Tuesday, June 30, 2009


One of the all time most popular games. Ever. I play it usually as a review game:

With first graders, I use a 3x3 chart on a half-sheet of paper. Students choose and write one sight word in each box. Then I draw the words one by one from a hat, using all the words on the given list (which is about 12, so there are always some that the students never write on their game board). When I'm feeling generous - or if I'm only tutoring in pairs - then I give them a sticker for each win.

This also works with math facts, vocabulary words, science/social studies facts, character/plot of story recall, etc.

Older students should have a larger board. I typically add one box on each side per every other grade level, starting with the 3x3.

Bingo is not a good activity for writing intensive content. Reasons are quite obvious.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The class gifted


(This is an on-going series on various students I've taught and their personalities and learning styles. See the tag "the class" for more.)
This student make me happy. Annie* is smart, hard working, and oh so talented. She's the type of student that inspires teachers to teach better. I did end up telling her to attend real art school. She seemed pleased. I wonder if she and her parents will do anything about it.

The class gifted is relatively more difficult to spot than the other ones. Sometimes they are wallflower-ish. Sometimes they are by-stander-ish. Most of the time, they are humble enough to not flaunt their talents the way lesser gifted students would. And when there are 34 other big personalities to deal with, well, I end up not spending as much of my teaching energy on these gifted students as I would like to.

It's easy to justify my lack by saying that these kids will excel anyway, with or without guidance. This isn't always true. Sometimes gifted students become bored, then act out from boredom, then end up in places where their talents languish unknown by the world and - worst of all - unknown to themselves.

But there are distinguishing characteristics of the class gifted. Each individual class gifted will show it in a different way. I disagree with JL on a lot of things (i.e. nearly all things), but did approve of his intentions of introducing his students to extra-curriculars like sports or music. I would even take it a step more and provide parents with a list of community resources to look into. I've learned that many people won't bother to do something new unless things are set up easy for them. And then their interest has got to be nurtured until they can feed it themselves. Man, people are so needy!

And now I need to get ready for this afternoon's art lesson.

Sunday, June 28, 2009


I was pretty skeptical about this series at first. The premise reminded me too much like a mix of the Baudelaire orphans and a certain Fowl kid. But I was pleasantly surprised at how good this series is.

The three Grace children find themselves in a house that is creepy to the hilt and that faeries are real. At least on the Spiderwick estate. There are only 5 books in this series, which is another plus for it. The series that go for too long *ahem*LemonySnicket*ahem* just get old. Fast.

My favorite feature of these books is the fact that the main characters go through adventures outside of themselves. The narrator, nor the main characters themselves, are never too egotistically wrapped up in internal conflicts. Not that there are no internal conflicts. It's just that appearances of boggarts and bridge trolls take precedence. Which is probably better therapy for the Grace kids than anything else. It's refreshing.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Experience working with children

Now that you've got your degree and passed the CBEST and CSET, you've also probably logged at least 20 hours of working with children in a school setting.

No? Dude, you're screwed.

No, not really. Out of all the requirements towards a CA teaching credential, accruing related work experience is one of the easiest. Well, for me it was.

Here's a list of things that count towards your 20 hours that most teacher education programs call for:

- tutoring
- babysitting
- observing a classroom teacher (ask your local school, most are very obliging when they know what you are doing)
- day-care work
- after-school work
- teaching abroad
- healthcare with children
- having your own children (yes, this counts too)
- Boys & Girls Club volunteering
- church and other religious volunteer work
- mentoring
- Boy/Girl Scouts leader

The list goes on. Basically anything goes, which is why it is so easy. Most people have this down way before all the other things that need to happen before they take their first methods course.

It's best to have someone write an official letter documenting your efforts. The parents of the people you baby-sit for, the religious leader of the location where you take part in the children's ministry. Also keep important information filed away yourself: you'll most likely need the addresses and phone numbers of all the places or contacts you've worked.

Friday, June 26, 2009

A national curriculum

Or at least the beginnings of one. It's about time. The story is almost the same whether it is health-care or public transportation or ::insert your choice of social services here::.

Nearly every other industrialized, modern nation has a national curriculum - most famously Japan. I'm not one to jump with the group, but in this case I will. It has worked with so many other nations - nations filled with highly educated people - that there MUST be something working well. Like how Forever 21 is trendy and all that, but in the end quality clothes are found in the established fashion houses.

