Monday, June 28, 2004

San Francisco

I'm here... I'm having a great time. I haven't figured out consistent email access yet, but I think I'll get it straightened out tomorrow and post some pictures.

Friday, June 25, 2004

C'est finis!

The last day!

I spent most of the day interviewing prospective teachers from the Teaching Fellows and Teach For America. The Fellows sent us three Science applicants. One said "bitch" twice in the interview and also made a comment that was pretty much sexual harrassment. I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt but when I told my colleagues the story, they didn't. I don't feel like repeating it all here. The other two candidates were pretty good. Now we have some decisions to make. I finally am starting to see myself as a future, um, department head. I will definitely be working with two brand new teachers and will need to provide them with a lot of support and leadership. That's exciting and will also be challenging.

While I was helping to interview candidates, my students watched a video on Simple Machines and played SET. Another teacher and I were both addicted to this as kids, and now we have finally succeeded in hooking the seventh graders - and some of the sixth graders - on SET. I would love to see it become the next big thing in the Bronx, but I might have to settle for the next big thing in our school.

I said goodbye to the babies and sent them off to their summers. I will miss them. Then I finished packing up my room for the summer and had a conversation about who we are going to hire with my colleagues.

And then I went over to J's house and we set up for a big ol' party. It was a really nice time - lots of snacks and wine, everyone in a good but not crazy mood, some discussion of school and nearly all of it positive. Best of all - BEST of all - the new teachers that we have already said yes to came! So far we have three TFA teachers. Yes, next year fully half of our staff will be brand spankin' new teachers. But these three seem special. They're kids, and I say that as someone who was one of them only a few years ago. They're going to need a lot of help. But they are enthusiastic and smart and kind and funny, and they fit right in to our last day of school party. Another teacher whom we hired, who has five years of experience, was also there. She's pretty cool, too; I took a class with her at Teachers College last year. It was a very good time - I can't wait for next year! I can't wait to get my Science group together and get down to work!

And in less than 24 hours I will be on a flight to San Francisco, perhaps the best part of all!

Thursday, June 24, 2004

I succumbed...

to gmail.

ms.frizzle [at] gmail [dot] com

I will be phasing out msfrizzle14 [at] yahoo [dot] com. Who needs all that spam, anyway?

I am rather fond of google. I used to go to school just down the street from them, after all. And I love, love, love the fact that as most other major web portals - yahoo, msn, etc. - keep adding junk to their homepages, total information overload, google started out simplicity itself and has remained so even while adding fancy new features. Just for fun, try loading google in one of the dozens of languages available. Like Russian. Or Malayalam. Or Swedish Chef.

And now google has hit on the most brilliant method of marketing their email system EVER. SO brilliant I really, really wanted nothing to do with it. Blogs are cool. Bloggers are cool. Buy Blogger. Give away gmail to bloggers, who will promote it on their site. Then give them the infamous "invitations" - make your product cool and a scarce commodity at the same time. Gross manipulation!

And then it worked on me. I want gmail! I don't want to miss my chance! I want invitations to give out! I want to be a cool kid!

Email me: ms.frizzle [at] gmail [dot] com 'cause a girl can never have too many email addresses.

Here's a close-up. It's a pity I can't include photographs of my students on here (totally illegal) because I have a great shot of a group of sixth graders who built a triple-pulley. They were so proud of themselves! There wasn't anywhere high enough to hang the whole thing, though, so they had to hold the board up by hand. They went on to build a four-pulley system. Keep in mind this is the second-to-last day of school... Posted by Hello

I promised you pulley pictures. Here they are. This is a double-pulley built by a group of sixth graders. It is being used to lift a plastic cup full of pennies. Future science teachers, it might be a good idea to start hoarding pennies now; they are sooo useful. Film canisters, plastic egg cartons, and POM juice bottles are also worth saving. Posted by Hello

In this corner... Miles. Miles, the visitor from Chicago. Miles the large and extremely chill. Miles the taker-over of beds.  Posted by Hello

and in that corner... Valentine. Valentine the permanently-tense. Valentine the put-upon. Valentine the instigator... Posted by Hello

Wednesday, June 23, 2004


My first year teaching, I thought I'd get a chill summer job at some cool indie bookstore in the city. I'd earn a little cash without having anything to do with summer school or serving people food. I dreamed of working at the Strand... the books! the cool, musty, dark stacks! the helpful yet surly nerdy counterculture employees! O how I longed to be among them! What I did not know but quickly learned (and really should have known) is that NYC is not a summer tourist economy, so no one was looking for extra summer help, and those who were willing to take me on wanted me to stand outside on the sidewalk all day for $5/hr. I wasn't in it for the money, but I also wasn't willing to fry daily for $25.

I gave up my Strand fantasy, faced the fact that I was not going to earn any money over the summer, and proceeded to completely freak out for a week. I was irritable and moody, flying high on freedom and free time one minute, completely aimless and ennui-ridden the next. After a few days and a kick-in-the-ass from a boyfriend, I found ways to structure my time so that I didn't wake up at noon every day and then hate myself for not being productive. I do NOT have a just-kick-back-and-do-nothing kind of personality; I think it's something to do with being from New England, the Protestant Work Ethic, etc. Projects! I need projects!

I have gone through at least a few days of the What Am I Doing With Myself Blues every summer since. The last day of school is a big but tiring party, followed by two or three days of sleeping and reading almost non-stop, I realize that I've read the entire Harry Potter series in 5 days and what, WHAT am I DOING with myself????

