Friday, July 31, 2009

Field trip Fridays: San Diego Zoo

I was here in May while visiting a friend. We spent the entire day here! And we probably could have spent more, since we didn't even get to see the polar bears or part of the African animals. This is a great place, expensive yes, but apparently San Diego schools get a discount for coming here. And if it's a common thing to do for school trips, then there must be a lot of resources and lessons to tie-in with the zoo visit.

My favorites were the pandas, the ocelot, and the reptile house. The food here is expensive, so I would pack a picnic lunch. I don't think they allow outside food in the zoo, but you can get a stamp and re-enter the same day for free.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

J. S. Elementary

Wow, there are a few really bad phone cam shots here. But I was in a rush that day and couldn't stop to take a better picture.

The sign on the door has some sort of moral-boosting saying like, "We will achieve our goals!" or something of the sort. That hallway has these signs posted every five yards or so all down the length on both sides. It is slightly creepy and encouraging at the same time.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The start of the school year

Yesterday was the first day of school for my area's school district and today is the first day for another district's. It's crazy how early school can start now.

Why do they do this? #1 reason: so there is more time to prepare for state and federal mandated testing, which happens sometime around late April. And these tests are very important, because even though politicians and lawmakers like to say they are only for "gauging the learning of students and the effectiveness of schools," those inside the actual schools know it's all about the money.

Anyway, just an observation. Because I found myself stuck in traffic at 7 AM and then later at 2:20 PM today, due to students being picked up and dropped off the school by my house.

Writer's Workshop

Write every day! Even if it's only to journal, or note down what I ate that day.

The Japanese honorific "sensei" is applied to three professions (that I know of): doctors, writers, and teachers.

Do you here that western civilization? Teachers are respected on par with people who can save your life and people who inspire nations with their lives. Get with the program!

Anyway, Writer's Workshop (also can be called "Workshop," "Small Groups," "Circle Time," and various other names - but these names may not be used to call the same thing; confusing? You have no idea.) is something I've seen teachers do from K through 6th grade. It's like something everyone learned to do during their teaching credential program 5-10 years ago. It's not quite as popular with newer, younger teachers, from what I know at least.

The idea of WW is to provide individualized attention in small groups for writing and composition lessons. Students learn how to write a paragraph, an essay, a letter, a fairy tale, a short story, a descriptive essay, opinions, etc in these small groups. The most common way I've seen is this:

1. Teacher shows examples and gives direct instruction on the given form of writing to the whole class.
2. Students are given an assignment to write their own sample of the given form of writing.
3. Teacher pulls aside groups of 6-8 students at a time, fine tuning their writing samples, peer editing, and checking for correct writing conventions.

To me, 6-8 students is a medium sized group, not a small group. I believe the term small group should be reserved for teams of 4 or fewer students. But the teacher only has a certain amount of time in the day to go over student writing, so larger groups are necessary.

It would really be nice, I think, to have the full cycle of writing in there somewhere. Again, because of time constraints, students really can do a rough draft, 2nd draft max. There's also brainstorming, outlining, rough draft, first edit, second draft, second edit, third and final draft (3 drafts is ideal for me, then you can spend the first edit on content and the second edit on grammar, spelling, and punctuation). Then some sort of publication or performance/display of student work.

In reality, I guess WW is whatever the teacher makes of it. Some people use 15 minutes each day. Some spend an hour of class time each week. And some only do it every so often. I'm the type that will make my students write every day. And we'll probably spend at least twice a week re-reading their previous writing. Students don't spend nearly enough time re-reading their own stuff.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A day in the life of a (student) teacher #1

6:10 AM Breakfast.

7:30 AM Tennis.

10:45 AM Google Reader, and a mid-morning pick-me up. Summer nectarines make perfect smoothies, although I always forget to peel it before dropping it into the blender. Thus the non-photogenic peel bits.

1:03 PM Quick lunch for one. Crack egg in bowl, add a dash of water, microwave 30 secs, add rice, microwave another 30 secs, add dash of soy sauce and pepper. I would have added some veggies too, but the left over ones were not good, and I was too lazy to prep fresh ones.

2:41 Afternoon naps to while away the hotter part of the day.

6:59 The makings and eatings and cleaning ups of dinner.

8:52 A quiet end to a quiet day.

Eating and sleeping all day. I quickly become a hobbit during the summer months.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Media Mondays: underworked, underutilized

This is what happens when people don't take the effort to create a quality product. What will happen in regards to our flimsy schools?

I found this article on school culture on A Passion for Teaching and Learning. Which I'm glad I did, since I don't normally read the The Economist.

When I, and a few select friends, were tossing around the idea of opening our own charter/private school we talked about the very illogical public school day hours. I know of schools that start their days at 7 AM, and are out by 12 noon. There are other schools that don't start until 9:30 and end at 3.

