Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Broken Internet... Fixed Saturday. I hope.

Monday, March 29, 2004

I need

either a new job, or a new personality.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

I Am the Cheese

I am chevres!
Cheese Test: What type of cheese are you?

I found this at Folkbum, which I was reading because I Speak of Dreams drew my attention Folkbum's idea:

Go to the Ecosystem, pick the lowliest of the Insignificant Microbes--in other words, the blog in last place!--and link to it with something nice to say about it.

Personally, I'm gonna skip the niceness requirement.

The bottom of the ecosystem when I visited was Wild Blue Yonder, who just named her extremely cute puppy "Dubya" and meant it as a compliment. Poor dog.

Well, that was disappointing. So I looked around in the Lowly Microbes and clicked on a few others that sounded interesting, until I found Might Makes Right, a blog written from a wife to her husband in Afghanistan. She's smart & hard to pin down into any of the usual categories. Here's a snippet:

But, seriously, I am the last person to ask for good wishes or karma or prayers or whatever. In fact, I'm willing to lay down good hard monopoly money that if I did indeed pray for you, you would inexplicably become stricken with some fatal disease or find your lover in flagrante with a goat in lederhosen, two vagrants, and some Cheez-its. So, I will do everyone a favor and keep my good wishes to myself.

I like this idea and hope it spreads! There are so many people out there starting blogs, and some of them have great stuff to say, but there aren't enough ways for newbies to get exposure and build an audience.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Regional Science Expo

I spent sixteen hours* over the last three days at the Regional Science Expo, a celebration of student science projects from around our region. It was eye-opening in a number of ways, enjoyable much of the time, way too long, and not without incident. Friday night, after the Science Expo, I worked from 4-8 pm at the Region's Middle School Fair, recruiting fifth graders to apply to our school. Needless to say, I'm ready for a day with no regional events to attend!

The first thing I noticed is that the demographics of students in the other half of our region (last year, our region was created, combining two former districts) are very different from our half. While our district was nearly 100% minority students from low-income families, the other district has a much broader range of students as far as family income and ethnicity are concerned. Why does this matter? Because you could see, at a glance, that the level of work produced varied consistently with the demographics of the students. I have seen this phenomenon first hand in so many settings. In my old school, students in the "top classes" were much more likely to have computers, live in two-parent homes, have better-educated, professional parents, etc. etc. In my current school, the children who are really struggling tend to come from the families that are dealing with the most - poverty, drugs, you name it. I'm not saying this is true of every child or family, but in every setting - school, class, region - it has been generally true. As my goal is to provide a world class education for my students, it is extremely frustrating to find that we still fall into the old pattern - we're doing some of the best work if you compare us to schools that serve similar children, but we are still way behind the schools that serve wealthier populations. I'm glad that our districts were combined, because the presence of these higher-performing schools gives me a goal to shoot for, and keeps me from becoming complacent.

Second reflection: Children must learn to read and do math. No one will dispute that. Yet it is a terrible tragedy what we are sacrificing to make sure the basics are covered. For example, you probably know the technique for using a ruler to make little marks and draw light pencil lines in order to cut in a straight line when making a poster. Okay. Now think back to the age when you first knew how to do that. If you're like most people I've talked to, you probably developed this skill in 4th or 5th grade. By that point, you had some basic design skills when making a poster, and you were an old pro at cutting smoothly with scissors. Why? Because you had art classes in school, and/or your teachers did arts & crafts programs from time-to-time in the elementary school curriculum, and/or your parents bought you art supplies so that you could do projects at home. My children - sixth and seventh graders - cannot be assumed to know any of these things. Many struggle with scissors. Very, very few know how to mark off a square in order to cut in straight lines. And their general sense of design is poor. A lot of the teachers at the Science Expo had made the boards for their children, especially in the lower grades. I don't do that for my students; they make their display boards themselves, to start to learn those skills. My kids knew their science, but some visitors had an initial negative reaction to their display boards because they were messy compared to the rest of the projects at the Expo. First impressions do matter! Mastering basic arts & presentation skills is not as important as learning to read or add, no, but it matters!

A story: Most people at the Science Expo were very supportive. They asked good questions of the students, and encouraged and praised them, while challenging them to go farther in their thinking. One man, however, nearly ruined our day on Friday. He was an employee of the other district who lost his job when they consolidated the districts into the Region. He actually cut off one of my students in the middle of the second sentence of her presentation, and began attacking her about flaws in her project! She gamely tried to answer his questions, but he kept hitting her with more and more. Not one positive comment. He then turned to me and told me I have to drive them harder, and said some other stuff which I don't care to remember in detail, the implication being that I am not smart enough to see the things my kids still need to work on, the problems with their projects. Then he spoke to my second pair of students, and attacked them as well! After he left, they were all really shaky and overwhelmed, and one girl started crying and got a nosebleed. Her partner said it was like he stuck a pin in their project! Sure, his concerns were valid (although some were not realistic for middle school), but I know that my kids can handle criticism when it is appropriately stated, and this was just plain wrong. I calmed down the students and then spoke to a couple of Regional Science people whom I trust. They came over, reassured my kids, listened to their presentations, asked some questions, made some suggestions, and the kids felt a little better. They told me that everyone who knows this individual is aware that he is an angry person who doesn't know how to talk to people (let alone to children!). They said I shouldn't take it personally. One of them told him off for me, and apparently he tried to defend himself by saying my kids' projects didn't even belong at the event! She told him that was not true and defended my students' work to him, and after that, he left. Grrrr! My mama-bear instincts totally kicked in during this event; you do NOT get to make my children cry! How can someone working in education not know how to talk to children???

"Action may not always bring happiness; but there is no happiness without action." -Benjamin Disraeli

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Do NOT buy this video!

Let me just express how truly AWFUL this video is - cheesy, trying-too-hard-to-be-young, disorganized script, not-trying-at-all acting, nauseating editing, pointless characters... ugh. Add one more job to the list of things I would consider doing upon leaving the field of teaching: producing QUALITY science videos for kids!


Now that I'm not on the Blogger main page anymore, I've been able to really see where people come from to get to my page. I turn up quite high in a number of google searches. Thanks to this post, probably 5-10 people a day find my blog while searching for the color code chart for jelly bracelets. Lately, a bunch of people have found my site while looking for "Bronx middle schools" or "best Bronx middle schools," which made me worry that a parent looking for a school for his or her child might find my blog and see all the dirty laundry of my school... that would be bad. Parents looking for good middle schools in the Bronx tend to be On A Mission, so they just might be able to figure out what school I'm writing about.

