Sunday, February 28, 2010


House cleaning on a whole new level.

Just, whoa.

A precedence has been set. I predict there will be more.

Saturday, February 27, 2010


Peeking in to look at the blog. Ok, leaving now.

Friday, February 26, 2010

California Academy of Sciences

All photos in this post were taken by my friends, M&B. Unfortunately, about ten minutes before we entered the Academy, my water bottle leaked all over my 4-year-old Canon Powershot while both were in my bag. The water bottle won.

Hence, there were many other photos I would have loved to take, but alas, that was not meant to be. Still, this place is awesome. Totally worth shelling out for tickets and a bus to go to. The aquarium and the planeterium were my favorite, especially the weird seadragons.

The older exhibits from when I was in elementary school were still there too. They had less attraction now, especially compared to the newer, cooler things.

I also remember this place having a nice collection of reptiles and bugs before they renovated. Much more than was present in the rainforest exhibit. Where did they all go?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Blocking the view

Last week, I met a new tutoring student. She is in the 12th grade. She is the first student I've met who is one of the statistics concerning high school grads and their lack of basic math skills. Which end up hindering them like that tree hinders the view of the house above.

Because she doesn't know her multiplication tables. It really shouldn't take a 12th grader a full minute to figure out what 3x9 is.

You can imagine how lacking she is in her division facts too.

But props to her for resisting the urge to use a calculator. She's a quick learner too, so I'm not worried about her progress.

However, those times tables need work. It's something that should be down pat, backwards and forwards, but the end of 4th grade. If not sooner.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


I have visitors throughout this week. We had lots of fun, and more to come. Which also means blogging will be light, full of placeholders like this one.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

When discipline works

Things stack up well.

Remember this event that happened with this class? Well, a couple parents did call me later and we all had productive chats. One parent showed up to the last art class of the session and made sure things went well.

And they did. All the students were excellently behaved. All had fun. All worked hard on a lesson that I had waited, and waited, and waited to teach them because I wasn't sure if the class, as a whole, was mature enough to handle it. All were in awe of their art portfolio, which was handed back to them on that day.

Thus, I'll be back at this school in a couple weeks when the new session starts up, with carefully trained students who have finally gotten used to me and my tendency to not let them get away with anything less than their best.

Goal for next time: cultivating self-motivation in students to not allow themselves to get away with anything less than their best.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Wi-Fi bus

This is highly fascinating.

Scanning the comments to that post is equally fascinating, if not more so. People do love to put down a potentially bright idea.

Well, at least I think it is a bright idea. Sure, those kids on the bus are probably facebooking or tweeting. Both of those activities involve reading, writing, and interacting with peers. School internet connections have HUGE firewalls (so huge that you can't even access youtube - that plethora of teaching resources unfortunately, is also a plethora of soft porn) so it's safe to say that the bus kids aren't doing anything overtly inappropriate like that.

And then, there's Big Brother in the kid sitting behind you on the bus. The kid who will shout, "Ew! He's looking at pr0n!" for the entire bus to hear. The threat of that should quell the rest of those savy enough to get around the firewall.

Cyber-bullying is the only serious contender for concern here. That's something to be addressed anyway, even without a wi-fi enabled bus.

A quiet bus means the bus driver is not distracted by what's happening inside the vehicle, so they can focus on what's going on outside.

In defense of the argument that students become less aware of their surroundings with their faces melded to monitors: Just because a kid is aware of what is happening on the outside doesn't mean they can can handle that kind of situation with a level head. They most definitely can't prevent a drunk driver's determination to plow into the side of the bus. On the off chance of it occurring, there will be plenty of screaming and hysterics. Heightened, in fact, if the kids were screaming and acting near-hysterically to begin with, as opposed to relaxing while catching up on the latest LOLcats.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

11:40 PM

This is your teacher's pet, holding a place, keeping the carpet warm for you. You're welcome.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The student teaching component

Some people call it an extended job interview. Others call it the best learning experience of their lives. Still others consider it to be a time of painful out-growing of naive, idealistic hopes and dreams.

I call it all of the above.

Everybody's student teaching experiences are going to be different, even if the requirements (set by the university where the credential program is held) are different.

Which leads to the most frequently asked question on student teaching that I've heard yet: why do the requirements differ from university to university? I don't know, although I can guess. Some places only require four weeks of shadowing a classroom teacher. Others, like CSUS, requires two full semesters - one at part-time (i.e. half of each week), and the other at full-time (basically all day everyday). I did all my student teaching at Title I schools, and even though they had a lot in common, they had even more differences.

Room 10, first iteration.

My first student teaching experience was in a first grade classroom at a Title I school. It is my favorite out of the three. It was difficult, exhausting, fun, frustrating. I grew the most, as a teacher, here, in large part due to the highly hands-on, guidance my CT gave me. I walked in apprehensive of 5-7 year olds, and walked out armed with skills, knowledge, and confidence for the next step. I also learned to love teaching first graders. They are hilarious.