Lunch hour is approximately 30 minutes (which translates to about 20 for the teacher - don't even get me started on this). Recess is ten minutes long, twice a day. Intermediate grades only get it once.

I'm personally cool with having longer school days, with longer breaks. My tennis partner said when she was in school in Vermont, she had a full hour for lunch and two 30-minute recesses. How wonderful is that! What I'm NOT a big fan of is an extended school day with the same amount of recess. Or an extended school day that starts EARLIER. No thanks.

But Americans as a society really don't expect much out of our children. If we did, we wouldn't allow them to watch upwards of 4 hours of TV per day. This kid is an exception, and even he complained to a reporter about the ambivalence towards young achievement. It's great and news worthy when you do get something done. It's fine if you don't. And a lot don't because a) they don't know where or how to get started, and b) they don't have the initiative to find out.

So for that school that exists in my imagination only, we thought of the idea of a 10 AM - 6 PM school day. Mainly because students need to sleep at their natural cycle, and most teenager's sleep cycle is from midnight to 9 AM or so. That's 7 full hours on campus. At least one full hour devoted to lunch and recess, perhaps more. And half days on Saturdays.

Wouldn't that save money on after-school programs too? Or would that have to be spent on before-school programs (which, technically, some schools already have). The absolute value of time spent in school hasn't been extended terribly too much.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Standards Sundays: Grade 5 algebra and functions

A function, in a way.

There is only one main standard for algebra and functions in the fifth grade, but that's more than enough for a month's worth of math lessons.

1.4 Identify and graph ordered pairs in the four quadrants of the coordinate plane.

This one by itself took two and a half weeks while I was in JL's classroom. He actually taught this really well and thoroughly. By that time in the semester, I was already teaching most of the math (REM: WAY too fast of a progression that time), but he didn't let me teach coordinate graphing because apparently it's a huge thing on the state tests.

Ideas to be mastered involving standard 1.4:

- be completely familiar with positive and negative integers, and probably positive and negative fractions as well
- the idea of an x-axis, a y-axis, and the 2 dimensional plane
- distance on that plane
- how to get from point a to point b
- what exactly point a and point b are (i.e. (x1, y1) standard notation - because switching the x and y coordinate places when writing ordered pairs is a big no-no; basically the conventions writing math symbols)
- how to find the "address" of a point given only a drawing of it on a graph
- know which quadrant is which
- know, with only a glance, that (-1, -10) does not belong in II and why that is the case

There are probably a few other things too, but that's most of it, I believe. See? You really can't get into much depth without multitasking the standards and making as many opportunities to hit each one as possible.

With algebra added on top of functions, it can probably be stretched into another month of lessons. Algebra has relationships with geometry as well as functions, which means functions has relationships with geometry too. And then you've got to touch base with standard line equations, slopes, intercepts, and deciding which pair of coordinates don't fit in a given function.

JL didn't go into geometry with algebra and functions, which is too bad because I think it makes more sense to introduce those things through geometry than just plunking them down in something as abstract as the coordinate plane. Plus, it would help students make much more sense of calculus later on. But I suppose that would have tacked on another month's worth of lessons, which we didn't have since testing was right around the corner. Crazy, yeah?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief

By Wendelin Van Draanen, 1998 (this cover was redone in 2000)

90% of the time, I decide whether or not I'll continue with a new book within the first five pages. Yes, a pretty shallow way of reading, I know. But the voice of a book really affects me, much more than the actual plot or story. If it's a snore-fest, I can usually tell before the first chapter has ended.

The plot of this book sounds interesting. Girl has binoculars. Girl uses binoculars and accidentally sees man stealing something from a hotel room. Girl waves to Thief when Thief catches her spying.

Ok, wait. Let me add that the overall stupidity of the characters affects me too. Granted, the girl calls herself stupid as well, but from what I know (I didn't read the whole thing, just skimmed a little) she does this throughout the entire book. Which means the girl is not only stupid, she's a repeat offender. And I'm not a big fan of main characters like that. The kind with so many incompetencies it's a wonder the author chose such a character to be the antagonist in the first place. Tess of D'Urbervilles and The House of Mirth come to mind. Although I actually liked The House of Mirth (but not Tess).

I got this impression only from skimming here and there. What really got to me was, well, for lack of better words the boring narrative and dialogue. It just didn't quite catch with me. I guess for now, I'll stick with Encyclopedia Brown.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Field trip Fridays: Monterey Bay Aquarium

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is awesome. Albeit expensive. And I probably won't take my class here unless I actually teach in Monterey or Carmel. And if I teach in Monterey, my students would probably already have gone at some point in time.

The surrounding beach walk is pretty too.

It is still a beautiful place. I made the mistake of going last year during 4th of July weekend. Can you say sardines in a can? Or maybe in an aquarium?