But this is my favorite search ever, just a few minutes ago:

poems about father and son working together to build a racecar

I am the ninth hit for this search. Hmmm.


We're sending a team to the Chess Nationals!

How to choose which children attend?

I think - and several colleagues agree - that it ought to be based on either attendance at tournaments or chess ability, or some combination of the two. Then, any students with major behavior problems should be excluded, but that would really only eliminate one or two kids. What actually happened was that the chess teacher and chess coordinator selected kids based on commitment and - to be perfectly honest - favoritism, and then the rest of the kids competed in a schoolwide tournament today for the remaining positions. Then my principal got very upset because she had apparently banned two students from attending any more tournaments several months ago, yet neither of the two chess teachers knew this. Communication failure? Definitely. Arbitrary over-reaction to some relatively minor offense? Probably. The kids in question are unlikely to do anything awful at Nationals, no more so than any other pre-teen kid who finds himself or herself sharing a hotel room with a friend.

I don't even disagree that much with the students chosen by the two chess teachers, I just think that one set of criteria ought to have been applied to fill all the spots. The teacher who is our chess coordinator is loved by the children, except the ones who resent him for playing favorites. Kids at this age are obsessed with fairness and justice.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

The Day After Christmas

When I was a young teenager, about 13 or 14, I asked for a boombox for Christmas, and received one. It was the first time I'd ever really specified exactly what I wanted before, and the radio and tape player meant that I'd be able to listen to what I wanted, in my own room, whenever I wanted. I suppose it represented independence to me. And so I got it, and the next day, took it upstairs to my room and read the manual, played the one or two tapes I owned (I believe Paula Abdul was one of them), and got this really sad, empty feeling inside me. I missed the days of getting lots of surprises from my parents, true gifts because they were unexpected. I had a lot of confused feelings that I could not have put in words at the time - and when I try to now, it comes out sounding like me at 25, not me at 14. That was my introduction to Day After Christmas Syndrome.

A number of my kids are feeling the same way now. The Science Expo's over, I read in their puzzled, mildly-deflated faces: What are we supposed to do now? To tell you the truth, I feel it, too. Simple machines? Force and motion? Vocabulary and quizzes and grading every night and days that flow at a constant, not frenetic, pace? What is there to live for?


I'm reading a new book by Thich Nhat Hanh, called Creating True Peace: Ending Violence in Yourself, Your Family, Your Community, and the World. I have loved Thich Nhat Hanh ever since I read a chapter from Being Peace where he describes a little meditation the monks in Plum Village (Buddhist retreat in France) do before driving the car, to make them think whether they are driving the car, or the car is driving them. So true, so important, and so grounded in the world as it is today.

Thich Nhat Hanh writes, "Perhaps there is a teacher in your child's school who listens with compassion and speaks without anger or judgment. The person who practices loving speech and deep listening is practicing peace. He or she opens the door for understanding, peace, and reconciliation to enter our hearts , our families, and our society."

I would like to become more like that teacher - more loving, less judgmental, more compassionate.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Science Expo: Today!

6:30 am. Pick up phone to put it in pocketbook. It rings. I stare at it, then answer. "Ms. Frizzle? It's Benny's mother. He says he misplaced one page of his project... Can he print it out at school? He said you wouldn't let him, and he doesn't even want to come to school today."

"Listen. Tell Benny to calm down, go wash his face, and get everything else completely ready, and I'll let him finish the last thing at school."

9:15 am Tables arranged upstairs, desks set up downstairs. Students start to bring their projects out. A few students try to print things at the last minute to fix up missing parts of their displays.

9:45-11:30 am The judges arrive, though not enough of them. We press one of our AUSSIE consultants into service. By the end of the day, he judged so many projects, he deserves the Purple Heart of Science Fairs (except, it didn't kill him). The students are at a very high energy level. Not as many parents come to see the Expo as I'd hoped, although this made traffic flow much simpler. I gave the kids an assignment to complete throughout the day - they had to pick the best two projects in their own grade, and the best one in the other grade, and write a little summary of what was good & bad about each one. We scheduled time for each class to visit the other exhibits, and miracle of miracles! it went smoothly. Our staff operated as a team, so that I was able to spend most of the day supervising the sixth graders, knowing that all was well upstairs with the seventh grade.

11:30 am Lunch break. We are supposed to get a bunch of bag lunches sent up from the cafeteria so that we don't have to take the students all the way downstairs. Most of the lunches arrive. One tray gets stuck in the dumbwaiter... and may still be there, for all I know!

Meanwhile, all the outside visitors arrive - the Superintendent for Science for our Region, a representative from the organization that helped start our school, the building principal and someone from "central board" (a.k.a. the city Dept. of Ed.). We give them the tour and tell them the students will go back to their projects in a few minutes. They all seem really impressed! Yes! I have a nice chat with the Science Superintendent, with whom I have corresponded at length but never met. I can tell she is going to fight to make science matter in our Region, yet I still have that little twist of anxiety in my gut that she's going to "catch me" in something that I am doing differently from Region mandate - that's an unfortunate aspect of NYC Dept. of Ed. culture, the fear teachers have that people from the Region are out to get them!

I get effusive praise from one of our visitors, and I hear that the Science Superintendent saw &heard the kinds of things they are looking for in schools this year, "accountable talk," "academic rigor," etc. Yes!

12 - 2 pm The judging continues, though the kids are getting very restless. Next year, I need to shake the trees and find more - LOTS more - judges, so that the whole event can happen in two hours. Longer than that is too long. Our "op center" in the parent-teacher room is a computer and a pre-made spreadsheet for entering scores and figuring out the winners. That part goes very, very smoothly, a vast improvement over last year, when we were frantically checking math and tallying things by hand. We hold an awards ceremony for the sixth graders while the judges finish looking at the seventh grade projects. In typical teacher style, I tell them how great a job they ALL did - true, for the most part - and demonstrate How To Receive An Award: When you hear your name, walk up to Ms. Frizzle, shake her hand using your right hand, then shake hands with the principal and accept your certificate in your left hand. Important life skill!

The winners? "Mold Doesn't Grow in a Day" (What chemicals prevent/promote the growth of bread mold, a dramatically gross project that totally deserved to win) and "Sweet & Slow" (How long does it take sugar cubes to dissolve if they are whole compared to crushed?). Benny - who nearly did not come to school - is one of the members of the "Sweet & Slow" group! I also chose a runner-up group from each class.

