Monday, August 31, 2009

In which I'm a flaming retard

As dumb and floppy as this crocheted bag

Today, for the first time in my academic career, I went to the wrong class. I went to the wrong class and sat through nearly all of it before I realized my mistake.

Let's start from the beginning shall we? Well, I supposed the beginning beginning, as with many other problems today, boils down to the economy.

Deep slump in the economy => less taxes => budget cuts => The Great Teacher Pink-Slip and Non-Hiring Extravaganza of '09 => more teachers going back to school => more people enrolling in the same masters classes that I'm in => the university suddenly creating another section of the course to accommodate the influx => me not realizing that I had been booted to a different section => me running clear across campus at 7 PM after getting happy and excited for 2.5 hours to get to my actual class.

They did send out a notification email about the change to me, and I did read it. However, I had checked my course schedule online the same day, probably not even an hour prior to reading that email, and I was complacent and didn't think I had to check my registration again.

And thus, another episode of when the gods of communications are not on my side.

But both the professors were really nice about it, and they both let me choose which section I wanted to stay in. And the one I was supposed to be in had a student add at the last minute anyway, so if I stayed in the one I'm not supposed to be in it would balance out the class size. I also like the assignments and the layout of the course a smidgen better in the section that I'm not supposed to be in.

So it worked out in the end. I am really excited about this course, and I anticipate a lot of learning and professional growth from it. I didn't know graduate course class sizes are supposed to be 10 students. In each section of this class I'm taking, there are now 16. Well, this is what teachers do I guess. When there is no work to be had, we go back to school ourselves.

Media Mondays: Blackline Masters

Faded pajamas = comfy. Faded papers = headache.

I hate faded copies of stuff. Which is why these Blackline Masters are at the top of my resources links list on the right.

Ok, well, it's set to appear by alphabetical order. I lied.

Anyway, it's something I'm glad to have. This is a resource that came with my math methods text - although, as with many other teaching resources, it's free to all who know how to get to it. With a few clicks, a fresh copy can be printed out. No more, "Ms. Ng! My paper is weird!" or "How come I can't see that problem on my copy?"

I haven't actually had many chances of using them however. Well, I should say I haven't created many lessons that include these things. Because no matter how wonderful (or otherwise) my CT's classrooms are, they have their own ideas of how to teach math and I'm in no position to tell them to do it differently.

Although I do like to think I have the power to rock the boat, just a little.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Teaching brain, keep it up!

Like a poorly taken photo - gotta dig to find a positive, productive side.

My evening ended very nicely on the social side, but this morning wasn't too bad on the pedagogical side either. Well, if you can call it that.

The summer break has been so full of people coming and going that we haven't really put too much effort in creating unit lessons for Sunday school at my church. Today, we just let the students play and watch a movie and have snacks. Which allowed the other half of my team to prepare for the church retreat next week.

But of course, no matter how well I know these students, and no matter how well they have behaved for me in the past, they are bound to get squirrelly after nearly two hours of free play.

Someone donated a model pirate ship to the nursery toy stash, and the Sunday school kids put it together last week. This week, they decided to take the miniature canons that really fire a little plastic harpoon to chase and shoot each other with. There was much running and yelling and fun of course. And they played pretty gently at first - like I said, they are well behaved and they know the Sunday school rules.

But I saw it begin to get rough and the teacher in me couldn't help but put an end to that before it got out of hand. My first thought was to confiscate the harpoons, but then what would they play with? Something else in just as destructive a fashion. Besides, there were already signs that someone was going to fight for the harpoons (there were only two to go around eight kids) in a way that is NOT suitable for any place, let alone the church nursery.

So I pulled a rabbit out of my hat and made it into one-player shooting game. The students took turns aiming at empty paper towel tubes placed at varying distances from their marker, trying to knock them down.

Then I made it slightly more difficult with shooting at a dry sponge to try to push it past the same two paper towel tubes, like a field goal.

Then they shot at the cardboard box cover of that annoying electronic game with the ducks and the quacking, also trying to knock it over.

Then they tried to knock over an origami boat balanced on top of the paper towel tube, which was standing on end.

Then they tried to knock the same origami boat on the paper towel tube into the box cover.

Then they tried to shoot and knock down three plastic cups placed like a pyramid.

Then I flipped the cups over and they tried to put the three harpoons (which was standard for all these variations so far) into any of the three cups.

By then, I was running out of ideas. Also by then, luckily, it was time to go. I captured the attention and concentration of eight 1st-6th graders for a solid 40 minutes with seven variations of essentially the same game with only two pre-set student expectations: that they must form a line to take turns, and that everyone will have a chance - successful, or unsuccessful - before we moved on to the next variation (for the latter 2-3 variations I let each student take a couple more turns; the challenges were getting harder, plus I could stretch out the engaged time a little longer). They pulled themselves back from the brink of chaos to a group that lined up to take turns, helping each other pick up stray harpoons after each turn, encouraging and cheering for each other, protecting the toddlers from those same flying harpoons, and made the space spic and span again when it was time to leave.

They were the ones who pulled themselves back, but I like to think I had some influence in it too, yeah? I only hope I can get more ideas on this side of brilliance from here on out.

Standards Sundays: Grade 5 word analysis, fluency, and systematic vocabulary development

1st grade "Fluency Flowers." KM's goal was to have them reading 100 words a minute by the end of the year - which is a VERY ambitious goal indeed, since the regular expectation is 50 wpm.

