Thursday, May 27, 2004

There are black and white checked tables wherever you go...

I went with my friend C. to see "Coffee and Cigarettes" tonight. It snapped me partway out of my funk. It is black and white, a series of short scenes, each with different actors, playing themselves or at least everyday people having coffee and cigarettes and just talking. The scenes get longer as the movie progresses, they start circling back to ideas, themes, and scraps of dialogue from earlier vignettes, and the movie's themes build. A brilliant layered approach... the movie is, I think, talking about people's need to fit in, the way we hide ourselves to be cool and the way we make ourselves vulnerable in order to be loved. We can all be socially awkward, at times, and we can all be the ones making someone else feel uncomfortable. And there's some stuff about Nikola Tesla, of the coil, first brought up in a scene with Jack & Meg White of the White Stripes (many of the actors are actually more musicians; Tom Waits & Iggy Pop do a funny yet excruciating scene together). Tesla apparently "perceived the Earth as a conductor of acoustical resonance" - an idea to which the film returns. Anyway... it's a great movie. I would go back and see it again.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Following Newton's Laws: A WebQuest


You may not know it, but you and the rest of the universe obey a set of laws discovered by Isaac Newton way back in the 1600's: Newton's Laws. You and your teammates are creative designers. You have been hired by Middle School Enterprises to find an interesting way to teach fourth graders about Newton's Laws. You will first need to research the laws and figure out how they affect your life. Then, choose one of the following options:
  • Create a 5 minute long educational video to teach younger students about Newton's Laws.
  • Write a children's book that teaches kids about Newton's Laws.

Your bosses at Middle School Enterprises are eagerly awaiting your finished product, so make sure you stay on schedule!


The Task

You & your team of creative designers will produce one of the following options:
  • A short (5 min.) educational video that will help fourth graders understand Newton's Laws.
  • A children's storybook (5-15 pages) that will help fourth graders understand Newton's Laws.

If you are making a video, you will need to turn in a script to Ms. Frizzle, then sign up for a time to use the digital video camera.

If you are writing a children's book, you will need to type your story in Microsoft Word, then illustrate it and cut-and-paste your story and illustrations into one final book.


The Process

To accomplish this project, you will follow these steps. The amount of time to spend on each step is listed in parentheses.
1. First you'll be assigned to a team of 3-5 students.

2. Read the choices of roles below. Agree on one role for each team member. If there are more jobs than team members, some team members can have two roles. If you are having trouble choosing roles, it's okay to vote, flip a coin, or agree to rotate roles each day. (This step should take you 5-7 minutes).


Organizer: Your job is to keep your group moving along, and to make sure all materials are kept neatly in the project folder.
o Pay attention to the times given in parentheses and give your group time warnings when you are taking too long on one step.
o Think of ways to split up work so that more than one step gets done at once.
o Collect your group's materials at the end of each period so that nothing gets lost.

Art Director: Your job is to make sure your group's work is attractive. You shouldn't do all the artwork yourself, just make sure that your group pays attention to how your work looks.
o Video: Coordinate costume & props design. Make sure actors are looking at the camera when they speak.
o Book: Make sure your group chooses a style for your illustrations. Think about the best fonts to use, and how to assemble your book very professionally.

Peacemaker: Your job is to help your teammates work together cooperatively.
o Make sure everyone in your group is included in important decisions. Do this by asking "What do you think?" to each member of the group.
o Remind your group of strategies for making decisions, such as discussing the pros & cons of each idea, voting, flipping a coin, compromising (coming up with a new idea that includes parts of both ideas), or taking turns making decisions.
o Set a good example! Use polite language, such as "please," "thank you," "what do you think?" and so forth.

Teacher Liaison: You are the member of your group who can ask for Ms. Frizzle's help, advice, or opinion. o Before asking for Ms. Frizzle's help, make sure that no one in your group has the answer to what you're asking. Make sure everyone in your group thinks it's time to ask the teacher!
o Raise your hand and wait quietly for Ms. Frizzle to see you.
o When the teacher comes to your table, make sure that all your teammates are paying attention and participating in the discussion.

Computer Guru: You are responsible for setting up and shutting down your group's laptop(s), and making sure all work is saved. You are NOT the only person in your group who gets to use the laptop!
o Get the laptop from the cart, including all power cords. Turn it on and open your group's documents.
o Pay attention to the battery and arrange to plug in the laptop if needed.
o Make sure that your group saves all work to the hard drive AND to at least one group member's eChalk account.
o Return the laptop to the cart, very neatly. Make sure it is plugged in and charging.
o Keep track of which laptop your group is using.

3. Use the following resources to learn more about Newton's Laws. Complete the notes packet to show what you've learned. You might want to divide up the three laws among your teammates, research one law each, then teach each other what you've learned. (This step should take 2 class periods).

