Monday, May 30, 2005

What does this question test?

I noticed this question when looking at questions that many of my students got wrong on a practice test that I gave them. I'm not going to tell you what I think; I'm curious what YOU think. This is a real question from the multiple choice portion of the ILS Exam from 6/04. The test has been made public and can be found here.

17. Beaver dams can cause floods.

This statement shows how
(1) animal growth is affected by environmental conditions.
(2) animal behavior may affect the environment.
(3) an animal's health depends on its environment.
(4) an animal's development depends on its environment.

Please note, I am NOT asking you what the answer is. I'm asking you what the question tests, or what is the difference between a student who gets this right and a student who gets it wrong.

A Looong Long Weekend

Memorial Day: barbecues, sleeping in, suntanning, family, friends - right? Um, no.

We took our entire school to see Ballet Hispanico on Friday - which was terrific - and then several of us went to the home of a colleague, drank some wine, ate snacks, played board games, and got the weekend off to a terrific start. All throughout the evening, though, I felt my allergies growing strangely worse... until I realized that I was getting a terrible cold.

I woke up on Saturday sick as a dog, stayed in the house all day ripping through kleenexes like they were going out of style. Meanwhile, my roommate was packing to move to Santa Fe and from there to Africa. Sunday, I managed to leave the house for brunch with friends and to spend time with my parents, who turned up unexpectedly. And today, I helped A. move out and then swept and mopped up the copious amounts of cat hair and dust unearthed by the moving. The farther you go from my house, the easier it is to breathe. I'm sure the CDC has noted a sudden increase in asthma attacks on a particular block in the East Village... Now my new roommate and old friend S. is moving in, and I have to get some lessons planned for the week ahead. I'm on the fence about whether to do test prep (one week left before the ILS exam) or evolution... and although I feel better, I don't feel great, so I'm keeping open the possibility that I might want to just show a video tomorrow. Luckily, at school I have a couple of tapes of old NOVA episodes on Lucy and other aspects of human evolution.

Well, off to heat up soup and make a stab at planning.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

So This is Love

If you thought, from the title of this post, that I'd met someone special and was about to announce our engagement and future happiness, you were wrong. But I did meet someone special: our 8th graders.

We took them on a field trip to Lehman College today to see a performance of a musical version of "Anne Frank." Despite the fact that we had to walk 15 blocks to the subway in cold, drizzly weather, despite the fact that the show was not very good and terribly heavyhanded, despite the fact that the campus had no indoor spaces where we could eat lunch, so we had to walk back in the cold weather to school for a late lunch, in spite of all those things, the kids were fabulous. They were respectful during the performance. They were sociable but not loud or obnoxious during the walk to and from the theater and on the subway trips. When we left the theater, they politely thanked the actors and shook their hands, even though many of the students didn't actually like the performance. And when we got home and let them play outside (and in the gym, once the rain really started coming down), they played together so well - some kids playing basketball, others practicing moves from their step dance class, others chasing each other around the gym in a game of tag - that we felt completely okay allowing them a fairly long period of free time rather than trying to make up activities to fill the time. We even got to relax a little ourselves; a few kids taught me some dance steps with good humor and patience.

And I had time to watch them, to notice that they like each other, that even when two students are not best friends they do not torment each other, that they fool around but they are genuinely good people at heart. And I fell in love all over again.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Reflection: Yoga & Teaching

I took a workshop at my yoga studio today called "Precision Academy." I was excited to take a class that would focus on perfecting just a few poses, but when I arrived and spread out my mat, I realized that I might be in over my head: the room was filled with yoga teachers and the instructor of the class had Iyengar's Light On Yoga open to what looked like an impossible pose. Uh-oh.

I approached the teacher and asked her if it was a really advanced class. She reassured me that although I might not be able to do all the poses, we'd be working through easier poses leading up to one more difficult pose. I stayed, somewhat apprehensively, and the class turned out to be terrific, both for my yoga practice and for providing insight into teaching.

I think schools of education should encourage all their students - would-be teachers - to enroll in some sort of beginner class in something they are legitimately interested in but not naturally good at. Then they should keep a journal reflecting on what the experience of being a learner, especially an out-of-one's-depth-learner, is like for them. That's what yoga is like for me... it challenges me to think about why the classes are a comfortable place for me to learn, even as a not-initially-confident student (a point in favor of my classes: I have become much more confident since my first baby steps in the fall).

Adults come to yoga classes by choice; flexibility, strength, and inner calm are not things that our society has decided to make compulsory at this point. Nor are there arbitrary expectations about how quickly each student should progress, or about which asanas should be easy for which students at what point in their education.

Good yoga classes are the ultimate in differentiated instruction. Basics classes may include brand-new students, somewhat new students, and even some experienced yogis who are taking a basics class because it's a good way to check in with the fundamentals that underlie more difficult poses. The teacher leads everyone through a series of poses, suggesting variations for those who want a little more challenge, and other variations for those who are having a hard time with the pose. All this is done in a non-judgmental, "be where you are" manner. I have become more accepting of where I am on any given day; yesterday, I attended class feeling about average mentally, only to discover that my body was out-of-sorts and could not do the same poses that I'd done with no problem only a week before! At one time, I might have been extremely frustrated and disheartened by this - and I still would be in many other areas of life - but I just made note of it and did what I could. Once you've been to a few classes, you learn to make modifications for yourself - keeping a block or strap nearby, taking a break in child's pose, testing your balance, etc. The teachers don't explicitly say, Take responsibility for your own learning, but that message is communicated by everything about the class.

Middle school IS compulsory. Our society DOES expect students to progress at a more-or-less standard rate through given material and skills. And we do have checkpoints at various points in their education to ensure that they have mastered what we expect them to know by that point. Is it possible to bring the non-judgmental acceptance of yoga classes into the public school classroom, without sacrificing rigor? I feel a real need for urgency, yet I find it difficult, at times, to instill this sense of urgency in my students. I also feel a need to meet them where they are, not just when they first enter class, but when they enter class every day. Clearly, a teenager's thinking skills are not going to just march forwards, day after day. There will be setbacks, bad days, periods of percolation... and yet my curriculum marches onwards.

I was a little harsh on a student today - normally a very good student, conscientious and bright - who just didn't get the instructions for our activity. All the other groups were off & running, and he and his partner were doing something totally different from what the handout said. I asked them to start over and read the steps one at a time carefully, but when I came back a few minutes later, they were messing up in a different way! I got frustrated and wasn't very understanding. It's possible they were being lazy or careless about following instructions, but what if that student was just having a bad science day like I had a bad yoga day?

One of the reasons that yoga works is that the classes are repetitive without being boring. On my stiff, inflexible days I can take it a little easy, do the simpler versions of poses, and still make progress overall. In some ways, science classes do have that repetitive element. There's a reason why we do so many lab reports, always in a similar format: it allows students to try something, get feedback, and then do it again with new material. Some students struggle with one part of the lab report which comes easily to others, and vice versa. Over time, most get the hang of it. This happens at their own pace through repeated practice. It's easier to provide this kind of structure for skills than it is for content. Kids who are having trouble with Punnett Squares won't see them again for a year or two, and again it will be for a short period of time.

