blood and Bone would be. To be fair, CoBaB is YA. Black Leopard, Red Wolf is very not YA. It was an unfair expectation.

The book is a hard read. The plot winds, many things that happen are distorted through the beliefs and prejudices of the narrator, and many stories are told for unclear reasons. But it’s so good.

When novel., our local bookstore, asked community members for shelf-talkers (recommendation with little description) last year, I wrote one on this book:

This book is weird (in the best way). It’s African. It’s queer. It’s violent (insert all the trigger warnings here). It’s epic fantasy that pushes me as a reader beyond the traditional Eurocentric fantasy tropes of Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones toward something fresh and new. Infused with African mythology, the book follows Tracker and his companions as they search for a mysterious boy and discover that those they trust are not what they seem.

It’s billed as the “African Game of Thrones,” but it’s not. Black Leopard, Red Wolf is its own beast.

Also, book 2 of this series will cover the events of book 1, but from the perspective of one of the villains from book 1. Book 3 will be from the perspective of the boy they’re trying to find. I’m pumped to see how Marlon James plays with perspective in the rest of the series.

But it at novel., on Amazon, or borrow from me or your local library!

3. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Best memoir I’ve ever read.

Surprisingly, this book had nothing to do with Noah’s rise to fame as a comedian and Daily Show host. It’s all about him as a little boy trying to find his way during his childhood during Apartheid.

We read this as part of novel. Book Club, and it was one of a few books that literally everyone liked. At the end of the year, several cited it as their favorite book of the year.

His stories range from trying to find a girlfriend to getting in with a bad crowd selling bootleg CDs, to finding out his abusive stepfather shot his mother. Parts are hilarious, heart-wrenching, informative, and beautiful.

And unlike my first couple entries on this list, it’s very accessible. I’d recommend it to anyone!

Buy it at novel., on Amazon, or borrow it from me or at your local library!

2. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green

And one night, the Carls just appeared…

When I heard Hank Green (who I know from Crash Course and brother of famous YA author John Green) was writing a book, I knew I wanted to read it.

The premise is this: late one night, April discovers a huge robot statue thingy in the middle of the city. She records a video and uploads it to her YouTube channel. As more of these huge, inexplicable robot statues are discovered around world, April becomes internet-famous as the first person to document them.

The rest of the book is about how this fame affects April and her relationships as she and others around the world work to figure out what the heck these things are. Aliens? An elaborate prank? A secretive art installation?

I also appreciated that it was centered around a college-age protagonist. It’s not quite YA, but more post-YA (sometimes called New Adult). But it was awesome. Page-turner that also explores some relevant themes about internet fame, divisive politics, and humanity coming together to solve a problem.

But it at novel., on Amazon, or borrow it from your local library (because I don’t own a copy)!

Before I reveal my number one…
Honorable Mentions!

These were great and definitely could have made this list:

…and my least favorite book of the year!

Zone One by Colson Whitehead

There’s a reason you’ve not heard of Whitehead’s first novel. He somehow took the zombie horror genre and mashed it up with nothing-really-happens literary fiction and created the most horrifying reading experience of the year:

Having to finish a book I suggested for book club and feeling bad that I inadvertently subjected a book club of people I really like to this wordy piece of garbage.

Luckily, I had it on audiobook, so I could let the second half of the book bounce against my tympanic membrane for long enough that I could count it in my list of books that I read. It was excruciating. It left me with a bad case of Post-Apocalyptic Stress Disorder (PASD). That was Whitehead’s term, not mine.

For the record, some folks in book club did like it. So take my words with a grain of salt. And I’ve heard his other books are good…

And finally! My number one book of the year!

1. Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

A powerful collection of stories.

I love short stories. As a writer, it’s a way to explore an idea quickly, to provoke a visceral emotional response, to surprise and entertain in a short time.

If you have never read a short story collection, I recommend you start with this one. Adjei-Brenyah does all the things I mentioned above in a way that will stick with you. Here are three that stuck with me:

In “Zimmer Land,” a young black boy navigates what it would be like to work in an amusement park where patrons get to shoot a black kid in a hoodie as part of a fantasy on the pretense of protecting their family. Disclaimer: Many (not all) of these stories deal with triggering themes. These particular stories are not “fun” or “entertaining” in the traditional sense, but they are powerful and will affect how you think about the issues they explore.

In “The Era,” the world has changed so that everyone says exactly what’s on their mind. In the past, people used to lie just for the sake of being nice or polite. It’s a jarring premise, but fascinating, making me evaluate the line between honesty and not being a jerk.

In “How to Sell a Jacket As Told by IceKing,” the protagonist is a hotshot jacket salesman selling clothes to literal consumer zombies (a hilarious concept) in order to win a brand new jacket for his mother.

All that being said, here’s the biggest compliment I can give this book: It made me want to be a better writer myself by showing me what a short story can really do. A short story can take a crazy idea (or crazy fact about our society) and use it to make someone see the world differently.

But it at novel., on Amazon, or borrow it from me or your local library!

I got to briefly meet him when he came to speak at novel.! Also, he follows me on Twitter, NBD. Speaking of which, YOU SHOULD FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER TOO, HERE’S A LINK.

Here’s to another year of reading!

Let me know what your best book of the year was and why I should read it in 2020! And if you’re curious, here’s my full list of books I read in 2019.

I was on the Write Away Podcast! Critique Groups!

For about a year, I’ve been in a writing critique group with three other excellent folks who are also doing this whole writing thing. One of our members, Rae Harding, connected on Twitter with Natalie Lockett, a YA writer who recently started a writing podcast called “Write Away.” Natalie was recording a podcast on peer and professional critique, and she asked us if we’d like to be on the podcast and share about our critique group and how it’s impacted our writing.

If you are a writer, check out this podcast. If you just like the sound of my voice, listen to episode 3.

Of course, we said yes!

If you are a writer (and especially if you are an aspiring author), I highly recommend finding/creating a critique group. It can be as simple as finding other authors and asking them to join you in a group! That’s basically what happened with ours.

There are dozens of reasons to be part of a critique group. Here are a few:

  • Get feedback on your writing
  • Get to know other writers and form a support network for your writing career
  • Learn by critiquing others’ writing

Check out the episode here!

Or find Write Away podcast on iTunes or Spotify! We were on Episode 3: Peer and Professional Critique.