Room 14 - ominous, since "14" in Chinese means "certain death." The woman in this photo was a fellow student teacher. I got a lot of support from my fellow student teachers while at this school. Thank you!

My next student teaching assignment was at a school that had recently undergone various administrative changes. They had four different principals in as many years before the one that was there (still is, I think) when I was there. The students were pretty much like most students I've seen. They all have their own individual baggage of course, but I never viewed that as a handicap, or an excuse. Still don't.

I never really fitted in at this school. Never really understood the reason why, but I guess "why?" is a moot question. I just didn't make it. Period. There were many subtle undercurrents within the intermediate teaching staff that I grasped not at all - and liked even less. While I was there, I got the feeling that the primary teaching staff - in general a much more uniformly formal group, at least on school grounds - looked down upon the intermediate teachers. Including me, a person they had just met. A lot of this occurred, a lot of "inside jokes" and clichishness. A lot of rumors. A type of casualness with the students I didn't feel comfortable with.

I learned a lot in the short seven-and-a-half weeks I was here. A lot in terms of depth AND breadth AND intensity. This experience is listed on my resume, despite some people telling me that isn't a good idea. I am not ashamed of what I did here. I was prepared. I worked hard. I gave my excellence at this place, for these students. It wasn't enough to get on any where near the medal podium. Sometimes your best is not enough. So goes life.

Room 10, second iteration.

My phase-3-take-2 was at an incredible rare school - winner of various awards, including the Title I Academic Achievement School for nearly a decade. Straight. The students here were the sweetest I've ever met. The staff here actually enjoyed teaching nearly all the time - and they enjoyed working with each other. The front office people are the nicest. Ever. And I've seen a lot of front office people through teaching after school art.

I had it easy at this school, not just in comparison to the previous semester, but relative to the entire realm of classroom teaching. Thus, I became a bit complascent and fell into some difficult to correct bad teaching habits. My CT had to lay it down pretty hard before I even began to get out of that rut.

Towards the end of my student teaching here, I got the opportunity to observe 3/4 of the entire staff at work. Most of them were excellent. There were a few who were good, but were given the short end of the stick and were struggling to corret it (one teacher entered in the middle of the semester because of staff changes, and another had to deal with a class that the student teacher ruined). Watching them, and their classes, was eye-opening. There were a small handful that were horrible - even I, n00b and green, could see that. My CT had advised me to watch these people. He didn't tell me why, he was just pretty adamant about it, so I went. Afterwards, he told me he wanted me to see some really bad teaching in action from these teachers - I wasn't the only one who thought they could improve much.

And there you have it: my 2.5 semesters worth of student teaching summarized, and yet there is so much more that occured than in just this summary. So goes teaching in general. I can summarize my thoughts in reflection until my fingers fall off, but it still doesn't say it all.

Then again, some things are more powerful unsaid.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Panic-anxiety attacks are never fun

:::One of the best ways to work myself into an anxiety attack is to plan and research things with other people in mind. I love planning for myself - planning for lessons is included in this category, since I'm the one who will be teaching the lessons. But planning for the entertainment and comfort of others makes me want to curl up in a corner and rock back and forth. I guess I don't make a good tour guide.

:::One of the best ways to calm myself down are familiar, repetitive motions. Like folding laundry, or knitting, or sharpening pencils. I love sharpening pencils. However, I don't love it enough to not plan on assigning students to do this chore in my own classroom. It'll probably be a luxury activity to calm my nerves.

:::Really should get back to playing tennis. I stopped going to my usual group because it wasn't challenging enough. I hunted for other groups, but the timing was never right. I might be able to wake up early enough next time to go.

:::That said, I HAVE been playing tennis on my own - against the wall, at the park, and with the tennis trainer on a string. Until my rabbit decided the rubber band that attached the ball to the base seemed delicious and chewed through it.

:::More yoga and other exercising would be nice too. I've been lazy lately, in more ways than one.

:::Job hunting continues. I think I figured out a major application mistake through a friend's more careful questioning of EDjoin's practices: create a separate document that states "Please see credential/resume" for the NCLB compliance requirements. My credential includes that already, but some still do not. And some applications make you prove it separately. Which is an additional step for me, one which I've been skipping. Bogus? Yes. But hey, just because I go through hoops doesn't mean I'm a poodle.

:::Tutoring and art classes continue. I kind of love tutoring. I'm getting really good at working with students one-on-one. Art classes prevent me from forgetting how to handle large groups of students. A nice, albeit slow, increase in my skills, I think. Unfortunately, no matter how good I get at teaching, there will always be those situations/people that result in crying from frustration.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Most annoying teaching pet-peeve

Photo from here.