Read it here.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Only in So. Cal.

This is the most High School Musical high school I have ever seen. The campus in HUGE, close to the size of my local JC. I only saw a fraction of it. Wow.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

SAT study guides: which ones to use?

Late night studying view.

I have a friend, J, who tutors high school students in the SAT and AP maths. I visited her in San Diego last month and borrowed one of her books to do one of the practice tests. Oh boy did I perform embarrassingly low. But I suppose that's only to be expected when the highest level math I've been teaching - and hence doing - have been pre-algebra. I'm out of practice.

So I've been studying higher level math again, not just the elementary stuff my students do. I borrowed a few SAT study guides from the library. I pulled out my old math textbooks. It's really fun and relaxing to do math problems. And I know there are many people out there who will think I'm insane for that previous sentence.

I borrowed some Princeton and Pearson books initially, looking forward to getting back into that math groove. Which costed me so much blood, sweat, and tears before, but is so enjoyable now. Did I get a shock to find how simple the Princeton and Pearson practice tests were!

According to J, Princeton and Pearson deliberately make their SAT study guides super easy, "probably as an ego booster." Barron and Kaplan books are much tougher.

I'm confused here. What if a student only got the Princeton books and studied off of that? Then they really are not getting the complete story. I see the usefulness of starting with an easy book first, then gradually moving up to the more difficult stuff. So those companies should advertise as such and not make those misleading promises on the cover.

Hm, another thing to teach students: do your own homework! Study from a wide range of sources! And perhaps get a tutor, a good one. They are probably worth the money.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Things I will do as a teacher

(My list of Things I will NOT do as a teacher can be found here. This is a continuation from that post.)

-Speak slowly and clearly and audibly.

-Plan, plan, plan. And then plan some more.

-Give due dates and exam dates out on the first day of school and stick to them.

-Give extra credit to students who miss assignments or are doing poorly.

-Execute plans.

-Catch attention in interesting manner at start of each class session.

-Provide clearly what will be on tests and how they will be conducted.

-Give a preliminary test for no credit on the first day of class to gauge where the class is.

-Incorporate history/current events/applications/unsolved problems/puzzles/other disciplines into material and connect the dots.

-Always write everything down clearly and concisely when lecturing.

-Provide group work.

-Increase engaged time; decrease time wasters.

-Count improvement as part of grade.

-Hand back corrected work with at most a week turn over.

-Provide grade updates weekly.

-Homework daily, even during holidays.

-Weekly quizzes on lectures and other in-class learning.

-Chapter tests at end of chapter.

-Midterm and final exams in middle and end of term respectively.

-Plan more than enough for any one session with an estimate at where will probably end.

-Leave the classroom for outdoors/outside/different environment learning experiences.

-Ask professionals/parents to come in and talk about their jobs/career/school career/life experience to students.

-Inspire, motivate, have fun, challenge, relax.

-Lead students to understand more about themselves as well as the world.

-Give an ending test to gauge how much the students have learned, find out their teachers for next year and give these teachers their corrected test.

-Encourage students to take summer school at junior college.

-Recommend A students to honors/AP/advanced courses.

-Write recommendation letters, whether asked or not, and hand out to students at end of term.

-Be available for office hours during times convenient for students. Also be available online, by email, and by phone (office).

-Tell and prove to students that success does not come easy – need hard work, dedication, creativity, open-mindedness.

-Befriend colleagues, meet with them outside of school setting, talk to them often.

I wrote this list four years ago. The only item that I would drastically change now is the one about being available online, by email, and by phone 24/7. I don't think I will do that anymore. I'm not a very effective teacher if I don't have sufficient space.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Paper plate chase

I suck at running. I started training myself into running about three weeks ago. Progress is slow.

As a kid, I hated running too. I was always the slowest, least graceful runner on track days. I prefer throwing. Even the hurdles was better than plain running. Which is why I leapt onto the following activity with glee.

Paper plate tag is basically tag while shuffling around with paper plates on your feet. It's really fun, a perfect rainy day game (just push aside the furniture - or better yet, make an obstacle course out of them), and accessible to all students of all fitness levels. It can be played outdoors too - I would test out different types of plates on different surfaces to see which combination is the safest first.