2:30 pm The seventh grade scores come in. I frantically add them and enter the totals in the spreadsheet. It's a close race - after one judge finishes, five groups are tied for first, with 38 out of 40 possible points! We do another awards ceremony. The kids give ME a big round of applause, and I think to myself, this is our very first class at this school, and they will always be my babies....

The seventh grade winners: "Exercise & Talking" (a thoroughly-researched investigation into how much talking interferes with doing sit-ups, jumping jacks, etc.) and "Mouth Germs on the Runaway" (testing the effectiveness of different kinds of mouthwash in killing bacteria). I was annoyed as heck that Mouth Germs won, since the two boys involved spent the better part of three weeks fooling around and doing the Uptown Shake in class.... and somehow, when I had written them off completely, pulled it together to get second place! I don't like the message that sends, but I guess that's why I'm not a judge.... On the other hand, the fact that they got second allowed a really great group of boys to get runner-up, which they not only deserved, but would mean so much to them, since at least one has really struggled academically, but did his science project with real gusto! Everyone felt good about that.

3:15 pm Everything more-or-less cleaned up, I go out with some colleagues for snacks and beer (let's just say I nursed mine.....).

8 pm My roommate - who just finished a big master's project - rents "Pirates of the Caribbean," a great movie, even the fifth time through!

Monday, March 22, 2004

Last Minute -or- Days Until the Science Expo: 1

Last minute editing, last minute printing, last minute cutting, pasting, gluing. Last minute petering out of wireless internet signal. Last minute buying of display board from teacher. Last minute taking home of display boards to finish for homework.
Last minute after-school phone call (parents audible in background) to ask if its okay to bring in samples of eggs wrapped up in different kinds of materials and drop them as a demonstration in front of the judges. Last minute (skeptical) permission from teacher to drop eggs in front of judges providing that enough newspaper covers the floor.* Last minute planning at Monday staff meeting, reviewing tomorrow's schedule and use of space step-by-step, making sure that food for students and judges has been organized, assigning roles to all, planning staff celebration for afterwards. Last minute revision of judging form, last minute creation of certificates since the other awards (Janice VanCleeves books of science experiments) have not yet arrived. Last minute changes to the assignment which students must complete in order to focus their attention when they look at other students' projects. And then... a good night's sleep, get up early tomorrow, big day, cross fingers!

*I cannot say no to enthusiasm.

Edward Gorey, hee hee

Don't Trip
You will be smothered under a rug. You're a little
anti-social, and may want to start gaining new
social skills by making prank phone calls.

What horrible Edward Gorey Death will you die?
brought to you by Quizilla

Sunday, March 21, 2004

The Web

When I first started blogging, I searched for other blogs by teachers, and found a few (very few), and through them, found sites like Number2Pencil and Joanne Jacobs, and over the next few months, found myself a part of a small cluster of sites with lots of inter-linking. It seemed to me that blogs on education fell into three general categories - teachers blogging about teaching, teachers using blogs in the classroom & blogging about it, and political blogs about education. I was surprised to find that most of the blogs I found in the third category were conservative in nature. Where were the liberal education bloggers?

Personally, I consider my teaching itself to be a political act. Providing the best education I can to the students in my classroom - who are the very students at the center of many of the education debates, being from low-income families, African-American & Latino, and urban - is the most immediate action I can take towards changing our society for the better. Beyond that, I am still forming opinions on education policy. My gut feelings are often liberal, and my actions are at times conservative.

Interesting how the web splits off into little clusters of links. One or two websites that I discovered lately have led me to the liberal education bloggers whom I knew were out there somewhere. I am happy to have a very diverse range of opinions on my blogroll, as I find myself agreeing with almost everyone at least occasionally! Take a peek at Teachers Speak Out for an interesting blog written by a group of concerned teachers in Milwaukee, and School Lunch for perspectives on education policy.

How do you like this?

I decided to file my taxes today, using TurboTax. I finished everything - all questions, all bank account info, all electronic signature info - and then the service informed me that I cannot file on-line. Why? Because my W-2's do not contain a street address for my employer. All it says is "City of New York / New York, NY 10007" and for that reason, I might have to do the whole darn thing by hand. Grr. I have searched high and low on the web, called 311 (the city's general purpose helpline), and nothing turns up to help me solve this problem. Clearly, I am not the only public employee in NYC who wants to file electronically! So where the heck is the simple solution that I know must exist?

These are the options I've thought of so far:
  • Enter "none given" and hope it tricks Turbo Tax into filing.
  • Find the address for City Hall and enter that, and hope that doesn't trigger some kind of rejection by the IRS since it will not match my W-2.
  • File by hand.
  • Call a few more places for help. This makes the most sense, but I was really hoping to file today. The Turbo Tax prices might go up after tomorrow!

What to do?

Friday, March 19, 2004

They Called Me a "Crack Baby"

A simple and powerful story written by a young man who almost didn't make it... thanks to calla lillie for the link.

Days Until the Science Expo: 4

Today began yesterday, with the second day of parent-teacher conferences. Sure enough, after Tuesday's low turnout due to snow, the other shoe dropped, and we saw lots and lots of parents. It is tough having a long line developing outside your door, as parents and kids get bored and grumpy - or grumpier, if they've already received their report card and are waiting for an explanation of bad grades. I had a few disheartening conferences. One was with a mother who had not seen her son's bad grades coming, and felt very disappointed in us for notifying her about his poor behavior but never about his low grades. She had some valid points - remember my own anxieties about these conferences? - but we HAD sent home a progress report a few weeks ago, which she seemed to have forgotten. I was sad to see her angry with us, as I have always had an excellent rapport with her.

By the time conferences ended, the idea of going out for a glass of wine with a colleague and her husband and their Thursday night salon of artist friends seemed lovely. And it was, but then I learned an important lesson: red wine and Robitussin do not mix.* And so I spent a miserable, dog-sick night in my bathroom, and dragged myself to school this morning barely able to walk ten steps without holding onto something. As my bus passed V's house, I started to cry and wanted to call him, wanted to have everything normal again, to spend quiet nights in bed early rather than out in bars making myself sick. I don't go out specifically to drink, I go out because I'd rather be with friendly people than home alone.