(1 hour later). Oops. I just got distracted by the 40 resumes that arrived in my inbox in response to a job posting. *sigh* Now I remember why I procrastinated about posting it: lots of work for me.

You'll just have to imagine all the other insights yoga might provide into teaching.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Just in case anyone was wondering how teachers spend their summers...

My summer plans are starting to fall into place. Let me rephrase that: my summer is starting to look incredibly short.

School ends June 28. This is the time of year when I am insanely jealous as one teacher after another wraps up the year, while we still have weeks to go. Still, it always passes quickly, and May has been a blink of an eye so far.

I have about a week free - might do something with family for July 4th, might stay here & celebrate with friends. After July 4th, my staff is coming back to school for two weeks of curriculum planning & other work (including cleaning & moving into new classrooms - we are shifting our space yet again). We will be working 4 hour days. The week after that, I will be at the University of Connecticut for Confratute. The last week in July, I will fly out to Northern California for a 4-day geology course on volcanism in the Southern Cascades. It's incredibly affordable and I get credit!!! After that, I will either stay in the area and do a road trip around the Pacific Northwest, or I will come back to NYC for a professional development course at Wave Hill (also cheap, also credit). Then I have a week or so free, then we return to school for two more weeks of 4-hr. days - Teacher Orientation followed by Student Orientation - and then a couple days of DOE PD (that's Department of Education Professional Development for the uninitiated), then the start of school.

During the time I'm in NYC, I'm planning to either volunteer on tall ships in the harbor or volunteer at HousingWorks Used Bookstore & Cafe (or both).


Two Articles of Interest

American Educator arrived today, the AFT's quarterly magazine. I wish it came more often. I have only read two of the articles so far, and they were both fascinating.

The first is about a 10-year-old who learned about tsunamis in Science class, only to save her family and hundreds of other tourists on a beach in Thailand a few weeks later. Thank goodness her parents listened to what she had to say, and that the other sunbathers and the hotel staff listened to her parents. That article is not on-line, but you can request a copy from the magazine - the email address to do so is listed here (scroll down).

The other article argues that many schools rally under the (dis)incentives of NCLB, improve their scores, and quickly plateau. They might even repeat this cycle several times - making changes, seeing small but notable gains in scores, hitting a ceiling - before eventually reaching a point where they just can't make any more gains because they lack the capacity/knowledge to do so. The author, Richard F. Elmore, discusses the shortcomings of depending solely on incentives to cause improvement, and suggests specific forms of support that will be needed to help "improving" schools avoid being labeled "failing" despite their best efforts. Here's an excerpt:

These schools have been the object of intensive efforts to make them work better. People in these schools—teachers, administrators, students—are aware that they are in organizations labeled as failing, and, with certain exceptions, they are not happy or complacent about it. Liberal critiques to the contrary, failing schools are usually not resource-poor environments. They are heavily staffed, they have large numbers of specialists who work directly with students, and they have considerable access to outside guidance and expertise in most settings. They also frequently have access to community resources that bring considerable assets to the schools. Failing schools do not have uniformly weak leaders. Some do. Some don’t. The point is that “strong” leaders—as in the case of Thornton and Clemente—are often just as baffled about what to do about their situations as “weak” leaders, though strong, competent leaders may have more motivation and ability to find out what to do.

This article rings true for me. One of my nagging concerns with NCLB and similar measures to make schools improve or else is that the final punishment is often transfering the students to another school setting, or bringing in new governance. Certainly, there are a few schools that are such a mess they may need a clean slate, but I see little evidence that there are lots of educators/companies/charters out there waiting to take over failing schools and do something drastically different and significantly better. So it makes more sense to me to find ways to take what exists and transform it - and, as Elmore argues, this wil require significant resources directed at building capacity beyond the initial gains achievable through harder or even smarter work.

Monday, May 23, 2005

I need between 48 and 72 stale marshmallows by Wednesday...  Posted by Hello

And that's not including the dozens of stale mini-marshmallows. Posted by Hello

This little creature went on a potentially dangerous adventure today. She sneaked out our door as I entered the apartment. I always have my feet ready to block her way, as she sits & waits for us by the door, but she slipped past me so fast I didnt' even see her. A minute later, I realized she wasn't in the apartment. I could hear her crying loudly from outside; I found her on the next floor up, looking lost. It could have been worse - the window on the stairs between the two floors was wide open (no screens). I picked her up and she held on for dear life. I don't think Valentine's ever been that happy to see me! Posted by Hello

Saturday, May 21, 2005


I'm back from our retreat. I'm exhausted; we worked really hard. Also, conference centers make coffee, soda, candy, and buffet meals available so readily that even with restraint I still wound up feeling like it had been one long binge. It was well worth it.

We drove to the hotel in NJ after school on Friday. Before dinner, we looked at calendars of the entire school year and filled in dates for holidays, tests, celebrations, etc. We didn't know the exact dates for everything, but we could at least pinpoint them to within a week or so. That gave us an initial sense of accomplishment and will save us work throughout the year and make planning easier for everyone. We also received copies of all the curriculum maps which we'd prepared before the retreat - one for each subject area at each grade level. Our homework was to review them, looking for gaps, repetitions, and opportunities for integration.

After dinner, we went back to our conference room for lots of wine and a highly competitive game of Pictionary. It was fun and I think we bonded.

Today, we started the morning sharing our observations about the curriculum maps. We found one major repetition, a couple of gaps, and many, many places for possible integration. We also talked about various skills that we want to create scaffolding maps for - basically charts listing our expectations for kids at each grade level. The idea is to make sure that each time they write a bibliography, they use the same format and maybe learn how to do one new kind of source. Some other topics that we want to scaffold in this very deliberate way are measurment, graphing, research & essay writing, technology skills, punctuation, and many more.

Next, we met with our subject area teams to revise our curriculum maps, and, in some cases, handing off our curriculum maps to the teacher who will be taking over that subject & grade level next year. In Science, all three of us will be at a different grade level next year. It's not ideal, but these changes were made to distribute experience better between the three grade levels. Our sixth grade team this year was all brand-new teachers, and we wanted to split that up; our eighth grade team had something like 15 years experience altogether, and that needed to be spread around. I'm moving to sixth grade and am really excited about the particular group of people I will be working with; I think we're going to be really strong. So, we talked each other through what we did, what worked, what didn't work, new ideas, etc. I think in the end we were each excited about our new material. (For me, it's old hat - I've changed either grade level, science content area, or both every single year for five years!). We broke for lunch with a complete map of our subject area across the three years of middle school.

After lunch, we did the same thing at each grade level, looking for possible themes for interdisciplinary units. By this point work had slowed down a bit. We science teachers finished putting our maps together and began to create a "to-do list" of topics we want to discuss in order to really set the tone in sixth grade. It was gratifying to see that we are already on the same page about many things - portfolios, shared behavioral expectations, parent contact strategies, etc. We didn't really get to the point of looking for themes to integrate our subject areas, but we are well-prepared to do that in the next few weeks or during our summer planning time.

It was about 8 very productive hours of work, uninterrupted by the million little things that come up when you try to do planning a little at a time during the school day, afterschool PD sessions, or in the evenings. And having fun together helps, too.