Well, this year I might get to skip that part of summer vacation, as in the span of 4 days I will finish school, get completely smashed (er, celebrate), spend the next day frantically tying up loose ends, hop on an airplane, move into a new place, and start my Science/Math Connection class. Nope, I don't see any room for aimlessness...

But change is hard. There's been a lot of it lately - relationships ending and changing, some shattering like earthquakes, some shifting like dunes. People going away. People coming back. The end of a school year approaching. Monday, I was psyched about leaving and starting something new. Today, I am blue, underwater, disconnected, squirming in my own skin, considering chopping off all my hair, wanting lettuce but eating nachos... it will pass. But tomorrow I am going to be psyched again. If not tomorrow, then Friday. I am going to miss those kids, I always do, no matter how much I swear I never want to see them again, goodbye and good riddance.

Monday, June 21, 2004

A teacher's gotta know where to get lumber, and who will cut it for you if you ask nicely. Personally, I head over to the Bowery when I need a few boards... Posted by Hello

The kit suggests that you build a framework like this one. Maybe next year. All I'm planning to do is attach the pulley supports to boards, and balance the boards between tables.  Posted by Hello

The raw materials... Posted by Hello

Dozens and dozens of screws! Posted by Hello

Attaching the pulley support. Posted by Hello

The view from above... Posted by Hello

Miles is curious about the pulley I am testing... Posted by Hello

C'est finis! Stay tuned for shots of the pulleys in action tomorrow... Posted by Hello

Ms. Frizzle, Her Colleagues, and the Algorithm from Hell

Every year, schools engage in a mysterious process called programming. Programming is matching up teachers with teaching schedules and students with class schedules for the following year. Large schools, established schools, rich schools, and lucky schools accomplish this with fancy software. My small, new, not-exactly-rich school does it by hand.

At first glance, the task doesn't seem too hard. Start by deciding how long each class period is, how many periods fit in each day, and how many class periods you have total. Oops! We've already hit a snag. This year, we had 5 class periods per day, and the kids gave up one period of Science and one period of Social Studies per week to make everything fit (the Region required extra periods of Communication Arts & Math). I hated that. So this year, we are considering a 6-period day - each period 5 minutes shorter, but they get all major subjects every day. So that's 30 periods per class per week which must get matched up with teachers.

Now, teachers don't teach every single period - you have to have at least one prep period per day. Technically, the exact lengths of time are specified by the contract, but we don't stick to that precisely at my school; we tend to see what is necessary and then just make sure that we each have an equal classload. So, how many teachers will we have next year? Well, that depends on how many students we'll have, and even though we finished our selection process, the Region randomly assigned us a bunch more students, and we are not happy about that, so basically, we don't know how many kids we'll have next year. Right now, it looks like 3 sixth grade classes, 3 seventh grade classes, and 2 eighth grade classes. That's 8 classes * 30 periods/week = 240 periods. We're pretty sure we'll have ten teachers, which would mean 24 teaching periods per week, but there's a chance we'll have eleven, which would mean roughly 22 teaching periods per week. Okay, let's go with 10 teachers, 24 classes per week.

Now, if the kids get Science five days a week, that means a total of 15 Science periods in 6th grade, 15 in 7th grade, and 10 in 8th grade. If I can teach only 24 periods per week, that means we need three people who can teach Science - and the same for each of the other major subjects, SS, CA, Math. That adds up to 12 teachers! So, two teachers are going to have to split the teaching of a subject to one grade - maybe I teach 6th Science & half of 8th, and the other teacher teaches 7th Science and half of 8th. Not ideal. Or, I could take 25 periods out of the goodness of my heart and not be asked to take on too many additional school-running responsibilities next year. Hmmm.

Okay. Got a handle on that? Thought about electives yet? We want the kids to get Chess, Art, PE, Health, and (in 7th & 8th grade) Foreign Language. I'll spare you the gory details, but the long and short of it is, the numbers do not line up beautifully with teachers' available teaching periods. Either some people end up teaching a few periods more and others less, or some people end up teaching about 5 different classes, definitely no one's preference. Some electives will have to be on a rotation - one class gets Chess for a marking period while another gets Art and another gets PE, then they switch for each of the remaining marking periods. At least for the sixth grade, we may have to invent a new class to fill some unused periods - or add additional periods of major subjects (not a bad idea).

It's a headache. Too many unknowns. And we don't even HAVE another science teacher yet. Several of our teachers are going to be brand-new, which is fine up to a point, but you don't want half your school in its first year of teaching no matter how supportive you're planning to be. *sigh*

Sunday, June 20, 2004

One of the most electrifying events of the day was when Toshi Reagon invited Ani DiFranco on stage to sing with her. Wow! Posted by Hello

Today was probably the best Ani show I've ever seen. I can't believe I nearly skipped it! Although there were thousands of people at Clearwater, it felt really intimate. I was sitting fairly close to the front, so I could see her dancing and facial expressions and interactions with those around her onstage. She was obviously happy to be there. Also, it was just Ani + guitar, and that's really all you need! Posted by Hello

By the time Ani performed, this is what the Rainbow Stage hillside looked like.  Posted by Hello

