Monday, November 30, 2009

Media Mondays: What competition shouldn't be

A headline as glaring as this little fellow, whom I found in my kitchen recently.

Mo. Looks at Overhauling Ed. System to Compete for Funds

The above link goes to an article at Education Week, and you need to subscribe to view the whole thing. But you don't need to subscribe to ask yourself the following question:

Why on earth do schools need to compete for funding? Because, in theory, there should be plenty of funding to go around, without the need to compete.

Because competing means that someone will end up without the funds.

And that is so NOT what public education is about, dudes. Seriously.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Education for a democratic and pluralistic society: part 3 of 3

(As part of my Masters of Education, Instruction and Curriculum, I'm required to take a course called Education for a Democratic and Pluralistic Society [EDTE 251, Loeza]. Within this course, I was supposed to write two position papers on a topic of my choice, conduct an interview, and create a presentation using technology on the same topic. Here is part three of three of my technology project.)

The interviews:

The teacher

> J.H. is a sixth year 2nd grade teacher in the Washington D.C. area (urban, public school). She attended school in Abington, PA and College Park, MD. Overall, she was satisfied with her education.
> She believes education is important because well-trained and skilled individuals are needed to contribute to their nation’s growth.
> She would like to see future schools build a solid foundation in abstract concepts and higher level thinking, more technology, and more training on the IEP process for classroom teachers.
> She would like to see less testing.
> She believes the high amounts of worksheets have not changed over the years (negative reaction).
> If she could reform schools, no limits, she would increase teacher pay, hold parents responsible for doing their part in their child’s education, and create a more concrete discipline system with clear consequences and rewards.

The student

> N.M. is a sophomore at a Sacramento area high school. He believes that knowledge is power and that without education, society will become corrupt.
> He would like to see more school supplies, such as laboratory equipment and computers, available for student use. He would also like to see schools remodeled so as to match “East High’s (the high school in High School Musical)” aesthetics.
> He would like to see less education budget cuts and a halt to increasing class sizes.
> He is not satisfied with his current education because “teachers don’t know how to teach anymore.” His elementary and middle school experiences were “hundreds of times better” than his high school experience so far.

The (future) parents

> J.M. and S.C. are married and are in the process of planning for a family. They went to school in Stockton, CA, San Diego, CA, and Berkeley, CA. Overall, they are both satisfied with their educations.
> They believe education is important because society needs a certain level of basic skills to benefit from, and contribute to, their communities.
> They would like to see more homework that is actually corrected and graded, grades based on the student’s work (as opposed to the level of parent involvement in the student’s work), creative writing, and traditional math facts drills.
> They would like to see fewer “useless school projects” that are irrelevant to the subject matter, such as student films on random topics.
> They believe the presence of games at the elementary level has not changed over the years (positive reaction).
> If they could reform schools, no limits, they would like to implement longer school days (with longer breaks, “like French schools”), a wider selection of electives, and emphasize education/career options other than four-year universities and “mass produced” white-collar jobs. They would also include meaningful instruction on world financial systems as well as home economics for the modern student (since “parents are now such workaholics that they no longer have time to teach their children basic life skills”).


It was not surprising that all of my interviewees had a high interest in education reform, considering their backgrounds. However, I was not prepared for their detailed discussions on items they would like to change. It was obvious that all interviewees had thought about education reform, either on their own or in discussions with other people, prior to the interview.

Putting aside any questions of practical feasibility of their ideas, all interviewees seemed willing to take education into their own hands, shaping it into the way they want it to be. Even the student, who spoke in complaints during the interview (which might be partly contributed to the fact that he is a teenager), showed confidence in his bearing and voice that he could overcome any shortfalls of the public education system. Thus, supporting my second thesis on enabling individuals to contribute to their communities in a grass-roots manner.

It must be noted that all interviewees come from middle- (the adults) to upper-middle class (the teenager) backgrounds, which highly contributes to the way they value their own opinions and the belief that positive changes in education will happen.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Education for a democratic and pluralistic society: part 2 of 3

A good cycle: the circle of life. A bad cycle: the following.

(As part of my Masters of Education, Instruction and Curriculum, I'm required to take a course called Education for a Democratic and Pluralistic Society [EDTE 251, Loeza]. Within this course, I was supposed to write two position papers on a topic of my choice, conduct an interview, and create a presentation using technology on the same topic. Here is part two of three of my technology project.)

In my previous paper, I noticed the long and difficult journey school systems take in their path towards reform. In my second paper, The Unbreakable Cycle of Reform, I analyze the mistakes US education policy leaders continue to make, including some misguided ideas proposed by the Obama Administration.

Many times, public schools cycle through similar education movements without gaining much ground in lasting changes for learning. What makes school reform so difficult and how can educators break this seemingly unbreakable cycle?

Most of the ideas from my second paper can be seen in this previous post, which presents a rebuttal to a CNN Opinion editorial by Ruben Navarrette Jr. I reiterate my points here:

1) Funneling all students into four-year universities is, in itself, a type of low expectation. There are educational opportunities outside classroom walls. For example:

- Peace Corps and other similar service related programs
- internships
- teaching abroad
- work studies (work part-time, study topics related to the work part-time under one or more teachers - which is basically a modified internship)

This is a very small list. Even the powers of Google wasn't able to bring up many options. More ideas are definitely needed.