Now, back to my regularly scheduled lesson planning and homework grading.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Scores & More Scores

Did you hear the news? Fourth graders in NYC increased their scores on the state English test by about 10 percentage points. The eighth grade results were pretty much stagnant. The two districts in my region had the 1st & 2nd highest gains!

A few comments. First, this is something to take note of. I'm pretty sure we didn't do it the Houston way*, it's statistically significant, and although the tests aren't perfect, they do measure some important stuff. So if the kids are doing better on the reading test, we should all celebrate.

Last year, Bloomberg & Klein held-over all the third graders demed not ready for fourth grade. So one thing to think about when considering this improvement is what will happen when those third graders reach fourth and take the test? Were they provided the extra support and services they needed to catch up? Or have they fallen even farther behind? I don't know: wait & see.

And of course, one year is just one year. Are the gains sustainable?


We don't have any fourth graders, but we do have eighth graders. And we got our scores. Note that our tests are graded on a 1-far below the standard, 2-approaching the standard, 3-meeting the standard, 4-exceeding the standard rubric. 3 & 4 are considered passing, although 2 is often used for promotional purposes.

Out of 60 eighth graders, 45 got 3's or 4's, and the other 15 (including one special ed student) got 2's. I don't remember the exact breakdown of 3's & 4's, but more were 3's. So we had 75% of our students meeting the standards... not bad. Then again, they came in with pretty good scores, so the real question is how their 8th grade scores compare to 4th. When people talk about data-driven instruction, it seems so obvious to me: how could you get your scores back and not start asking a million questions? Did they gain or lose? Who gained or lost? How do students with us for 3 years compare to those with us for only 2? Which areas were they strongest in? Weakest? That's what tells you how to do better as a teacher.

I will be on a school retreat through Saturday. More on that when we get back!

*Yeah, I know that's a bit unfair. Many of the good people of Houston did NOT cheat. And yes, I do have something personal against Houston: godawful humidity and no cafes!


I have suspected for months that Mr. Kelvin's students just aren't getting it, but I've had trouble finding any one thing to point to that would help explain why or what to do about it. I've also suspected that although I could sit in the back of the room and know his lesson wasn't really getting through, he didn't see it that way. I would do my observations and give him feedback, but it felt like I was always picking out little tiny things that didn't add up to much.

On Tuesday, after observing another lesson and having the same set of intuitions, I decided to confirm my feeling by interviewing a few of the students. I picked out a few students sitting near me, neither the strongest nor weakest students, and asked them a few questions like these:

"Why did the balloon expand when he took it up the mountaintop?"

"Air pressure? What do you mean by that?"

"WHY is the air pressure less on the top of the mountain?"

"Okay, so why does that make the balloon get bigger?"

It only took a few of these open-ended questions and follow-ups before the kids would hit a wall in their understanding. Now, they're only 11, so obviously they are not going to get everything perfectly. Unfortunately, their understanding unraveled just as my questions probed the most important concepts underlying the lesson.

They weren't getting it.

I decided to talk to Mr. Kelvin about it today, in lieu of a science dept. meeting. Unfortunately, the conversation didn't go quite as planned - I didn't say enough to prepare him for what I wanted him to hear, and then we pulled out some of the sixth graders and he and I interviewed them in the same way. It was clear to him that his lesson hadn't gotten across.

And I think he was devastated.

After about 4 or 5 interviews like this, I asked him, "What do you think?"

He said little and went into his classroom. A few minutes later, we talked again, and he said he doesn't know what to do because there's only a month left and he feels like they didn't learn anything from him. I could tell from his tone and demeanor that he needed to be left alone at that point, so I left it - we can debrief it more later.

The thing is, he needed that moment. His teaching this year has lacked a sense of urgency. He was coasting, on some level. And I really think this was the first time he got real, from-the-kids feedback on the effectiveness of a lesson. But it was brutal and devastating. I have no real training in working with adults, and I think I didn't handle this that well. Clearly, I needed to prepare him more for what we were going to do and its purpose, and I needed a more solid plan for what to do after that moment. Eventually, he'll get over the initial sting and will hopefully be in a frame of mind to do some problem-solving and set up better feedback systems for the future. I know he needs that cognitive dissonance in order to learn, but how do you create it in a way that isn't so alienating? I don't know.


Our AUSSIE suggested that I share some of my own stories of teaching something and knowing that the kids didn't get it. Good heavens, it's happened a lot. Most recently, my lesson on meiosis yesterday resulted in a lot of very confused children. I used PowerPoint so that I could show them animations from the web, notes, etc. It took a lot longer than I expected, mainly because I have a few kids who are very vocal when they have questions (thank goodness - that's one of those sources of feedback!). We reviewed mitosis, then I introduced meiosis. Lots of confusion. The particularly tricky thing, which I remember being hard for me during my education, was keeping straight the difference between homologous pairs of chromosomes and pairs that form when the DNA replicates. I do my "lectures' in question & answer format, which keeps everyone (mostly) involved, makes sure they are engaging with, not just absorbing, the material, and helps me get a handle on how hard it is for them. I think it also loosens them up to ask questions and to tell me when they don't understand.

Luckily, I knew from my interactions with students that they didn't get it, and I knew roughly where the trouble lay. So today, I cut chromosomes out of strips of paper, drew giant cell membranes on chart paper, and typed up a simulation with steps to follow and questions to answer. The kids worked in groups, followed the simulation instructions, talked to each other, asked me when they needed clarification, and everyone felt a hundred percent better about it by the end of the period. Their homework is to draw a comic strip showing the process. That's my next opportunity to find out what they're thinking. I don't think they'll get diploid & haploid - some will, some won't - but that's just icing. They definitely get that DNA comes in chromosomes, that humans have 46 (23 pairs), that gametes have only 23 chromosomes, and they have a rough idea of the steps involved in dividing up the genetic material to form those gametes.

I think the operative ed terms for this post are "formative assessment" and "summative assessment." Formative is all the little ways you know how they're doing as you go, and summative is what the students produce at the end that tells you exactly what they learned. Formative is more often used for checking in with the teaching process, while summative is more often used for grading purposes.


On a side note, I went to 3 supermarkets and 2 drug stores, and couldn't find colored marshmallows. So I guess I have to buy gumdrops for our DNA models tomorrow. I'm sticking to the basics - the double helix (a.k.a. "twisted ladder), the base pairs, the idea that base pairs "spell" the genes, which tell the body what proteins to make. And then we take Twizzlers, toothpicks, and gumdrops and make candy DNA...

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Funny? Funny!

(1) Funny?

Boy in Health class: "Which is better, pads or tampons?"

Ms. Frizzle: "Well, that's a personal decision. Some of the things women often think about are... blah, blah, blah."

Same Boy (cutting teacher off): "No, which do you use?"

Ms. F: "That question is far too personal. I am not going to answer it. Calls on another student.

(2) Funny!

Yesterday, after I dismissed my first 8th grade class and began my 6th grade health class, I noticed the head from our human body torso model sitting on one of the back tables.

Ms. F: "How'd that get there?"

Students: "It was there when we got here!" a bit defensively

I put it back on it's neck, shaking my head.