I've been told that having a blog and being a teacher isn't the most brilliant idea on earth. One teacher I met last semester told me she thinks teachers blogging about teaching is bad because she "wants to keep her job."

I had several questions for her, including: 1) Does she really think blogs are for complaining only? 2) Why would she want to teach at a school where the education philosophies don't align with her own, not even a little? and 3) Why are you still in teaching if you have such quantities of deeply negative stuff to say about your job?

She never really answered those questions. She probably doesn't know the answers to those questions. It's ok, because I don't either. But that's why I blog - to make sense out of this sometimes senseless line of work. Still, she has a point. Thus, I'm generally guarded about what I put on this blog.

Fast-forward to today. Because today, I'm going to blog about something that might not exactly put me in a good light with the higher-ups in charge of hiring and firing. Appearances are everything in this field.

However, that's not going to stop me from talking about the single most annoying teaching pet-peeve. EVER.

More than my pet-peeve of disorganized teachers who regularly lose student work.

More than my pet-peeve of teachers letting their classrooms go so that it resembles a natural disaster more than a classroom.

More than even my pet-peeve of people interrupting my teaching for non-urgent things.

I'm talking about socializing during teaching. This is just not professional. I do it on a rare occasion with parents/administration because they are parents/administrators. The administrators will generally get out of your hair after a few seconds of how-do's. They WANT you to not be unnecessarily distracted while teaching. Similarly with parents, I can say a polite, "excuse me, I need to get back to the students, but I'll talk to you later." Parents get the hint and they, too, don't want to take away from their student's instruction by being in the teacher's face.

No, I'm talking about other teachers. You'll know it when you see it: a cluster of teachers huddled together and chit-chatting while their charges are mainly left to their own devices.

Big. No. No.

This is fine at an actual social gathering, where adults should have precedence over children. Where it's ok to tell your kid, "Kid, I'm talking to another grown-up. Unless it's an emergency, don't interrupt please."

However, in a teaching situation, no. Just no.

I hate this habit in teachers. From what I've seen, it happens the most with female teachers age 20-30, the ones who have only been teaching for a very short time, to a very limited demographic on very limited topics. They probably are not credentialed. These women tend to be recently married, without kids, as well. I don't know if that's just a coincidence or not.

I suppose I should cut them some slack because they haven't had the training, haven't logged that many teaching hours. It takes lots of work over lots of time to become even just a half-way decent teacher. Don't I know it.

However, they only have themselves to blame when they are so self-satisfied that they spend more effort visibly preening in public than in actually trying to teach well.

They are the ones who will most likely say, "Oh, it's ok that the student didn't color the background. If students don't want to color, then they don't have to."

Riiiiiight. So if students don't WANT to go to school, does that mean they don't have to? If students don't WANT to aim for excellence because it's too hard (or whatever their half-baked reason is), does that mean they don't have to? According to this logic, sooner or later, students won't be doing much of anything at all, because they didn't want to.

I overheard one of these self-satisfied, preening teachers whisper to another of the same ilk, "Ms. B is INCREDIBLY unsocial, isn't she?" The other replied, "Totally! She's so unfriendly, and such a slave driver." A fit of hushed giggling followed as I passed by their corner, their bangles and rings jangling and gleaming as they moved to hide their condescending smiles.

So they entertain themselves with comments about me, standing around leisurely, as I run around dealing with obstinate students who "don't want to" finish their task, students who are playing light-sabers with the markers, students who haven't managed to focus on one task for longer than five minutes, students who get discouraged/tired/bored because they are used to quitting without truly trying - without many opportunities to push their limits in order to expand them.

Actually, I don't even mind it when those other teachers are standing around leisurely. I don't mind doing more of the teaching - I prefer that they stand on the sidelines and I take charge. They do serve a good purpose sometimes: they hold down the fort when I'm dealing with behaviors, or leading the students out to the pick-up zone, or answering questions from parents and school staff. I kind of wonder what goes on when they are left to be "in charge" of the room. I wish I could see them stepping up, because that would be encouraging.

I don't mind their benign presence at all. What I do mind is when they expect me to join their circle - and then tell me I'm a bad teacher when I don't.

This kind of criticizing is probably what the teacher who doesn't like blogging means. It is dangerous to speak poorly of colleagues, because perhaps I don't know the whole story. It is dangerous to be too out-spoken against the industry in this industry, because who knows when a colleague will become your boss. Most dangerous of all is taking any action which might change the status quo - perhaps for the better, perhaps for the worse, perhaps it'll get worse before it gets better. Whichever way, it's too great a risk. I don't know why.

So what do I know? I know that my boss relies on me to make my classes pleasant, to give my students a sense of well-earned success, and to teach them ways to take their art to the next level. I can't do that while standing around, blowing the breeze with other teachers.

I know students who walk into my classes with behavior issues, hating life/school/teachers/art/themselves, then later, walk out with an entire portfolio of drawings and an attitude that any teacher anybody would approve of. I can't do that with lax standards or permissive discipline.