Wow, that's one long title. I personally think plain old word analysis would cover most of it. Under this first - relatively small - topic of the standards, students are supposed to:

^ read fluently, accurately, and with expression
^ use word origins, roots and affixes to figure out meaning
^ know synonyms, antonyms, and homographs
^ explain figurative/metaphorical language in context

That's basically it. Not too much right? Well, depends on how you look at it. Because:

First, reading with fluency, accuracy, and expression depends not only on the text but on the purpose of the reading. I guess we are going for the minimum here, but there is so much room for more here, especially in terms of expression. I don't think I can explain it very well. It's like how Meredith Grey can deliver the one word, "seriously" in many, many different ways.

By the way, fluency is over-rated. I would very much prefer a student to take their time reading aloud, enunciating, than have them mumble-jumble through text at the speed of light. Also, just because they can read it doesn't mean they know the meaning of it.

Second, a teacher can spend a solid month on origins, roots and affixes alone. But once again, I guess most aim for the minimum. Which is a little sad, but I anticipate that this might be the route I take too. Same with synonyms, antonyms, and homographs (same word, different meaning - can be homophones/homonyms, such as the flower rose and the past tense of rise "rose," or heteronyms such as "to read" and "I read that book yesterday"). English is a tough language to learn, yo.

I think metaphorical language is the most difficult for a lot of fifth graders to grasp. It's such a vague idea, and goes so much beyond knowing how to compare things with "like." I have yet to see it taught in a way that doesn't reduce the importance or power of using such devices in writing.

The best idea I have to teach this standard is to make projects out of idioms. Drawing time pieces flying around a playground would depict "time flies when you're having fun" and so on.

Well, my CT last semester didn't really show me a whole lot of direct instruction strategies to teach these things. For the most part, he had students write paragraphs a lot. And by "a lot," I mean maybe once or twice a month. Which really isn't a whole lot at all. Now that I think about it, he leaned more towards the "banking" philosophy of teaching - that students are empty vessels and the teacher's sole job is to pour knowledge into them. No wonder my teaching never really caught on.

All of this pertains to "grade-level appropriate" reading however. Which I also have a distaste for. What on earth is "grade-level appropriate?" The drivel that's found in Open Court anthologies? Is learning this content using 4th grade, or 6th grade, or God forbid 8th grade level reading not allowed?

Ok, well, I don't want fifth grade students to read second grade level stuff. They really should be on short chapter books at least. But I hate it when students are limited to reading their grade level stuff, at most. So what if they don't understand some words? So what if they take forever to slog through a novel? I think if they want to, and have the determination to, then go for it.

But I also know it's not as simple as that. I also don't want students to be so discouraged at reading something they don't understand that they give up in frustration. However, I've given up on books too - mainly because they are boring, or the writing wasn't great. It's ok to stop reading a particular book, right? Just not stop reading altogether.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Boondocks school

I taught a grand total of two art classes here very early in the summer.

WAY out in a rural farm area.

It's a decent school, facilities wise. I'm not too fond of the memory of having to search for half an hour before I found any one who knew where the art classroom was. It was hot that day too, and I had to drag that heavy supplies cart around.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Courses - a thought

Stand alone is important.

Hm, why ISN'T there a stand alone course on classroom management when it is such a huge part of teaching?

Field trip Fridays: the park

I might have posted these photos already, but the point is, the local park is a perfect place for a field trip.

If there is one within walking distance, I would totally go. Like the beach, some sort of picnic is in order. I've never seen this done before, neither have I actually done it myself, but it might be a good idea to arrange with the city's parks and rec department to provide some of those large orange garbage bags, gloves, and maybe those poker things too so that the students can clean up the park. Community service is a big deal to me.

Even paint and paint brushes to cover up graffiti would work too. An even better idea, of course, is to have students design a 1x1 foot square area and let them paint that on the sidewalk, or a wall, at the park.

Although I wouldn't waste $400 on a bus just to drive to the park, so I probably won't take my students here if we can't hoof it back and forth.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The class "Bored"

Think outside the board.

I teach Sunday school on the side, and there is this one kid, Trisha*, who can be really annoying. After all the typical Sunday morning events are done, I sometimes stick around for the youth choir practice in the afternoon. This kid is there too. She's a sweet kid; smart and gets along well with others. Nevertheless, this one phrase can be found coming out of her mouth:

"I'm bored. There's nothing to do."

And she always comes to me about this. As if she expects me to entertain her like a TV program. When there is something more interesting, I'm out of sight and out of mind. But when she's in B.O.R.E.D. mode, she comes whining to me.

"Bring a book," I say. "You have your DS, right?" I ask. No, she didn't bring a book. Yes, she has her DS but that's boring too.

Kid, if I had a DS, I could entertain myself for DAYS with Animal Crossing Wild World alone.

Sometimes I play foosball, or soccer, with her. Sometimes we just talk. Sometimes we play with my digital camera, or laptop, if I happen to have them on me. She's a cool kid to hang around with.

But a lot of the time, I'm already wiped out from teaching during the week, and my own classes, and teaching all that morning, plus all the other stupid political stuff that happens in a traditional church like my home church (this is why I have an abhorrence for churches now - I only go to help out the handful of people who seem to be doing all of the work), plus life in general is pretty tiring and I'm beginning to feel the effects of being on the other side of a quarter century. And I work with kids all week, it's nice to have some grown-up time too.

She's not the issue here though. The issue is: children! Get it into your heads that you have the power to not be bored! Find something to do if you are! Take the initiative for goodness sake! Like this kid, or this kid, who decided to choose something for themselves and accomplished something bigger than themselves.