Also, comparing students from low SES backgrounds with students from high SES backgrounds is unfair. Students from low SES backgrounds CAN learn - they are just not always learning the same things as their wealthier peers.

2) The traditional school setting - including schedule and hierarchy, among other things - is not particularly convenient to both students or staff.

3) Continual, high-stakes testing is only one method of assessing student achievement. Other methods should be used in order to get a complete picture of where students are academically. This information should be used as a launching point for further instructional goals, not solely as an assessment on teacher performance.

I'm suddenly reminded of US Secretary of Eduction Arne Duncan's interview on The Colbert Nation a couple months ago:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Arne Duncan
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorU.S. Speedskating

Notice that Secretary Duncan makes no mention of NCLB, but nearly everything he said is, in essence, NCLB. Also, NCLB highly resembles other movements in US reform history, the results of which are nearly identical to our results now.

Which has good intentions, but will probably not achieve the goals it set out to do.

So how can these goals be met? Should these goals be met at all? Does increasing the high school graduation rate actually mean these same graduates are now independent, well-rounded members of society, ready and willing to contribute to their communities?

I proposed in my paper that lasting societal changes can be - and are being - achieved through small individual choices by educators, students and parents. Teachers should adjust practices within their realm of influence in small, logistically manageable steps. Perhaps they can include one more group project that requires students to create something. Perhaps they can schedule an afternoon of community service at a local park, or even within their own school site. Perhaps schools can bring focus onto current national and world events by bring the news to the students, or, better yet, showing students how to get the news for themselves.

Then, perhaps, students will have both the skills and the mental initiative to become news-makers themselves.

(In a positive way. I don't think the world needs another "Britney is a bad mom" headline.)

Friday, November 27, 2009

Education for a democratic and pluralistic society: part 1 of 3

(As part of my Masters of Education, Instruction and Curriculum, I'm required to take a course called Education for a Democratic and Pluralistic Society [EDTE 251, Loeza]. Within this course, I was supposed to write two position papers on a topic of my choice, conduct an interview, and create a presentation using technology on the same topic. Here is part one of three of my technology project.)

Have you ever felt like a sardine packed in a tin can when seated in bleachers like the above picture? Yet, after awhile, you forget the discomfort - you get used to it.

US education reform often mirrors this "closed bubble" feeling. Why should we care what other students in other countries do in their public schools? All we need to do is focus on improving our own school system.

However, the pan-out picture from the aerial camera is much more spectacular than the tunnel vision available at individual seats. US education reformers should take note of what other countries have done in their reform histories, learning from their mistakes and perhaps adopting their successes to create a more well-educated society.

My first position paper, Education Reform: An International Agenda, was my comparison of various school reform histories in the US, Slovakia, and the Scandinavian countries (namely, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark). The comparison was very narrow and further study would be needed to gain a more complete picture of how various countries' public education systems are similar and different.

I had many sources, but the main ones were:

Hechinger, Fred M. About education; miracle cures seldom work in school reform. The New York Times. September 13, 1983. 1983/09/13/ science/about-education-miracle-cures-seldom-work-in-school-reform.html?&pagewanted=all

Kalin, Jana. Zuljan, Milena Valencic. Teacher perceptions of the goals of effective school reform and their own role in it. Educational Studies. Volume 33. No 2. June 2007. pp. 163-175.

Telhaug, Alfred Oftedal. Medias, Odd Asbjorn. Aasen, Petter. From Collectivism to individualism? Education as nation building in a Scandinavian perspective. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research. Volume 48. No 2. April 2004.

I noticed that education in the Scandinavian countries from sixty years ago was very similar to the US school system today. There is value in studying the process, and current results, of school reform in other countries to analyze how US reforms can improve. In the end, most countries' goals for educational reform is to create a more well-rounded, educated public which can produce (and reap) better economic and social benefits.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Events on Thanksgiving, before there was a Thanksgiving

I'm thankful for Haagen Dazs.

Last year, I posted about one school activity for Thanksgiving.

This year, I'm posting about other significant events that fall on this day. Since we are doing the Age of Exploration in social studies right now, let's talk about Captain James Cook and how he became the first European to land on Maui, on November 26, 1778!

Item #1: I wouldn't mind it if I was in Maui right now.

Item #2: Captain James Cook probably had much to be thankful for on that day. For example, he was probably thankful that he ship didn't capsize in the middle of the Pacific.

It's funny how people create random holidays like Thanksgiving. Not that it isn't a good thing. I would like to see more holidays, actually, especially between Labor Day and Veteran's Day. It's funny because most American holidays celebrate wars, the end of wars, conquests (aka Thanksgiving), and such. While, say, most of Europe takes the entire month of August off just for the heck of it.

Cultural differences and commonalities are fun, no?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

How to get your child out the door FAST

The cheese factor is high (as it is for nearly all Japanese TV), but there are some pretty good ideas on how to streamline a weekday morning routine.

Conferences ended yesterday. Out of a class of 28 fifth and sixth graders, we had to talk to five parents/grandparents about their student's consistent tardiness. In elementary school, it really isn't the child's fault when they are late to school - it has to be all parent. 6 out of 28 (there was one more, but it was a no-show) kids is a lot of regular tardies.