I know students who walk into my classes as shy as a pill bug (and with personalities just as small), then later, walk out head up, shoulders back, unashamed of their accomplishments and ready to show the world how sweet and awesome they are. I can't do that by being inattentive to their introspective needs.

Granted, not every class is a success story, and not every student I've taught has grown exponentially like that, or at all. But there has been enough to make me think I'm doing something right.

So go ahead and gossip about my methods and my "mean teacher" ways to your cronies, dear colleague. In the end, I would have done my job and done it well. Can you say that about yourself?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Abolition of Man

Ok, definitely not kids' lit, as the tag below says. This book is barely grown-up lit, considering that The New York Times is written at a 7th grade level and all.

In short, this is one dense book.

Dense, but compact. A scant three chapters long, it took me a week to finish it. Then another two weeks to re-read it for actual understanding. The language is a little arcane, which didn't help matters that much. C.S. Lewis lived in the 20th century, yet he tends to write like a 12th century monk. No judging, just an observation. It's probably because he was a professor of medieval and renaissance English.

Still, a very thought provoking read. I'm never not shocked at how education hasn't changed a single iota in the past millennium. Someday, that shock will turn into de-sensitization, I suppose. Until then, I'm ok with being shocked every so often. Wakes me up a little, you know?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


The face says, "Dude, I'm WAY too manly to make rice krispie treats." Does that mean he's too manly to eat them too?

My Tuesday evening art class in one of my favorites. A very small class, I can give each student all the attention in the world, which is necessary since I have two kinders, two first, a second, a fourth, and a fifth grader in the class. In the beginning, some over-ambitious parent wanted to force their pre-preschool kid into the class too. Needless to say, that didn't work out well.

There are two boys in this class. Brothers, one being the second grader and the other being a kinder. Their personalities are very similar. They are high energy, humorous, fun-loving. Both have grown a lot in terms of their illustration skills the in 4-weeks I've taught them.

They are also both easily bored, easy to tire, easy to enter into an unexplainable tantrum of stubbornness that demands all my wit and wisdom to evade.

Last Tuesday, the older brother came to art class with a bit of a cough. He had been sick all week, which explained their absences two weeks ago.

So I do my thing, and the students do theirs. Quite a bit of sophisticated banter go on with this class, another reason why I love teaching them. We enter the coloring stage of the lesson without any mishaps or misbehaviors.

Fifteen minutes left of that lesson, things started going sour. Older Brother is wiped out by this time; his cough gets worse. He starts complaining. Younger Brother follows and for what seemed like forever (although in reality it was probably only thirty seconds) there is a barrage of whine.

I nip it in the bud as soon as I caught on that they were just getting started, rather than simply letting off some steam. I cajole, I encourage, I joke, I push, I sympathize, I tell stories, I jump start their art by "helping" them along, coloring side by side. I'm jumping back and forth across the table from one brother to the other. Older Brother manages to pull himself together enough to complete the coloring. Younger Brother gets about 3/4 done.

That was a long fifteen minutes.

I cut the session a few minutes short, since tempers were getting shorter and shorter as well. I tell the students that clean up time would be a whole group effort that day. I tell them all to grab the closest pencils, sharpies, baskets of markers and color pencils, blotter paper and bring them to me. I tell them to keep grabbing stuff off the table until it was all returned to me. I had one student oversee the markers and color pencils being put back in their respective boxes for transportation (note: I haul all the materials to each art class in a rolling cart). The girls are in a frenzy of activity, some of them spilling more than they are picking up, but all are pitching in. All are participating, even enjoying it.

I notice the two brothers, Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum, just hanging out in the back of the room by the door.

I say, "Hey now boys! What's going on? The girls are currently beating you in cleaning up."

Older Brother, obviously the more mature of the two, drags his feet and weakly picks up one pencil from the table and returns it to the pencil box. I thank him sincerely, knowing he's at the end of his stamina for the night, what with the cough and all.

Younger Brother huddles closer to the door and says, with literal full-stops between each word, "I. Don't. Care!"

Younger Brother is probably at the end of his stamina too, although he shows it in a much less polite manner.

It should be stated now that their mother was present in the room throughout the session. In this situation, I allowed the parent to handle the child. Props has to go to their mother for pulling Younger Brother aside and giving him a firmly quiet bit of verbal discipline.

If the parent wasn't in the room, I would have swooped upon Younger Brother and given him a calm, controlled speech that would have shamed him until he turned fifteen. I would have held him back after all the other students had left and made him wipe down the tables by himself. I would have made him apologize to me and his classmates for disrespecting them, the teacher, himself, and the space we use for art.

Too harsh for a kinder student? Maybe. But better now when it's relatively easy to reform bad habits than when he's actually fifteen. Now THAT would be harsh.