Ok, I'm being a little unfair here. Trisha is only a third grader, not a late-teen on the verge of becoming legal. But still. I don't remember being so reliant on adults for sources of things to do. I brought books with me wherever I went. Later, I brought my homework too. I explored outside and in. Trisha, do you have any idea where all those great hiding places in that church building are There are no less than 16 different ways to get in and out of the building alone, two of which have roof access and half of which I can no longer fit through!

Is it us, the adults? As a kid, I played with fire and handled knives by the age of six. Climbed fences and roofs and buildings and trees and rocks. All of which most adults nowadays would forbid children from doing. And Trisha is a pretty obedient kid. I kind of wish she was a little less so for her own sake.

Is there such a thing as over protection? I think so. No, I don't want an accident to happen. We took the Sunday school students to a local park for a picnic recently. Trisha wanted to go to the playground area. I gave her permission. But she ended up not going. She said she didn't want to be kidnapped.

The playground area was within sight from our picnic table. There were lots of other kids and parents around that day. She would have the other Sunday school kids go with her too. She carries a cell phone in her pocket all the time, and she knows my cell number as well as the other Sunday school teacher's. I trusted that she would make the right choices if a stranger did go up to her and try to take her away. Still, she didn't go and ended up sitting around, when she really wanted to go play, on a gorgeous day at the park.

Maybe bored isn't the right word to describe this. Do adults have too much fear? Is it affecting kids in a negative way? Or is this one case, a personality thing? When does a teacher push their students to do more, be more? And when do I tell them it's ok to hang out on the safe side for a while?

Maybe that's it: it's ok to be safe sometimes, and it's ok to go out on the church roof and freak yourself out with vertigo every so often.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

One of many

I'm on List Addicts again! w00t!

Go here. Or else.


Howling at the enemy.

My P.E. methods instructor taught me this really cool game called "enemy-defender" and you play it something like this:

1. Everyone chooses an "enemy" from the group. This person is known only to you, in other words, no one else in the class knows who your "enemy" is.
2. Likewise, choose a "defender."
3. The point of the game is to always keep your "defender" between yourself and your "enemy." This can only happen when you are lined up like so:

You -------------- Defender -------------- Enemy

So that you, your defender, and your enemy make a straight line.
4. Everyone else also has an enemy and a defender. You don't know who they are. So basically everyone must move around the space (room if inside, clearly marked boundaries when outside or in a gym) continuously, because your defender and your enemy will also move to keep their respective defenders between themselves and their enemies.
5. Everyone must walk at a leisurely pace. Modifications: you can also do this on hands and knees, or using the crab crawl too. But I would only do this when there is lots of space to move around in, and preferably on a soft surface.

The game is not really supposed to stop, unless the students get all bunched up in a corner. I played this game during a rainy day with my fifth graders last semester and they didn't really get the concept - they all kept walking in circles. Students, circles are composed of infinite CURVED lines. CURVED lines are NOT straight - at least not on the cartesian plane, which is the space we are playing in.

Another, probably easier version, is the "Equilateral Triangle." You still choose two other people, and their identities are still known only to you. But in this version, you and those two people are supposed to be the vertices of an equilateral triangle.

I say easier, because maybe triangles are simpler to understand than straight lines. And truly, in Euclidean geometry, a straight line is a complex concept.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A day in the life of a (student) teacher #2

6:45 AM - Morning baking of breakfast. Burnt parts were cut off. Scones are good with peanut butter and grape jelly.

7:20 AM - Gardening. This lavender plant sprouts so many more flowers after some pruning.

9:30 AM - Post office run.

11:05 AM - Crocheting is another craft I would like to bring to the classroom. This one would be even cheaper, since there is a way to do it without needles, only yarn.

12:41 PM - Lunch time! During the summer, I like this meal time the best. But during the school year, I like this meal time the least.

1:10 PM - Books, books, books.

3:16 PM - Bunny time is also the best time of the day!

4:52 PM - Small strawberries somehow taste so much better than those large, bloated ones.

6:01 PM - Thinking about the day I finally graduate from this too-long program.....well, whose fault is that? ::sigh::

8:30 PM - I'm a sucker for anything than includes mango. Yum.

10:27 PM - Making things clean and tidy before I call it a day. Makes waking up tomorrow that much nicer.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Orientation thoughts

New and young and an artistically blurred vision of the future.

Today was orientation for the new semester. I was required to attend, but in hindsight, I don't quite understand why I was there.

Well, let me rephrase that. I was there to meet my new supervisor, and the other student teachers who will be at my school. I don't quite understand why I had to sit through the other stuff.

One thing that did stick out to me this time around was what the guest speaker, also a CT, said:

"These students need 100% from you, some need even more than that. Be totally committed to the task at hand."

Not those exact words, but something to that effect. It made me wonder if I didn't give enough last semester - that the reason I failed was because I wasn't totally committed. But the moment I thought it, I knew it wasn't true. I have everything I had last semester - if I didn't, then it wouldn't have taken five months to recover from it.

Then, the program coordinator said something like this:

"Your best is not enough. Students need more than your best, they need THE best."

She was emphasizing professionalism during this speech, but it did take me aback a little. Ok, so I know my teaching isn't the best in the world. But I do aim for excellence too. So there are days when I try and try and try but still the fruits of my labor are dropping off the tree, half grown and dying. So does that mean I'm not suited for teaching? Does this mean I'm not cut out for the task?

Thus, I'm not quite done with the self-doubt yet. I probably will never be, not with this job.