I know this school starts early - 8 AM - but it's not like the child is in kindergarten or anything. They are 10-12 year olds who are perfectly capable of waking up, dressing themselves, getting their school stuff together, and walking out the door when the parent does.

Is there whining? Stomp it out. Is there a late-waker? Get a louder alarm clock. Are they slow in the morning? Most of the time, this means that they are slow at any time of day. Which means you just need to get them to move faster.

I'm torn here because I do want the daily school schedule to change. School should NOT begin at the butt crack of dawn. But until that changes, get your student on campus, on time. Perhaps the following video will help the adults to move faster in the morning.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

We are all going to die

epic fail pictures
see more Epic Fails
If international media is portraying panic over swine flu accurately, then we would all have died of it by now. Pigs win.

Thankfully, it is not like that. Sure, some flu shot clinics around the Sacramento metro area have closed for some reason (I wasn't patient enough to wait for the news to say why they closed, just that they did and OMGHIDEUNDERTHECOVERS!). But other than a flyer or two going home to the parents, hand cleaner every day in class, nothing much has changed.

I have not taken the swine flu shot. I haven't even taken the regular flu shot - haven't since I turned the ripe old age of 24 and was no longer covered by my mom's health insurance. I have purchased my own, if only because I know it is a smart thing to do. But I have the cheap-o-matic coverage for the huge things. And the flu shot is not one of them.

I can shell out $20 and get the flu shot at my local Walgreens or Target (Safeway sometimes have them now too). Clinic shots are usually more expensive, plus you have to wait forever with mounds of paper work to keep you company.

Bunny trail: I really dig Taiwan's idea of each individual keeping their own health records on a "smart card." Your information travels with you, not with your doctor or health plan or whoever. More power to the consumer!

I haven't yet shelled out that $20. Probably won't this winter. I don't know why though, because this is a smart thing to do too. I've taken the flu shot every year, with one or two exceptions when I was out of the country, from the age of 7 through 24. My parents nag me about it every year. My excuse is that it is such a hassle (it is) and I want to use 2-3 hours of my life doing something other than filling out forms and filing them with my insurance (which I do).

The point of this post, I've forgotten. Taiwan's health care rules? Maybe that was it.

Photo from Fail Blog

Monday, November 23, 2009

Media Mondays: Make students your fans?

The title of this post over at The Thinking Stick initially took me by surprise. Why on earth would I want to make my students my "fan" on facebook? I'm not actually sure I even like the idea of "friending" my students on facebook, even though my facebook page is relatively free of private information (I hope).

However, Jeff Utecht does make a good point about setting an example of how to keep your private life private and still be connected to people you interact with on a daily basis. It might be nice for a student to leave me a message on my facebook fan page, because that is the way they they know how to connect with people.

On the other hand, if I see these kids every day, there really shouldn't be that much of a need to make contact through other means. I'm going to use face-to-face time the most. Phone and email next. Those three ways should cover all my communication bases, so anything else is just extra.

Of course, I'm speaking from an elementary teacher's point of view. When you have high school kids who take your two hour block scheduled class twice a week, it probably would help to have other means of communication. I would just make sure that saying things over a fan page on facebook holds as much seriousness as speaking in person. If I tell a student that an assignment is due on that day over facebook, it is due on that day. No room for interpretation.

Hm, now I want to take another look at how exposed I am online. Time to clean up my online presence by unsubscribing/deleting accounts, no?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Standards Sundays: Grade 5 life science

This post should also be known as another reason to flaunt the cuteness that is my rabbit.

In fifth grade, the life sciences are all about systems. Systems for breathing, eating, excreting, and the transport of materials within an organism. I'm still not so sure about this "students know" terminology splattered all over the standards. Know is a very, very low order of thinking. Besides, just because a kid can regurgitate something from a textbook doesn't mean much when it comes to true comprehension.

I'm no longer teaching fifth grade science in my current classroom. The fifth graders go out to another class, while the sixth graders stay. I like sixth grade science better, so far. It is nice to have a small group of fourteen students for a 50 minute period each week. The possibilities for labs and demos are nearly endless. My CT showed me where to order owl pellets, which this class will dissect in December. Can you say awesome?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Lessons from a rabbit

Lesson #1

Never bite the hand that feeds you. Although, once in a while, it is ok to give it a light nibble.

Lesson #2

The best thing to do after a tough day is sprawl out in a ray of sunshine and take a nap.

Lesson #3

A vegetarian, high fiber diet is good for the inside AND the outside.

Lesson #4

Watch out for hawks.

Lesson #5

Everything will turn out ok in the end, especially if you have proper grooming and utilize gentle nose nudges and chin rubs to get your own way.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Good to know

Apparently in California, I am qualified to take a first year special ed teaching position with only a Multiple Subject credential.

They expect you to at least begin the special ed credential within your first year of teaching.

Good to know. Special ed, bilingual ed, and math/science are hot, hot, hot in terms of openings.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


Today wasn't a bad teaching day. It was actually a pretty good teaching day. Students were productive, I ran a teacher/parent conference myself, I didn't bring any paper work home because I got it all done at school. Even the traffic wasn't too bad today.

But something happened to me earlier in the week which got on my nerves, and I've got to get it out or it will pickle my soul. Which is not a good thing, since I like my soul fresh.