As it was, it took all my self-control not to intervene with parent and Younger Brother. They left. Older Brother said a polite "good-bye." Younger Brother said nothing, but did look a little shame-faced.

Thus, I tie it all back to the title of this post: boys are in danger, serious danger, as a demographic group. Girls and women are on the rise. Even if equal pay still has something to be desired, the female students (and people) I know are generally more disciplined, more considerate, and more engaged in school/life. Boys, not so much. What is up with that? How can I teach this group better? What exactly is going on with the boys?

I'm still waiting for an apology from Younger Brother. I suppose I'll wait forever, but if they show up tonight with longer-lasting good attitudes, then I'm satisfied.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Classroom friendly printer

Photo from here.

I enjoy following innovative designs of familiar things. My google reader is filled with items involving vases made from soda bottles and see-through refrigerators.

The most recent thing I've found in my internet 'trolling that would be most useful in a classroom is the pencil printer. Useful because:

a) printer ink is more expensive than blood.

b) in 98% of classrooms, teachers pay for printer ink out of their own pocket.

c) a classroom does a boatload of printing.

d) the printers themselves are loud, inefficient, and on the verge of crumbling at the very thought of being housed in the same room with 35 other bodies.

e) classrooms are filled to the brim with pencil stubs. I found one in a light fixture once. Another time, I found a whole stash behind a bunch of books in the shelves - as if some kid was a squirrel and pencil stubs were his acorns.

f) half the things I print out for teaching become obsolete within a year, so I might as well erase the old info in order to reprint new info on the same paper.

This pencil stub printer probably costs thousands of dollars though. So in the end, a regular printer is still more immediately affordable.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Standards Sundays: Grade 5, oh say can you see?

"Purple mountains majesty" probably wasn't about the Coast Range, but it's close enough.

While reading through these standards again, I'm constantly surprised at how MUCH there is for a fifth grader to learn in social sciences. I'm not sure I remember half this stuff from when I was a fifth grader. Is it about time for me to put aside the surprise? Maybe.

The next strand in this subject, in this grade level, deal with the US Constitution and "American values." Whatever they are.

Three substrands strike my interest:

5.7.1. List the shortcomings of the Articles of Confederation as set forth by their critics.

5.7.5. Discuss the meaning of the American creed that calls on citizens to safeguard the liberty of individual Americans within a unified nation, to respect the rule of law, and to preserve the Constitution.

5.7.6. Know the songs that express American ideals (e.g., “America the Beautiful,” “The Star Spangled Banner”).

The first two above are quite intellectually stimulating. Why are there shortcomings when the founding fathers (supposedly) put a lot of careful thought into writing the thing? Is it really the average citizen on the street's job to preserve the Constitution when we have congress people and presidents and other public servants to do it for us? Are there any laws that DON'T safeguard the liberty of individual Americans; if so, how and why were they ratified and how can they be corrected so it does protect individual liberty?

The last of the three is just plain hilarious.

Don't get me wrong, those songs are great. However, I can't help but think of the rodeo scene from Borat.

Which is horribly sad because those songs are gorgeous. "America! America!/
God mend thine every flaw/Confirm thy soul in self-control/Thy liberty in law!" And then, "Till selfish gain no longer stain/The banner of the free!" Rather more noble than what most people learn. I didn't realize that "America the Beautiful" had eight stanzas. I thought it was more like six. Which is still longer than the one that most Americans know. And by "most Americans," I mean the relatively small number who actually know of the song.

The meaning of the songs are more important than the song themselves of course. All those "critical liberals" sometimes do go a little too far in mocking the singing of these songs. Conversely, all those "red-neck conservatives" do the song injustice by taking only a little bit of it - and out of context at that.

In any case, it would be fun to perform these songs with my class. In a rap, or an opera, or interpretative dance, or through sign language. That would put a fun and challenging twist to the lesson.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Happy Chinese New Year's Eve!

Nowadays, you can find all sorts of information on cultural/ethnic celebrations everywhere - people, books, magazines, wiki, online, radio, tv, photographers, etc.

But only I (and other people I'm related to) can tell you what my family does for Chinese New Year. Most of which revolves around food. We usually have something deep fried - shrimp chips is the typical. And there's "tong yun," a type of dumpling in soup, that is savory or sweet. Then there's the new clothes thing, and the frenzy of cleaning followed by three days of everything BUT cleaning.

And of course, the "lai see," those lucky, red packets with gold inscriptions filled with happiness. Gotta have those. These are the most important ones in my family. All the students get double (sometimes more) the standard amount.

Students were supposed to get double because it brings luck to their studies. The more luck a student gets, the more luck gets reciprocated back to the giver. That, and my family is pretty big on studying anyway.

So here's my plan: I'm not going to put actual money in lai see to give to my students. I'm going to sink enough cash as it is into my classroom. I'll probably do something like small erasers, or chocolate coins, or those fun, dinky post-it notes in animal shapes from Daiso. But I'll pass them out, explaining the "luck" that is supposed to go towards their studies.