The phase II's of UTEC seem so young and innocent to me, so much reveling in their newbie status. Many of them did look younger than I am, but there were some older ones too. They looked so full of hope, their fresh faces shining with anticipation of their first student teaching experience. Just like I probably looked like too, around this time last year.

Oh, the many, many things that can change in a year.

Yes, I'm a little more jaded. A little more realistic. A little less freshly enthusiastic about teaching. Sometimes I wish I could get that back. Other times I think I never want to be so terribly hopeful again since it sets me up for even more terrible disappointment.

But I'm getting a chance at a do-over, which doesn't always happen. A do-better-this-time-now-that-I-know-what-I-know-over. Yep, it's definitely an advantage because it seems like I belong in a category all to myself. I'm not a phase II, and also not a phase III taking the phase III courses, which are the categories everyone else falls into.

Which seems to me like I have a lot of freedom to do things a little apart from the group here, to be a little more independent with my student teaching studies and take initiatives that I couldn't afford to take last time as well as those that I didn't even know existed. This time, I have nothing to lose and everything to gain, and I'm getting a good feeling about it.

Now, if only I can make first contact with my new CT. He is being rather more difficult to get in touch with than the others.

Of course, during still other times I wish I didn't have to do a do-over in the first place; that I had gotten it done right the first time around. I can't make up my mind which I would rather have. But I suppose that is a moot point. I have what I have. "There is no elsewhere."

Media Mondays: a letter of opinion

Original article here.

NYC Educator's take here.

Read both first. Talk after the jump. It's a lot of reading, but reading is good for you.


Hm, after reading this, it seems like I once again went off topic a little. Oh well, it's still relevant. A little.

Dear educators, parents, students, and anyone else that cares:

First of all, I respect all of you. You all play vital roles in my life, but most of all, you are all human beings and that just by itself demands mutual respect.

That said, would you all quit being such morons?

*ahem* Let me clarify.

First, to the educators. We have a rough job. It doesn't pay very much when compared to other jobs that require an equivalent education/skill. It isn't respected very much when compared to the same. I too, am tempted to smack the next person who says, "Teachers have it good. They play for six hours a day and have summers and holidays off." And not just because of their grammar misuse.

But that doesn't mean we have to whine about it 24/7. It doesn't mean we have to fall into society's expectation that we are twin set wearing, pointer toting, passive aggressive push-overs. Likewise, we don't have to be so damn defensive about. Every. Single. Thing. Want to know why the profession isn't respected? You're looking at one reason right here.

Yes, it's scary when a student threatens to kill you. I don't know how many of us have been down that route, but I certainly have. And if I have, then there must be others too. Yes, we are blamed for students low performance on standardized tests. Our already miniscule salaries are threatened by this during each testing season, without any regard to factors such as student's home resources and background, English learner level, physical/cognitive/learning disabilities, or the fact that they may have up to three years less of formal education than their middle-to-upper class peers. All these things, and then some, are placed on our already weary backs.

That aside, when you see a student who is troubled, or angry, or violent, do act with humanity. Don't act with fear that grows to loathing. It may take forever until their needs are met - ok, truthfully, their needs may never be met within their school-age years. But try. Because not taking action will definitely get both you, and them, nowhere.

We may bend under the workload, but let's not allow ourselves to be crippled by any other thing. I know you have a pair, so use them. And do what is in your power to help your colleagues. There's no need for all this schadenfreude, or "you blame me, I blame you" games. "I need help." "Where can I find resources for the student and his or her family?" Those are the type of questions you can ask. "I don't want to help this student, nor do I want to take the effort to learn how," is inexcusable. If you find yourself saying this, seriously reconsider your choice of profession.

To parents, for goodness sake, curb your kid! Students need special education because of a variety of reasons. You are one of them. Did you think parenting was easy? Did you think it would be fun all the time? Even if you did, you will probably know by the time your kid begins school that you have a life-time of work ahead of you.

Do not rely on your child's teacher to be the first line of defense when it comes to disabilities. Your child's teacher WILL NOT EVEN SEE YOUR CHILD UNTIL THEY ARE FIVE or thereabouts. You will see your child from the moment that strawberry jello-covered body pops out of your collective womb. YOU are the first line of defense. Educate yourself. Sure, you may not have medical insurance, but there are other ways - free or inexpensive ways - to prevent, as well as to take the first steps in treatment (or even a cure, depending on the disability), for your child.

Do not assume that your child's teacher is an expert in handling special education situations. Yes, most teachers have some training and knowledge in identifying symptoms. We do not know, nor are qualified to unless with the proper certification, to diagnose. We can mostly just adjust our teaching methods to accommodate your child. This will not always cure, alleviate, nor do away with the original disability. For some cases, the student will have to live with the disability for the rest of their lives. What your child's teacher does is TEACH your child SOME (not all) strategies on how to cope with that in mainstream society.

Do inform the school and the teacher. Do this in person and in writing. Tell your child's teacher the general outline of treatment you have taken for your child. THE TEACHER WILL NOT KNOW THIS UNTIL YOU TELL THEM. We are not mind readers. But we are here for the benefit of your student as well. If you have any suspicion or concern for the behavior of your student, share it with your teacher. Even if your student does not officially get diagnosed and enter special education services, there are other things the teacher can do to help your student function well in school.

Do understand that your child's teacher has 20-40 other students under their care during the school day. Your child is mostly likely not their only special education case. You are not the only outside pressure that the teacher faces on a daily basis.