Materials needed:
- paper (or foam) plates, 2 per student
- an open area for students to move around
- timer (optional)

I've modified this game by merging it with "steal-the-bacon" (although in hindsight, I probably didn't need to do that) and with "silent ball" to make it a quiet game.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The first day of summer!

School's out! Summer time has come,
School's out! Time to have some fun,
School's out! Life is like a blast, at last!

Well, technically, most schools have been out for at least a week by now. School summer doesn't always follow with nature's summer. But then, where I live, it sometimes feels like nature's summer started in the middle of May since it gets so hot so quickly.

A lot of students I know are taking summer school. Which I commend. I took summer school every single summer starting in 4th grade, with the exception of the summer between high school and college. It's a good experience and teaches a lot of discipline.

I don't think I know any teachers teaching summer school this year. I'm not sure I would do it either, I don't know. The normal school year is so rough already. And I like vacations. But then, most of my vacations are "working vacations" anyway. Having a blog makes that life-style pretty much normal. Plus, I like to keep busy.

So it might be nice for students to take it easy on their break too. Although I think I would always assign summer homework to my students, both outgoing and in-coming. Same goes for breaks during the school year as well. After all, I am trying to foster life-long learning. The work will just be less rigorous.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Seriously foul

Another popular series, another huge fail. I didn't even get through half of this book before I gave up. Sure, Artemis' personal life is rather pitiful, but it doesn't really justify his actions. And the whole "fairies living underground" thing was totally unconvincing.

Wow, Artemis Fowl is so bad in such a way that I don't really have anything else to say about it, except:


Friday, June 19, 2009

(Fake) Education news

This is super hilarious. Partly because it just rings so true, and partly just because.

What if there was a pill to make these "teaching disabilities" go away? I would so subscribe to that.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Extra credit

Busy minds and busy hands may prevent things like this.

Extra credit is something I really want to do in my own classroom.

I know of one 6th grade teacher who creates packets of extra credit math each month. His students do them during indoor recess, on their own time, or when they are finished with their normal work. It's pretty cool. I walked in to observe his teaching on a rainy day and all his students were busily scratching away, solving math problems and logic puzzles independently as they took turns using the hall pass for bathrooms and drinks during recess. Best of all, they were focused and quieter than mice.

I used to give extra credit to students during exams. This never went very well - I don't like how it inflates grades to preposterous levels. I don't like how some students can fail the test, but get all the extra credit correct. Maybe the extra credit I gave was too easy.

What will my students get for doing extra credit? Hm, this bears some thinking. I probably won't use it to tack onto their grades. I'm thinking some sort of tangible prize, but I'm worried it might get expensive. Homework passes would be a good idea. Classroom privileges like more time on the computers may work too. That is, if I have computers in my classroom.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

UC San Diego

Finally got to visit my second choice school. For the record, I didn't end at at my first, second, or third choice schools. The first and second because my parents wouldn't let me. The third because I didn't get accepted.

I'm glad I went to the place I did, so I guess it doesn't matter.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Seeing is Believing

I'm a big fan of Diana Wynne Jones, as chronicled here. Surprisingly, my local library has quite a few of her books. This one is a collection of short stories.

It took me a long time to get into reading (and writing) short stories. They just never had the same plot and character development as novel-length books, which was what I liked the most. Still do. But I've come around to short stories. I would have done it earlier if I had read this book before now.

My favorite ones from this collection are:

- The Sage of Theare

- Dragon Reserve, Home Eight

- What the Cat Told Me

The creepiest story I have read in ALL TIME is contained within these covers:

- The Master

::shudder:: It has a Pan's Labyrinth feel to it. Good story, but it freaked the bejesus out of me.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The class "square peg round hole"

Still green.

Every class has a kid that sticks out like a sore thumb in a way this kid, this kid, and this kid will never be. Eventually, probably after a lot of heartache, they will find their place. But even then, the "square peg round hole" title may still apply.

Jerry* was a kid in my fifth grade class who really really stuck out. Every other student hated him. Granted, he was annoying. But he did not deserve to have his sweatshirt drawn on with markers, his notebooks torn up, his pencils stolen, and his very presence rejected.