Absolutely non-academic activity. Yet, worth it, I believe.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Pictures of Hollis Woods

This is a decent book. Decently emotional, decently real, decently grounded, decent story, and decently written. It's not the most suitable book for read-a-louds, just like Island of the Blue Dolphins isn't an ideal read-a-loud. Well, at least for me to read aloud -it's a little too sedate.

The premise: an abandoned child, foster-home hopping, ends up with an old lady. The old lady is, well, old. The child is afraid social services will separate them, so she takes events into her own hands. A parallel story unfolds of the child's previous foster home and the near-tragedy that occurred there.

This story vaguely reminds me of Bridge to Terabithia. That's probably due to the main character and her friend Steven's interactions. In this case, Steven is Leslie and Hollis is Jess.

It's probably one of the books I would like to have a set of 6 - for reading circles in small groups. Although it might be a little too emotional for a group reading. Hm, I'll have to think a little more about that plan.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Your birthday, in history

There's more than one way to teach history; but making it fun while setting up for success after some hard work is the tried and true method of instilling a love for it.

Something I would really, really like to assign my students is the "Your birthday, in history" project. Here's a sketchy lesson plan outline:

Purpose: To develop students' research skills. To enjoy discovering new, unknown events and people in a "six-degrees-of-separation" kind of way (this isn't technical teacher-speak, but for the blog's purpose, it'll do).

Objectives: Students will 1) research 1-3 significant historical events that happened on their birthday, 2) research 1-3 important historical figures who were born (or died) on their birthday, 3) write a 3-5 page report on these events and people, 4) synthesize these events and people by drawing connections across time and geographic regions to come up with new knowledge (this is WAY higher order thinking - so much so that I'm not quite sure how to phrase the objective; for advanced students only), 5) present their findings to the rest of the class.


1. Anticipatory set - tell students a bunch of connected (or not, or both) events and people and have them guess how they are connected (take a limited number of guesses - I have a weakness with making the "hook" part of the lesson too long). Of course, these events are connected because they all happened on my own birthday.

2. Tell students their assignment. Basically tell them the objectives in kid-language. Set up micro-deadlines for a) the list of events and people students will use, b) list of resources they will use (at least five; sounds like a lot for elementary school, but considering the project, not at all unreasonable), c) rough draft of their report, d) (second?) final draft of report and presentation materials (must use at least one visual aid!).

3. Do some direct teaching on book, online, encyclopedia research. Visits to the library and computer lab are a must!

4. Do some more direct teaching, this time on writing informative reports with personal voice/twist. Possibility of reading lots of examples.

5. And more direct teaching on presentations.

6. Collect and give feedback on rough drafts (most likely peer edited).

7. Set aside sufficient time for all students to present.

Notes/modifications: students with the same birthdays may work together. Each is responsible for the original amount of work (i.e. two students = two reports, two visual aids, double the presentation time).

Closure: the presentations cover it, basically. Perhaps peer graded, on a certain level? Perhaps display visual aids somewhere for the rest of the community to see? Reflective paragraph on what students found out and what it means to them, maybe?

This is obviously an end-of-the year project. End-of-the-first-semester project for more mature students. It is highly time consuming, but extremely educational. I definitely have to make time in the school year to do this - even just a shortened version of it.

Who am I kidding, the shortened version of this project is ambitious enough already. But I'll still try.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The class "Mystery"

As mysterious as the meat in this steamed bun (although, the steamed bun was still good).

In my 5th/6th split class last semester, I had a student who just couldn't be placed in any category. He had been tested for learning disabilities, but he had none. He typically did horrible in math, so he was with the low group and did the remedial work - yet he scored Proficient in math on his CST the year before. His verbal skills are far, far above average.

He is a rather explosive kid - quick to anger and quick to forgive. Quick to do anything - which gave him the talent of taking initiative, which is something many kids twice his age have yet to develop. He was also slow to think before acting - which put him in the middle of quite a few skirmishes with his peers (and arguments with his teachers). Still, most everyone liked him, and vice versa. I certainly enjoyed teaching him.

All the teaching and office staff called him a mystery because of his inconsistent academic performance (sometime really on top of it, sometimes not at all). During a grade level meeting with the principal, we were supposed to place our students into one of four groups: high achieving/high motivation, low achieving/high motivation, high achieving/low motivation, and low achieving/low motivation. It took me so long to finally decide where this kid fit on the spectrum. I've seen him act within the realms of all four areas.

Kids are kids, though, and they'll be inconsistent. That's to be expected. Certainly it's a challenge to figure out how to teach a kid who constantly moves around the board. But that makes teaching fun as well.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Lessons from Southwest Airlines' online ticket reservation

Head in a hole.