Do network with the other parents. If your child is not the only special education case that the school has, then you are not the only parent who is dealing with this sort of rough stuff. Like I said earlier, it's going to be a long journey so let's get together and ya-ya, folks.

To students, there are some things that are not your fault. There are other things that are. And then there are still other things that are no one's fault. This is life, and one of the reasons school is there for is to teach you this. You will not always create a perfect project. You will not always be satisfied with your work, be it an A+ or a D-. You will not always please everybody.

You will get angry sometimes. You will be frustrated, hurt. You might feel like getting violent - perhaps you have already been there and done that. You will hate and you will fear. You will feel like a complete loser. You will fail sometimes. These are all things that will happen because the exact opposite on the spectrum are also possible. You must accept these things when they happen, and you must not let them overtake you because then the exact opposites will never occur.

Your grades are NOT based on whether the teacher likes you or not. Your grades do NOT define who you are as a person. And if it currently does, then work to get yourself out of that dead-end rut. Don't worry, the rut is shallower than you think. You are still a kid, and I know your world view is currently skewed egotistical and that you might take perceived (or otherwise) slights as the end of the world as you know it. Thankfully, your world is very small and very impermanent.

But because it is small and impermanent, do take advantage of it. It's smallness means you can explore all the way out to the very corners and still be home in time for supper. The impermanence means you might want to spend your time in school wisely. This time where you have the protection of your guardians, the guidance of your teachers, and the friendship of your peers is very precious. Try not to blow it.

And when you do blow it, and you will - because we know you have tried your hardest not to and will try your hardest not to again - all those people in your world will forgive you. All those people are willing to help pick you up and dust you off and set you back towards where you want to go.

And if they don't, then they weren't worth a baboon's butt to begin with. Their abandonment speaks more of their flimsy characters than it does of anything about you. Yes, your teachers may think you are annoying at times. Haven't you thought the same of your teachers? We are still rooting for you, so work hard.

To any one else that cares, please continue to care. Thank you for caring.

Sincerely and with best wishes to all.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Standards Sundays: Grade 5 English language arts

Anthologies are like Plato's light in the cave to me.

Math is one of the two major content areas that teachers focus most of their instruction on. English Language Arts (ELA) is the other. It's pretty common to find a teacher, especially in the K-2nd grades, spend 90% of each school day on one of these two subjects.

In the introduction of the K-12 standards guide for ELA, it says:
The ability to communicate well - to read, write, listen, and speak - runs to the core of human experience.

Reading, writing, listening, and speaking are not disembodied skills. Each exists in context and in relation to the others.

Which I'm cool with. Actually, just these two quotes encompasses the main purpose of ELA. But it probably goes without saying (even though I'm saying it anyway) often times, students don't receive ELA as pure as these ideals.

Personally, I prefer to teach ELA through the other subjects, rather than just by itself. Perhaps I'm not experienced enough, or have enough content background, to make ELA lessons quite as meaningful without relating it to authentic text. I despise using anthologies or abridged works as sole ELA resources too. There is just so much better stuff out there to use!

Thus, we encounter problem #1: there is so much stuff out there that it takes the a Samson-like strength to plow through it all. Luckily, there are short cuts (read: other teachers who are willing to share). I'll go through the fifth grade ELA standards in more detail for the next two months' worth of standards Sundays.

Note: Although some stories are better from another author's take, like Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind manga vs. the original Nausicaa from The Odyssey, (or the princess that loved bugs). The fake back story to The Princess Bride has this same idea. These have their own educational uses too.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Courses: science, math, and history/social studies methods

So far on the steps towards becoming a certified teacher in California, I've talked about regular college, the CBEST and CSET exams, experience working with children, the nightmare joy of fingerprinting, choosing a teacher preparation program, and pedagogy courses.

That's a lot right? Oh, there is still so far to go.

Besides pedagogy, most teacher preparation programs make the follow methods courses mandatory (all are one semester worth, unless otherwise stated):

~ Language and Literacy (2 semesters)
~ Science
~ Math
~ History/Social Studies
~ Technology
~ Visual and Performing Arts
~ Physical Education
~ Health Sciences (including CPR certification)

I was going to lump them all in this one post, but now that I think about it, the first item and the latter four items on this list need to be addressed separately. Which I will do at a later date.

Although I didn't take these classes first, I'm going to address them here first because they are the most straight forward to explain. My science, math, and history/social studies methods courses all followed pretty much the same formula:

A) Get acquainted with K-6 CA standards as well as educational law/policy that specifically pertain to each subject.
B) Get acquainted with various resources and curricula materials.
C) Get acquainted with various past and present research on teaching these subjects.
D) Get field experience teaching these subjects - mainly done through student teaching, but we also held fairs at our teaching school for science and social studies.
E) Pick a topic in each subject and create a unit's worth of lesson plans - this is done in groups for the purpose of the fairs mostly. In math, our units were for the PACT.

Note: I've mentioned the PACT before, but I'll explain that in depth later. Coincidentally, now is a good time to comment on how much more stuff pre-service teachers get embroiled into the further they travel on this road to being credentialed. It doesn't end, it truly doesn't end.

But my methods courses were fun. I'm biased, but I did enjoy the math methods course a smidgen more than the others. These courses really ignited a determination to make my lessons fun and exciting for my students. Certainly not all the time - I don't have that kind of stamina yet. But I'll start with at least one fun lesson each week for each subject and add on from there.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Blog birthday!

We interrupt field trip Fridays for a special anniversary!

It's been a full year since I started this blog. 4000+ views. 221 entries. Let's have another productive year! But first, something a little more selfish.....