Annie* is a kid in my Thursday art class who is one of the most obnoxious personalities on the face of the planet. She is in fifth grade and insists on telling long-winded tales like a kindergardener when all I asked was a simple question. Her art style reminds me a little bit of me when I was in art school (cartoonish, pretty ugly stuff, very little elegance or subtlety with her aesthetic sense).

Avery* is a kid in my Wednesday art class who will. Not. Stop. Talking. Ever. Also a fifth grader (does EVERYTHING happen in fifth grade?) she enjoys badgering the boys, who sometimes treats her in a very ungentlemanly way, even if some of the stuff she gets, well, she had it coming. She also enjoys bossing around the girls.

All three students are smart, (can be) personable, socially awkward, but are good kids overall. They are just unconventional enough for other people to be uncomfortable around them. And of course, conventional people tend to be unnecessarily rude to the unconventional people sometimes. Must be something leftover from early mankind's survival instincts.

I too struggle with accepting this type of kid. Mainly because they are very outspoken when things don't go the way they want it to which can impede my instruction. A lot. Sometimes, I just want these kids to suck it up and stop complaining that life isn't fair.

So I tell them that they are right, it isn't. And they have an advantage over everyone else for learning that lesson early and well. And that sometimes, people will not like you, no matter how good you are at whatever they are good at. The most mature, win-win way of dealing with it is:.....well, I don't know. But for now, take care of the stuff you can accomplish today. Some day, you'll be able to take care of everything you haven't been able to now, because you'll be able to accomplish a lot more.

Also, all bullies, bad-mouthing, rudeness, and other sundry misbehaviors will have to answer to me. And I do not make stuff like that a pleasant experience.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Raise the standard high

It's Flag Day! The non-federal holiday which is relatively obscure among school-age children because summer has been dominating their minds since Memorial Day.

This is the National Flag Day Foundation website. Their mission statement is slightly off-key to me. But they do hold an annual (or what I assume to be annual at least) essay contest for grades 4-12. Each grade level has a first ($500) and second ($250) place prize. I would totally make my students do this.

The submission date is much earlier, May 5th, than actual flag day so some planning needs to be done.

But then, sometimes I plan so much it seems like second nature to me. It shouldn't be that difficult to teach students the art of essay writing + flag related things by May 5th. Right?

Saturday, June 13, 2009


Still a long way to go.

(This is the second of a series in explaining the gigantic navigational headache of being a fully credentialed teacher in the Golden State. The first part of the series is found here.)

Now that you've got your undergraduate degree, what's next? Sit around and get scoffed at by the people who got their teaching credential with a BA in Education while watching those same scoffers take all the teaching jobs? No, of course not! You go and spend $300 on entrance exams!

Say what?

Ok, I lied, the CBEST and CSET are not exactly "entrance exams," but you do need to prove you have/are going to take them - which is different from actually passing them. I believe most credential programs allow you in without necessarily having passed them, but they definitely won't let you go further than half-way through the program without clearing this hoop.

CBEST stands for California Basic Educational Skills Test. And it is what the name implies. Pretty basic; I would say the math is about a 7th grade level. Most people pass this without much grief. People generally take this one first because it's easier. And also, you can start earning a substitute teaching pay when you pass this. Hey, school is not cheap.

CSET stands for California Subject Examinations for Teachers. If you are getting a Single Subject credential (for high school teachers), you may not even need to take this because your undergraduate degree may have already fulfilled this requirement. Depending on the courses you took of course. See a credential analyst on this. All colleges with a teaching preparation program will have one and will help you for free if they know you are applying to their school; or go to your alma mater career center.

If you, like me, intend to teach K-6 (or 7/8 self-contained classrooms, which are rather rare nowadays) then you must take the Multiple Subject (MS) CSET. All three subtests. Each of which costs $70.

And now we arrive at my second lie. It isn't exactly $300. Most people will probably spend $251 taking the MS CSET and CBEST. Assuming you pass all of them the first go-around.

The CSET is the biggie out of the two. For the MS CSET, you'll have these topics:

- Reading, Language, and Literature
- History and Social Science
- Science
- Mathematics
- Physical Education
- Human Development
- Visual and Performing Arts

It's not just about knowing the material either (like the CBEST is). It's also about knowing how to teach children these subjects, anticipating their academic needs, assessing student work, and preparing the next steps in your teaching plan.