Lesson #1: Even when there are no seats available on a flight, they will book you for it anyway.


Lesson #3: Breathe, and speak calmly to the Southwest Airlines representative. It is not their fault when computers make stupid human errors.

Lesson #4: Although, it IS their fault when they themselves make stupid human errors.

Lesson #5: "Peak travel season" means spring break, any of the summer months, any of the two months on either end of the summer months, November, and December. So that leaves January. Which is also a "peak travel season" because all the Snow Birds depart for warmer climates.

Lesson #6: Dude, when is that high speed rail line going to be in operation?

Lesson #7: And yet, until that time with high speed rail will be available, I'm still going to fly Southwest. Cheap tickets for cheap service, I suppose. Can't Singapore Air have US domestic flights? Or even Cathay?

Lesson #8: Thank you Southwest for letting me cancel a non-refundable ticket within 24 hours of purchasing! The lesson here is to do things ASAP - no procrastinating or else I would have paid $900 for a single roundtrip to D.C.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Media Mondays: 50 dangerous things you should let your children do

Screen caps from the link below.

It's a book.

A really fun-looking book that I would love to add to my library. With really fun activities that I would love to add to my teaching repertoire.

Except I might get fired. Eh, didn't a veteran teacher of 20 years once tell me that I'm not doing my job properly unless I'm on the verge of being fired?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Standards Sundays: Grade 5 the course and consequences of the American Revolution

In the next chapter of understanding the standards, I'm most interested in the first and seventh sub-strands.

The first one says students should identify and map the major battles, campaigns, and turning points of the American Revolution. I know I love a good mapping activity. It's relatively easy to set-up/clean-up and hits a whole bunch of other academic subjects. I can just hear some students complaints of "But NO ONE read a map anymore! We have GPS!" My reply: "GPS IS a map, doofus."

Ok, maybe without the doofus.

The seventh sub-strand says students need to understand how the ideals of the Declaration of Independence changed the way people viewed slavery. I love this one because it basically sets the stage for the next major events of American history. See kids? Ms. B isn't crazy when she keeps blurting, "It's all connected! It's all connected!"

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Pulling my hair out

Most kids are sweet, even the ones with baggage and family issues and disabilities like ADHD. Most kids are interested, interesting, considerate, and kind. Most kids like learning. Most kids want to learn. All kids need to learn.

Most kids are respectful and deserve respect themselves.

Four of the students I taught in my Thursday art class are none of the above. These four did not give a shit about anything, or anyone other than themselves and their own wants and pleasures. These four had no interest in anything except their egos. They did not care.

I have a feeling that their parents put them in art class as babysitting under the pretense of something educational.

I very much dislike teaching this Thursday class already. There is a persistent school/community culture of permissive discipline. Not all from all, of course. Some are really nice. Some are really sweet kids.

But in general, they are a bunch of pain-in-the-ass whiners, used to being allowed to give up on whatever they are doing because they are "tired" or "bored." From twenty minutes of drawing? Oh hell no, kids, hell no.

I had to remove these four students from the group, and from art class, today. They decided not to participate, so they won't. I sent notes home to their parents, telling them their student had chosen to withdraw themselves from art that day. The parents need to sign it and return it to me next week. I left my phone number on the note, for parents to call me if they have questions. I don't anticipate anyone calling me, but I have a ready conversation in my head anyway.

I saved these four student's art work - if scribbles and large black dots from Sharpies being jabbed at the paper repeatedly could be called art (some do, I know - but not in my art class). They were jabbing the pencils and markers at each other too. They were careless tossing my art supplies all over the tables and floor. They were rolling all over the tables and floors themselves.

When I separated them, they calmed down. They settled to reading their books, or looking at their pokemon posters, or just quietly chilling out. These are students that would benefit from something other than the type of art class the YR program runs. They do not enjoy the art we do, not even a smidgen. I have never, ever said this before, but this is a case where I truly believe everyone would be better off if these kids didn't come back next week. Or ever.

Sounds harsh? That's because it is. It's also harsh to the other 20 students in my class who are learning and enjoying themselves in my art class when they have to deal with the disrespectful disruptions of these four musketeers.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Bilingual/Multicultural education

When I was taking these courses, I didn't really see such an enormous need for them in teacher preparation. I, and everyone else in my class, were so culturally savvy. We quickly understood how important home languages and home cultures were to the cognitive development of children. I still experience code-switching now. I still see and experience gender and ethnic inequality on a daily basis. Not that these things will change anytime soon, but if I'm aware of it, I can teach in a more "equity conscious" manner. Whatever that means. I just do it because I'll know my students better, which helps me to teach them better.

It wasn't when I began my field work that I realized how important this part of teacher education is. How many times have I encountered an educator, a teacher, an office staff member who was completely ignorant of non-western cultural norms.