This is what Clearwater is all about. Posted by Hello

I have a confession to make: I am a harmony junkie. My favorite folk festival performances are often at the workshop stages, where several musicians come together to sing around a theme. Here are Catie Curtis, Kris Delmhorst, and Patty Larkin. I was outside and they were in the tent, that's why this is so dark.  Posted by Hello

Here's the crowd at the Hudson River Stage. It was just a few feet from the water. Everyone is standing and singing with Holly Near: We are a gentle angry people... and we are singing, singing for our lives." She did not ask for this song to be a sing-along - people just joined in from the very first verse. Posted by Hello

The Huck Finn Stage was an all-festival open mic for kids. One boy got up on stage, picked up a guitar, sat down and said, "This is an AC-DC tune." Posted by Hello


Clearwater: a beautiful day of music and sunshine. A laid back chance to catch up with my brother. For the first time in the three years that I've gone, it did not rain. They lost so much money last year due to rain that they nearly canceled the festival this year, but everyone pulled together to make it happen and it has been a smashing success so far! Dar Williams performed for the first time in 6 months - she took a break to have a baby. Her set started off a little shaky but in the end it was a nice set. I really enjoyed Sol y Canto, who sing songs from all over Latin America, fun bop-able stuff, and in Spanish so clear even I could understand a lot of it.

After the festival, we met up with J. & M. in Harlem and sat in their garden drinking Chilean wine, swapping travel stories, and just chatting. They taught me to climb the side of their brownstone, which was so cool that I nearly went to New Paltz to go climbing with them today. Sooo many of my friends are rock climbers, I am not sure how I managed to live this long without ever having tried it... I suspect that is going to change this summer. Last night we ended up blasting music and dancing like crazy in their living room, just the four of us.

Suffice to say, I'm a bit hungover this morning. Woke up late and tried to call to say they should leave without me, then discovered that I left my phone at their place! Put my brother on a train and came home to figure out what to do today. I SHOULD do laundry, finish my grading, fill out sixth grade report cards, and plan a few labs for next week. I have a weekend ticket to the festival, though, and I would really like to see Ani and get a little more sun. Also, I could use some time by myself for contemplation, and I realized yesterday lying on the grass feeling music roll over me that Clearwater could give me that time. However, I feel a little anchorless without my phone. I feel like I should stay put without it. I can get it from J. tonight or tomorrow at school, but until then I'm on my own.

If you look closely, you can see the Nields on stage. Katryna is pregnant again! Clearwater was all about babies... It was Dar's first time performing in sixth months because she had a son, Stephen, in April. Posted by Hello

For a few minutes, darker clouds rolled in and we were afraid it might rain on Clearwater for the third year in a row... the water got all choppy... but then the sky cleared again. Posted by Hello

I spent yesterday lying on a towel on a hillside looking up at the sky and feeling the music through the hillside... Posted by Hello

Saturday, June 19, 2004

One week left...

but this weekend I am going to spend by the Hudson. My brother is coming to visit on his way to an internship with the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights in Washington, DC. I haven't seen him since Christmas, as he's been travelling in Chile and Argentina.

Sometimes, Dar Williams just says it best:

And that's to say, yeah I'm leaving
But I don't have to go there
I don't have to go to Spring Street
'Cause it's spring everywhere...

Thursday, June 17, 2004


Halfway through my first year teaching, a girl named Myteekah was transferred into one of my classes. It was a very difficult class for me, with many strong-willed girls and unpredictable too-old-for-eighth-grade boys who could be sweet and cooperative or just give me straight hell, and I never knew which I was going to get. Some (many?) of the students in the class were involved with gangs, and several could barely read, and their homeroom teacher had basically got them on his side by letting them run the classroom, lounge on his desk, and do little favors for him. Anyway, Myteekah had been in a friend's homeroom before getting moved to this class, so my friend gave me the lowdown on her: She's fine as long as you give her enough attention. Call on her early in the period, show her that you want her to participate, and she'll be fine. Neglect her at your peril. Ms. E's advice was right on. Myteekah was a somewhat awkward girl with big glasses and a ready smile, a girl who liked science, wanted to participate, but could be a pain in the *ss when she didn't get her way.

A colleague and I ran into Myteekah on the train today. She's now a very pretty 17-year-old with contacts, 1290 on the SATs, big but completely attainable goals, a great attitude, and poise. She's a junior in high school in the Bronx, works nearly full-time in downtown Manhattan at a coffee shop, and has taken night classes to fit in more courses. She's headed for a pre-college summer program at a university in Virginia, and wants to study theater and computers in upstate NY after graduating from high school. She remembered all of us, talked enthusiastically about her high school science courses and the grades (mostly B's) she's achieved. I am so proud of her, and I told her so.

She updated me on some of the students from her class - one of the strong-willed girls had a baby soon after finishing eighth grade, others are at her high school and on the honor roll.

I run into former students from time to time, but this was definitey the most meaningful meeting of this kind. I didn't teach Myteekah for very long, but she made an impression on me in a few short months and it is wonderful to see her blossoming like this.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Melting (Down) in da Bronx

I have to keep reminding myself that no matter how sticky and miserable 90 degrees feels, I still prefer it to ten below. I do. I swear. Right?

The Cure have an album entitled "Wild Mood Swings" - that seems to be a soundtrack for the week. Yesterday I totally freaked out at my last period class and made a number of sarcastic comments to students who have not done any work which probably should have been kept in my head and then hollered at the whole class about their work ethic and then informed many individuals that they'd better do the extra credit and then caught my breath, calmed myself down, taught a lesson, apologized for yelling at them, and ran out the door wishing for a beer but settling for a frappucino because....