There are some people who are just not gifted in teaching. I know a dude who is such, yet he continues to teach. He may be gifted at other things, but that is something he hasn't figured out yet because he is too busy being NOT-gifted at teaching.

His students are bored out of their minds in his class. They ditch it whenever possible. They hide out in my classroom until the last possible minute. They go reluctantly when I make them go. They are not being challenged and their needs are not being met through that class.

I feel sorry for these kids. Some of them are my former students, so I let them help me in my own class on certain weeks. They help out during special projects and games. They stand in as substitutes sometimes. We used to hold a special, small class on our own for them - especially for the girls - until we got too short-handed to do that any more.

He does not like it when I invite my former students over. He hasn't said as much, but his attitude towards me is palpable. He probably sees it as me luring his audience away. I see it as giving the students a chance to experience a more positive learning experience.

I had a little skirmish with him this past week - a rather public skirmish. I'm a little embarrassed at my immaturity for falling down to his level. But he made a whole lot of hoopla and zero helpfulness, and I was pissed off. It was wrong because he "corrected" something I did (my attempt to prevent the wrong thing in the first place) which made me do it wrong all over again, since I didn't have enough time to fix his "correction."

I got rather confrontational. I have no apologies for being confrontational, although I suppose I should have kept my voice down. He did make the choice of correcting me in the middle of the activity, rather than waiting until the end. He had that coming to him.

Long story short, it makes me really sad, and really angry that there are horrible teachers like that out there, teaching horribly. I am by no means a perfect teacher. But I am also not a teacher because I like to preen my ego by hearing myself bore the will to live out of a group of intelligent teenagers.

It also makes me rather annoyed/disappointed/angsty at people in general, because (except for a select few who have gotten the same, and more, from this dude) I am looked upon as the enemy. I'm the "bad guy" because I'm not fitting into this preconceived notion of QSAG - Quiet Submissive Asian Girl. That I got it coming to me since I "asked" for it by confronting him like that.

I am unapologetic for not fitting into someone else's ideas on who they think I should be. I spent 23 out of my 26 years being the QSAG, and I am SO over THAT.

I'm going to keep offering these opportunities to those teenagers. And if that dude doesn't like it, then so be it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The food chain

Mo says, "Please don't eat me."

Today in science:

Me: Humans are at the top of the food chain because they have the ability to hunt and eat nearly everything. In China, at the markets, they sell all sorts of things like roasted cockroaches and barbeque snake. On a dare, I ate bbq snake once.

Student 1: Did it taste like chicken?

Me: It was burnt, so it tasted like charcoal.

Student 2: My dad said when he was younger, he would catch rabbits and eat them.

Me: Yes, people can eat rabbits. But that story makes me a little sad. Do you know why?

Students (all): ::blank but curious stares::

Me: Because I have a rabbit at home.

Students (all): ::bursts out laughing::

I love teaching science at the elementary level. They are just so naturally curious about the world. I wish I could have science lessons every day.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Parent/teacher conferences

Viewing the paper work from this point of view.

Parent/teacher conferences began yesterday and will continue up to Thanksgiving break. This is my third time sitting through these as a student teacher. I got to participate a little, giving my input on the student's progress, during my first experience last fall. This time, I'm going to run some of these myself. My CT will be present, of course, but I'll be the sole person addressing the parent. Am I a teacher-geek for being excited about that? Absolutely.

So far, I've learned:

- schedule the Spanish/Russian/Hmong speaking parents back-to-back with the other Spanish/Russian/Hmong speaking parents so the translator doesn't have to hop back and forth, from day to day. They will have more energy to do a better job translating, AND they will like you more. It is important to have a good relationship with the support staff.

- schedule the "teacher intensive" (either on the parent's side, or on the student's side) early in the conference week. Some will be no-shows, which means I can call them and attempt to reschedule later in the week.

- conversely, schedule the model student/parent meetings later. It just makes it nice to end the conference week on a happy note.

- massively push to have most of the meetings in the early half of the week, because it is A WHOLE WEEK AND THEN SOME of conferences. It is a long slog. I will get tired.

- leave the last conference week day open. That allows room for reschedules - and if those aren't necessary, then I'll get to leave school at 12:15 PM! w00t!

- coordinate with the teachers of brothers and sisters of my own students. The parent will be happier about hitting all the meetings on one day, rather than returning multiple times for anxious meetings.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Media Mondays: Taskstream

Time for a replacement.

But don't replace it with something else that will fall apart even faster.

Taskstream is an online tool that I was required to subscribe to ($69 for 2 years). I still have it, but I don't use it anymore. Why? Because it is a completely useless piece of technology that gave me more headaches than not.

But we had to have it, because that was how we submitted our PACT project. So we used it.

I don't like it because only subscribers can access/post lesson plans on it. Which is nice, but if I can get lesson plan ideas for free elsewhere, why would I want to pay money for it?

It is also the most user-unfriendly thing on the face of the internet. Sure, it is customizable with colors and fonts. But there are way too many drop-down boxes, too many columns, too much clicking through things to get to the exact thing that I want. Too much of a hassle to keep up on a regular basis. I know of no one in my class who still uses this after submitting their signature assignments. I know of no actual teacher who uses this for lesson planning and sharing. It is just too time consuming for what little benefit it brings.