The nice thing about my school is that we pull together at the important times. Everyone was really supportive. While I was beating myself up for being so darn stupid, they were pointing out that what I had consumed last night could in no way have been expected to lead to such extreme misery, and was I sure I didn't have food poisoning? Another colleague was out today (we think he's interviewing), and so we had to cover his classes, plus I needed another adult in the room all morning because I could not get up from my desk. It worked out okay. I pulled one of our best seventh graders out of her classes all day to be my assistant - my arms and legs, really - which she was very good at and enjoyed. She is so helpful and competent at everything she does, we'll have to hire her pretty soon! The kids were patient and worked hard (seeing your teacher an off shade of green inspires good behavior), the other teachers helped out a lot, and by afternoon, I was feeling a little better. Tonight I was even capable of eating!

How are the projects coming along? It's hard for me to get a bird's eye view. Very few groups have started putting together their display boards, which is worrying. We've been struggling with internet access and a steadily increasing number of computer failures. I spent the day printing and printing and printing. From what I've seen, this year's sixth grade projects are already better than last year's projects, and the seventh graders really 'get it' and need very little help, which is gratifying. One group - the girls who are looking for a correlation between snack preference and personality type - did fabulous research into Freud and other personality theorists. They wrote that if the id desires Johnny Depp, the ego realizes that this is unrealistic and seeks a look-alike! They are also doing some creative data analysis, given a fairly tough statistical task for seventh grade. Overall, I would say that although I'm worried that they are not closer to being ready, I also know that it will come together quite well. As teachers, we learned a lot from last year to this, and I'm learning a lot that will help me do an even better job next year.

*No lectures in the comments, please. If you want to tell me how I should cherish my job more, and I should have known better, and how could I do something like this so close to the most important science day of the year... let's just say, I already thought all of that, and more.

Friday Five

If you...

1. ...owned a restaurant, what kind of food would you serve? Really amazing brunch. I have never been able to find a brunch place that offers the exact combination of sweet and spicy that I desire when I'm out for a filling Saturday brunch. I guess I'd have to give it a try.

2. ...owned a small store, what kind of merchandise would you sell? Definitely books! My favorite job ever was at a small bookstore, back when I was in college.

3. ...wrote a book, what genre would it be? Poetry.

4. ...ran a school, what would you teach? Gee, that's a tough one.

5. ...recorded an album, what kind of music would be on it? Folky, poetic stuff, like Dar Williams or Kris Delmhorst.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Days Until the Science Expo: 6

I wasn't sure what to write about today. Not for lack of topics: I discovered today that we just don't have enough periods of science left for the kids to finish their projects, so I'll have to ask the other teachers if they can allow the kids to work during their classes as well. This afternoon, only 3 class periods left before the Science Expo, my classroom's wireless internet connection went glacial. The kids' work was basically stuck in their on-line eChalk accounts. I have a cough that won't go away; my principal has ordered me to go to the doctor and make sure it's not bronchitis. On the bright side, when the internet is working, I have a beautiful set-up, one laptop on my desk, my email open, a printer to my left. The kids email me their work, I print it, and we edit it together. Life is good. Also, we interviewed two great candidates so far.

But as I was checking my email just now, I found my post. Remember Emily? She sent me this email today:

Good afternoon Ms. Frizzle! I know your kinda stressed out and that youre feeling grouchy because of all the projects you need to check but i just want you to know that we know how u feel

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Days Until the Science Expo: 7

Low attendance at parent-teacher(-student) conferences today, thanks to the snow coming down thick, white, and oblivious to the imminent arrival of spring. As always, it went just fine. I had a few "your child's doing great, keep up the good work" type of conferences, a few "he did better in homework but worse on quizzes" type of conferences, way too many "she still never turns in any work and I just don't have anything new to tell you" type of conferences, and several "this so-called-conference is really just a chance for this mom to yell at her son in front of me" type of conferences. Now I get a short break until the second session, on Thursday. I'm wondering if the other shoe will drop and 90 parents will show up in one two-hour session....

My colleague who was out on maternity leave is back this week. It is so, so great to have her at school again, and although certain things are frustrating for her (the slightly degraded condition of her room, the fact that the seventh graders totally "got over" on the sub), she's handling the transition really well. The sad thing is, she's actively looking for a job closer to her home in New Jersey for next year. She is such a presence in our school - she works really well with our principal (and helps her get work done), and she is really strict with the kids, in a very loving way. I don't see any of us able to step into her shoes next year, though we each have our own strengths. We were trying to convince her to take a half-time teaching, half-time dean position, but we found out yesterday that the dean position is wishful thinking.

Which brings me to the bad news: it turns out we are going to have exactly eight teachers next year. We get to hire only TWO more teachers beyond the six we have now. This has all been calculated according to formula, and of course they have to stick to their formulas, but it is going to be rough. Most of us will be teaching three separate subjects next year! For example, I will likely have two different grades for Science, plus 4 periods of... something else. Gym, health, chess, art....? Everyone else will be in a similar situation. What it all adds up to is that I am going to have to get a LOT of planning done this summer, which will affect my decision about what type of summer program to attend, if any, and also, we really, really need to find a physical science or chem teacher who can also teach a foreign language or art. Does that person even EXIST? Oy.

In other news, two teachers at my school know about my blog. I confessed to one, because I didn't think she'd care that much and I just got tired of no one knowing. Then, at my little get-together on Saturday, a friend blurted out something about my blog, and another teacher who was there perked up her ears. "I didn't know you had a BLOG!" It's different, writing when you know people in your audience will see you at work the next day, care about the same students you do. I can't explain HOW it's different, but it is.


Here are some blogs for you to take a look at (I've added them to the sidebar):

calla lillie

On Photography

an old soul

One of these blogs contains a photograph of me.

Days Until Science Expo: 8

Now that I'm finishing up the last of the grades, I am slightly less depressed about them. This marking period is much more comparable to last marking period than I thought. A handful of kids improved, many went down 2-3 points, a few went down dramatically. Most of the kids whose grades went down were already doing poorly last marking period. That makes me uneasy, because I feel like if I had supported them more, perhaps they would not have dropped so far. But the rest of the grades are much more reasonable than I initially thought - and I neglected to mention that our "passing" standard is 75%, for various reasons which I don't feel like going into right now. Using a 65% standard, which is normal, very, very few children would fail. That's not an argument against setting the standard high, it's just a way of feeling a little better about things. Whatever. I'm still looking forward to parent conferences about as much as going to the dentist. It's not that they're ever that bad - even when I was working in a school where I failed far, far more students - it's just a time in the year when I go through a lot of self-doubt, and this particular March it's worse than usual. I guess I'm doubting myself in a ton of areas right at the moment. I'm sure tomorrow will be extra-fantastic on 4 hours of sleep, which is what I'm looking forward to tonight....