No, the marine life here are nicely taken care of. I love the otters. But because it was crowded, I didn't get to see the penguins. I left after about 2.5 hours, it was that crowded. I was seeing more backs of people's heads than anything else.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Blogger of the week

I woke up at 4AM again today, and had another post planned, but decided to push that back for this one.

Sometimes I get so very wrapped up in the classroom and at school and around students that I forget how to have a decent conversation with adults not in the education profession. I would be a robot, an unspeaking, unthinking robot unless I'm thinking or speaking about teaching.

This. Is. So. Not. Healthy.

So it's nice to have internet inspiration from Tommy at Notes by Naive. Her pictures and stories make me want to visit London, and other places. To think about things other than lesson plans. To remember and live a wider, deeper world outside of those four walls that can seem like just another cubicle - albeit, with 35 young cubicle-mates who don't always put their stuff back where it belongs.

Frankly, the very first reason why I check Tommy's blog more often for updates than at any other education blog (yes, even more so that the great Joanne Jacobs) is for the very shallow reason that it is pretty. Not many education/teacher blogs that I've read are pretty. Or have photos (which, by the way, does make for boring reading, shallow or not). Or even touch on anything else other than complaints about the system and the classroom. Come on teacher bloggers! Let's open our eyes to something else, because it might just help us open our students eyes to something beyond themselves.

Or maybe it's just me. But I do get tired of being so tongue-tied around people. Especially the fact that sometimes, people won't listen to what I have to say unless it's about teaching, or their kids, or other problems in life that has to do with education and knowing stuff. Which is to say, all of it. Anne of Windy Poplars much?

Ok, now I'm just complaining about the system and the classroom. Time for more Notes by Naive.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Silent sustained reading

Harry Potter behind cat.

Nearly every classroom from 2-12 has something like SSR installed as a feature of the weekly classroom routine. It ranges anywhere from 15-50 minutes. Would it be a good idea to start low, time-wise, and then gradually increase the time as the year progresses? Students would be so surprised at the total amount of time they can read in a week.

Note: a good math lesson would be to make graphs of how much time students spent on certain activities each day, each week, each month, each year. That would be really cool.

Anyway, I know some teachers don't like SSR. They think it a waste of time. Which it can be. Students may not actually read. I've seen students do the following during SSR:

- Day dream. Oh yes, I know that glazed-eye look well. It happens to me in my own classes a lot. Mind-vacations are pretty relaxing in my opinion, and just because a student day dreams doesn't mean they are a bad student. Of course I would prefer that they read during SSR. But frankly, I'm not sure I would care enough to not have SSR just for the fear of some students wandering off into la-la land.

- Pass notes. This is ALWAYS a no-no in my book. I detest note passing. Remember this girl? Seriously. Passing notes deserves its own consequence, so I also wouldn't take away SSR because of this. I've also caught students passing other things - pencils, little trinkets, dvds, candy and gum.

- Flirt. Whether silently or not silently. Perhaps this is just a hazard of teaching pre-teens.

- Sleep. I'm not sure what to say about this, it's almost like the day dreaming thing. Because some books are just so incredibly boring. Also, some students may just be that tired - whether from homeless shelter hopping or from newborn siblings keeping them up.

- Whisper talk. My biggest pet peeve. I hate chatter where chatter is not called for. They may actually be talking about their books. Or they may be talking about what they ate for lunch.
Fruits Basket behind another set of cats.

Other things: nose-picking, scrambling to finish previous assignments, lanyarn, writing lines (another thing I disagreed with my CT on), using the hall pass to get out of SSR, "feet fighting," dancing, getting a tissue/going to the trash can/sharpening pencils/stretching for unnecessarily long periods of time/basically anything to get out of SSR. I'm sure there's a multitude of other things students do, that I haven't observed yet, to not actually read. But then, students may not actually do what they are supposed to do at any time of the school day.

My solutions? Grade them. Create something like a book club where students get together and discuss/create a project from their reading. In short, do something where students are accountable for the time spent in SSR. And really, the most dangerous thing to watch out for in any activity is to make sure there is a point. Why are we doing this? What do I want the students to accomplish, in a tangible, measurable way?

The love for reading is the end goal. But when all other things are in place, this part should come together naturally. Not all at once of course. I may not see them read their way through their university's library, or write their way to a Pulitzer, or even just achieve fluency in reading English (remember this boy?). And I'm ok with that. I've got to be.

And here is something I'm struggling with a lot: sometimes I worry so much about the intrinsic value I forget that the extrinsic value is just as important in the role of learning. When students exert all their effort into reading, comprehending, analyzing, and synthesizing a book, and then after I grade it they believe they have accomplished something good and challenging and fun then, well, I believe I've accomplished something good and challenging and fun as well.

Ok, let's get down from that idealistic pedestal, shall we? My way of doing SSR won't eliminate all of those issues. Each class is different, there is no one, perfect way of teaching. But I do want to keep SSR, so I guess I'll just have to refine the strategy as I go.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Quote of the day

Of purer, higher things.