I had to be back at school for our Awards Night, which was very nice - a little reception followed by handing out of awards for improvement, achievement, citizenship, perfect attendance, and our Scholars Awards - students who made 90 or higher all three marking periods in all major subjects (NOT an easy thing to accomplish!).

Left that and went to an improv show starring a couple of friends and friends-of-friends, and met up with a couple of people there, including a guy who is going to be in my Exploratorium program this summer. It was a fun show, and then we all went out for a drink and somehow I did not get home and in bed until nearly 1 am... oops.

Woke up at 5:45 and off to school to teach two periods then walk a class of kids a mile to a movie theater to watch The Prisoner of Azkaban. This movie theater always screws up when we take kids to movies there - once, they told us we could not buy tickets in advance, then sold out the entire show the day before, so when we all trooped over, we could not see the movie! Another time, they had labeled the theaters wrong, so we started watching the wrong movie and ended up missing the beginning of the movie we wanted to see. As a result, we had a voucher signed by a manager for 35 free tickets. We called yesterday to confirm that we could use the voucher, got a yes, showed up at the appointed time today only to be told we couldn't use that voucher until the manager who signed it came in, and oh, by the way, she's a little late... 45 minutes later, 15 minutes after Harry Potter started, several phone calls and much negotiation later, we finally got into the movie. There's really nothing more fun than spending 3/4 of an hour standing around with 25 kids lined up for a movie asking, "What if we miss it? The movie's already started!" Once we got in, we all enjoyed the movie - I actually enjoyed it MORE than I did the first time - and the kids have probably already forgotten about the snafu at the beginning, so it's all good. We adults have NOT forgotten, however, and we have the name and address of the manager's boss, and will be sending letters of complaint quite soon.

A number of students did turn in the extra credit - including, of course, one or two who already have grades in the 90s. I'm feeling a bit better about the grades, though, given that they had an opportunity to do an extra project, many took advantage of it, and the rest really have nothing to complain about.

Came home, took a nap, and am getting ready to go to a fancy photography party that I got an invitation to through J. & M. I need to get dressed up and put on my best "I like people and enjoy talking to complete strangers" attitude, but I must admit I'm having a wee bit of trouble doing that... I have an awesome dress that I got for $10 at the NYC Opera Thrift Store. My date is stuck in Long Island, unfortunately. Well... perhaps some high energy music and bopping around the living room will help!

Monday, June 14, 2004

One More Hurdle Cleared

I finally finished my certification video. To become permanently certified in NY, teachers must submit one 20-30 minute video showing their teaching. It must contain at least 10 minutes of direct instruction, and at least 10 minutes of non-whole-class instruction (cooperative learning, etc.). There can be no editing or breaks in the recording. And there are a host of other rules. It costs about $150 just to sign up for the video exam.

I paid my money and got my materials two months ago, borrowed a camera, set it up in the back of my classroom, and self-recorded a lesson. The tape would have been fine except for poor sound quality - you couldn't hear what I was saying during the cooperative learning activity because the children were all discussing the assignment with each other.

Due to this and that - no good reason - it took me a long time to actually watch that video, so I only found out a few weeks ago that it was unusable. Then, I was in the middle of a series of lessons that weren't particularly tape-worthy (they wouldn't provide the correct combination of types of instruction and fit neatly into 30 minutes). I didn't want to interrupt the flow of my lessons unless absolutely necessary, so I waited until last week and had my roommate come in and use her newly-minted skills as a broadcast journalist to tape a lesson. I watched it today, it's fine, and I transferred it from mini-DV to VHS just now.

Tomorrow I will have to run it to the post office and will probably pay overnight or two-day rates to make sure it arrives at the state DOE by Friday, the deadline. It's funny: I thought I had so much time when I first signed up, but I'm still going to get it in just under the wire.

Watching myself teaching is an interesting experience. I definitely look better when I am interacting with small groups, guiding them through the lab. I tend to keep my arms bent at waist-level and use a lot of gestures to add to what I am saying. I'm a big user of "gonna."

Thanks to this exam, I now have two videotapes of myself teaching. I think videos of real teachers doing real lessons could be very helpful for students in teacher ed. programs. In every real lesson, there are strengths and things that could be improved. Watching yourself teaching on tape is a way to see yourself in action, to refine your practice, as athletes and performers often do.

Another threat to New Yorkers this summer...

and we've all experienced it: odorism.

The Finish Line

"What will we be doing the last few days of school?"

"I don't know; it depends on the teacher. Learning new stuff, like always."


"What did you expect? We care about your education! You should know by now that we're not going to give up a single day when you could be learning!" I said all this in my best Indignant Voice, with a smile.

"Why? The tests are over!"

"School is about MUCH more than the tests! Those tests didn't even include any Science, did they? And anyway, next year's test is coming up quickly!"

"What?! When is it?"

"Next spring. But the end of one year is time to start getting ready for the next year!"

What I told my homeroom this morning was both true and not true. As the year winds down, we are continuing normal lessons. The math teachers have begun next year's lessons. I am continuing to teach Science. The kids continue reading and writing. Yet, no one's giving very much homework these days. The pace of work has slowed considerably. June has been filled with half days, field trips, and other events. One teacher (out of six) is out for the next two weeks serving on a grand jury. Today's attendance - for a half-day - was very low, so we combined the students' classes. The finish line is in sight, and it's easier to lean across than to put in a final sprint.