So I'm going to take Taskstream off my Educational resources links list. Although it's nice to know what a bad example of an educational tool is, I don't want to fill up space with something I no longer use.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Standards Sundays: Grade 5 physical science

The photo doesn't exactly speak "science," but it does remind me of what my area of the lab benches looks like after four hours of college chemistry experiments: bunches of stuff scattered here and there, each pile representing an attempt at the experiment. Most of them were failures.

And in the end, I didn't end up being a pediatrician, as I had dreamed of doing my freshman year. Ah well.

The fifth grade physical sciences consist mainly of elements, their properties, and the structure of atoms and molecules. Every standard in this section begins with three words:

Students will know

Say what? How come these state mandates standards begin with the pedagogical word which is forbidden of all student teachers? Know is such a vague word. It is also low on Bloom's Taxonomy, lacking any higher order thinking skills. Which is a little backwards to me, since science is all about the higher order thinking skills.

I wonder why physics isn't included in the physical sciences. Ok, so atomic interactions is technically physics (transfer of energy between atoms, movement of electrons). But I think physics is a much bigger part of science than chemistry. Perhaps chemistry is just more readily teachable?

In any case, I intend to have one targeted science lesson each week in my classroom, no matter K or 6th grade. I'll probably have a couple integrated science lessons here and there too. And these science lessons aren't from the text either. Yeah, I know. Lots of prep associated with this, but it'll be worth it.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A day in a life of a student teacher #4

8:50 AM - Down filled blankets are the best.

3:45 PM - Have I mentioned how much I like to stay home? Especially when I usually spend 12 hours a day outside of it.

6:17 PM - Christmas is almost here! Which means 2009 is almost over! Which also means that craptastic first half of the year will soon be considered "long past in the memory banks."

Friday, November 13, 2009

How my pants usually die

I found these ink stains on my carpet some months ago. They came from a leaky Muji pen, which is sad because Muji pens are my favorite pens ever. It's like I was betrayed by a best friend.

This happens to me more often than not though. I come home only to discover that I had been walking around with an ink stain on my pants from the pen I stuck in my pocket during teaching. Sad because that ink stain doesn't come off all the way. Sadder still because I have limited pairs of teaching pants.

Maybe that's why my skirts and dresses last a lot longer than my pants - they don't have pockets.

I sometimes wish I could just have a velcro - or magnetic, because it won't make that annoying ripping sound - band around my arm and stick pens to it. Kind of like those non-slip pads that keep things like cellphones and sunglasses sticking to the dashboard of cars. I would so buy that. It would be much more handy than any pocket. Especially since pants pockets have been growing smaller and smaller.

I'm not that only one that thinks so right? My theory is that clothing manufacturers cut costs by making the pockets smaller. I can barely fit my car keys in some of the pockets of my newer pants. My older pants can easily fit my keys, my phone, a lipgloss, and my wallet (in the other pocket). Which is convenient because then I don't have to carry around a bag.

The small pockets also ruin my pens more. The nibs get damaged, which makes them leak even more. The caps snag on fabric and snap off. Sometimes the whole pen doesn't even fit into the pocket, not even diagonally, which makes it uncomfortable as well as annoying.

The ink stains on my carpet doesn't really have anything to do with pants. I'm just reminded of my pen-and-pant-pocket dilemma from the photo. Make bigger pockets, people!

But you know, if my bigger worries from teaching is ink stains on my pants, then I really can't complain. It's been a good semester so far. I'll miss this.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Those who can't do, teach

Can you tell from this entry that I'm a little ticked about something?

I've heard that saying many times. I used to be one of the people who scoffed like that too. Sometimes, I still do.

But you know what? I'm ok with that. I don't know how to do a lot, so I'll learn. I don't know how other people do things, so I'll make it up and improvise. I don't know if it is the right way to do it, so I'll adjust, fixing my mistakes as I go along.

I may not be able to do much, but I'm evolving. Which is more than I can say of some people I know.

But hey, those who can't teach, just do.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veteran's Day

Veteran's Day is kind of like Labor Day in terms of school activities - if I do incorporate it into lessons, I don't want to just throw together a crafty thing with some sort of American national symbol on it. I want students to figure out the meaning. Why do we have a day for veterans? What is being a veteran like? Because it isn't all war and honor and glory.

The U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs has this entire PDF for teachers to use in relation to Veteran's Day. It studies several wars, the history of the day, how to fold a flag into that neat triangle, and distinguishes the different between Veteran's Day and Memorial Day.

There is only one living veteran from WWI. There are 2,306,000 from WWII, and 7,125,000 from Vietnam. I heard on the radio today that two-thirds of homeless people are veterans. Even though veterans have access to the best health care (and I'm assuming they have access to mental health care as well), there are some who don't get help.

I've only ever met two vets in person. They both kind of creeped me out. Granted, when I was a teenager, a lot of things creeped me out (think lion from Oz). I didn't really know how to interact with them, and since I didn't want to walk on eggshells around them (as I observed other people doing), I didn't interact with them much at all.

The radio anchor kept saying that the general public needs to thank the veterans more. Which is a little weird to me. Not that thanking them isn't a proper thing to do (it is), but to be honest, just saying "Thanks!" to a vet seems rather anti-climactic. Their needs are obviously not fulfilled just from thanks alone.