Sunday, March 14, 2004


Very depressing grades this marking period. I am blaming myself right now. I did not contact parents often enough when kids didn't hand in major projects. Other years, I've immediately called the parents of any child who missed a big project. This year, I just let it slide. I did not provide enough extra help for students who were struggling with quizzes. I did not, I did not, I did not... There's another part of me that knows that it will all be okay. I have the records in my book to justify these grades; it's not MY fault if you never turn things in! My quizzes are so similar it's almost criminal to fail them after you've taken 2 or 3. But still I feel guilty. Another teacher who was happier this winter, who liked the subject matter enough to motivate the kids more - maybe they would have done better. I'm not looking forward to parent conferences this time around, as I'm going to look like the bad guy of all the teachers. *sigh* It's going to be a long week. I hate grading time.

Celebrate with Missouri

Yes, folks, today, March 14, 2004, citizens of Missouri and like-minded citizens of every state gather together to celebrate...

Pi Day.

(Thanks for the tip-off from dana).

Friday, March 12, 2004

Primitive Animals?

Some kids in the UK found a three-headed frog in their nursery school garden. Interesting. Frogs are supposedly an indicator species - amphibians in general are sensitive to toxins and other pollutants and environmental problems, so if amphibian species start having trouble, that could indicate larger problems that will soon affect the rest of an ecosystem. But what's up with this quote?

Mike Dilger, from the BBC Natural History Unit, said: "I have never seen anything like this.

"Frogs are primitive animals - so the occasional extra toe is not that unusual. But this is very unusual."

I thought that current science wisdom is not to rank organisms as though some are more "primitive" while others are more "evolved" - because all the species on Earth today have had millions of years to adapt specifically for their own particular niche. And even then, I've never heard "primitive" linked to "often born with extra limbs" before. Hmmm.

Friday Ramble

Last night, the loneliness really sunk in. Lots of crying. Crying while washing dishes. Crying while packing little sandwich bags full of different brands of laundry detergent to bring to school for some students. Crying while attempting to do some catch-up grading. Crying while attempting to sleep. *sigh*

By the end of school today, I felt at loose ends. What to do? I've invited a few friends over for another mah-jongg get together tomorrow, and they all have boyfriends who get to claim them alone tonight. Also, I'm getting up really early tomorrow to meet two students and take them to a science conference at Barnard. Didn't really feel like renting a movie. And I'm nearly broke until Monday.

I returned some library books - collections of chemistry experiments for kids - to the local branch library. I've had them out since, um, December. I renewed them... once. I knew I was going to get hit with massive fines. Sure 'nough: $56.60. Ouch. The returns librarian suggested I speak to the head librarian about getting some of the fines waived since I'm a teacher. I did, and she did waive $30 worth of the fines, sourly. I wasn't expecting or even hoping for a break. After all, part of the reason the books were so late is that I'd tried to return them two or three times before, to various branch libraries, but I always just missed library hours, which have been shortened due to budget cuts. They could certainly use the money! I only asked because the first librarian thought I was crazy to just write a check like that. Anyway, there's some librarian out there tonight blogging about the nerve of people who check out a dozen books at a time, keep them for 2 months, renew them only once, and then cry "teacher" to try to get their fines reduced. Hey, I hear you - I feel a little guilty about the whole thing, but I could use the money, too.

After the library, I decided to get a new haircut, which I needed, desperately. I found a little salon I liked back in November, a little too expensive but lovely. The cut I got there looked great at first, and good for more than two months! For the past six weeks I've wanted to make another appointment, but they keep going on 3-week vacations just when I get ready to call... A glance in the mirror this afternoon told me it was time to suck it up and find another place. The problem is, I am illiterate in the language of hair and cosmetics. Ask me about punctuated equilibrium, and I can answer intelligently. Ask, "Do you want layers in the back?" and my mind goes completely gray. I simply cannot picture hair - at all, let alone in layers, let alone on my head - when asked questions like this. Getting a new haircut - especially from a stylist you picked more or less at random - requires a good deal of trust. It requires even more trust if you've just nodded and muttered lucky guesses in response to the stylist's questions. Fortunately, all worked out, as it often does. Not as great as the last cut, but fine. Of course, the biggest test is the next two or three days, when the products wash out and I'm on my own with it!

So, back to loose ends. What to do tonight?

I could just sit around playing this, or this. I find the first challenging, and the second oddly entrancing.

But I think that I will read T.C. Boyle's Drop City instead. I am loving this book. It's about a group of hippies who decide to move from their California commune to Alaska to try really living off the land, only to discover nature to be a lot less gentle mother Earth and a lot more hard work than they'd imagined. I lived in a student co-op in college (in California), and although ours was not nearly so free-wheelin', the descriptions of commune life really ring true for me.

Thursday, March 11, 2004


The last page of a lab report which was turned in scrawled in multi-colored marker across several sheets of flowery stationery, several sections missing, out of order, or totally unrelated to the assignment:

Sorry for the horrible lab report. I might as well not turned one in. I promise next time to do and try much better. Sorry again, Emily

PS: just gimme A zero cuz I know I'm very close to one.

She's completely right. Her work during the lab annoyed the heck out of everyone around her, myself included. There was no way she could have produced good work after all that. On the other hand, she has some serious emotional problems which I am vaguely aware of, but which are confidential between her and the school counselor (whom she sees nearly every day). And my lack of patience for her behavior during the lab certainly didn't help her to accomplish anything.

So, I am opting for compassion: I wrote my own note at the top of the front page:


I am not going to count this. However, I will expect much better work - with your group and in what you hand in - from now on.

Ms. F.

Normally, I would expect her to rewrite the assignment, but she would really have to repeat the whole lab in order to do a good job on the report, and there is simply not time for that. This was an important wake-up call for me, though. She needs and wants my help, not my irritation. I will have to provide a lot of extra support to her and her partners during the next project.

Days Until the Science Expo: 12

I'm in the middle of a LOT of grading... Since so many of my kids turned in unacceptable lab reports - a project which I had hoped would HELP their grades - I am requiring many of them to do it again, a third time. Plus all the random late assignments sitting in my folders. Report cards are technically due tomorrow, but the real deadline is parent-teacher conferences on Tuesday. Guess what I'll be working on this weekend?