(To come - I can't cut & paste the HTML links into the blog, so this part is going to take a little while).

4. Decide whether to make an educational video or write a children's book. The rest of the steps depend on whether you choose video or book.

If you're making a video...
5. Brainstorm ideas for your video. Then write a script and turn it in for feedback from Ms. Frizzle. (1 class period)

6. After getting Ms. Frizzle's feedback, revise your script and get the final draft approved. (1 class period)

7. Gather any costumes and props you need and rehearse your parts at least three times. (30 minutes, and for homework)

8. Schedule a time to shoot your video, and then film it with Ms. Frizzle's help. (15 minutes)

9. When you're finished, use the rubric to grade your own work. (10 minutes)

10. Finally, share your video with your classmates!

If you're writing a children's book...
5. Brainstorm ideas for an interesting story that will include lots of information about Newton's Laws. Then, write the first draft of your story. (1 class period)

6. Turn in a copy of your first draft to Ms. Frizzle for feedback. While she reads it, decide what pictures you need to illustrate your story, and what text will go with each picture. (1 class period)

7. After receiving feedback from Ms. Frizzle, split up the work. Half your group should revise the story, while the other half draws the illustrations. (1 class period)

8. After you finish your final draft and all your illustrations, assemble your book, including a cover! (30 minutes)

9. Use the rubric to grade your own work. (10 minutes)

10. Finally, share your book with your classmates!


(To come - this is a table, so I'm not going to include the whole thing, but perhaps I'll list the categories...)



Congratulations! By now, you should know quite a bit about Newton's Laws and how they affect everyday life. You've also created a video or children's book which has impressed Middle School Enterprises... they are talking about hiring your team for another project in the future!


Credits & References

This WebQuest is based on a template available at The WebQuest Page and is adapted from this WebQuest on Newton's Laws.

And some advice for everyone! Posted by Hello

Advice for my aspiring screenwriters... Posted by Hello

A peek into Ms. Frizzle's classroom. Check out our laptops! Posted by Hello

Last night's project... to be continued tonight. Posted by Hello

Tuesday, May 25, 2004


Mrs. Chew said it better than I could (as so often happens!)... Oftentimes giftedness is described as something innate, in much the same way that certain learning disabilities are described as genetic or something you're born with. So I was surprised to see that Suzie's list was mostly stuff that is under someone's control, and generally correlates with being middle class. Thus, my question in her comments about whether it was causal or correlative... It seems to me that if the idea of giftedness as inborn is valid, then a school should worry if all their "gifted" kids come from stable, middle class families with talented parents. Her follow-up post gets into this a bit, that many kids from minority or low-income backgrounds, or with non-verbal forms of giftedness, get overlooked. She goes on to defend the idea of innate giftedness as a valid reason for kids getting additional education resources. I'm not taking that one on right here. In general, I believe that there are a few - very few - kids who are so unusually intelligent that they need a whole different approach to education. Then, most of the kids in GT classes are very intelligent but mostly lucky (as Mrs. Chew proposes). Their parents are smart enough to realize that GT classes offer them a more rigorous, interest-driven, individualized education than the regular tracks. True, but I would argue that nearly all children would benefit from approaches such as Suzie describes! Finally, a few kids need special education services. I think the special ed situation could use a major overhaul; some kids desperately need different approaches, while many others in those classes would be fine if the regular track teachers had the resources & training to provide ALL the kids with the kind of individualized instruction they would get in special ed or GT classes. These special approaches are often just the kind of education we should want for all our children - and I say that as someone who is not particularly talented at differentiated instruction or any of the rest of it.

Anyway, this is a sensitive topic and I may not have made myself absolutely clear, so I hope I don't get flamed! It's off to bed for now and perhaps a revision to clarify what I'm trying to say tomorrow.

WebQuest Virgin

Yes, that's right: I'm doing my very first WebQuest with my students. I borrowed liberally from other WebQuests found on-line to create my own, titled "Following Newton's Laws." I will try to post it or a link to it later. Basically, the kids spent yesterday and today researching Newton's Laws, and will now choose one of the following projects to teach 4th graders what they've learned: Write a children's book or make a 5-minute educational video. We should wrap it up by the end of next week.

More on the whole thing after I get some lab reports graded.

I've been a little blue the last couple of days, no particular reason, but I haven't felt much like blogging. I've been eating chocolate and running, in hopes of resetting the old brain chemistry!

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Who can resist? Posted by Hello


It's the first ever Shop4Class week in NYC. This is a Caroline Kennedy initiative; between May 21 and May 28, a bunch of stores will donate a portion of their proceeds to buy books for classroom libraries for the city's kindergarten through third grade students.

Dear Fellow New Yorkers:
This week your purchases will make a real difference to the children of our city. There are few things in life more important than learning to read, and thanks to the many participating retailers, more of our school children will have books close at hand.