Emphasis, reiteration, and assertiveness in pushing what is only half-believed, or not believed at all, too often take the place of sending out authentic signals of conviction that a child listens for. - Jonathan Kozol, The Shame of the Nation

I just found the one sentence that encompasses my failed phase 3 experience. Oh the fake-ness! The insincerity! The politics and hierarchy and general sleaziness! May I never encounter that again.

And if I do, may I be capable of revealing it for what it is. Unworthy of the classroom.

Total frivolity on professional appearance

I have a deep and inexplicable fear of "teacher clothes." You know the kind, the awful red-black-white holiday sweaters, the GAP/American Eagle/A&F-infused (and thus bland) business casual. These things just aren't me. Although at one point in time, I was guilty of the polo-shirt-khakis-keds uniform of millennium soccer mom set.

But I woke up, thanks to the wonders of H&M and Zara, but mostly to Style Bubble for opening my eyes to a whole new world of fashion. One where you don't have to look like anyone else on the street. One where you can wear what you like, and be comfortable in it, even when people look at you funny. Now, I'm not as brave, nor do I have the coinage to lay down, as Susie. But I like to think I've progressed from those old days of Dockers and button-downs.

Does wearing nice, fun clothes make me a better teacher? Perhaps not. Do students respect me more because of my dress? Maybe, but can't be proven. Am I thought of as more professional because of my clothes? Well, I like to think it's an outward display of my character, but that doesn't mean other people will translate it to what I mean. Or even notice.

I do get a little tired of the "express yourself through what you wear" line sometimes. And I don't purposefully put together a theme or anything like that through what I wear. But I do want to wear what I like, and not be limited to the confines of other people's opinion of me. Other people being my students, my colleagues, and the education world in general.

Of course I still follow the no-cleavage, in front or behind, no-shorts/skirt hems higher than my fingertips when my arms are at my sides. And I'm not skilled enough with wearing high heeled shoes to try them for any full school day (ouch). But those aren't things that I would choose outside of the classroom anyway, so it's not big stretch.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Media Mondays: achievement gap

Time article here.

I'm a little tired of all this "closing the achievement gap" talk. Not that it wouldn't be nice to actually close the achievement gap. It would be spectacular. Stupendous. But I highly doubt it will happen in my life-time, if ever.

Why? Because as the article says, as as many such articles have reported for a while now, the achievement gap still exists because even if Black and Hispanic students have made gains on standardized test scores, so have White students. And thus, it'll never end.

Can't we just celebrate the fact that minority and low-SES (which seems to be one and the same sometimes) have made gains? There's learning being done, and that's a good thing. Sure there's a lot more work ahead - A LOT. But that shouldn't take away from the positive.

Comparing student's achievement can only tell you so much about the student. I would like to figure out novel ways to teach students who have been isolated in "diverse" schools where 99.9% of the student population is Black or Hispanic. Because the methods used at Suburban-White-Bread Elementary A, doesn't necessarily translate at Inner-City-Gang-Infested-Neighborhood Elementary B.

Ah! See, I did it again unconsciously! Why is the white bread school called "A" and the inner city school "B?" Just because I referred to one first? And why did I refer to that one first? Why couldn't I have referred to the other first? Because that last sentence words vice versa.

Or maybe I've been reading too much Kozol. In any case, each school is different, even if their demographics are similar. So maybe that statement can't be true with a substitution of any other school.

Personally, I think another, perhaps more effective, way of combating the achievement gap is to, well, not. Raising scores is such a surface-y thing. Sometimes we forget that maybe Black students ARE doing well. Considering that a lot of minority students do not have the same resources as their white counterparts. Perhaps they are doing much more with what they have than their white counterparts if these white counterparts were put in the same situation. Frankly, I have observed the tendency that my students with low-SES backgrounds are significantly more resourceful and creative about certain things than my students who are wealthier.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Just a note...

Blue skies, open road, dirty car.

Should I be happy that some of my cohort-mates have not found jobs yet? No.

Am I jealous of their plight? Also no.

Last night, I hung out with some of my cohort-mates for one of their farewell parties. It involved a dark, slightly dank & sticky place (again, I must implore, what happened to all the "clean, well-lit places????"), REALLLY REALLY loud and bass heavy karaoke (this was what prompted me to leave early in the end, I wasn't going to drink since I had a 45 minute drive home, and I wasn't going to sing because I didn't know any of the songs - I do know that I prefer Asian-style karaoke over American-style karaoke).

It was fun though for a while there. Good to see people. Sorry to have missed J, but my head was pounding like a sledgehammer from the unaccustomed to noise.

Keep your chins up guys! I can't say you'll find a job soon, but I'm sure you will find one.