I don't really anticipate the kids finishing their video projects, since none of the groups who signed up to shoot on Thursday and Friday last week were actually ready on those days. Now I'm on the fence about whether to quietly scrap it and do regular lessons on energy for the next 9 days, or go ahead and let them finish. Groups who are not getting much done could turn into real problems over the next week or so, yet those groups who are excited about the project would be disappointed not to finish it. I'm personally more excited about energy than about the video project - the pace dragged so much that I got tired of it! I also think it's too long to spend on one concept. I have to remind myself that it won't kill them either way - they might still grow up to be well-rounded, scientifically-literate adults who know how to finish projects they start. What to do?

I could have done so many things better this year. I am sooo ready to relax and revamp my methods, and then, in September, start a new year. Things I need to change include:
  • teaching vocabulary

  • planning & pacing better

  • following up with students who are not completing assignments

  • assessments that are both rigorous and yet reasonable

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Extra Credit

A lot of my students are failing this term because they did not complete one of the major projects. I am going through the usual agony over their grades, and will not bore you with the details. Ultimately, I have decided to offer them an extra-credit make-up project. In addition to doing the regular assignment for the lab we did on Friday, students who want extra credit can write it up as a lab report. TONS of students are planning to do the extra credit. We'll see how many actually follow-through. If done well, it could definitely save some kids from failing.

Failing a class is not as serious to kids in NY public schools as it would have been to me and my classmates in middle school. Even a single failed quiz or test was cause for a heart attack for us - I can probably remember every single thing I failed from kindergarten to college. Sure, there were kids who did poorly in their classes, and probably were accustomed to low grades, but no one was blase about grades. There were kids who failed classes, but not many of them. A lot of kids in the Bronx - even my students, who are very motivated academically - don't see failing a test or even a class as such a crisis. They are likely to know many other kids who've failed at least one class before, so it's sort of a normal part of the school environment for them. They hear over and over again about attending failing schools and getting failing grades on the standardized tests. Academic failure is pervasive and not particularly stigmatizing. This is not to say that my students don't care when they fail classes, but they don't care AS MUCH as I would have cared at their age.

One of my colleagues was talking to me about this. She pointed out that starting in middle school, she would keep detailed records of her grades on assignments and calculate and recalculate her average for each class as the marking period progressed. I was never this crazy, but I definitely had an idea how my grades were calculated and therefore how I was doing in any particular class. Based on the kinds of questions they ask, many of our kids don't have a sense of how they're doing in their classes or how to figure that out on their own. I am hoping to get the other teachers to collaborate with me next year in teaching the kids how to keep track of their assignment scores and calculate their averages for themselves. I don't want to create grade-obsessed students, but I think many of them could use a little more grade-awareness. Knowing how you're doing is necessary to reflecting on ways to do better! Grades should not be mystery numbers handed down from above...

And speaking of assessment, we got our citywide test scores back. Our sixth graders did fine, and our seventh graders did fabulously! The tests are scored on a 1-2-3-4 scale. Four is "above the standard" and 1 is "below the standard." Three is "meeting the standard," although the city treats a 2 as a passing grade. We had about 70-75% of our students at a 3 or above, and only a single score of 1 in the whole school. Then again, our kids started out with good scores.

Analyzing test score data is a complicated and subtle project. I appreciate the "sub-groups" part of NCLB, because I think it is really, really important to know if your boys are doing as well as your girls, your Dominican kids as well as your African-American or Bangladeshi kids. Along with the 1-4 score comes a "scale score" which is a number in the hundreds. This is how you know whether a child is a high 3 or a low 3 and so forth. This year's scale scores are broken down into 1-4 scores differently from last year's. What does THAT mean? What if a kid's scale score improved but 1-4 score went down, or vice versa? What can we learn from comparing the scores of this year's sixth graders to those of last year's sixth graders? They are two very different groups of kids! Nevertheless, that is the information most often required to be reported on documents like the CEP (Comprehensive Education Plan). It seems like we learn more by comparing this year's seventh grade scores to last year's sixth grade scores? Those are the same kids, after all, so it reflects whether or not they've improved on the things the test measures.

Anyway, we did well. Phew!


Thanks for all the birthday wishes! I had a great weekend with lots of friends and celebrations (I have two other friends with birthdays at the same time).

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Ms. Frizzle's Newest Friend

Busy day today: took a break from video-land today for a lesson on kinetic and potential energy, began a fun lab involving more marbles and gumballs, this time rolling down an incline, and even managed to fit in a Robin Williams moment: I stood on my chair in class!

It was the most dramatic method I could think of to show how potential energy increases with height.

I asked the kids to imagine me and my sumo-wrestler friend each standing on a diving board. Who has the most potential energy?

The sumo wrestler, since he has greater mass, and we're at the same height.

What will happen to our energy when we do cannonballs off the diving boards?

It will change into kinetic energy.

What change will we see as a result of all this energy?

A big splash!

Who will cause the most change?

The sumo wrestler!


Because he has the most energy.