Today, after that same 8th grade class left the room, I went back to get some materials that I needed during my prep. There was the head, sitting on top of the overhead projector on the front, middle table.

I put it back and said nothing. I'm willing to play head games with my 8th graders!

Monday, May 16, 2005

Science Teacher Challenge:

Let's say you were designing a short unit on genetics & evolution, and that your students were in middle school and had very, very little background knowledge on these topics. Of the list of objectives below, which would you jettison? Which would you prioritize? And in what order would you teach them?

Students will be able to...

· Name the parts of the male reproductive system & their functions.
· Name the parts of the female reproductive system & their functions.
· Explain the process of mitosis.
· Describe and build models of the structure of DNA.
· Explain how genes are encoded in DNA.
· Explain that how the body translates genes into proteins.
· Explain that humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes, and that each chromosome contains thousands of genes.
· Explain how sperm and egg cells are produced by meiosis so that they contain half the DNA of the adult organism (1 of each chromosome).
· Describe Mendel's experiments with bean plants, and how they led to the discovery of "factors," now known as genes.
· Correctly use terms including allele, trait, genotype, phenotype, homozygous, heterozygous, recessive, dominant, etc. to explain how (some) traits are inherited.
· Use Punnett Squares to calculate the probability of any particular genotype occurring in the offspring of a particular cross.
· Explain how gender is determined through the X and Y chromosomes.
· Explain how mutations occur during the transcription process and are passed on to offspring through the gametes.
· Explain why Darwin's voyage on the Beagle was significant to his later theory of evolution.
· Explain how natural selection works - competition and environmental conditions "select for" traits that increase the chances of successful reproduction.
· Provide examples of how natural selection has led to changes in organisms over time, and how it can lead to speciation.

My Solution

Okay, so this unit is appallingly short, it really doesn't do justice to the material at all. Live & learn; I can only do my best with the time we have left. Note that if the unit is going well, we will probably continue it for a couple of days after the test.

I present, the calendar. I did it in table form on my computer, but I have no idea how to reproduce a table in my blog.

May 16
Male reproductive system

May 17
Female reproductive system

May 18
Meiosis pt. 1 - go over the stages, show animations on LCD projector

May 19
Meiosis pt. 2 - model it in class - homework is meiosis comic strip

May 20
Introduce structure of DNA, build models - get at what it really means when we talk about the chromosomes replicating, etc.

May 23
More on DNA, chromosomes, etc. - this is really a period planned for spending more time on whatever has been difficult so far, TBD.

May 24
Mendelian genetics - go over pea plant experiments, use them to introduce vocabulary such as trait, allele, etc.

May 25
Reebops 1 - genes code for traits - have them choose genes randomly and build the parent reebops.

May 26
Field Trip to see Anne Frank play - will we have class?

May 27
Field Trip to see Ballet Hispanico - will we have class?

May 30
Memorial Day - no school

May 31
Reebops 2 - introduce Punnett Squares, have students mate their reebops on paper with other reebops and calculate the probability of different traits - if there is time, begin actual reebop mating & building of offspring...

June 1
State Social Studies Test - if we have class, continue with reebop mating - produce all offspring - keep records of genotype/phenotype.

June 2
State Social Studies Test - if we have class, introduce the concept of natural selection & a brief biography of Darwin

June 3
More on natural selection & evolution - do mouse camouflage activity from textbook.

June 6
Go over practice test materials & test-taking strategies...

June 7
Go over practice test materials & test-taking strategies...

June 8
D-Day: ILS EXAM Part 2 (Written)

Sunday, May 15, 2005

First Warm Night

Last night, I went to one of the silliest, yet most brilliant parties yet: First Warm Night. It was a semi-secret, free, open-to-all celebration of springtime, art, music, and dancing. I wasn't sure what to expect and knew that it could be crowded and unpredictable, but I went to check it out anyway, and ended up having a fabulous time.

We gathered at 6:30 pm in a small park not far from my house. The gathering didn't have a permit, and was "secret" yet fairly easy to find out about, so the police arrived within minutes. We streamed for the subway.

You really haven't lived until you've followed a live brass band onto the F train...  Posted by Hello
We waited in an eager throng until one of the party organizers announced, "This is the train we are taking! All aboard!" We filled up car after car. The train ride was fun. The band played - not too loudly, as some people on the train were just commuting - and we stood and bopped, swayed, or just hung on. When one of the non-carnival passengers wanted to get off, people made an aisle and shouted, "Let her off... coming through!" And in this way I think we managed to avoid pissing off too many travelers.

As we entered one station in Brooklyn, I happened to look out at the platform to see my friend S. peering into the car muttering, "What the hell?"

"S! Get in the train! Don't ask any questions, just get in!" And she got in. The crowd cheered and patted her on the back, and she got (benignly) kidnapped by the party.

We left the train in Brooklyn, and walked to Red Hook Park. We had a police escort the whole way, but the police officers and organizers talked reasonably and there weren't any problems. The police did re-route us on our way to the park, but we got there.

Here we are with the NYPD. Posted by Hello

Revelers... Posted by Hello

More revelers... Posted by Hello

One of the many sources of music! Posted by Hello
In the park, we walked past a couple of serious soccer games with lots of fans, who turned their backs on the soccer to watch us go by, wave, and shout. I think a few fans joined our party. I can only wonder what the players were thinking as they tried to keep their eyes on the ball...

We arrived at our location to find an icecream truck, a shopping cart full of plastic top-hats, and a giant bottle on a spinner. The guy in charge tried to whip up a game of giant spin the bottle, but, not unlike in high school, people were a little less than enthusiastic about kissing a bunch of strangers. The organizer kissed a woman for quite some time, however, unlike in high school, no one succumbed to peer pressure. Beach balls, a raft, and a giant inflatable orca got tossed around. We stood around awkwardly for a few minutes. Then the marching band - actually two, the Hungry March Band and the Rude Mechanical Orchestra - started playing again and everyone danced.

From there, we continued our journey through the streets of Red Hook, which is a strangely beautiful old industrial neighborhood. We walked through sunset, the band played, and we were joined by another truck with speakers, playing the Beastie Boys.
At one point, when we were stopped for a while, not far from the music, this guy put out his hand to dance. So, being friendly, I took it and we danced a little - not close, I might add. Now, what is it with some people that you can't be friendly and just be friendly? Less than two minutes later, he was trying to put his arm around me. Eww! I shook him off and S. & I melted into the crowd. But pay attention, this man will return....

That was the only sketchy moment of the night, for me, I must emphasize.

As far as the eye can see.... Posted by Hello

Here we are in the park. Posted by Hello
A few people in the crowd were setting off firecrackers from time to time, a little too close to us for comfort. They were pretty and exciting, I have to admit! Soon the organizers announced that if any more firecrackers were set off, the police were going to be very, very upset... (I'm paraphrasing). Everyone seemed to understand... and then one of the funniest moments of the night happened: the crowd started chanting, "No more firecrackers! No more firecrackers!"

So you see, all along we were in a happy and cooperative frame of mind.