Standards Sundays: Grade 5 number sense

It's a little dangerous in my book to take each standard individually without looking at the full school year's worth of content. A full school year's at the very least. Ideally, it would be nice to have a grasp of all the different strands and progression of topics from K through 12. Technically, I can study all of that, I do have the time to so this summer. Unfortunately, I'm a lazy bum and can only take so much studying per diem when I'm on vacation mode.

In the number sense category for 5th grade, there are two main standards, each with their own sub-topics:

1.0 basically involves students being able to manipulate very large and very small integers, fractions, decimals, percents and understand the relationships between all of them. Students should also know how to visually represent these numbers, most commonly on a number line, but I like to use other things as well.

Example: know that 50% of 100 is 50/100, and it is also 1/2, as well as "50 items out of 100 possible items" etc.

2.0 involves actual computation of said numbers. This standard is more straightforward, and thus less open to misinterpretation than 1.0.

Example: add, subtract, multiply, divide, blah blah blah. Know the relationships between multiplication, division, and fractions.

I really had some issues with the way my previous CT taught 1.0. Maybe it's because I have serious issues with the standard itself. It really just assumes that you are working in base 10, which makes students get stuck in base 10 mode, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it doesn't allow for much number sense flexibility either. And the whole point of number sense is to BE flexible with numbers! I had such problems adjusting to non-base 10 systems, and I blame it on the fact that we are taught in elementary school only using base 10.

And it doesn't really make sense. The American measurement system is not base 10. How we count time is not base 10. How we count memory on computers isn't in base 10. Dude, how we count eggs is not base 10. So the excuse of it "not being practical" is really no excuse at all.

Granted, this topic is probably taught later, and addressed in another grade. But why wait? Why not introduce it now? It fits right in with primes and factorization, so might as well, no? Well, teachers do wait, for a multitude of reasons. Some valid, some not so much. I do have many troubles with sticking to teaching one particular standard, not just in math. Doesn't any one else see all the different connections and relationships from one area to another and back to itself again? Like I said before, it's dangerous to take things outside of context sometimes. It's also dangerous to include too much context. There just isn't enough time in a school day to make it work. So I guess I have to pick and choose.

I also had issues with my CT's insistence that students must estimate always and forever. He had the students estimate, and then have them calculate the exact answer. And I could tell that some students go a little resentful of this - I certainly did. Why on earth do you need to estimate when you are also required to calculate the exact answer? More often than not, the students were repeating themselves in their reasoning and really not seeing the difference between estimation and actual calculation. You can say "it's just an educated guess" until the cows come home, but when the method of getting that educated guess and the actual answer are the same, it might bring on unwanted complications.

I also did not like that he only used 0, 1/2, and 1 as points of reference. This might contribute to the fact that many people have no clue what "3/7ths of a tank of gas" is.

Disclaimer: I'm not dissing on the standards themselves. They are a good and mighty thing, and unifies education like no other (I'm a HUGE proponent for nationwide standards - as well as nationwide requirements for teaching certification, but that's another story). It's just that different people take it in different ways, sometimes ignoring certain parts of the whole. That bugs me.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

How to choose the right teacher preparation program

Not as advertised.

Ok, so the title is a little misleading, since I do not claim to know how to make the right choice for other people. I barely know how to make the right choice for myself - actually, of late, I'm kind of thinking I didn't make the right choice in terms of teacher preparation programs. But then, this area is a learning experience in and of itself.

The CSU and UC system has some sort of college of education at nearly all of their campuses. UOP, a local private college in my town, is one of the few 4-year universities (that I know of, in California) that has a teaching credential integrated into their education major. National University, I hear, has a ten month program that churns out credentialed teachers.

Of these choices, if I were able to do the whole thing again, I would do an integrated credential with an education major. The down side is that I wouldn't have had as much time to study math. And I owe a lot of learning to math, so maybe I wouldn't after all. It's just in retrospect, knowing the direction I want to go, it would have saved a lot of time and money. However, I didn't actually know the direction I wanted to go when I was just a little 17-year-old, so I guess this regret is a moot point. Plus, I actually DID want to study math.

CSUS offers several cohorts that in effect do the same thing: you graduate with a post-bac degree which includes your CA teaching credential. It can be done in two-, 3-, and 4- semester programs. I'm currently in the 3-semester program called Urban Teacher Education Center. Of course, my three semesters is turning out to be four, but that's a whole different story.

Or maybe not. A teacher friend entered her program later than me, and came out with a credential before me. She's found a job now, and everything, which is a good and happy thing. She went through a situation a little like mine, where she didn't feel like she was learning anything from her CT. She, being smarter than me, was more forceful about getting a placement change.

She did tell me one thing: that it is MY education and career, and I'm spending MY money on it. And if I don't feel like I'm getting what it's worth, then I'll have something to say about it.