Someone tell me this is too political to teach in a classroom. Would I get into trouble for bringing up the issue?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Heart attack teaching day!

Kind of like what eating 16 of these will do to you. All at once. And only the chocolate-caramel outside.

Introducing a new tag: heart attack teaching day! I've actually had quite a few of these, so I'm surprised I've just thought of the idea now.

Today was a pretty big heart attack teaching day, even though it was only one incidence (oh yes, there are heart attack teaching days FULL of incidences). My routine is to go get the students at the recess bell and bring them in from the line in the playground. Today was no exception.

Except one of my students had an asthma attack. Without his inhaler on him.

I, nervous newbie student teacher that I am, panicked. By panic, I mean P.A.N.I.C.K.E.D.

What do you do when something like that happens to a student, and you can't leave the other 27 alone. And you are not certified to do any medical thing other than administer CPR (and I honestly never want to, even though I know how). And the school nurse is only on campus THREE DAYS out of the week due to budget cuts. And the school office where the student's extra inhaler and medications are, is a stone's throw away for a healthy person but seems like miles away for a kid who is being strangled by inflamed muscles. What the hell do you do?

Well, the proper procedures are to send another student (preferably a healthy one) with the asthma attack student to the office. Needless to say, I didn't do that.

Luckily, the student got over his attack. I'm not sure how one "gets over" an asthma attack without some sort of medication, but apparently he did.

In any case, it was a heart attack day for me. Note to self: be sure to know which student has what medical conditions! Have my own emergency kit in the classroom handy. And make sure said students have their inhalers on them at all times.

Monday, November 9, 2009


The Moon Festival (aka the "moon cake festival") was a couple months ago. But I still savor the memory of these delicious lotus seed paste and preserved egg yolk pastries.

This entry is basically non-education related. No apologies, it just is. I've been pretty good about posting once a day since November 1st (which was only a week ago, still I want to keep my goal going again) and I don't want to break that streak yet.

So here's looking at you moon cake. Let's meet up again soon.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Standards Sundays: Grade 5 science

Cars are physical sciences and deer life sciences. Dig down into the grass, or look up at the sky, for earth sciences.

The fifth grade science standards are broken up into four main parts: physical, life, and earth sciences, and investigation and experimentation.

Actually, investigation and experimentation is present in all the grade levels. Important much?

I've been lucky this semester to have been able to witness a science lesson once each week (with the exception of this past week, due to benchmark testing, and next week due to Veteran's day). In total, we have done one experiment and two demos.

Most of the time, the students read the textbook, answer the workbook questions, make posters and present them in groups. Which is not the most dynamic way to teach science. Nor the most effective in terms of content retention and synthesis. But we have one 55 minute time slot for science each week. And the prep for experiments is so intense, I don't even want to think of the clean up.

So of course, it doesn't seem unreasonable that most 5th graders score below basic in science. They don't receive all that much background on it in the year. The curriculum my current school uses has twelve chapters. My CT informs me that he's lucky to get through four of them by June.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Excuse me? Give Obama a what?

A case of too many cooks in the kitchen?

Ruben Navarrette Jr ("special" to CNN, whatever that means) wrote an opinion piece praising President Obama, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and their dovetailing ideas on education reform.

Now, I don't know all the details about the Obama administration's education reform plan. I've read news articles on it, I've watched interviews about it, I've discussed it with people who are studying it. After all that, I still don't really understand much of what is going on, and I'm not sure if that speaks more about my intelligence or about the sheer incomprehensibility that I've encountered.

Navarrette (2009) claims that there are three main points that support his opinion on why Obama "'gets'" the issues of American education today:

"1) There are low expectations, not just for students but also for parents, schools and whole communities that are written off as not able to compete academically. Too many educators let themselves off the hook by telling themselves that poor kids from struggling backgrounds are somehow incapable of learning as well as kids from wealthier communities.

2) Too many educators and politicians treat public schools as if they exist for the benefit of the adults who teach there rather than the kids who are supposed to learn there. Because teachers have unions and students don't, everything -- including the length of the school year -- is geared for the convenience of the work force and not the clientele.

3) Those intent on preserving the status quo resist tooth and nail any attempt to hold them accountable by linking teachers to the performance of their students or, in an idea that Louisiana is trying and that Duncan smiles upon and would like to see spread to other states, tracing back teachers to the schools of education that produced them."

The following is my opinion, targeting these three points:

1) In a way, many people do have low academic expectations. But he is confusing "expectations" with "the bald and true facts which generate mind blowing explosions of confusion and stunned expressions." I also have never met a single teacher who believed students from low SES backgrounds are "incapable of learning." Oh they can learn alright. I know students who can absorb, evaluate, apply, and extrapolate knowledge on wider and deeper levels than some college educated adults.

They are just not learning the same things as students from higher SES backgrounds, mostly because of two reasons - access and culture. And in that way, the fact remains. It is not that they lack the ability to compete. It's that they are currently not competing at all. At least not in the way traditional American education and economics define competition.

2) Oh hell no. You did not just trample upon my rights to have a fulfilling, and decently paid job with which I can "pursue life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." The ideal of schools fully benefiting the "work force" and the "clientele" is just that, ideal. Because right now, no one is benefiting from schools very much at all.