And now it's off to make pies. I'm turning 26 tomorrow. I'm having a joint birthday party with my friend Wendy, whose birthday is today. Wendy is an awesome cook, and is making a fancy cake.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

I have made a little movie...

entitled, "Becoming Scientists: Preparing for the Science Expo." Given that we only actually filmed at the very beginning of the process, this movie is destined never to be seen by the general public, but it has served its purpose: material for me to chop and dice while learning Adobe Premiere.

My movie has a title! It has credits! It has cute little rotating cube transitions! It has very poor sound! It is choppy as hell!

I still don't know how to do some really basic stuff that would probably make my life much easier, but on the whole, I'm rather fond of this program and confident that with another day's reading of the instruction manual, I will learn all that and more.

The one thing I am specifically thinking about - for all you filmmakers out there who said you could give pointers - is how to insert a clip before the other clips and have everything slide down together. I have had to resort to moving each of the other clips one at a time. I suspect the answer lies with the ripple edit, but I haven't been able to make it work...

Tomorrow, some of my students begin shooting (film! don't get the wrong idea!).

I have projects planned for myself for the summer... I want to get good at this - it's fun.

American dreams

The NY Times has an article today about a Chinese immigrant who died on a construction site when a wall collapsed. Just two weeks ago, Angel Segovia, an immigrant from Ecuador died on a construction site when (an illegally built) balcony collapsed. The story reminds me of a book by Jimmy Breslin about the death of a Mexican immigrant on a construction site in Brooklyn: The Short Sweet Dream of Eduardo Gutierrez. It seems that immigrants from many countries live and die such short sweet dreams...

I've been on HBO...

My school "graduated" last night with a fancy cocktail party and video screening in the HBO building. What did we graduate from? We were founded through a partnership between a non-profit organization and our (former) school district (now region); now that we've successfully completed two years, the non-profit declared us a model school and celebrated our work. Of course, we're going to be working just as hard next year but without any extra money (they gave us a small start-up budget above the regular state funding, and small stipends for the extra work involved for staff members)... but it was a nice party and I really have nothing to complain about.

Earlier this year, they sent a videographer to our school to make a short piece for a film about this year's three model schools. I discovered in watching the film that I look about 17 years old! Good grief, it's a miracle the kids respect me! It came out nicely, though. The theme echoing through all the interviews - students and teachers - was that our work is about the kids, and we have great kids... They also gave us several beautiful photographs for our school, showing our children engaged in their classwork... there are some pretty images of kids in my science class doing the experiment with marbles.


Before the celebration, we had a busy day. It was a "clerical half-day," so the kids went home around noon. My principal sent four of us to Brooklyn to a meeting about the School Development Program, a whole-school reform process out of Yale, which we are going to be adopting next year. The idea is to consider all aspects of child development in structuring our curriculum, interactions with families and children, etc. They were a bit vague about the details, partly because it was a sales pitch and they're giving away nothing for free, partly because it is tailored to the needs of the individual school. We were in one of their schools, and it was a beautiful and peaceful place. All the children we met were very polite. I'll tell you more as I learn!

When we returned to the Bronx, we worked on our Comprehensive Education Plan (CEP), a document that the state requires each school to write and revise yearly, assessing needs, setting goals, reporting progress, and planning specific steps towards the following year's goals. This is our first year doing this, given that we are just becoming a "real" school (rather than a program within a larger school), and it's initially a scary document, although I think it's pretty reasonable once you get started (and will be even easier next year, after we have some data to report).


I love Patty Griffin! I don't have her new CD, but I've been listening to 1000 Kisses a lot lately.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Maybe it's the cloudy weather (not today, but all weekend), maybe it's calculating final grades, maybe it's reflecting on the school year, maybe it's getting ready to leave in what seems suddenly like too little time, maybe June is the hangover that May wakes up to... All I can give you today are some Dar Williams lyrics:

"And I wake up and I ask myself what state I'm in
And I say well I'm lucky, 'cause I am like East Berlin
I had this wall and what I knew of the free world
Was that I could see their fireworks
And I could hear their radio
And I thought that if we met, I would only start confessing
And they'd know that I was scared
They'd would know that I was guessing
But the wall came down and there they stood before me
With their stumbling and their mumbling
And their calling out, just like me..."

-Dar Williams, from What Do You Hear In These Sounds

Sunday, June 06, 2004

I'm now the proud owner...

of a FireWire port (card?) and 4-6 pin cable. Sometimes, you just gotta pile all the electronics in a backpack and take them straight to the store. Out of the hardware briarpatch, skipping through software lane again... off to learn Premiere!

And, no, my school is not year-round, but NYC has lots of holidays and starts after Labor Day, so we don't get out until June 25th. I leave for San Francisco the very next day. Godforbid we ever have a major blizzard, we'll be celebrating the Fourth of July in school!

The Prisoner of Azkaban

I had been waiting to see this since the fall, when I saw the first preview, with the choir singing "Something Wicked This Way Comes." I became a reluctant Harry Potter fan last summer, when I finally read books 2-5 and realized that after you get #2 out of the way, they're actually quite good. So for her graduation from journalism school, I bought my roommate tickets for Friday night, since she is a big fan (not to say groupie...).

I thoroughly enjoyed the movie - laughed, gripped the edge of my seat at the appropriate moments, got caught up in the plot - yet the movie has some real flaws. So, this might come across as a negative review, but I want you to know that I had a great time watching it, so maybe the flaws aren't that important right now, for fans. Overall, I felt like the movie had great promise, and if they keep this team together, they can iron out the problems and the next movie will be awesome.