Surely, those of us planning to buy anything in the city this week should take a look at the list of shops and consider spending our money at those places. It's great that those stores want to give back to the community, yes.

But the whole thing begs the question: Wouldn't it be simpler to provide ample funding in the education budget to buy enough books for the little ones?

I mean...

Shop4War: This week only, the following retailers will donate a portion of their proceeds to the US Army to buy much-needed guns for the soldiers.

Can you just imagine?


Singing for Peace

This is my home, the country where my heart is
Here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine.
But other hearts in other lands are beating,
With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

I ain't afraid of your Yahweh,
I ain't afraid of your Allah,
I ain't afraid of your Jesus,
I'm afraid of what you do in the name of your god.
Rise up to your higher power
Free up from fear, it will devour you
Watch out for the ego of the hour
The ones who say they know it
Are the ones who will impose it on you.
~I Ain't Afraid (Holly Near)

Friday, May 21, 2004


For best results, scroll upwards from the bottom of the post.

Go ahead, try this at home!

C'est finis! Posted by Hello

If I could only send smell over the internet... Posted by Hello

Now it's ready for the oven! See you in 35 minutes... Posted by Hello

Alex with our cat... an adorable interruption... Posted by Hello

"It looks like it's going to give birth to an alien," says my roommate. Posted by Hello

I still know how to flute a pie crust! (I did this thousands of times when I worked at a bakery in high school...). Posted by Hello

The upper crust... Posted by Hello

Now your mouth starts to water... Posted by Hello

I filled the pie with strawberries & rhubarb... Posted by Hello

Press it gently into the pie pan... Posted by Hello

Roll the dough between layers of waxed paper... Posted by Hello

Zesty! Posted by Hello

The strawberries are organic... Posted by Hello

Then, the secret ingredient... Posted by Hello

I started with the crust... Posted by Hello

Thursday, May 20, 2004


Bronx Zoo today. It was a very easy field trip. We took only the kids who have behaved well for the last few weeks, as an incentive trip. The kids were really good and easily impressed by the animals, particularly the baboons. It was a beautiful day, too, the first this week.

This was the first time I've ever done a field trip to the zoo, which I know is weird given that I teach science and it is sooo close. There were about ten thousand kids there, it seemed like; the American Museum of Natural History was extremely organized about getting buses and classes in and out of the museum, but the zoo just let everyone fend for themselves.

Thanks to selection interviews and this trip, I have to edit a lot of lab reports tonight. I've already done 25 since 3:30 pm, but I have another 25 or so to go. I am motivating myself by stopping every time I finish ten for a fifteen-minute break. This was my email, blog, & chocolate break; next will come nail polish; after that, looking for plane fares to SF for the summer. Come to think of it, all my breaks will most likely include chocolate!

What do you think of the daily shots of the chalkboard or other classroom stuff? Worth continuing? Boring as heck? I have to be really sneaky to get the pictures, so if they are boring I'm not going to keep doing it!

Our quiz included a question comparing the momentum of two elephants, Elly & Elmer. When we got to the elephant enclosure at the zoo today, a student said, "Look, it's Elmer!" Posted by Hello

Pink is the new black. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

In three days this week, we interviewed about 140 students for next year's sixth grade class. A few were interviewing to enter as seventh graders. We are a public school, but a magnet school, and we select our students based on a combination of test scores, interviews, recommendations from former teachers, and report cards. This year, we had many more applicants than in previous years, so we had to spread out our selection process over three days. We gave the students a writing task while we called them one at a time for an interview.

Here are some of the questions:

  • Why do you want to come to this school?
  • How would you feel about having 2 hours of homework every night? (You should see some of the faces they make when they hear this question, before they pull themselves together and pretend to like the idea...).
  • Have you ever come to class unprepared? How did that make you feel? What did you do about it?
  • How would you compare yourself to the rest of your classmates?
  • Do you have a place & time for homework every day? Do you have a system for doing your homework, to decide which assignments to do first?
  • How do you prepare for an important test?
  • What do you think would be the most difficult part about coming to our school? (This gets the occasional literal answer about the bus ride being long...)
  • What is your favorite thing to do?
  • When was the last time you got in trouble? Tell me about that... How did you handle it? Have you ever been in a fight? (Interestingly, and disturbingly, many of our prospective students have been in at least one fight. A couple of kids today had accidently crossed the wrong person and been beaten up by whole groups of kids. The difference between the fifth graders and sixth graders that we interviewed is that nearly all the sixth graders had fought at least once. Welcome to Junior High, indeed.)
  • What would you do if someone were bothering you and calling you names?
  • Is there anything else you think we should know about you?

Students will be able to... Posted by Hello

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Does anyone know...

how to turn photos from landscape to portrait to post them?

The Solutions Lab Reports! Posted by Hello

Introducing my classroom....

Today's chalkboard. Posted by Hello