10 Things That Start with "I"

1. I teach art part-time in after-school classes. Yet, I cannot for the life of me draw on my own. Copying yes, creating something myself, not so much.

2. I'm a teacher, and I often hear many teachers say that one of their main reasons for getting into teaching is because they like kids. I, on the other hand, generally don't like kids very much and still cringe at the idea of having one of my own some day.

3. I was born on August 26 in Hong Kong on a blustery, typhoon-y afternoon. From kindergarten through 12th grade, the first day of school more often than not fell exactly on my birthday. This may be why I like the quarter term (aka trimester terms) system more than the semester term system.

4. I started wanting to be a writer in fourth grade. Prior to that, I had no idea what profession I wanted. My third grade teacher was very annoyed at me when I was the only student in her class that couldn't come up with a straight answer to the topic question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" She would not take, "I want to be happy," nor did she take, "I want to build snowmen." Note: it never/rarely snows where I live - the elevation is too low.

5. I enjoy sleeping very much. It is not uncommon to find me asleep for 75% of the day (not usually all at once, but it's not impossible). It is suspected that I have some sort of thyroid malfunction, but I have never had it checked out officially. I say I don't have the time to deal with endless doctors and tests and medication, but the real reason is why cure something that I don't want to get rid of?

6. I get bored, and annoyed, relatively easily. I'm pretty sure I would not be friends with me if I were not me. Thus, I highly treasure the friends that I do have for putting up with me.

7. I have had the following pets: fish, dogs, birds, a hamster, and now a rabbit.

8. I speak English, Cantonese, Mandarin, and Italian, although none with any sort of advanced fluency. Nope, not even English. Especially when I don't know the person I'm talking to very well.

9. I write most of my blog entries several days ahead of its scheduled posting date. If there is more than one post for that date, the one that isn't posted at 6:00 AM is the one that I spontaneously decided to write.

10. I prefer cold weather to hot weather, tea to coffee, savory to sweet, skirts to jeans, shady to direct sunlight, coast to inland, and visual to audio. However, I like to mix work and play.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The City of Ember

By Jeanne DuPrau, 2003

This is one incredible plot.

Lina and Doon are classmates and childhood friends. They live in the city of Ember, a city that is quickly running to disaster with shortages in food, clothes, even just paper and pencils. There are more and more blackouts. There's a corrupt governing body and the panic of the people are rising.

So Lina and Doon, along with Lina's little sister try to find a way out of the city of Ember. Except that there is no way out.

Or is there?

I didn't like the writing all too much. It took WAY too long to write out the setting and characters. In 2009, it's not so hard to imagine a world running out of resources and a once-trusted government that is now powerless to do anything about it. I guess DuPrau just really wants to hit the setting and situation home in a very long-winded way.

Apparently, there is a sequel to this story. Lina and Doon spend the entire first book getting out of the city of Ember. In the second book, the adjust to whatever they find once they get out. Seems interesting. I would read it. Or well, probably skim it, if it once again spends too much time describing the setting.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Lining up

Would lining up from shortest to tallest be too much?

Walking to and from the classroom and various other parts of the school may seem like a simple thing, no? Well, it can be when I'm prepared and have trained the class to respect others, the school, and themselves. To me, a perfect line looks like this:

>> Everyone is quiet, literally the only thing you can hear is the soft shuffling of feet. I will permit an occasional whisper or two.
>> Everyone faces forward. I will also permit an occasional head turn, but students should turn back to the front of the line almost immediately.
>> The line is single file (or double file, for a larger class size), with no more than a 1-person space between each student nearly the whole time the class is lined up.
>> Students are walking in an orderly fashion, playground equipment and other items held firmly, hands and feet to themselves.
>> Students pause and allow teachers, staff, and other adults to pass first, no matter where they are. With their peers, or other classes lined up, it's first come first serve. For older students, I would make them let the younger students go first too.

During my phase 2 student teaching, my first graders were nearly always like this. Not really because of anything I did, since I was in class for only two days out of the week. But I did enjoy this, and I was able to maintain that level with the students on my own. Besides, it's nice to know what kind of line I want for my own class.

During phase 3, very rarely was my fifth graders like this. Not really because of anything I did either. Actually, when I was in charge of lining them up and walking them to places, the students were WAY more diligent about making a structured line. An entirely different story when they lined up with my CT (unless he took the effort to make them so that is, on a typical day he didn't, plus I know for a fact that when I left in March his class went back to being an unruly line).

Getting the students to this end product is the tricky part and there is no one correct way of doing so. It depends on the class I guess. But I find it really important to make a line as close to possible as the ideal situation above. Hallways can be small, and cramped, and during high traffic times like lunch or recess, there can be a hundred students at a time in the walkways. It just isn't safe to have a class full of kids bouncing off the walls - and ceilings, like my fifth graders - and trampling on muddy grass, which the maintenance people hate because they have to put down new sod again, and their budgets have been cut too so they would rather not spend money on something that can be so easily prevented.

To me, it also shows in general what kind of control a teacher has over their students. That sounds awful, but it's true that the teacher does need to have a firm grasp on discipline and maintaining control. Call me a line nazi, I don't care. I am most definitely the boss, and quicker my students learn this, the more fun we can have for the rest of the school year.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Lessons from jury duty

Lesson #1:

If you want to get out of jury duty but don't have a reliable excuse, then appear at the jury assembly room wearing a slogan tee that says, "Boobies Make Me Smile" with a huge smiley face on it. This is way better than the passive aggressive version of showing up in tank tops and shorts.