It was a long walk to our destination, a park on a pier overlooking the East River, with the most gorgeous view of the Statue of Liberty. It really was the first warm night of the year - at least, the first night that I can remember being perfectly comfortable in a t-shirt (and, much later, a jacket). The sky over the river was incredibly clear.

We arrived just as giant speakers inside a bus were turned on, playing dance music. Movies were projected on teh wall of a large building near the pier. S. and I danced for a while, and then decided to explore what was going on out on the pier. Meantime, we were texting a couple other friends to come out & join us.

It was cooler on the pier, which was strung with banners spoofing advertisements a la Adbusters. At the end, we discovered a mesmerizing capoeira performance, and stayed to watch. Capoeira is a Brazilian martial art/dance form which is incredibly graceful and obviously requires great strength. Musicians were playing and chanting the music for the dancers.

The last time - the only other time - I'd been on that pier was with P., so I have to admit I was having a melancholy moment standing there watching the dancers, night air, etc. Also because he would have loved this party, and I missed him a lot.

I was awakened out of my reflections as the police broke up the performance and said, "We think there's someone in the water!" Everyone turned around to help them look, and we all spotted him: a man swimming off the end of the pier. Now, swimming in NY Harbor is actually fairly unsafe; the water is very cold and the currents are strong (my friend who sails tall ships in the harbor says that a Navy SEAL once drowned out there). The police cleared the pier. As we slowly left, the man stopped swimming and walked out onto the shore. Guess who he was?!?!

By the time we were completly off the pier, we were greeted by several (five?) ambulances and fire trucks, police carrying stretchers, and at least one helicopter! You know you've thrown a real event in NY when you get a helicopter... Confusion reigned, but it was friendly confusion. Everyone was going on about how the police were over-reacting, as it was clear that the man was neither drowning nor injured, rumors spread about their being a second person in the water who might not be safe, and no one knew what was going to happen next.

Finally, after a few minutes, the organizers got back on the mic and said the party would continue at a local bar called The Hook. And so we started off for the Hook. It was a bit comical, because although everyone there knew roughly where we were, no one seemed very familiar with the neighborhood, so there was a lot of, "Do you know where we're going? Is this the right street?" on the long walk to the bar. Nevertheless, we all made it, including our rather tired friend J. and her friend, also J. The Hook was perfect: a large bar & club inside with loud bands playing, and a smaller yet not too small outdoor space with tables, chairs, and flowers. My little group of four sat outside, drank Guinness, chatted, did a little people-watching, and admired the artistry of several quite-accomplished hula hoopers and a whole bunch of others giving it a try for the first time (or the first time in years).

We took off around midnight, as we all had long rides home. I'm sure the party went on long after we left... the vibe was great, really mellow, a little magical. As we left, we saw the hula hoopers again, this time spinning hoops around their bodies with several burning torches attached to the outside of the hoop. Wow.

After this, it was too dark to take pictures. I thought it was cute. Posted by Hello

Saturday, May 14, 2005

You're It

Ginger tagged me (she didn't think I'd notice!), and I think this meme is fun and potentially interesting. If you get tagged, you're supposed to pick 5 of the following questions (we teachers would call them "sentence starters") to answer, and also tag 3 other bloggers to pick up the meme.

If I could be a scientist...If I could be a farmer...If I could be a musician...If I could be a doctor...If I could be a painter...If I could be a gardener...If I could be a missionary...If I could be a chef...If I could be an architect...If I could be a linguist...If I could be a psychologist...If I could be a librarian...If I could be an athlete...If I could be a lawyer...If I could be an inn-keeper...If I could be a professor...If I could be a writer...If I could be a llama-rider...If I could be a bonnie pirate...If I could be an astronaut...If I could be a world famous blogger...If I could be a justice on any one court in the world...If I could be married to any current famous political figure...

It's hard to pick. At various times in my life I have aspired to be or fantasized about being a scientist, farmer, musician, painter, chef, architect, linguist, lawyer, inn-keeper, professor, writer, and supreme court justice. And who can resist the pull of the sea...

If I could be a farmer, I would have a small organic farm somewhere in New England or Northern California. I would market my fruits and vegetables locally and to CSA's in nearby cities. I would start my mornings by gathering fresh eggs from my hens, I would work outside every day, and I would develop an intuitive feel for the seasons, the weather, and the land. I would hire student interns to lead small tours of the farm to educate people about the value of local and organic produce. I'd go to bed tired and sleep really well.

If I could be an architect, I would design buildings in ways that would make them more in tune with the environment, while saving their owners money. I'd use passive solar for heating and maybe also active solar to provide energy. My houses would be full of sunlight, spacious but not ostentatious. They'd have good, useful kitchens where parents would teach their children how to cook. They'd have window seats for reading. They might have the kind of bedrooms kids dream of, like a tower-room for the young daughter, where she could sleep in a canopy bed. There would be plenty of window seats for sitting & reading books, and the living room would be designed to be about people, not TV or video games. The windows would be perfect for windowboxes and for hanging birdfeeders just outside.

If I could be a writer, I'd write lots of poems, and they'd be really good, not just pretty good, and I'd collect them in a book and publish them. I might write a novel or two, and some personal essays. I would live on after my death because my writing would continue to mean something to people generations later.

If I could be a musician, I'd be one of those musicians who is really good at the nuts & bolts of music. I'd play a bunch of instruments, including drums, guitar, fiddle, and trombone. Because I'd really know music, I would be able to play in many genres. I think I would have started my career playing folk music, garnered some popular praise as "the next Joni Mitchell," but then moved into indie rock with a dash of punk... I'd play some really, really loud concerts that would whip people up and get them moving and blast them awake and then hurl them back out into their lives seeing everything differently (or at least having let off some steam!). But I wouldn't neglect the quieter stuff. I'd also dabble in bluegrass and salsa.

If I could be a justice on any one court in the world, I'd be a justice on the United States Supreme Court. It would be a miracle that I got confirmed at all, because I wouldn't hide my views on things during the early stages of my career. I would be very fair, but I would be controversial and described pejoratively by folks on the right as an "activist judge." The folks on the left would criticize me for not going far enough, because I would write my decisions with a fine-point pen, not a broad brush, and I would refuse to play sleight-of-hand with the law. I'd be famous for asking really tough questions from the bench, to both sides. I would support abortion rights, enforce the separation of church & state in a way that is still respectful of people's right to practice their religion. I would do whatever was possible within the law to protect the environment and to protect the right of poor people to environmental justice (not bearing an unfair portion of our country's pollution burden). I'd support equality and civil rights, trying to do so in a way that recognizes the weight of history and the continuing reality of racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination, without creating new injustices. I'd support the right of gay and lesbian couples to marry.

This post alone probably killed my chances of ever becoming a justice, LOL!

There you go. Sort of a manifesto, isn't it? Whom to tag? That is the question. Corie, Nicole, and Jenny, you're it, but I'd also love to hear the if I were's of the good folks at a schoolyard blog, up the down staircase, The Education Wonks, Mr. Babylon, Assorted Stuff, and anyone else who wants to give it a shot. So, if you think this meme is interesting, consider yourself tagged!