Yep, that's right. You are expected to have a foundational, working knowledge of how to teach before you even enter a credential program to learn how to teach. This is the mobius strip of teacher preparation at its finest.

The toughest part for me, on both the CBEST and CSET, was taking all the sections on one test date. Granted, I didn't HAVE to do this. But I also didn't want to give up more Saturdays than necessary. The catch is that if you don't pass, you'll have to re-take them. And also re-pay the test fees. Thankfully, I passed both on my first attempts.

All of this is done to show subject matter competency (and imo, your potential as a teacher too, but they don't explicitly say that in the informational brochures), which was famously brought into play with the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. California has been doing this for some time before NCLB though. Unfortunately, our schools are still not that hot.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Arts in sciences

Pretty. Science-y.

Or is it the other way around?

The L.A. Times reports on arts and sciences interdisciplinary effects.

I'm cool with that.

In one of my Visual And Performing Arts (VAPA) courses, I remember a dance class where each group made a dance. One group made a symbolic dance on how caterpillars turn into butterflies. It was really fun.

Also, this. Is. l33t. Period.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Because interviews are scary, part VII

This is the last of this series, at least in this form. Many of my answers to these questions have changed in the 6-7 months since I last took the time to seriously look at them. Some have stayed the same. Others only need some editing and adjusting. It's nice to know that, even in this relatively short time period that I've grown and changed as an educator. Makes me think that I'll continue to grow and change as an educator for many years to come. Hopefully.


What are your long term goals?

I would like to work up to an administrative position, work with middle school and high school students teaching math, create curriculum, or work in educational policy.

What new ideas would you bring to our school?

I’m not sure the ideas I bring are necessarily new since I borrow a lot from other teachers. I do bring energy, both for teaching and teacher development knowing that life-long learning means to keep an eye out for innovative things as well as adjusting and creating my own teaching system.

Give an example of a time you went above and beyond to accomplish a task.

One of the art projects I was in charge of required some unusual materials. I hunted everywhere for them, even visiting places outside of town before finally finding the correct items.

What does loyalty mean to you?

Loyalty means understanding the person(s) in question and being consistent to and supporting the principles they hold as well as the person him/herself. Loyalty is understanding that any individual or group will have flaws, make mistakes, and sometimes be discouraged enough to abandon their principles and ideals - at least for a little while. Loyalty is being patient and willing to wait out the storm of insecurities. Loyalty is being ready and enthusiastic to pick up the job again once the storm is over.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Work holiday

I'm currently on holiday in Hong Kong, officially visiting family and friends as well as to attend a wedding at the end of the month. Unofficially, I'm here looking for a summer teaching job. I've applied to several but none have contacted me yet and I'm either too wimpy, too lazy, or too procrastinate-y to call them myself and see what is up.

I'm not really in a big hurry to find a summer job, which is probably why I'm letting it go to this stage. But I would really like a grant or something for the next school year. FAFSA gave me the finger because I'm a grad student. And I can't seem to find my pin, which is needed to fill out the TEACH grant application.

These things shouldn't worry me as much as I'm letting it worry me. But still, I must worry. It's rather annoying. So of course I have to make a list to clear my head.

Priorities in this order for summer 2009

1. Be myself. You've been on a roll with this, Ms. Ng! Keep it up! This is hard to do here, when I'm supposed to be a "good daughter" and be filial and all that. Well, talking with H last night has reenergized me to run my own life the way I want to - which means not letting my family run it for me.

Note: I love my family. They are very kind to me. But all the things they do for me have been their own decisions, I have not asked for a dime myself. Unfortunately, Chinese culture doesn't view it that way.

2. Have fun. Another thing I've been pretty good at for the past two months or so now. Everyday should be a fun day.

3. Relax/chill/take the slow road. After this long, I'm still in recovery-mode from student teaching. I know the world doesn't find value in protecting yourself and your mental state, but I do and will keep it as a top priority. It's hard to do sometimes, however.

4. Think about and deal with CSUS Fall 2009 stuff. I'm worried because they haven't even given me my student teaching registration codes yet. What is up with that?

5. Think about and deal with summer job stuff. This is relatively low on the list.

Memory lane - Things I will not do as a teacher

Most of my teaching philosophy is based on research and what I've learned while teaching. But a good chunk of it is still rooted, sometimes illogically, in my own experiences as a student.