The traditional school year is geared for the convenience of small farm agricultural practices, which was the driving force of the American economy way back when. It came about because early American students were mostly children of farmers, and they had to return home by the early afternoon to help with chores. Which meant they had to arrive at school (if they arrived at all) at the butt crack of dawn. This is why some schools start at 7 AM and release at 12:30 PM.

There are still some independent farms, and this system works well for that community. But most students live in urban or suburban areas, and their afternoons are freely used to wander the streets, watch too much trashy TV, crowd the local strip malls, or sit at home alone. These students arrive at school half asleep. Those who take part in federally funded after school programs arrive home, again half asleep. During certain parts of the year, they do not see the light of day in their own home (I know I don't). I don't need to be in the medical profession to see the potential health dangers here.

Navarrette probably hasn't experienced the circus that is afternoon release time either. Cars lined up on dinky residential streets (or clogging up major roads), picking up students (or running them over - hey, it has happened), leaving cars running as the parent goes into the school to "talk for a minute" with the teacher (it never is just a minute). Not to mention the inconvenience to the parent of having to leave work (assuming they work at that time) to pick up their kids. And some employers don't allow even that.

And really? I'm sure I don't speak for only myself when I say that arriving at school just a few minutes before students, and staying after school another two hours is "convenient." Let's be clear: IT IS NOT. It is not convenient to hit the ground running the moment my foot lands on campus. It is not convenient to have a 10 minute recess during the morning's three and a half hours - and 98% of the time, it is a recess in name only. It is not convenient to have a 40 minute lunch, 10 minutes of which is used to line up students and take them to where they need to go, 10 minutes to actually eat AND pee (not at the same time, but I'll be lying if I said I wasn't tempted to sometimes), and 20 minutes prepping/lesson planning/taking care of individual student needs because there is zero time to address them during official class time. It is not convenient to cram four more subjects in the day's remaining two hours. It is not convenient to have two 50 minute preps for the entire week. It is not convenient to use half of those preps covering for classes where the sub didn't show, or fixing the copier that has once again jammed, or helping a colleague with students who have issues that is not the fault of the school, the teacher, his peers, or even himself. It is not convenient to bring stacks of grading back to my house for me to burn the midnight oil.

Granted, not every teacher does this. I only just started bring work home this week because I've been teaching more. But teachers do. And it is not convenient, and that is the truth.

I'm not even going to attempt to TRY to find out how Navarrette sees convenience in all of that - and then some - for anybody.

3) Ok, the second half of this point doesn't sound all that bad. There are some pretty awful teacher preparation programs out there - however the pre-service teacher won't know it until they have been through the grind. So it might be nice to have some sort of "best school" ranking there, like how they do it for undergrad and grad.

But I am a huge non-proponent for judging teachers based solely on the academic performance of his/her students. Huge. Of course it should be a part of the assessment, but definitely not the whole.

The opposite of linking student academics to teacher performance isn't keeping the status quo, as Navarrette assumes. Actually, it IS the status quo. Has been for the past 7-8 years. But apparently, they've forgotten about that little bit in NCLB - that's what chucking the terminology and keeping the meaning does to your mind.

It is not fair to judge a teacher for things that are outside of their control. Academic performance is only partly within the realm of a teacher's reach - some of it is not. Background knowledge, home culture, community culture, SES (it comes back to that too, doesn't it?), disabilities, and emotional issues that the student deals. Teachers definitely make a dent in these things for the better. It does not happen all at once, over the course of a single year. Besides, by the time the positive effects the teacher has accomplished over students finally take hold, the teacher has had at least one other group of students with a completely different set of unique needs of their own. Thus, the cycle continues.

What is the status quo right now? It is a bureaucracy. There is a chairperson for this, a director for that, a committee that does something else, and a superintendent who over sees God only knows what. "Bureaucracy feeds upon itself," that's what it is now. If each of those people on the staff hierarchy takes 30 minutes each week to tutor a student, there would be much more learning going on. I welcome anyone to use my classroom after school for tutoring. Because I'll be across the room, doing the same thing. The only difference is that I'll probably be doing it every day of the week.

More accountability means more bureaucracy. And I have never seen a single piece of scientific research that says bureaucracy improves student academic performance.

Whoa, I just realized how to fill the remaining 4 pages of my next paper. Nice.

Friday, November 6, 2009


When did education become the panacea for societal woes, and how did it happen?

Thursday, November 5, 2009


That's how I feel right now. Eh. Like a darkened room with only a sliver of light. Gloomy inside, cheerful outside, and the cheer only reaches shallowly into the room.

Maybe that's my problem. I'm being shallowly cheerful. It's like how sometimes people expect you to smile, and you don't feel like smiling, but in the end you do anyway. I did anyway today, and I'm not proud of that.

Today wasn't a bad teaching day per say. But I wasn't satisfied with it. It could have been better. I could have been stronger. More serious, especially about handing out consequences. The card system works only if I put weight behind it. And I don't.

I will tomorrow. I hope it's not too late.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


Some snippets of awesome (or more like awesomely hilarious) writing from my students. The writing assignment was to write a three paragraph "how to" essay. Parentheses are my own thoughts, not communicated to the students of course.

"How to act dum (sic)" was the title of one essay. (um.....)

"Have your siblings ever gotten you in trouble? Well, now it's your turn to get them in trouble." (vindictive much?)