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Stupid, stupid, STUPID Blogger

I wrote a long post that I just can't write again. It didn't publish the first time, I used their "recover post" feature, and it only recovered 1/3 of the post. So it's gone. I used to keep a copy of long posts on my clipboard just for moments like these but I don't anymore because they have that new feature... *sigh*


It started with the thought that I want to be the kind of teacher who is always calm, never shows real anger (only anger for the sake of drama, making a point), never gets frustrated and blows up at a class.

The middle was about how a bunch of small, stupid things happened today and I got really angry with some kids and although I didn't say anything truly harmful to them, I used a really nasty tone and I know that I alienated them and made them feel unsafe in my classroom (not physically, I mean unsafe in the sense of not free to take risks and learn) and I'm really not proud of myself.

It ended with the thought that I miss having someone whose job it is to hold me and tell me I'm a good person even when I'm pretty sure that I'm not.


If you don't speak, no one will ever hear you.
If you don't approach, no one will ever be near you.
Does someone miss you when you're not at home
It's a question of give & take

If you don't cry, no one will ever feel pain for you
If you pass by, the feet of the world will walk away from you


If you don't defend, no one will ever be there for you
If you pretend, no one will ever much care for you

-from Perfect, Eliza Carthy

Monday, May 09, 2005


Everything seems like a good idea when the option is to face the stack of lab reports that I should have finished grading two weeks ago... and so, in response to Nancy's questions, here's how I go about planning curriculum. It works for me. It's not based on any one book or concept, though I have probably absorbed and integrated several philosophies over the years.

Step 1: Figure out what the kids should know & be able to do. Read over (DO NOT MEMORIZE!!!) your standards documents. For some subject areas there are also national standards made up by various groups. Take a look at some typical curriculum materials for that age and subject area - for me, that's the textbook. Get a sense of what's reasonable to expect. Don't forget to take into account your own opinions, strengths, and interests, and your memories of what you knew and needed to know at that grade level. Don't depend TOO MUCH on your memories of your own education, but don't write them off either.

Step 2: Make a curriculum map. I make a chart in MS Word with four columns. In the first, I divide up the year into months, and I estimate the number of weeks in each month after you take out holidays, vacations, etc. The next column is content, the third is skills, and the fourth is assessments/projects. I use my notes from step 1 to organize the year into a bunch of short (3-6 weeks) units. Then, I sketch those into the curriculum map, playing with the order until it makes sense to me. In deciding what to do first, second, third, etc., I consider a few things. Obviously, some topics provide knowledge which is needed for other topics. Others are more flexible. I think about the flow of the year - what is my energy like that month? What is the students' energy like? What topic will motivate during low-energy periods? For science, I consider seasonal tie-ins - I'm moving plants to later in the year in the future, so that the edible plants walk will be warmer and more plants will have sprouted. I also think about the timing of various tests. Some of my revisions to the Life Science Curriculum Map are in response to my experience with the ILS Exam this year - I've discovered that certain topics need to happen earlier to ensure that the kids have been exposed to things that are definitely on the test. When I've figured out how to organize my units, I write them under the months in the first column. Some units take more than one month, or parts of more than one month, but it still works well for me to link them to the calendar divisions this way.

Step 3: For each unit, I think about the more detailed content objectives that I need to make sure my students understand at the end of that unit. I list those in the second column. Then I think about skills objectives - using a microscope, writing a lab report, etc. - that are on-going, and I try to find ways to spread them out throughout the year so that they learn all the important skills and have plenty of chances to practice and review the most important skills. Measurement, for example, is something we keep going back to, but between grades 6-8, I add more metric units (N, g, etc.) and expect greater facility with the more common units (meter, cm, etc.).

Step 4: Now I think about projects and assessments. I know what I want the kids to know and be able to do, but I need to find interesting ways to get information to them and to ask them to do something with what they've learned and show me some understanding and analysis. I spend some time with each unit looking through books and the internet, and I also come up with some ideas on my own. Then I sketch in the most important projects for each unit, and I try to keep in mind the flow of the year, so that they build from simple versions of projects to more complex versions of the same type of project as the year goes by. At the same time, I try to provide diversity in the type of project I assign - it keeps it interesting and lets different kids shine.

Step 5: Once you have your curriculum map, take it unit by unit. Look again at the materials you have and what's available out there. Get really familiar with the material for just one unit. Make a unit calendar (I use a table in MS Word, but you could also use calendar programs) or write out lesson plans for each day. Just remember, for all your planning, it will never go quite the way you intended, so don't get too attached!

And that's how I plan my curriculum.


Maybe I should divide these up by subject, but I think it's all going to come out in a jumble tonight.


The Blogger Dashboard has a post advising us about "scheduled downtime." I am experiencing the most intense craving for time alone. It isn't necessarily happy time alone, it isn't vegging out in front of the tv or reading a novel time alone. And it isn't working on my novel time alone, because I've discovered that taking on a big project to replace the time you used to spend talking/hanging with a significant other is not a one-to-one tradeoff (esp. if you don't actually stop hanging out & talking with the person). Novel month is still young, but I haven't written anything in days, and I seem to have lost my enthusiasm for the project (though not for my fledgling story). Anyway, THIS is my first love, at least as far as writing projects are concerned. Novel-writing feels like an illicit affair.

So, time alone, yes. Friday and Saturday I talked to almost no one. I went to yoga and baked cookies and cleaned my room and cleaned my apartment and flaked out on all previously planned social events and made no new ones. I graded papers, though not as many as I ought to have. I sat on my bed and listened obsessively to the same few songs and made a collage. I lay on my bed and stared at the wall; I lay on my couch and stared at the quadrilateral of sunlight on the floor. I held the cat. Sunday, I returned to civilization, better-slept but with a lot of work I still wanted to do and vague misgivings about talking to actual human beings, even friendly ones. It was nice, though, having brunch with good friends, talking to my mom: I realized that I was suddenly much more articulate about everything going on in the relationship drama department. Later, I had a fancy dinner with my roommate's parents, which I was dreading but which turned out to be lovely and a lot of fun. And then there was another late-night conversation which resolved nothing. So much for being better-rested.

Now it's Monday, I put in nearly three days of hermit-style living, and I find myself still teetering on the edge of being ready to dive back in to the whirl of projects and parties and concerts and hanging out and cooking dinner and catching up and phone calls and... just being alone, moping a little, playing the same songs over and over again (luckily my roommate's out of town, 'cause I get the sense she's not won over by the Magnetic Fields quite like I am), getting stuff done. But it feels lonelier, and harder to do. And there's the voice in my head that says, If you drop out of too many things, the connections you have to people start to weaken, and then you have to build it all up again when you finally feel social in a month or so... And there's the fairytale - is it nature or nurture that plants the fairytales in every girl's head? - that my mind keeps escaping to, that this and this will lead to realizations of true, almost desperate love: unlikely, but at least I don't imagine a white horse!

I told you I was rambling.


A junkie on the street (weaving in a way that made it hard to figure out how to get by him although he wasn't exactly blocking the way) to me: "Just 'cause the cops are here doesn't stop me from lovin' you." Ew! Creepy.