In that sense, I was spoiled at UCD, where everything is done for you. At least for undergrads. I had an awesome academic counselor (another thing I wish I had done more: see the academic counselor more often!), the career center was very helpful, all the forms were easy to find online and in person at the offices, and when it came time to pay up, the school made sure it was all straightforward and above board. None of this "pay by the fees deadline or else you get dropped, and by the way we constantly change the fee deadlines so that even our financial services people don't know when you have to pay up!"

Come to think of it, I came across these administrative snaffus at HKU too, where departments didn't communicate with each other and you had to go from office to office telling the same people the same information just to make sure you are enrolled in the right class. Sure, these things are my responsibility. Bu that doesn't mean you need to make it so very not customer friendly. And after all, students are the customers of universities.

UTEC won the "Quality Education Partnership Award for Distinguished Service to Children and the Preparation of Teachers" which was given by the California Council on Teacher Education (CCTC) last year. Apparently, this is a pretty prestigious award. I can put this in my cover letters when applying to jobs. Prestige is nice, but to be honest, I don't know what to make of it, or how to put being a part of an award-winning teacher preparation program to good use. Other than do what I do, like I do now. Maybe that's enough. Although often, it doesn't seem so. I sometimes wonder if Harvard graduates think they are living up to their ivy league education as well as they should. Ultimately though, to each his or her own, and the choices I make must first and foremost satisfy myself before bringing any laudable news for my alma mater, or any one else for that matter.

Wow, I'm writing more about this than I thought I would. All I can say is beware and be careful when choosing a credential program. And when you get into a program, still keep up with university policies, because apparently they can change like one of those girls from The Hills changes their mind about each other.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Field trip Fridays: Discovery Museum

The Discovery Museum of Sacramento is relatively small, but it is definitely school trip friendly. They have hand-outs and clipboards all ready for students to take and make notes and observations while perusing the site. I think they are more in demand for on-campus things like the traveling planetarium, or the traveling animals.

By the by, there is a beautiful owl housed here. They took it out of its enclosure during my class visit because it needed to go to a vet or something. We had to stand perfectly still while it passed within a foot of me. The owl is officially my favorite bird. Sad that I didn't get a chance to take a photo of it, but in this case, I'm glad to have soaked up that experience to the fullest rather than be so busy documenting everything. The holland rabbit above is cool too - its easily about as big as a medium-sized dog.

Apparently, many elementary students get up to 80% of their science instruction through field trips. That's a little depressing, but then how science is taught in the classroom at the elementary level is sometimes pretty depressing. I suppose field trips are a step up from that.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Guest post

The Secret Society of LIst Addicts accepted my guest post contribution. You can read it here. And yes, I admit to some typos. =\ I never was very good at proof-reading.

w00t! Go lists! Teaching and lists go together very well. I've made tons of lists related to teaching in my short career already, and I'll make plenty more.

Blogger of the week

Or should I say chorus of the week? Nay, chorus of the year? Or just plain awesome at any time, any day.

I'm probably the last person on the face of the planet to know about PS 22 Chorus, and that's fine by me. Sure, their story is inspiring, they sing beautifully, and a school chorus is a plain ol' good teaching idea.

But it doesn't stop there, at least for me. I am not a big music listener, and the music that I do listen to are not in English. I don't know, maybe I'm hanging out in the wrong crowds, but there are just not a lot of good - nope, not even decent - music currently. The Jonas Brothers? Barf fest. Hannah Montana? Good lord, Bach must be constantly rolling over and over in his grave for all the horrendous things people have done to something he was so passionate about.

No, I think the greatest thing this chorus has done is to introduce music-starved people like me to music that is music. Eye of the Tiger? Yes please. Landslide? Ok, I knew this one, but only because of the Dixie Chicks. I didn't know that was just a cover too. And there's a whole new dimension to the song when a bunch of fifth graders are singing their hearts out to it.

Pictures of You is probably my favorite. So far that is. I haven't watched all the videos yet. And there are many.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The cup game - ordinal numbers version

The Saxon Math curriculum for first grade has an entire series of lessons devoted to teaching ordinal numbers (i.e. first, second, third, etc), and they are deathly boring. So my CT uses this game instead. It's quite effective, as well as efficient. Most of our first graders got the idea in one sitting.


- post-its with the numbers 1-6 written on them, one number each
- 6 small disposable cups, non-transparent and identical
- 1 small object that fits under the cups (we used a linking cube)

How to play:

1. Before class, set up the cups and post-its on a table or counter where all students can see.

2. Direct students attention to the cups. Have a short direct instruction time, telling students that when things are lined up, like the cups on the counter, they each have a special name. The cup at the very front of the line is "first," just like how we call the student at the very front of a line "first." The one after first is "second." And so on. Make sure to check for understanding. I did it by pointing to each cup randomly and having the class call out the ordinal number. I also like to ask students, "Which number is under the ___th/st cup?" and vice versa.

Note: I also call the cup on the most left-hand side first, at least in the beginning. Later, when all students have mastered this skill, I'll mix things up.