The good news is that the new director gives it a much darker, grittier feel. I love the visual style. It was definitely time to get away from the polished, shiny-happy-Harry of the first couple of movies. This movie does a great job developing the landscape in which Hogwarts is set. One of the most brilliant images is when he backs up the camera (computer?) and shows Hogwarts with the dementors floating around it, looking inwards towards the school. Hired to guard and protect the school, shouldn't they be looking outwards? But that is exactly the point. The dementors are evil in the hire of good. Or perhaps I have just been thinking too much about the hairs-breadth difference between criminals and prison guards, those in prison and those guarding them. The dementors are extremely well-done; Harry's first run-in with one, on the train to Hogwarts, is creepy and chilling (literally).

Nevertheless, the visual imagery can be heavy-handed at times, like one completely unnecessary scene showing two flowers freezing and wilting as a dementor floats by. Some of the writing is heavy-handed, as well, particularly Dumbledore's lines in the first 3/4 of the movie, which are all written and delivered in "Everything I Say is Wise and Significant" voice. Hermione and Professor Lupin have a few awful lines, too.

The plot focuses almost entirely on Ron, Hermione, and Harry. In fact, it is surprising how little any of the professors - Dumbledore, Snape, Hagrid - appear in the movie. McGonagall is almost entirely absent! I don't know whether this is a good choice or a bad choice - maybe neither.

I'll be seeing the movie again in a week or two with my students, and I'll let you know what they think!

Friday, June 04, 2004

Even the teachers wore the gym uniform to field day (and there's really nothing quite like going out for a beer with two other teachers who are also wearing the same uniform...). Posted by Hello

Field Day!

Field Day was a blast - and I am totally wiped out! The day was beautiful: clear and warm but not a drop of humidity. I spent first period cutting and tearing strips of colored cloth for the kids to wear to indicate their teams (which turned out not to be needed) and filling water balloons. Then we walked to a nearby park and the fun began.

The kids came up with clever, fun cheers for their teams, complete with choreography. Dizzy Bats was hilarious, kids so turned around they were taking trips all around the field. We took a break for lunch, then continued with the Human Knot (one team untangled themselves in under 30 seconds, which led to accusations of cheating, but I really think they just happened to figure it out quickly - and they were good cooperators), three-legged race, and wheelbarrow race. Next was tug o'war: the sixth grade contest was quick and not-too-competitive, but the seventh graders pulled each other back and forth several times before one team finally got the other across the line. It was so tense the whole school jumped up to cheer. Then we did the water balloon toss. The kids lined up in pairs, each person facing their partner. They started out close together, but every time they tossed the water balloon successfully to their partner, they'd take a step backwards. A bunch of kids had water balloons burst in their hands as they caught them. Each team entered five pairs, but in the end, we had one pair from each team remaining: perfect! They were about 15-20 feet away from each other at this point, and again the whole school was up and cheering.

We ended with a round of water balloon toss for the teachers and chaperones. We had a really great group of parents join us for the day - they took pictures, helped spot the kids for dizzy bats and some of the other events, kept an eye on everyone's belongings, and were just supercool. So we lined up in pairs and tossed water balloons at each other... The kids crowded around us. My favorite moment of the day was when a few seventh graders said, "I know what you should do, Ms. Frizzle! Measure the velocity of the balloon!" and "Let it transfer some momentum to you when you catch it!" Ahhhh! They have learned something! And they feel free to be completely geeky around me! Whoo-hoo! I was in one of the last pairs to survive - the balloon broke at my feet, so I didn't get too wet. The kids high-fived us afterwards.

It was a splendid day.

Constructive Criticism

Ellen Berg has some important thoughts on creating a classroom community where students can give each other thoughtful feedback and establish a shared standard of professionalism and quality.

She sounds like she's done good work with her students and is seeing the payoff now...

Thursday, June 03, 2004


If you haven't met Manuel yet, chances are you'll hear of him someday; this 14 year old is destined for something great. His academic record is spotty, but he charms his way straight to the heart of every new adult he meets, in part by showing great interest in just about everything: food, music, art, science, history, mythology. In the two years that I've known Manuel, he has managed to convince various adults to give him a free violin, free violin lessons, a scholarship to music camp last summer, and many experiences attending concerts at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, etc. He can be a total pain-in-the-neck, but somehow, when it counts, he manages to impress the right people. He has musician friends from around the world.

Manuel lives in a small apartment full of relatives who live there, are passing through, or just stopping by. When he calls me for help with homework, I can barely hear him over the shouting voices, television sounds, and music in the background. His parents have left him and his younger brothers to be raised by their grandmother, who speaks barely a word of English and is not in the best of health; last I heard, his mother was in prison for something drug-related on one of the French-Caribbean islands where they are from. Manuel is like a parent to his younger brothers, who seem to be quite a handful. He shares a room with at least one or two other young relatives, and has started to complain bitterly about his lack of privacy or even the ability to get all his work done and then go to sleep in some peace and quiet.

Manuel and his brothers are in the US illegally. This is becoming more and more of a problem for him. His family has no money, yet he can't get a part-time job because he can't get working papers. Last summer, he made money posting fliers, but that work is not available during the school year, nor is it really how he wants to spend his time. He had an opportunity to tour with a youth orchestra, but couldn't because he didn't have the proper documentation and can't leave the country. He anticipates problems when he wants to go to college. Today he said, "What if I get into Harvard and can't go because I'm not a citizen?" Another source of conflict between Manuel and his grandmother is that she doesn't take any action to resolve his immigration status (who knows if she can do anything, but he feels like she doesn't even try); she has advised him to marry an American woman as soon as possible!