While reading through some of my old journals, I came across this, in list form of course:

R 3/31/05 11:40pm

Things I will not do as a teacher:

-Announce exams with just a week notice.

-Announce homework with just a day notice.

-Skip essential steps in understanding something.

-Be late or start class late.

-Assign a text that is no longer in print.

-Say things like “obviously” or “clearly” as the only way to explain something.

-Write illegibly small or messy.

-Make my alpha’s look like 2’s.

-Lecture straight from the text.

-Use PowerPoint to do examples or proofs.

-Announce class news only online and not in class.

-Have set office hours, whether students come in to them or not.

-Wait for the student to come to me for questions.

-Say “um” or “ok” or “uh” etc every three words.

-Be a ‘sage on the stage.’

-Never waste class time by having students do homework assignments and walk around asking if they understand, especially when clearly they don’t.

-Condescend. Tell students they can’t learn without a teacher. Tell students they can’t learn something, anything that they wish.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Pencil monitor

Here is how I said all my students will participate in simple classroom chores.

Today I will discuss the role of a student "pencil monitor" in my future classroom.

Some people call the job title, "supplies manager," "daily helper," etc. Pencil monitor sounds so much more specific and direct to me. Who knows what other egomaniacal things a student would get up when given the title "supplies manager" and nothing else. Depending on the student, they'll range from doing the job the way I want it to be done to getting into other supplies that they are really not supposed to get into. Or not doing it at all. Which means I need to figure this thing into their grades or other incentive.

Of course I expect all my students to bring their own pencils. But on the off chance that they somehow lost their own, or it got broken in the course of furious studying, then they may borrow the classroom pencils.

Classroom pencils belong to the class. Which means they stay in the classroom. I may even become a "pencil nazi" about it if my own students are anything like my fifth graders this past semester. Actually, I still may for intermediate grade students.

The pencil monitor is in charge of making sure there is a good number of pencils in the classroom pencil holder, and that all of them are sharpened and ready for use by the start of each day. "Good number" is too vague, some students would think two is a good number. Which it is - for themselves. And that's who they are thinking about, as opposed to the entire class of 35 other people. I'll be more specific and make it an even 20. Being specific is better.

While I'm being specific, I'll also make the pencil monitor have one specific time when he/she can re-fill the pencil holder and sharpen pencils. Probably right after school, before they leave the classroom for home or whatever. Then I don't have to worry about the student not coming in early enough to get it done in the morning. Plus, I like to have the classroom all to myself in the mornings before first bell (unlike my JL).

Every little detail of how to manage a classroom really does need to be thought out in advance. I notice that most of the things I plan out like this pencil monitor thing runs a lot smoother than most of the things I don't. Which doesn't mean it won't bomb anyway. Students are people, and people are sometimes unpredictable like that.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Charter a way

No harm, no foul.

The one and only charter school I taught at was, well, to put it nicely rather difficult. Or perhaps it was just that one class of first graders where the classroom teacher was kinda like me. Her class was a difficult class, and that memory seems so much more significant than the awesome kinder, second, fourth, and 7th/8th grade elective classes I had there. I especially loved the second graders.

In general, I'm a proponent for charter schools. I like the bilingual immersion program. I like the curriculum freedom without the religious - or wealth, which is sort of a religion too - undertones of private schools. I like the financial flexibility they have over the regular public schools. I like uniforms. I like staggered start/end/lunch/recess times. I like how red tape is minimized and plans for improvement can be implemented faster (or bad plans can be thrown out faster). I even like the fact that parents of charter school students tend toward helicopter rather than absent.

And now, there is further research that says charter schools not only send more students onward to college, but also don't hurt the performance of other public schools in the district. Which is nice. I'm sure more research needs to be conducted, since things change and whatnot, but it is good news.

Finally good news on the education front, no?

Sunday, June 7, 2009

B.E. Elementary

I taught two back-to-back art sessions of 4 weeks each here. My group at this school is one of the best I've ever had - in terms of behavior as well as talent.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The class clown

(This turned into a series of entries on about the same topic. Previous student observations are found here and here.)

One of the most memorable students I've taught this past year is this fifth grade boy who couldn't read.