3. Tell students we'll now play a game where everyone will take turns guessing where the cube is. I didn't do this because I didn't think of it at the time, but it might be a good idea to coach the students to keep track of which cups have been called. If a student already called the third cup, and the cube isn't under that one, then there is no use calling the third cup again - the cube won't move unless the teacher moves it. Some first graders still do not automatically pick up on this bit of logic.

4. Put the cube under a cup. Shuffle the cups around. It doesn't matter if you hide the shuffling from the students or let them see. Although, if you are like me and do not have smooth cup-shuffling skills, I would hide them.

5. Students take turns calling out the ordinal number. On the first round, I allow students to pass. After that, they have to make a guess. Also, I would tell students to think of the ordinal number of where they believe the cube to be before calling on any names - at least at first. Some students take forever and a day to spit out what they want to say. I also didn't think of this until after I had taught the lesson.


Later, I would add a seventh, eighth, ninth, etc cup. One at a time until they begin to see the pattern. I would spread them out a little more, putting more space between each cup. Maybe putting random objects in between the cups too. This last thing I haven't tried, and might throw off students without some additional direct instruction. Also, I would take away the post-its, also one at a time until none are left.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Whipping Boy

My local library has cut back on its hours. Boo. Recession, you suck.

Well, it doesn't really mean much except that even if I go super early, the library is still crammed with people. It makes it a little harder to peruse the shelves and to reach for the books that I'm aiming for. Ah well. There's plenty of time to read - the rest of my life, actually. Which is a lesson I try to teach to all my students. That reading isn't just for learning, or for school, but for fun and for a life-time.

I read The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman, winner of Newberry Medal, today. It's a rollicking adventure of two boys and the trouble that seems to drop into their laps without much effort. There is a trained bear, some mild moral lesson on being literate, and some snarkish internal dialogue by the whipping boy, Jemmy, himself. Best of all is the inclusion of the name "Hold-Your-Nose Billy." Kids lit has the best names. It's a fun, easy read. I finished it within an hour.

I hesitate to say that second and third graders would find this an independent read; in the traditional sense it would be. But some fifth graders have a "third grade reading level" so I don't know how to say what level students would read this and not be frustrated at the difficulty. It's also a nice read aloud book in a second grade classroom - or even during the latter half of first grade.

Personally, I don't find anything wrong with reading books that are above your "level" and vice versa. The New York Times is written at a 7th grade level, and it still is one of the most respected newspapers around. But I don't like to recommend books that are too hard for any student. It just gets them annoyed at reading, which totally not the point.

Coincidentally, this is an interesting memory of reading.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Speaking of gardens

One of my tennis partners gave me these. She grew them in her garden, and they are simply divine. Seriously the best tomatoes I have ever had. Supermarkets are totally gypping consumers. It's an education in itself to taste these things and ponder the complexities of the American food industry.

In one of the very first EDTE classes I took, we had to do a final project on community resources. My group went to Southside Park. Another group went to the local WIC store, where families can buy supplies using food stamps or that WIC cash - which may or may not be the same thing, I still don't quite understand that system very well. Better study up on it.

In any case, the WIC store stocked milk, baby formula, and other essentials of that like. It also stocked cereal, boxed and packaged products, and frozen foods. Not a single piece of fresh produce in sight. For the families of my students who rely solely on food stamps to feed themselves, they may rarely, if ever, get anything like the just-off-the-vine tomatoes.

And thus, here we have another mobius strip of questionable morals. Poor families may not receive optimum nutrition, which means their children go to school - perhaps not exactly hungry, but still slightly deficient in terms of nutrition. Which doesn't make much difference in the short term, but over years and years there's bound to be some health implications. Which means these children grow to be students who may not perform as well as they would at school, certainly not as a direct result of under-nourishment, but it is a factor. Which then provides them with limited opportunities in life after school. Which leaves them in the dust when it comes to earning a decent living. Which after some time creates other poor families. And thus, the cycle of poverty continues.

Note: sure, this is a very simplistic view. And there are many other things involved too. Nevertheless, one can't say it DOESN'T happen, so I stand by what I mean.

And yet there are students who work extra hard and are able to take their circumstances as an advantage rather than an unfortunate statistic. Just as there are wealthy students take their privilege for granted and blow it off on a meaningless life of selfish pursuits. People are unpredictable like that.

Media Mondays: child hunger, child poverty

This breaks my heart, but it's been "normal" news for a while now and will be for another while. Any while is too long.

One of my pet projects floating around in my head and yet to become reality, is to create a school garden. Or at least a classroom garden, if I can't get the school to get on board. Tomatoes and cucumbers are relatively easy to grow from seeds. It would be fun to throw in some sort of berry bush too. My friends J&S are having lots of luck with green onions and bok choy, so that's an idea too. The plants need to be easy to grow, doesn't take too much space, and have some sort of near-for-sure yield. Like the White House vegetable garden, on a (much) smaller scale.