"Have you ever flushed a fish in the toilet? That is the improper way of taking care of them." (no joke)

"As bait, put your sister's favorite toy on the floor." (another essay about tricking siblings; I'm reminded of Homer and donuts)

"If you haven't tried homemaid, try it you will have a blast (sic)." (that's what she said. ok, ok, vulgar, yes, but still hilarious)

"Are you hungry? If yes, then you should read my essay on how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich." (as if reading an essay will ease hunger. actually this student is a pretty good writer, it's just this part was too funny)

"If your pie is cheesecake, DON'T MICROWAVE IT!!!!" (or else it will become cheesecake soup?)

"Annoying your younger sibling is worth it." (does Loreal know you are taking their catch phrase?)

"Tip number one: you must get paid for watching the kids, or the deal is off." (employee rights! booyah!)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Why it is great to be a student

Photo from:

And why I would like to be a student forever.

Reason #1:

Despite all the gun/rape/robberies/etc craziness, school is still a comforting and safe place to me. It is a place where nearly everyone has a significant number struggles in common: midterms, paper deadlines, boring lectures, expensive textbooks, fee hikes. In general, people at any given school are friendly and decent - and whatever weirdness they have is usually founded upon something like, say, a passion for dropping eggs off the top of a building.

Reason #2:

There is so much to learn and being a part of school allows you access to information on a level most people off the street do not have. Libraries (although public university libraries are open to the public), databases, professors who are the experts, if not the ONLY expert, in their particular field, classes filled with people studying the same thing you are. They are also up to the challenge of lively debate.

Reason #3:

You get to make things like this for the community, for fun, and because you can.

Reason #4:

Every day is different. Or at least has something different about it. Studying and classes can be boring, of course, and too much change isn't necessarily a good thing. But it isn't as monotonous as a 9-5 job/life.

Reason #5:

Oh my goodness, the flexibility! There is nothing like sleeping in on a week day, shopping during the "housewife hours," or knowing that you get most federal/state holiday in existence. Plus, June, July, and August anyone? Or at least the equivalent of it.

Reason #6:

The fact that you are given incredible amounts of slack for certain things, just because you are a student. You get special checking account privileges, discounts nearly everywhere, and a special buffer-zone for mistakes made (with the assumption that you are going to learn from them, right?). Granted, there are other expectations out of you too. But they generally are reachable. And if they aren't, there is a whole network of people willing and able to help you reach it.

Reason #7:

You are a write-off on your parent's taxes through the age of 24. You also get to be on their employer's health benefits (also until the age of 24, for CA that is). I no longer fit under this category, but my parents sure enjoyed it.

Disclaimer: Don't get me wrong here. I love being a part of the workforce as well. There is something oddly satisfying about balancing the check book (does anyone do this anymore, in our world of online banking?) and paying all the bills for the month in full and on time. Still, if I had to choose one or the other, I know what my choice will be.

What are your reasons for extending the student lifestyle?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Media Mondays: LOL Graphs

song chart memes
see more Funny Graphs

LOLcats, dogs, celebs, etc. You name it, there is an LOL for it. My personal favorite is still FAIL Blog, which never fails to entertain. Or at least remind me that I am not so dumb after all. Which is a huge achievement in this profession, since I can feel like the biggest loser on any given teaching day. Courtesy of an unpredictable job.

But GraphJam, another arm of the LOL empire, is quickly rising to the top of my favorite web time-wasters. There are some true ringers in there, as well as a few where the graphs are used incorrectly and the occasional ones where I frankly just don't get.

song chart memes
see more Funny Graphs

It's a fun, sometimes poignant, sometimes riotous, sometimes plain rude way of laying out certain facts about certain things. Graphic organizers, to me (probably because I'm mainly a visual learner), are one of the top five teaching strategies ever.

song chart memes
see more Funny Graphs

I find this an even better resource not only because I just finished a horrific unit on reading and creating graphs in the new McGraw-Hill math curriculum a few weeks ago. Horrific as in the students had no idea what was going on - and honestly, they really don't need to. At the fifth grade level, knowing the finer differences between a line graph and a line plot are just not necessary.

song chart memes
see more Funny Graphs

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Standards Sundays: Grade 5 speaking applications (genres and their characteristics)

Confidence will make any presentation - including banging on trash cans - decent.

It's been a while since I've posted something of substance here. It's been a busy, busy few weeks. And of course it won't slow down yet. At least there are three no-school days in November.

Speaking, as in presentations, are a large part of my current classroom. Much larger than any other classroom I've been yet (other than ESL that is). Here are what fifth graders are supposed to master by the end of the school year:

Basically, students deliver narrative, informative, and oral responses to literature using supporting evidence, showing rather than telling, and with a mastery of the English language.

This is pretty much what they are supposed to do in their writing. Now, it's just through spoken words.

I would add a little something here. Students need to speak clearly, audibly, with expression and eye contact with the audience, and with fluency of the materials they are presenting. Which means they don't need prompts from the teacher to keep them going to the end.

All of this is really difficult to do. Which is probably why we practice to so much in my classroom. I highly agree with this. Fifth grade students need a chance to speak in front of a group of people at least once a week.

And that's the end of the ELA content standards for 5th grade. Whew! Next up: science!