Lesson #2:

Please thoroughly cleanse yourself before showing up. Because there are approximately 100,000 other potential jurors waiting for hours and hours in that dinky room. And everyone will appreciate you doing your civic duty that much more if you don't smell like feet.

Lesson #3

During roll call, names will be mispronounced. This is a fact everyone has accepted. Except for the person who is actually doing the roll call. This person WILL NOT get over the fact that he/she is mispronouncing names left and right and will make multiple attempts at saying your name right (all of which will be wrong. again) even when THE PERSON BEING CALLED RESPONDED A FULL TWO MINUTES AGO.

Lesson #4

It is exceedingly appropriate to dance and cheer when the case you were called in for decided to settle out of trial.

Good retorts only come at 3 AM

Photo from This is my facial expression when delivery the monologue below.

Now on with it. Next Monday is fall orientation. I'm going to be in with all the twee phase II's, when I'm technically a phase IV. Hm, I hope my jadedness from over-experience in student teaching won't kill their optimism.

I'm actually a little apprehensive about posting this, but decided to anyway. This in no way means that I'm shrugging off the parts of last semester that I was responsible for and just couldn't handle. I accept my mistakes. I'm correcting them as we speak, and I foresee many fewer repetitions of old mistakes to come - which doesn't mean I won't make some new spectacular mistake. But I'll be ready to prevent it, and I'm read to accept and correct it if the preventing doesn't work.

It just wasn't completely my fault either. I've been saying that it is, but it wasn't. I hate blaming external factors - they all sound like excuses - which usually turns into me blaming myself all the time, and that's not cool for my mental state. The facts are facts, and there were mistakes made by all parties involved. I've got to have the guts to confront this in real life as well as in my head, or else I'll just be trampling myself into a passive pancake of a teacher.

I woke up in the middle of the night, again, due to this oft recurring nightmare of re-living that joke of a student teaching experience from this past spring. Nightmare. Spelled with a capital NIGHT.

This time, however, there was a little twist to it. I woke up all in a panic, and my heart rate was up like I had just swam 100 meters non-stop at my fastest speed. Prior to today, I would also wake up an emotional wreck, probably crying. And then I would have to suffer through 2-3 weeks in the down turn of that pesky chronic depression.

But day is just about to break here in Pacific Standard Time, and I'm seeing things a little more clearly than before. I woke up with a much better, much more satisfying scenario in my head and I want to capture this moment to remember by before I'm caught up in the daily grind again and forget.

The first part of this conversation actually happened during our very first CT/ST meeting:

JL: Just so you know, I have less success with second semester phase III student teachers.

Me: What is that supposed to mean?

JL: That more of my second semester phase III student teachers fail than my first semester student teachers.

(Here is where it differs)

Me: So that means you’ve failed student teachers during both semesters? And more so during my phase? Hold up here, that is unacceptable. First, don’t start the semester by telling me there is a chance I’m going to fail. Why on earth would you tell someone that? What kind of “setting up for expectations” is this load of crap? Sure, there is a chance I’m going to fail - but that is for ME to decide, not you. You are supposed to show me different teaching styles and methods, the very same ones I’ve read about but have yet to see in action. You are supposed to lend your classroom for me to experiment. Of course my lessons aren’t going to be perfect. Of course I’m going to have off days. But I know I'm competent. I am perfectly capable of doing this crazy thing called teaching. So don’t choose to have a student teacher if you know you won't be able to handle having a newbie around. You not being able to figure out how to do that is YOUR problem. My job as a student teacher is completely different. Obviously you are not being a proper teacher to your student teacher AT ALL if you are going to have expectations of failure before I even begin. I deserve better than that. I PAID for a better education than this. So thank you very much, but I’m going to transfer now. Good bye.

JL: ..... (in my mind he would be speechless, but in reality he would probably have some half-assed excuse to say, luckily my imaginary conversation maker, aka Quotes of the Day blog, came up with something)

Me: “The smaller the mind, the greater the conceit.” - Aesop

When he continues talking, and I know he will because people like him have no concept of shutting up and just listening for a change, I'll walk out. Don’t want to hear no damn excuses. And of course wishing I had done this at the time instead of that massive, Fail Blog-worthy reality won't change the past.

But it will change the future. See, I can be optimistic too.

Monday, August 17, 2009

As if they were washer/dryers, and knowledge is dirty laundry

"There is a new pedagogic term for introducing children to these testing practices [as in those pesky state and federal mandated testing] beginning at a very early age. The term, according to a teacher-educator in Ohio, is 'front-loading children,' a usage that appears to have originated in the world of capital investment. ('Short-term pain for long-term gain,' this educator said, is how the term has been explained to her.) No matter how offensive this may be to teachers, school officials often feel they have no choice but to aply these practices during the first two years of school, a tendency that has been forcefully encouraged by directives coming from the Bush administration." - from The Shame of the Nation by Jonathan Kozol

Wait, what?

Not that the Bush administration was the evil of evil, but really? Seriously? Because my teacher preparation program taught me this "front-loading" technique, when it is actually counter-productive to real learning?

You've got to be kidding me.

Media Mondays: why teach?

The carrot before the hare.

This article lists some examples of teacher's reasons for teaching.

"My motives are not nearly as altruistic," was what I thought when I first read this piece.

"What on earth are my motives for teaching?" was my second thought.