Nay, non-white bread American cultural norms. Greece is a western country, yet I've observed a teacher being completely insensitive and downright offensive to a student of Greek Orthodox tradition.

Of course multicultural education is way more than just not offending someone. That's just the first step. And many teachers pretty much fail at it - including some of my own CTs.

Apparently, at CSUS, there used to be an entire regiment of courses pre-service teachers needed before they could graduate. Now, there is basically only one. So much of the rest is up to each individual teacher to learn for themselves.

That is, if they even realize they need to learn it in the first place.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Oh what a difference half a year makes

Unlike hummus sandwiches, which are only good for a certain time frame.

For the record, the teaching credential I earned, and received on January 4, 2010, is just as good and valid as those earned and received before July 2009.

Just sayin'.

Nory Ryan's Song

I skimmed this book without reading it word for word. Which is enough for me to get the gist of it. Besides, I got tired of reading the 36th dialogue that started with, "I will..."

It's a pretty good book for third graders. The Irish Potato Famine of the 19th century shaped quite a bit of U.S. history as well as European history. I didn't realize, as the author claims, that people who had lived through it didn't like to talk about it. Maybe it was like how some people don't like talking about the Great Depression of the 1930s.

I wonder if people will be reluctant to talk about the current recession a hundred years from now. I doubt it. Things are bad, but life in general is still better than in the mid-late 1800s.

I also wonder why this book is called "Nory Ryan's Song." Nory Ryan is the main character, but I couldn't really locate the "song" part of the book. It was more about hunger, survival under any means, and escaping to Brooklyn. Note to self: adding the word "song" to a book title is poetic - but not always functional.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

And another one bites the dust

The saddest thing is, that's the only flaw on this shirt - one of my favorite shirts I got while in HK last summer.

Unless I can figure out a way to a) get the pen mark out, or b) cover the stain with something (brooch? flower pin? sew on a patch or pocket? all sounds bad, except for the brooch idea), this shirt is destined for the rag pile.

Lucky I had some foresight (for once in my life) and bought the twin to this shirt. I've got one more to mess up with random ink swipes.

EDIT: Just hunted down an old hair accessory and made it into a brooch using a mini-safety pin. Looks a little funny to me, probably because I'm not used to it. Probably won't be wearing this to teach anymore anyway. Never teach with super long necklaces or other potential dangly snags when teaching any large number of students at any age level. It's not fun when I catch it on something (say, during P.E. instruction) and it falls apart, taking the front part of my shirt with it.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Human wheelbarrow races: the school board would not like that.

One of my students told me a pretty horrifying story the other day. I was asking how her week was, whether she was able to go outside for recess in between all the rain our town has been getting.

Student: Yeah, I got to go outside. But we can't play anyway.

Me: Why not?

Student: Because the yard duty is always looking.

I've had my fair share of yard duty during student teaching. One school even saved a whole morning recess for all the student teachers - and only the student teachers. That was a fun recess time. Kids fought, they ran, they fell, they shouted, they argued with each other on who gets the tether ball.

Some did get hurt, because they fell, they bumped into each other while running. The office bandage station was always busy on the day the student teachers had yard duty.

The students had a lot of fun, got a lot of exercise, and some were able to concentrate better in the classroom during the days when the student teachers had yard duty.

There are a myriad of rules for recess. Walking only in certain areas, tattling vs. telling (which is a really good rule, IMO), alternating days for the jungle gym equipment to limit the number of students in a potentially deadly area (which is the single most telling piece of evidence for over-crowding in schools that I have ever heard).

The rules are there because apparently, there has been legal precedence where parents have sued the school for bodily injury of their student during recess times - and the parents won. I haven't actually read these cases, I don't even know where to begin looking to find out more about these cases. However I think the following points make my stance clear:

- kids are kids, they will break things, including themselves.
- kids are kids, they can heal much faster than some people think they can. definitely much faster, and with less scaring than an adult.
- kids are kids, they can handle much more physical activity than some people think they can.
- exercise is good for the body and the brain.
- let them play, damn it!

Later the same day, I saw another teacher (pre-school) support the arms of a 5-year-old as the 5-year-old carried a toy from the play area to the toy shelves. Are. You. Freaking. Kidding. Me? This kid is notorious for not putting away her toys. This kid does not do anything if she knows an adult will do it for her.

So here's my question to end this post: is it more harmful to prevent students from getting hurt, or is it more harmful to allow them to use their bodies the way it was made for?

Monday, February 1, 2010

Media Mondays: Pictures for Sad Children

Screen cap from Pictures for Sad Children.

The disclaimer on this web comic states these pictures may not actually be suitable for children. They are, however, extremely funny. The above comic hits pretty close to home too.

Nothing too serious to blog about today. Hence the comic. Some people say that good sense of humor go hand in hand with deep thinking skills. Perhaps. I don't have any science to prove that. In the mean time, I'll follow this comic for some funny-sad thoughts.