Tuesday, March 09, 2004


I just applied for the Exploratorium Summer Institute for Science Teachers (not the new teacher one, scroll down about halfway). My first choice is "The Math/Science Connection," followed by "General Science." If anyone knows of really good programs for science teachers, which either pay or don't cost too much, and are still accepting applications, please let me know! Now that I have no one to consult but myself, the idea of leaving for a few weeks in the summer seems kind of nice. Most of my friends travel during the summers. I do love summer in NY, though... all that free music and theater.

Jelly Jelly

Remember jelly bracelets? Ah, the innocent days of childhood.


Our seventh graders - especially the boys - recently began wearing jelly bracelets, 3 or 4 or 9 at a time, in all colors, around their wrists, twisted around their fingers, linked to form more elaborate ornaments.* We noted it, and decided to ignore it as long as they didn't play with them during class or get into arguments over the bracelets. Kids' fashion (all fashion, really) is so... random.

Today at lunch, one of my colleagues saw a little piece of paper being passed furtively around the seventh grade table, creating a mini-uproar everywhere it went. Naturally, she confiscated it. Oh my god.

Several of us discussed it at lunch, and decided that the thing to do would be to silently but carefully observe for a day and make notes on which kids were wearing them. Then, we would pull those kids aside, find out what the bracelets meant for them - curiosity? (probably) actual activity? (I doubt it) a titillating joke? (oh yeah) - and then call their parents to make sure they are aware of their babies' newfound obsession with all things explicit. And then we would take all the bracelets and let the kids know they were banned from that point on.

The rationale behind this was that just banning the bracelets, or punishing the kids, would simply make everything to do with sex more taboo. We live in a sex-saturated environment, and that twelve and thirteen-year-olds even know what these words mean is a shock to me (although I imagine some of the kids giggled at the little color coding chart without having the slightest idea what most of it meant). Of course children are curious about sex: they see and hear about it everywhere! We thought the bracelets could become an impetus to a discussion of what is and is not appropriate at their age (and the phone calls to parents would ensure that much of this discussion would happen at home, according to each family's values and standards). At the same time, we would address the issue ONLY with the children who were involved, rather than drawing the entire school's attention to the bracelet scandal.

Anyway, my principal found out about the real meaning of the bracelets one period later, and banned them immediately, and hollered at the kids. So much for that.

Oh - one more thing. The website for these bracelets stresses repeatedly that all rumors about middle school children wearing jelly bracelets as sex bracelets is a myth - guess not.

*Stupid pun: If silver and gold jewelry is "bling-bling," what do hip-hop fans call jelly jewelry? Boing boing?

Days Until the Science Expo: 14

Ah! A good day! Resolving a conflict in a (relatively) sensible way is like the arrival of spring: you feel hopeful, and each having realized what it would be like to damage your valued relationship with the other person, you treat each other really sensitively and respectfully for a few days... and perhaps realize how much you'd let things degrade over time.

Most of the kids are done with the experiment part of their projects, and are now completing their research, typing up their procedure, and beginning to think about their results and conclusions. Two of the four classes (sixth and seventh grades, by the way) are in great shape! One more will be in great shape in a day or two, and the fourth is not doing that well, but I think it will turn out okay with a lot of hard work.

I have seen some real breakthroughs in research, where kids found useful information pertaining to their experiment, and actually applied what they found to help explain their results. This is, of course, the whole point of a science project, but it is much harder to achieve than you'd think - the kids tend to be gung-ho about doing the hands-on part, but "forget" to do much analysis. I have one group who came up with some really fascinating information about the history of popcorn, the science of how it pops, and the science of how microwaves work. Combining these three fields of knowledge, they are producing excellent explanations for why certain flavors of popcorn pop faster than others (who knew, right?).

Monday, March 08, 2004

From the homework files...

Got the chance to look over some of the kids' science expo weekly journals. These are worksheets where they record each day what they did on their project that day; what their partner did that day; any successes, problems or questions; and their goals for the next day. This is a way to ensure a little accountability and provide some smaller grades through the month instead of just waiting until they turn in their final projects and giving them one big grade.

The kids were refreshingly honest:

"What I did today: Almost nothing - I did a worksheet Mr. Math Teacher gave us for homework." (I was concerned that I had not noticed this, until I realized later that was her entry for the day I was absent).

"What my partner did today: She was bossy. Very, very bossy."

Her partner's entry for the same day?

"Successes, problems, questions? My partner got an attitude!"

And one more, which we can all relate to:

"Successes, problems, questions? Too much pop-ups and useless web information!"

Days Until the Science Expo: 15

Early Saturday afternoon, I called my principal, left her a message saying that I'd like to talk when she had a few minutes. Saturday passed, then Sunday - nothing. I was giving her the benefit of the doubt, albeit somewhat irritably, but this morning, no acknowledgment whatsoever of my messages. So I got really pissed off again, and I guess I showed it by obviously avoiding her for most of the morning (though I DID say good morning quite pleasantly). Third period, she approached me about a laptop security issue, and finally we talked about what had happened on Friday. I apologized for what I saw as my bad behavior, she apologized for hers, and that particular storm was over.

Good professional development today from our AUSSIE consultant.

A student confided in one of our teachers today that the deep scratches on his neck were "punishment" for his misbehavior this weekend. So, tomorrow we have to report abuse. We tried to report this family last year - the abuse is not hard to spot - but the process didn't get very far due to stonewalling by his family (you would think the systems in place would prevent this... but they don't always work). The boy and his siblings are already living with their aunt and grandmother due to prior abuse by their parents. All have been in trouble with the courts before. It's a terrible situation.

Spent an enjoyable lunchtime supervising an experiment about whether musical genre (classical, R&B, rap, jazz, latin music, etc.) affects concentration (measured by how many free throws kids make). I volunteered as a subject in the study, but I made shockingly few shots! Ouch. I don't think they're going to find much of a correlation between music and basketball skills, although marginally more shots landed while Charlie Parker was playing... There was a certain loveliness to standing in the gym, holding a pink cd player, listening to Bach and watching my students shoot baskets and collect data and have a good time doing both.

Saturday, March 06, 2004

Days Until Science Expo: 17

The truth, a lot of it (this might be a long, boring rant, don't say I didn't warn you):

My principal really, really pissed me off this week. Although she talked a good game at our staff meeting on Monday about supporting me while we get ready for the Science Expo, I felt at times on Thursday and Friday like she fell through when I needed her. Here's what happened.