When I say he couldn't read, I mean he could probably read at a first grade level. Actually, many of his mannerisms are very first grade-like. He has an extremely short attention span. He is very, um, let's say bouncy; my CT was trying to convince this student's mother that the boy should get some sort of medical attention for his hyperactivity. He resembled a monkey more than any other student I've taught - he even had a special "monkey dance" for the most (in)opportune moments.

This kid is also very sweet. He says please, and thank you, and when the planets are aligned just right he gets it, really gets it. He's a very likable guy, no attitude problems. Very honest and gets along with nearly everybody. The rest of the class seemed to know there is something different about him. The would say, "Oh, he's just like that" when he did act out. They all, including my CT, thought I was a stick in the mud for wanting this kid to do better.

But because he was known for making jokes and funny faces all the time, and did get away with doing the things he does sometimes, he also triggered the other students into becoming class clowns. Which spoke more about the other students' mob-like mentality than anything about this particular kid. He is pretty funny. He craved attention of the laughing kind. I can relate to that.

He was also the kid I thought I could help the most. He desperately needed some sort of reading tutor, all written instructions had to be read aloud to him or else he won't follow and thus goof off. When he did know what the assignment was about, he could complete as well as any other typical kid. Well, as long as he didn't have to write anything longer than three sentences. Reading and writing are linked like that.

It's strange how he stuck out so well to me. His other classmates don't create nearly as much academic curiosity as this kid does. I remember them of course - they were a very memorable class, even without my student teaching troubles. But I've been thinking a lot about how to teach a student like him. I'll probably come across more students with a profile similar to him. Other than one-on-one tutoring and making sure there is a way for him to learn the content without intensive reading or writing, I'm not sure what else to do

Friday, June 5, 2009

The "emergency"

I'm pretty neutral about most of the things discussed in this article from The Detroit News, but one quote really ticked me off:
"[Robert] Bobb [Detroit's public school emergency manager] on Wednesday formally requested assistance from the federal government and asked that Detroit be placed under a "special Presidential emergency declaration" to allow the district to receive emergency funding to improve academic achievement."

First, I'm not certain what it means when an "emergency" happens in education. Flash floods are an emergency. Earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados. Nothing of such similar suddenness and unpredictability really ever occurs in education by the very nature of the subject.

Second, assuming an emergency situation can actually happen, why did they wait until it turned into a huge mess to fix stuff? Does this mean other schools that are straddling the fence between "emergency" and being "ok" needs to drop a few standards to get what help they need? I admit I'm totally being a pot and calling the kettle black here. I also don't know all the details of previous decisions made to try to help Detroit's students. Perhaps the dragon was just way too big to slaughter, and they only slowed it down a little.

Third, once again spiffy, shiny buildings and tech and stuff are what this funding will be spent on first. I'm not a big fan of Suze Orman, but I agree with her when she says,
"People first. Then money. Then things."

Fourth, don't think Detroit schools will just get this money for nothing. Oh no, Detroit schools must make "drastic changes" first. Because the government isn't going to bailout the Titanic, nope. There isn't a precedence for that at all.

One of the changes Duncan (US Secretary of Education) hinted at was longer school days. Because keeping students in a place they really don't want to be at is going to help them learn better.


Not that everything said in this article is a bad thing. The leaders do sound very hopeful and energetic and optimistic and leadership-ful and know way more about their situation than I ever will. I wouldn't be surprised if they improved their schools by sheer force of will; best of luck to them too. I just don't like the direction the wording is hinting at.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Black Cauldron

Since I'm a fan of the fantasy genre, you would think I would be a shoe-in as a fan of Lloyd Alexander. I tried reading The Beggar Queen a year or two ago. That didn't go well. Or should I say it didn't go at all, since I only read the first page.

I did better on The Black Cauldron. At least I finished it with *ahem*skimmed*ahem* sections. It's not bad. It's not good either. I got confused with the timeline of events a lot. Probably because I spaced out while reading and thus my brain did not take in the meaning of the words my eyes were seeing.

Oh well. I tried. Sorry, Mr. Alexander.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Splish splash

There are still eighteen days until the first day of summer, but if you live in any place like the place I live, then you are already in the midst of hot days of blazing sunshine.