At the dog-run, yesterday, a bunch of dogs got into a fight. In less than a minute, their owners had separated them. Another junkie who was watching from outside the dog-run said something about "vicious dogs" to a woman who had an enormous, NOT vicious but a touch aggressive, American bulldog. She made a comment back. The junkie had more to say. The next thing you know, her boyfriend got involved, and things heated up. From inside the dog-run, the boyfriend gestured to the junkie to come on in and fight him if that's what he wanted. Other people tried to calm everyone down. People from outside the dog-run shouted that they'd call the police pretty soon. The guy whose dog got the worst of the fight said, "It was my dog, it's all right, leave it alone," and left. No one else would walk away. The boyfriend was starting to look like a real jerk. I mean, c'mon, dude. You're a tall, good-looking, well-dressed white guy with a pretty girlfriend and a dog, and you're fighting a poor Latino junkie? Please: walk away. You've already won that fight! You win it every day. You have all the power; you can blow him off, head for the other side of the dog-run, and no one will think any less of your honor or hers (or your dog's). Sheesh.

In the end, the junkie left, everyone calmed down, and the cops circled the park a few times.


Nicole's kids are changing the way they talk. There is nothing harder than a lifestyle change, unless it's admitting that you're changing even when you never really wanted to and didn't think it was possible. She deserves a pat on the fiddlin' back.


Kid's Health is an awesome resource.


Rambling finis, for now.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

The heart is an amazing organ...

and no, it's not where we feel things about one another, but it's still amazing.

Access Excellence: The Heart & Circulatory System - a terrific article to brush up on your knowledge of how the heart & circulatory system work, or to give to older or more advanced students.

NOVA's "Cut to the Heart" which includes an animation of the flow of blood through the heart.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Oddly Appropriate

I had a dream and you were in it
The blue of your eyes was infinite
You seemed to be
In love with me
Which isn't very realistic

-from "I Don't Believe You" by the Magnetic Fields


I always wondered where you got the notion that your silence does not hurt
Cause I can see the truth when you lean over, it's in the pocket of your shirt
And unspoken might feel like mercy but all it means is there's things you've
never said
It only means I have no way of knowing if it's all in my head

-from "Sleeping Dogs" by Kris Delmhorst

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Dirty Dancing

The Friday before vacation, our school had its very first dance. As I was flying to California early the next morning, I only stayed for the first hour. I thought it was fun; the gym was decorated with balloons and streamers, the afterschool step teacher DJ'd, the kids mostly stood around talking (and eating: the food was gone in about 3 minutes!). The kids were all dressed appropriately, and many of them really to the nines. One boy had on a white suit, a black t-shirt, and black shoes, and his friend had the exact reverse. Many kids were more casually dressed, but they all looked good. After 45 minutes or so, a few kids started dancing. And then I went home.

Apparently, about 40 minutes before the end of the dance, the kids really started getting into the music (mostly hip hop and reggaeton) and some of them were grinding and doing other extremely sexual moves. Ms. Principal and the other teachers who were there warned some of the individuals who were dancing this way, but then, after a few minutes of it, and without so much as a warning to all the kids over the PA system or anything, she told the DJ to stop the music and she ended the dance.

"The graduation dance is going to be wack!" That was the consensus among the 8th graders. All the kids were disappointed and angry.

It's a tough one: obviously, 12 and 13-year-olds should not be dancing in such sexually provocative ways, anywhere but least of all at a school event. Yet this is the music they listen to, and it's the style of dancing that they see others in their community do at neighborhood parties. There are several issues: they don't have a lot of experience with other ways to dance, they want to show off their skills, they see this music (and to some extent, this dancing) as part of their culture, and they are testing the authority of the school. Shutting off the music and simply ending the dance doesn't seem like it addresses any of the issues, not really the adults' concerns, not really the kids' needs & wants. What to do?

We obviously need to clearly define what will & will not be allowed at future dances. Easy in theory, but in practice I think you could take 5 adults from our school and we would each draw the line in a different place. Maybe not drastically different, but still different. It might be cool to have some parents or even a professional dance teacher come in and teach salsa and merengue, not necessarily because that's what kids will do at a middle school dance, but to start to show them some alternatives (some fo the kids, of course, already know these dances from home). And we need to talk with the students and allow them to participate in the setting of boundaries, so that they will feel more invested in attending the dances, having fun, and behaving appropriately for their age.

I had a period of 7th grade health to kill in between our unit on drugs & alcohol and our unit on sexuality & adolescence, so I decided to try an experiment. I had the kids sit in a big circle. I wrote up about 10 "point-of-view" cards and handed them out to students who volunteered. They took on roles - one was the principal, a couple were parents (with different opinions about what's appropriate), a few were students (again, with a range of opinions), and a few were teachers (likewise). I wrote a few sentences for each card explaining where that person was coming from. I told the students that although this was in part a response to what happened at the dance, it was also a good lead-in to the next unit. We reviewed the ground rules for "accountable talk" - it turns out they've been very well-trained by their Communication Arts teacher. Then I asked those students with roles to introduce themselves and begin a conversation about appropriate behavior at school dances.

It was hard for the students to take on those roles, so I'm not sure how productive that exercise was, but when I opened the floor to everyone, we had a pretty interesting and valuable conversation. I had to intervene several times because they interrupted each other, but then I borrowed a trick from the CA teacher and asked them how the conversation was going if they were grading themselves on a 1-4 rubric. They knew they were not doing as well as they could have been, and after that, the conversation really improved.

We didn't really come to any kind of conclusion or consensus or solution to the question of what kind of music and dancing should be allowed so that school dances could be both fun and appropriate. The conversation veered into a discussion about what adults are afraid of - the kids had a lot of insight on that - and whether sexy dancing really leads to sex. We talked briefly about how you get adults to trust you, about the risks of early sexual behavior, about the idea that parents might trust you but not trust the people you hang out with. Again, no overall consensus was reached - and how could it be, really? - but a lot of important ideas were aired. And by the end, most of the kids were listening and/or participating really respectfully and responding to each other. No one wanted to end it when the period ended. It says something positive that the conversation got better the longer it continued.

For homework, I wrote up a few questions about music and dancing for them to ask in an interview with an adult (usually a parent, but not for everyone). I left space for them to add their own questions, and then on the back, I asked them whether they agreed with what the adult said, whether it surprised them at all, and whether they had any suggestions for what our school should do about the dances.

The interviews provided insight into what the parents of our students believe is acceptable, and most of the students seemed to agree with their parents' perspectives, except when their parents objected to the music itself - the kids really claim their music as their own (every generation does!), regardless of violence, profanity, sexuality, etc. One parent said that at school dances in her time, you had to stay a balloon's distance away from other students. That seemed like a nice way to enforce the rules - it's just corny enough to keep things light.

I marked the assignment in my gradebook and then gave the interviews to my principal to look at - to me, they show that the kids are more in agreement with us than in rebellion, and that we should be able to find a compromise. (I do wonder what the results would be if we did the same lesson with the eighth graders, who are champing at the bit to get out of our strict school...).

Tuesday, May 03, 2005


A couple of friends and I have accepted the 31/50k challenge described in "No Plot? No Problem!" So if I don't blog that much this month, it's because I'm writing about 2000 words a day on a work of (probably awful) fiction. I'm at about 4300 words so far. The trick seems to be that in writing a novel, even a very short one, rambling counts as character development.