Add to my list of projects: Contact someone who does pro-bono immigration law. See if I can set up an appointment for Manuel to make a plan for becoming a citizen, if possible, or at least just to get a clear picture of what he can and cannot do, his options...

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Marbles Lost - Please Report Sitings to the Authorities

I must have gone completely off my rocker the night that I decided that a video project was a good idea. Although I have apparently given some readers the impression that I know what I'm doing, or have some sort of well-thought-out plan, this is not in fact the case. I didn't even OWN a VCR until I was 16! I have never regularly used video equipment of any kind. I have a digital video camera that I received as part of a grant, Adobe Premiere which I have never used now installed on my home computer and one school laptop, only a couple of days before I will no longer be able to put off shooting any longer... and no clue how this is going to work! Today's travails: The USB cable is missing from the camera. Mind you, I am not entirely certain that it ever existed, as I have only used the camera once before now. I don't remember throwing away any useful-looking cables (duh) and the camera has been in a box in a locked closet for most of the last year. So where is that darn USB cable? Anyway, I stopped at Circuit City or some such store today to see if I could buy a replacement, but they didn't have one. The man at the store informed me that what I really need if I want to send digital video to my computer is FireWire, which I can purchase for something in the neighborhood of $40 from his friend at CompUSA. Um... I don't know WHAT to make of this latest news: True? Just a techie form of flirtation? Maybe he gets kickbacks from his friend? All I want to do is transfer the last video we shot to the computer so I can practice using Premiere... I have such an optimistic view of my ability to master the basics of new kinds of software that I sometimes bite off more than I can chew. Actually, as in this case, the problems start when an innocent stroll down new-software lane leads me into the briar-patch of cables and hardware....


Someone in teacher-blogger land is having a birthday.... Congratulations to a fellow-twin on thriving another year, a wedding, and the end of the school year!

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Field Day

I am planning this year's Field Day, a becoming-tradition at my school. Last year, we split the kids up into teams and tore a bunch of strips out of cheap cotton, a different color for each team, to be worn as armbands or ninja-style headbands. We played three-legged race, water balloon toss, egg-in-spoon relay, and that game where you join hands with two different people and then the whole group has to untwist into a circle without anyone letting go. One family came and brought watermelon for the whole school. It was fun, although as one of the main organizers, some of the downsides stick out in my memory, like the glass we found embedded in the ground, which put an end to games like the crab walk or the wheelbarrow relay.

Here are the activities planned for this year:
  • Team Cheer - Each team creates a cheer & simple choreography to go with it. Points awarded for originality, coordination, catchiness, choreography, and enthusiasm. I am considering having the teachers come up with a cheer ahead of time to perform as a model...
  • Human Knot - I remembered the name of that hand-linking untangling thing described above.
  • Dizzy Bats Relay - Not for the faint of stomach... Funny as heck to watch, though!
  • Three-legged Race
  • Wheelbarrow Race - If we can find a patch of glass-free ground.
  • Water Balloon Toss - Pairs of students toss water balloons back and forth, taking a step farther apart after each successful catch. Ends with a splash!
  • Tug O'War - I'm requiring that each team be gender-balanced.
  • Capture the Flag - Fun for the whole school!

There will, of course, be points awarded for sportsmanship.

For two summers during college, I was a camp counselor for IAAY - the Institute for the Academic Advancement of Youth - at one of their academic summer programs for kids. My 5th and 6th graders took one intensive class during the morning and early afternoon, while we, their RA's, planned active and/or relaxing activities for their afternoons and evenings. One of my fellow RA's thought up Pasta Challenge, an idea which I borrowed for an afterschool program last year; it's basically building stuff out of pasta and seeing how much weight it can support. We played a dozen versions of tag, read books together, played drama games, board games, and Chess, made friendship bracelets and pins, played touch footballa nd ultimate frisbee (and just how many sports include an adjective - no, a superlative! - in their names?!), took them to the pool, and thought up lots of indescribable ways to use up every last ounce of their energy before lights-out. For the evenings and weekends, we came up with whole-camp activities ranging from Capture the Flag to carnivals and trivia game shows. One weekend per session, the kids of each RA group would conspire to design a costume for Dress Your RA Night (they were given categories and help from two organizers). I walked down the catwalk (er, picnic tables) dressed as a sleepy clown and as Pippi Longstocking (something about my hair apparently said, "Pigtails!" to my charges).

It's crazy the stuff you can get away with when the kids are campers, not your full-time students, only there for three weeks, and don't go home to their parents at the end of the evening. One all-camp game involved getting marked with a (temporary) marker on your arm in order to get out of jail. We'd herd the kids into the showers after that one, but they'd still look vaguely green and orange for a couple of days...

I went home to Massachusetts for Memorial Day. My aunt has been waiting for weeks since her birthday for a particular Martha Stewart cake that my sister made for her last year. Mary got home from college a couple of weeks ago, and this weekend we celebrated the birthday... It's lemon-poppyseed, with lemon filling between the layers and a sweet meringue-y icing. She put daisies around the edges.  Posted by Hello