Water games is something I wouldn't do in a typical classroom. Good thing my Sunday school kids do not belong in a typical classroom. We had our yearly water games on the last Sunday in May, and boy was it fun!

Note: special days can be water game days. I went to the local water slide park while in middle school, and my fifth grade class was planning on it for the end of the school year so it doesn't seem like an uncommon thing.

Materials needed:
- a deluxe box of water balloons, filled (I typically make 20-40 per student; they go quick)
- large buckets or plastic tubs to hold the filled water balloons
- slip n' slide (optional)
- bubbles (optional; we used these for the pre-school kiddos)
- hose (for adult use only! it can get very very very very bad if kids get their hands on this)
- small containers, water guns, and the like for a water fight (also optional, but fun to end the day with just to get every single student soaking wet, even the apprehensive ones)

Typical water balloon games I play:

- The Big Toss (form two lines facing each other, about 2 steps apart. students toss water balloon. Take a step back. Toss again. Repeat until everyone breaks their balloon on the ground or a body)

- Water balloon tag (self-explanatory. safety rules - hit nothing above the waist, the back is a good target. I usually reserve the extra-large balloons for this game because they break easily and painlessly)

- Basket-water balloon (students form teams. teams take turns getting their balloon in the basket. block a shot by catching or breaking the balloon)

- Collect the Rubber Scraps (so the name needs work, so what? I like this game at the very end because many of my students avoid getting wet, and since you can't collect the rubber scraps of water balloons unless you pop one, this game is perfect. also, the students do the clean up for me)

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Wisdom learned too late

Dear students,

This is a letter to you about procrastination. Some people say, "Procrastination is an art." Some people glamorize procrastination - they thrill in the rush of adrenaline when a deadline is looming and the 10 page research paper is barely half finished.

Well, as with most real life things that have been glamorized, it really isn't all that glamorous at all.

It is not glamorous to find yourself unpacked, unplanned, and barely having enough time to order foreign currency on the eve of an international trip.

It is not glamorous to find yourself trying to submit an application online on the evening it is due and discover that the bandwidth is clogged like the drain pipe of Rapunzel.

It is not glamorous to be running late to a job interview, get stuck in traffic, and rush to the BART and bus, arriving at the interview site sweaty and disheveled.

It is not glamorous to know that you had plenty of time to do all the things that need to be done beforehand, but get lulled into a false sense of security and thus spend WAY too much time reading blogs only to discover that all that time you had? Well, it's gone and you have to make quick decisions on important things, which by the way you are most definitely not good at, and thus make several mistakes that would not have been made if you had just done all that stuff beforehand.

Thus, I promise my students that I will create micro-deadlines for them. So that they will learn never to procrastinate. To always pace themselves, be conscious of the time, the day, and the amount of work needed to be done in the allotted time.

Is this "baby-ing" the students? Perhaps. But the end goal is for students to practice and master the art of being aware of the time they have for doing the stuff that needs to be done. In other words: goal setting. Which Open Court enjoys. A lot. Too bad Open Court is being phased out as soon as SCUSD get enough money to buy new curriculum. Which may be never, so I guess that's ok.

In any case, procrastination is not as cool as it may seem. The people who procrastinate can brag all they want about doing things last minute, but I care more about you, my students, and your bragging rights on having accomplished something well and in a timely fashion.

Ms. Ng

Monday, June 1, 2009


In my Thursday art class, I have a student who shows exceptional talent. Not that I'm any judge, but she is above and beyond any other student I've met, even those older than she is.

I really wish I could convince her to talk to her parents about attending art school. I understand the town she lives in is small, and doesn't have any sort of thing like that. But I'm sure there is some one willing to offer private art lessons to a promising 5th grader. She really does the coolest things I've ever seen, making near perfect-to-perfect symmetrical shapes from free hand drawing alone.

She doesn't think she is as good as I think she is. She doesn't think she is as good as the other students think she is too. I'm the type of teacher that tries to see success in every student, and I try to rotate around through all the students when I recognize their work (it has to be good work though, I'm not going to give praise where it isn't due). Nearly every week, I see something worthy of pointing out in this kid's work. And the other students don't contest it.

If she isn't going to talk to her parents about it, I think I might. Which means I'll probably lose a student in the YR program, but she deserves to see and do more art than the simple illustration skills I teach.