On Monday, when I was discussing the field trip with her, she said, "Okay, so you'll go and take a parent and a school aide with you as chaperones." Over the next couple of days I found two parents to come on the trip, which I told her on Thursday morning, pointing out that I wouldn't need to bring a school aide anymore. An hour later, bus outside waiting for us, kids all lined up in the hall, jackets on, champing at the bit, only one parent had arrived. I was pretty sure the other mom might be waiting downstairs, but that's five flights down and once I got all the kids down there, what was I going to do if she wasn't there? So I panicked a little and told my principal that I might need to take a school aide after all. She said - in that TONE - "Oh, well that is a problem." Hello? Only an hour ago you (should have) assumed that I was taking a school aide, and now you are not going to let me anymore? Luckily, the parent was, in fact, waiting for us downstairs, so that one blew over.

Friday, I was having a really rough morning. I'm losing my voice. I have been getting about 4 hours of sleep a night for the last week, which means I'm completely wired all the time, which is a good thing, because my boyfriend and I broke up last weekend and it is really important for me to think only about each present moment. This little stay-up-all-night-until-your-eyes-pop-out-of-your-head coping mechanism worked well for me until yesterday. Then, everything at school started to go wrong...

Eleven kids (out of 30) in my 2nd period class turned in final drafts of their lab reports. That class is not making good progress on their Science Expo projects. The usual Science Expo chaos. I felt on the verge of crying about 15 minutes into the period. I stuck my head out into the hall to see if any other teachers were around so I could get a little help and avoid a meltdown, but no one was out there. I yelled at the kids about every little thing - using a tone of voice and words that I regretted, immediately. So I was falling apart inside, dealing with about 9 Science Expo questions at a time, and on top of that I hated myself for not being mature enough to be understanding and supportive instead of belittling and furious.

Second period, I sat down at my desk when the kids came in and took a lot of deep breaths and started the period really calmly. That lasted about three minutes. My principal sent a school aide in: "Is that your heater in the Staff/Parent Room? It blew out the refrigerator." Okay. This woman is very nice, god bless her, but completely inflexible in her thinking. She is not someone with whom you can brainstorm solutions to tricky problems. So, I sighed and said she could unplug it and I would deal with it later. Five minutes later, she's back. "Ms. Principal says, is your refrigerator full?" I knew instantly what had happened. Yesterday, I discovered that my tiny little science fridge was not cold inside, I think because the outlet came loose from the wall (don't ask, I can't explain). I discovered this only because a group of girls needed a cold place to put a jar of sugar & gelatin that they are using to grow crystals at different temperatures. Thinking on my feet, I sent them to the staff fridge with the jar and a label saying what the jar contained. I figured it wouldn't be a big deal; I guess I forgot that my principal is really anal about cleanliness and related issues (or maybe it was her promise on Monday to be supportive...). So I knew that I was in trouble for putting that jar there, and I could vividly imagine her ranting and raving about the messes we all make in the Staff/Parent Room. The school aide continued, "She says you can't keep experiments in the same place as food." I could hear, inside my head, that TONE again. No kidding, you can't keep experiments in the same place as food. But for heaven's sake, it's SUGAR WATER! And what really irritates me is that I am a responsible teacher, and by now she ought to know that when I do something like that, there's probably a good reason. If she had come and asked me about it herself, we could have thought of a solution that we could both live with... but instead she sent the school aide, which made it clear that the whole thing was Undiscussable. So by now, I was on the verge of crying again. I sent the girls to get their experiment and bring it back into my classroom, for me to deal with later. Except, when would later be? My one prep on Fridays is first period, so I was teaching the rest of the day. At lunch, I had to go downstairs to help a couple of boys do an experiment about whether different kinds of music affect your concentration while shooting free throws; this experiment had been blocked by my principal the day before, when the boys brought their radio to lunch and she sent them back upstairs with a strict warning. Sure, they had not checked with anyone (including me) before deciding to do the experiment during lunch, but what annoys me is that she didn't hear them out before deciding they were breaking the rules. I also had to help a group do their soda & burping experiment at lunchtime, because after the fridge comments, I no longer felt comfortable sending them out into the hallway or next door to an empty classroom to do it.

Fifteen minutes before we are supposed to be downstairs at lunch, I tell the kids to start packing up, writing in their journals, saving their work, returning laptops to the cart. I knew that I would not have time to straighten out the cords in the laptop cart at all that day, so I was trying to patiently help each child learn to put his or her laptop away neatly. This took a while. After ten minutes, most of the class was ready to leave, but no one else was around to finish up the last few laptops while I took the kids downstairs, so I just kept on plugging away. And did I mention that I had lost my keys, and had no way to lock up the laptops while I walked the kids downstairs? Finally, two other teachers came in and offered to help, and I took the kids downstairs. So we were 5-10 minutes late, which IS a problem since our kids get an astonishingly short lunch period before the children from the other school come in and the cafeteria goes bonkers. As I brought the class in, my principal approaches me with this SMILE and says in that TONE, "You REALLY have to start getting them ready earlier, you just have to. We have to leave the cafeteria in TWO MINUTES." I couldn't even look at her - I actually turned my back on her and just nodded. I couldn't even speak. But I still did not cry. There were FOUR other adults in the cafeteria at this time. FOUR. And we have exactly FOUR classes. Which means that at least one of those adults had gone downstairs without any children - so why in hell didn't they stop by my classroom to see if I needed a hand? The kids were ready, they would have been on time, all I needed was a second person. (Actually, I think at least TWO of the four adults had not brought kids down, since one of the teachers who DID help me had already brought her own class downstairs and come back up to eat).

The afternoon was better; a couple of my awesome, supportive colleagues helped me out. And then the three of us went out drinking. We are planning a mutiny. We could run a pretty kick-ass school, if we could just find a real leader. (We have other problems with her, which I have mostly kept off this blog).

No, really, I am going to call her and discuss what happened yesterday, like a mature person would.... It's possible I was so wired and stressed out that I took it all much harder than it was intended. I'll let you know how it goes.

You know you've made it when...

someone writes an academic paper about your writing, and uses words like "narrative transaction." I must admit, he's got it pegged: I write for an audience. My first blog, now defunct, was a fairly typical journal of my day-to-day life, but since that was in July and I did, essentially, nothing every day, even I got bored reading it. One day it occured to me that what makes someone want to continue reading a book or article or journal is an interesting voice or an interesting theme. Something has to be the "hook."