Whatever the garden comes up with, we'll have a little taste test in class. There are so many lessons I can integrate with that: plant biology, environmental science, math and economics, social studies and how food affects culture. A crazy wealth of things to learn. I do have to be careful not to make the lessons middle-class-white-washed. Which I tend to do, unconsciously. But if I stick to the facts and vary the points of view, it might work.

Besides physical and mental development, the stresses of hunger affect people in sometimes unpredictable ways. They can be stoic, or angry, or depressed, or it can light a fire and push them to do more, both negative and positive actions. And neutral ones too.

I know school lunches are not always the most nutritionally effective, but at least it's something.

And I know a class garden doesn't really relieve student's poverty or hunger. Hm, maybe this idea in itself is pretty white-washed.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Standards Sundays: Grade 5 math

Since I'll be back in fifth grade classroom in the fall, I might as well start with the fifth grade content standards. And since I like math, not to mention it'll probably be one of the first subjects I'll pick up to teach, I'll start with, well, math. CTs, professors, and supervisors alike typically tell student teachers to start with math because it's "easier." I disagree with the "easy" part. Teaching and learning math is just as complicated as the other subjects. It only seems easier because most of the time, the curriculum/textbooks used are straightforward intro-lecture-practice types with some manipulatives thrown in every so often. And even then, manipulatives are still optional.

Note: manipulatives are things like counting blocks, tangrams, rulers, protractors, realia (items used in real life, like measuring cups), etc. Even a shoelace can be called a "manipulative" when used for teaching. Also, it should be noted that there is a clear distinction between curricula and standards. Standards are WHAT the government things students need to learn. These are mandated by law as part of public education and enforced by school officials. Curricula is the program of units and lessons used to teach content. The curricula and books a district chooses to use for its schools may or may not follow the standards. Curricula also includes things the teach invents him/herself. That's why you often see a lot of teachers making the leap from classroom to publishing - it's monetarily worth it, there are big bucks to be made in curricula development.

The full math standards for K-12 can be found here in pdf format. It's a pain in the butt to scroll through; probably because it's meant to be printed out as a whole document. Apparently, no one at the department of ed has figured out how to make it more online viewer-friendly.

By the end of grade five, students increase their facility with the four basic
arithmetic operations applied to fractions, decimals, and positive and negative
numbers. They know and use common measuring units to determine length and
area and know and use formulas to determine the volume of simple geometric
figures. Students know the concept of angle measurement and use a protractor
and compass to solve problems. They use grids, tables, graphs, and charts to
record and analyze data.

See the focus on skills? This is a good thing, but it does end up being a little difficult setting up opportunities for students to see connections from one math concept to the other, and to things outside of purely math. Often times, each lesson plan I write touches on multiple standards, sometimes crossing subjects too. This is because of the whole, "making connections" dilemma. Also because there are just so many standards that you have to double up in order to thoroughly teach everything in those 32-odd weeks.

Each subject is divided into subtopics, which is then divided into individual standards, which is again divided into sub-standards. Whoever worked to create this must have had a headache organizing it all.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Catharsis and second chances and perseverance

Looking inward, moving outward.

I met with my phase 2 CT this week for dinner to catch up and hang out. It was fun. I miss our weekly meetings - something I never did with my phase 3 CT because I was at school so much of the time we didn't have to schedule something else.

Of course, through the teacher grapevine, she already know about my phase 3 failure of all failures. Still, it was nice to talk it out with some perspective. I did nearly cry in the middle of my narrative, but managed not to. And I tried to make the story as clear and as complete, without blaming anyone other than myself, as I possibly could. Whatever my personal feelings about how phase 3 went down, I really only have myself to blame for being stupid and slow on the uptake. I've been told multiple times that I've made lemonade out of lemons in this situation, but it's still a failure if the lemonade doesn't sell.

I did really want to quit teaching for a while there - didn't realize how much until after I've gotten over it. All the other hazards of the profession have nothing on this single fact: that sometimes, your life and your entire sense of self is so wrapped up in the job that each success in the classroom seems like heaven. And each failure seems like the lowest pits of hell.

It's nearing four months since that failure. It took two months to get out of the depression I was in. It took another two months - plus two holiday travels - to recover from the mental and physical exhaustion that added up. Four months total (so far) to recover from six weeks of phase 3. I haven't made even an outline of a plan for teaching in the fall. Which might be a good thing. For all my careful planning and the four hours I spent at school each day, in addition to the five hours of actual class time, to prep I still failed. If I fly by the seat of my pants will I make better decisions?

Somehow, I doubt it. I'll still plan, although actually following that plan to the letter is a different story. Still, I'm glad to look forward to teaching again. It would be an even more intense failure to quit now. I genuinely like teaching, boring meetings, unproductive budgets, social unbalance and all.

It's time to let go and carry on. Thanks, KM, for helping me through this step towards that goal.