I've heard a lot of reasons from other people, the most common ones being:

* love for kids
* inspiration from a memorable teacher of their own
* want to improve society
* want to contribute to young people's lives
* June, July, and August
* want to make a difference in the world

That last one is something I have issues with. What does "making a difference" mean? Hitler made a difference in the world too, and I'm pretty sure none of these people I've talked to want to be like Hitler.

My motives (up to this point in time, and as much to my own self-aware knowledge as possible) for teaching:

* I've had some pretty crappy teachers in the past. I don't want to be like them, and want to prove - to the world, but mainly to myself - that I can be better than them

(yes, I know, "being better than someone else" is a really shallow reason to do anything)

* I like learning stuff. I'm lucky in the sense that I get to keep up with the latest and greatest knowledge known to man for my job.

* I like school. Well, high school wasn't such a great time for me. Neither was middle school, come to think of it.....and neither was any grade from fourth onward.....what on earth am I doing in this profession??!!

No, really, social aspect aside, I do like school. I know teaching does get monotonous sometimes, but it doesn't have to be. Everyday can be different.

And the social stuff doesn't have to be awful. Well, not all the time at least.

* I like to plan. Did you know that teachers plan? A lot? Until their eye balls pop out and their soft palates shrivel up? Doesn't that paint an excellent picture for you? I always have a back-up too. Sometimes, I even plan a back-up for the back-up. I am also known to have a back-up for the back-up for the back-up. Yes, I am insane like this. That said, there is also a strange satisfaction in being able to fly by the seat of my pants too. Flexibility, no?

* I enjoy the "June, July, and August" aspect too. I would enjoy it even more if I can find a job at a year-round, or modified traditional schedule, school. There is nothing so pleasing like traveling and developing my own education during the off-season.

* I'm a control freak. Extra-special, top of the class kind. Beware your manners when you enter my classroom - this is MY territory.

See what I mean about my motives not being altruistic? There is not one mention of liking kids, or inspiring people, or feeling the need to help people. All that is well and good, and I'll take it if and when it happens. But they are not the driving force that keeps me going in this crazy field. Don't know if it's a good idea to disclose this, but at least I'm being honest with myself.

But then, I know some people who have pretty twisted motives for teaching. Some of which resemble the twisted love n-gons on Grey's Anatomy than anything else.

People's motives for doing anything are sometimes complex like that.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Standards Sundays: Grade 5 mathematical reasoning

This is the last set of math standards for fifth grade. It took awhile to write about them. Mathematical reasoning has eleven separate sub-topics - the most out of all five sections.

So you would think it's the most important right? Well, yes and no. It is important. Personally, math more about reasoning and logic than it is about computation. Plugging and chugging is a relatively easy skill to pick up, when compared to, say:

- how to approach a problem (i.e. determining when and how to break a big problem apart into more manageable chunks, which methods to use, sequencing and prioritizing information, etc)
- estimate to see if answer is reasonable
- know when and why estimations are sometimes a better answer than the actual answer
- apply strategies to increasingly difficult problems
- explain mathematical reasoning using pictures, graphs, words, charts, tables, symbols, etc
- perform accurate calculations
- check validity of results (in other words: how do I know I'm right?)
- make generalizations and apply to other situations

Holy cow, I don't think I ever realized this section was so complex until I see this list before me. There are several other, read-between-the-lines, things that these standards address too. Looking at this now, I'm going to confirm that YES, mathematical reasoning is the most important section in the math standards.

However. Of course there is a however. When on earth does Saxon (the most commonly used math curriculum in my local school district) really address these? Uh...NEVER.

Ok, well, not never. But definitely not to my liking. Even when JL created his own curriculum, he focused WAY more on the other topics than on actual reasoning. Of course his students were supposed to justify their answers, but the problems he poised were very pat and conventional. There was definitely very little "make generalizations and apply to increasingly difficult problems."

Hm, I'm reading through the this sections standards again, twice since I started on this post. Some of them are very vague.....and others are a little redundant.....and none of them state any specific level of competency. I guess these only apply to the problems associated with the other topics, but still. Knowing how to "analyze relationships and patterns" spans a spectrum of understanding. Where should fifth graders stand on this spectrum?

Well, in the end, mathematical reasoning isn't important because it isn't really assessed during mandated tests. Don't tell me that multiple choice questions are a good assessor of mathematical reasoning. Seriously, I will throw a book at you if you do.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The (other) class pet

Brown-nosers can be very annoying. I didn't particularly like them as a student because they hogged the teacher's time, which didn't seem very fair to me. I don't particularly like them as a teacher because they hog my time and I end up not being able to pay as much attention to the rest of the class.

But Bernice* was one of my first grade students last year who really sucked up like nothing else. She was a little older than the other students, since there was some sort of mix up with her shots records and she started kinder a year later than expected. Because of this, she knows she can be a much bigger helper than the other students, and thus took advantage of the closer role she played with me and my CT.

She wasn't a particularly manipulative kid. Although I know she sometimes purposefully uses the bathroom pass during class so that she can take the consequence of staying in during recess time to do academic stuff with the teacher (that was the rule in KM's classroom).

So I wonder if brown-nosers do what they do because they crave that attention from adults? I would think most students crave that kind of attention from adults. And considering the typical background of students in Title I schools, it's no wonder.

Still, I can't "save" every single kid. That's not my job, neither is it my responsibility. That sounds cruel, but I really dislike that motive for being a teacher. I can't save my students from the cycle of poverty. They have to save themselves. I can only give them the tools and skills and experiences that might help them with their goals.

So Bernice, and other brown-nosers, I wish you well. But you do need to get out of my face sometimes, no offense intended.

*Not the real name