We are being studied...

In the last two days, I received TWO requests to participate in studies of blogging. I agreed to both and completed their surveys. The second group is studying how teachers can use blogs as tools for reflection. Here are my answers to their survey (they will also be reading the blog and "coding" various types of statements).

1. As a K-12 educator, how do you feel about blogging?

I like it. I like writing, I like knowing that someone reads my writing, and I think I have important stories to tell and opinions on the world of education.

2. As an educator, what is the blogging experience like for you?

These questions are ridiculously vague. I'm doing my best here. I often think about my posts during my (long) commute home from work. It's a way for me to decompress from the day, to share my frustrations, thoughts, opinions, ideas, and stories. Everyone in the world has an opinion on education and the state of the public schools, but how many people have been in one recently? And how many people have any idea what urban schools are like? I blog not to provide definitive answers but to give one teacher's insider perspective. As it turns out, I think my blog is useful to new or soon-to-be teachers, who I believe compose a large part of my audience.

3. Based on your experience, what are the benefits of blogging? What are the disadvantages?

Benefits to whom? For me, it's a place to exercise my writing bug, a way of thinking through and recording my experiences. I hope it benefits children by planting ideas in various people's heads about how to improve education esp. in cities. I've been told my writing is helpful to new or aspiring teachers because it gives them a sense of the real issues they will deal with or ideas of how I handle the same issues they are facing. I enjoy being a part of a community of teachers who blog - I get ideas, I share frustrations, I feel connected beyond my school or city.

4. I'm interested in learning more about your personal involvement with blogging. What is it about you---your situation, your attitudes, etc.---that lead you to blog?

I thought blogs would be stupid, before I read any. The idea of someone's personal journal being on-line seemed horrendous - I mean, most people's day-to-day lives aren't, in and of themselves, all that exciting to the general public. And I don't have tons of time, so I didn't think I would really care about political bloggers opinions on everything - I'd honestly rather read straight news. I stumbled upon a few blogs one summer and found that some are very well written and entertaining - and that's when I saw the possibility. Since it was summer, I had a lot of free time, so I experimented with starting my own. My first go at blogging was horrifically boring - I just wrote about movies I'd seen, plays I'd been to, etc. I gave that up quickly. Then I thought, the most interesting stories I have to tell come from my teaching experience, and they have some value, I think, to the world in general. So I started a teaching blog.

5. I've heard a lot of really positive comments about teachers blogging. So what's your assessment?

I'm happy. What surprises me constantly is the loose, but real, community of teacher-bloggers out there.

6. I've also heard about a lot of problems with blogging, so feel free to tell me about the problems you have experienced.

People sign you up for their email newsletters, take you to pieces for your opinions, ask you to promote stuff on your blog... that's annoying. Mostly I get positive feedback, more so than with any other internet project I've ever been a part of. Blogging takes a lot of time, becomes an obsession... sometimes I wish I hadn't written stuff, or hadn't posted it, but I (for the most part) don't believe in taking stuff down once it's posted, unless I do it within 48 hours. After that it seems like going back and changing history, you know what I mean?

7. That covers the things I want to ask about. Anything you care to add?

I'm curious about the goals of your project - your questions are really broad. I'm wondering what types of stuff you'll be coding for when you look through our blogs, and what smaller ideas you are interested in studying. But I suppose you can't tell me that until after the project is over.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

From Carolina Biological Supply...

"Students can test their own urine or use our simulated urine WW-69-5951."


The week ahead...

I agonized. I sat on the fence, on one side of me the prospect of a whirlwind tour of the human body and the basic basics of genetics and all by June 8 (TEST DAY), on the other side of me, taking it slow and not finishing everything. I sketched out what 8 weeks might look like if I tried to squeeze in at least a brief look at everything. I agonized. It just didn't seem fun. So I am back to the drawing board. I am slowing things down. I am going to teach a few things well, the test be damned.

Monday - the levels of organization in the human body (cells, tissues, organs, organ systems) and the four types of tissues (connective, epithelial, muscle, nerve). It's amazing how much of biology begins with naming stuff and putting it in categories.

Tuesday - introduction to digestion and the six basic nutrients (water, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, proteins).

Wednesday - the process of digestion.

Thursday - we act out the process of digestion using pantyhose and sundry household objects.

Friday - soda can calorimetry to review energy and try to understand what a calorie really is. Note to self: do not get bogged down in the math.

To make up for all the stuff we are not going to cover, each student has to do a big (BIG) project on one of the systems of the human body that we are not doing in class. This will either help them stay focused for the last few weeks of school, or it will make them and me miserable. The latter is actually more likely, but since when has that stood in the way of a Major Project?

The first day back...

I went in to school on Monday. The first 4 periods were fine. At lunch, I had a beer. I was at this random bar and all they had was Anchor Steam, so I got that. Then I looked at my watch, panicked, and realized I didn't have time to get back to school and finish my beer. So I held it close to my body so it looked like an old-fashioned Coke bottle and galloped back to my school. My 6th grade health class wasn't there, so I joined a couple other teachers in the classroom next door, chatting, cursing, drinking beer. It occurred to me to ask if either of those teachers was supposed to have a class at that time. My colleague said she did but the sixth graders weren't ready yet.

I raced back to my classroom and stowed the beer under my teacher's desk, figuring my file drawer would prevent anyone from seeing it or knocking it over. I scribbled an aim on the board and tried to think of a lesson. The sixth graders filed in. It was my classroom but it wasn't my classroom, if you know what I mean. The kids were quiet and seated and everything seemed fine, until I noticed one boy with his desk so close to the girl in front of him that they were rubbing their bodies together! And wait, I don't know either of these kids! Looking around, I realized that in addition to 30 sixth graders whom I knew, I had another 10 or 12 who had been sent from another school for suspension for bad behavior. And these strangers didn't look friendly.

I told them to separate their desks... I told the whole class to spread out into proper rows, as all the desks were squished together in one part of the room. They resisted. Finally, I got so frustrated with one chubby little boy that I picked up his desk, chair, and the kid himself and bodily moved them. He said, "But you just met me!" and I said something unpleasant but not strictly wrong in response.

I glanced at the clock and realized my lesson - whatever it was - wasn't going to happen. Reaching for delaying tactics, I turned setting up the room into a challenge. Now some of the kids began moving furniture into rows, but they didn't do very well: the room was still cramped. They'd ignored the entire back half of the space. I praised them for their efforts and challenged them to use math to do even better.

Suddenly, in the confusion, I realized that one of the children was 80 years old, her hair white and recently out of rollers: it was the little chubby boy's grandmother, sitting at a student desk, looking bemused. She had been watching me. She was there to witness, first hand, her grandson's behavior. I had a few minutes' anxiety since I had been rude to him, but she turned out to be on my side.

After the kids' second unsuccessful try at setting up the room, I gave up and told them how to do it. The bell rang and the kids raced for the doors (there were several, big metallic double doors that led directly into the schoolyard, where the gate was unlocked and the streets beckoned...). I was losing kids as fast as I could herd them into line.

And then I woke up.

Anxiety dreams just do not go away, ever, do they?