Also, I've long fancied myself a writer. I used to write a lot of poetry; before that, back in middle school, short stories. For the past few years, that creative energy has been channeled into curriculum development rather than writing, but doing the blog has reminded me how much I like writing. Lots of writers say, in interviews, that they've always known they wanted to be writers, and that they were writing little poems before they could stand up without holding on to something, and that they write for themselves first and only. If that works for them, great! But I've never been into the whole Emily Dickinson thing... (not dissing her poetry at all).

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Days Until the Science Expo: 19

The bacteria started to grow - so far, boys and girls are neck-and-neck as far as the amount and type of bacteria found on their feet are concerned.

Took a sixth grade class on a field trip to the Regional Science & Technology Center, at another school, for a special chemistry lesson (professional development for me). Fun - the teacher was also my professor for a class at Teachers College, and it's great working with her as colleagues in this way.

Take a look at this photography blog.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Days Until the Science Expo: 20

It got dark too early yesterday for me to walk over to the river, so this morning around 6:30 am I got off my bus long before my usual stop, crossed the FDR on a pedestrian bridge, and attempted to obtain river water for my students. I was carrying my backpack, my pocketbook, and a large red duffle containing 33 agar-filled petri dishes, a box of gelatin, Q-tips, and various other objects needed by my little scientists. Unfortunately, I discovered that a construction site had blocked off the section of the park where I thought I might just be able to reach the water with my Tupperware pitcher. Walked back through the park, across the FDR to the bus stop, and continued my journey to school, where I knew I would face my students' disappointment. They took it pretty well, actually, and decided to just use salt water rather than river water so that I wouldn't spend tonight running up and down the East River... Maybe they picked up on how tired I am. I've been getting up earlier than usual, and going to bed much later than usual, and not sleeping that well.

Still, the kids are doing well, even if each Science period feels like running a marathon! A typical period goes like this: The kids come in, sit down, and wait (quietly?) for announcements. I review what they should be working on (usually a few options) and ask questions to try to ascertain what projects will be going on during that period. The kids grow more and more restless, so pretty soon I unleash them. Some come up to the front of the room to get laptops from the cart; others get all their materials out to start doing an experiment. Five or six hands shoot up, and at least one voice plaintively calls out, "Ms. Frizzle?" I mentally note who seems to need the most help just to get started, and tell them whom I will be helping first, second, third. The first group usually needs materials. I dash about, getting gelatin out of my bag, papers from my desk, beakers from the cabinet. No matter where I go, I hear my name and see hands popping up. I try to acknowledge each request for help by telling the kids who I am working with and how soon I'll get to them. There're usually one or two arguments along the lines of, "But, but, I just have one little question!" I try to be firm in requiring them to wait their turn so that I can give my full attention to the group I am with at each moment. After each group is started working, the next round of needs is usually computer related; I help kids learn to search effectively and explain how to remove the frames from AskJeeves results. I remind groups to take out their notebooks when they are doing research, because it is not just free web-surfing time. I ask to see the subtopics they came up with for their Background Research report. I remind them of the instructions for doing research. By now, the groups who are working on experiments usually need some help - they often encounter unexpected problems as they begin carrying out their Procedures. One group today nearly melted a beaker (long story)! Inevitably, I promise something to someone early on in the period, then forget to get it for them, and twenty minutes later holler at them for not doing anything, only to have them tell me that they're waiting for me to give them a [insert important object or document here]. At least one group brings me a conflict to settle - in a minute or less, figure out roughly what the problem is, calm down all sides, suggest some solutions, re-focus them on the work at hand. The period is sprinkled with moments of frustration - several groups have started experiments only to do something so wrong that they have to start over from scratch - and moments of joy - as when a group excitedly describes their results to me - and moments when I have to delicately balance my ideal world with practical considerations - as when one group wants to show other kids some cool science thing they've found on the web and although I know, deep in my heart, that sharing excitement about science is a good thing, I have to tell them to go back to work and to focus on their own projects. At some point I check my watch and gasp! It's time to start packing up. Documents must be saved and emailed to themselves. Laptops must be shut down and returned to the cart. Experiments must be cleaned up. Each child must complete a small journal entry explaining what they did that day and their goals for the next day. The kids have to pack up their books and get calm and quiet and ready to go to the next class - and I have to return the room (and my mind) to some level of order so that the next class can start fresh.

I sent out a little email to my friends asking them to volunteer as judges... And the final scoring rubric arrived today, which I will hand out and discuss with the students in the hopes that they will get a better idea of what they are shooting for with this project. I am excited, I am exhausted, and I am excited again!

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Shopping List

  • Q-Tips
  • Tums
  • gelatin
  • sand
  • soil
  • vase
  • bean seeds
  • river water

Monday, March 01, 2004

Days Until Science Expo: 22


On four hours sleep.

After a disorienting and sad weekend.

After a day out sick.

When apparently no one received the lesson plan or worksheet that I got up at 7 am - despite flu - to email.

Yeah. Could've been worse.


I enjoyed this exchange:

Ms. Frizzle: "Are you ready to start your experiment?"

Girl (casually): "Oh, we did it already."

Ms. F.: "At home?"

Girl: "No, in school."

Ms. F. (surprised & perplexed): "Oh, really? Where is it?"

Girl: "In the cabinet!"

Ms. F.: "Um.... Okay. I think you should show me."

(Girls open cabinet and pull out several pieces of moldy bread... in plastic bags, thank goodness!)

Ms. F.:"Hmmm, well, it looks like you got it off to a good start."

(Next group of students).

Girl: "Can we look at our experiment, Ms. Frizzle?!"

Ms. F. (increasingly incredulous): "You did yours, too?!"

Girl: "Yes, on Friday!"

Ms. F.: "Okay... where is yours?"

Girl: "In the cabinet."

Ms. F.: "Go get it."

(Girls go to cabinet and pull out a tray with several (labeled!) plastic cups full of evil-looking black liquid, pieces of celery leaning limply inside, veins black, leaves limp).

There is a certain, extremely scary point in the Science Expo process when there is simply no more planning I can ask the kids to do and I just have to let them go ahead and Start Their Experiments. I imagine this must be like a parent running along beside a five year old learning to ride a bike, realizing that it's time to let go and allow the child to ride, wobble, maybe even crash. Today officially marked the beginning of a whole week of letting go of control, over and over and over again.