Friday, March 31, 2006

It's all math, all the time 'round here

One more tidbit gleaned from the training session. Up to third grade (or fourth? I can't remember) the kids are allowed to draw bar graphs with the bars touching. After that, it costs them a point if they use touching bars rather than separating them. Unlike the equations/expressions and strings issues, where I could at least guess why it mattered, even if I thought it was a bit harsh, I have no idea why this one matters, mathematically speaking. I got lots of great comments on the last post, clarifying some of the test-designers' reasoning - got anything for me on this one?

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Granito de Arena

I visited UFT headquarters (at 52 Broadway) for the first time yesterday. It's a big, fancy building with a really nice security guard who was very helpful in directing me to the right auditorium. There's a cafe on the ground floor. I wish my school included a cafe. Oh, well.

Along with maybe 75 other teachers and activists, I was there for a screening of Granito de Arena, a documentary about the long history of political mobilization of Mexican teachers, which continues today. It seems that many teachers in Mexico are trained at normales rurales, free schools of education that prepare them to go back to rural villages to teach. The World Bank has applied pressure for the government to close the normales rurales and replace them with private schools of education and standardized exit exams for all teachers. This would prohibit many people from impoverished regions from becoming teachers, as they would not be able to afford tuition or housing in order to study to become teachers. Teachers and the people of the towns where they work have organized in support of the normales rurales, even occupying one school and enduring beatings, tear gas, and bullets.

The film places this incident within a larger context of teacher activism and organizing. Since the '70s, or earlier, teachers have marched, organized, and occupied buildings, resisting privatization of education and demanding an end to corruption within the teachers' union, higher pay, and adequate resources in their schools. The film includes much footage of police repressing these actions, often violently. Both union officials and government officials have been accused in the murders and disappearances of dozens of teachers over the past 25 years. It discusses President Vicente Fox's Quality Schools Program, in which schools that agree to a specific curriculum and additional standardized testing will receive extra funding. As a teacher interviewed in the film pointed out, the extra resources provided for these schools (such as the repair of buildings) are so basic as to be essential, and ought to be available to all schools. However, in many villages, parents pay what they can towards building maintenance and school supplies, despite Mexico's promise of a free, secular public education for all. Companies like Ford and Coca-Cola advertise their products by showcasing the "model schools" they have built in Mexico; the teachers' analysis is that corporations have an interest in education in order to create a compliant workforce for the maquiladores and a generation of consumers of their products. In contrast, teachers in some states have begun working together to develop curriculum responsive to local culture and the needs of the community. This can include materials produced in multiple indigenous languages, reflecting differences in local culture, or lessons on cultivating organic coffee. The goal is to help communities retain their cultural histories while supporting economic independence.

Some of the most powerful moments in the film were parables told by Ernesto Galeano, a Uruguayan author. He told a story of a chef gathering a duck, turkey, and chicken together. What kind of sauce would you like to be cooked in? They answered, of course, that they didn't want to be cooked, in any kind of sauce. That is not an option, the chef responded. He also described a Marx brothers film of a train speeding towards the station. The train runs out of wood to fuel its engine. They begin chopping up the cars to use as fuel, starting with the last car. Finally, the train reaches the station, but "it was a train without a train." His third story refered to the oft-quoted "Give a man a fish, he can eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, he can eat forever." But what if they sell the river? What if they poison the river? What if the landlord doesn't allow them to fish?

Here's a report from Global Exchange that covers much of the same ground as the film.

A discussion followed the film, moderated by Professor Jean Anyon, of CUNY. I found the discussion somewhat disappointing (as they often are). In brief, there were calls for teachers here in the US to have a stronger analysis of how privatization, globalization, "neoliberalism," etc. affect education here. Others said the analysis is out there. Others called for teachers to play a greater role in the communities in which we teach, beyond education. Others gave examples of how their organizations are working on education-related and other issues, and invited audience members to join. NYCoRE works on three issues - military recruiting in schools, standardized testing, and criminalization of youth. If I worked in a high school or were a social studies teacher, I would absolutely get involved in the first campaign, as it is kids like those I teach who fight & die for our country. Other organizations represented were Teachers Against the War, IndyKids (they publish a pretty great newspaper, a la Indymedia, written for kids in grades 4-8), and Teachers for a Just Contract. There was some discussion of how the UFT could help make the existence and activities of these organizations better known to the "rank & file." Towards the end of the discussion, there was a good deal of criticism of the UFT for not taking a stronger stance on many different issues.

What was missing, in my opinion, and what is so often missing from these conversations, was a meaningful vision of an alternative. As liberals, we are taking a defensive stance without necessarily offering a coherent picture of what we are for. What would the NYC school system look like in our ideal world? If we did away with standardized testing, what would we replace it with as a means of ensuring that children throughout the system, from all ethnicities and income levels, were receiving a high quality education? And if education is, currently, under pressure to produce workers/consumers for corporations, what would the alternative look like? In Mexico, one alternative was to teach kids skills that would help communities modernize while remaining economically independent. What's the equivalent of that here in NYC? What does that look like on a day-to-day basis, 180 school days per year, in a science classroom, a social studies classroom, an English classroom, a math classroom?

There are some answers, and beginnings of answers, to these questions, but we are not coming together around a vision that we can present as an alternative. Partly, I think that once you get down to nuts & bolts, liberal conceptions of education are wildly disparate (which is fine, but hard to organize around). Some are for very radical, free-school, social organizing types of schools, others are in favor of schools similar to those we have now but with more critical thinking, study of local history, democratic decision-making, and depth versus breadth, while others would be satisfied with equitable funding, smaller class sizes, more resources, and more freedom for teachers to choose what & how we teach. A second issue is that many parents want their children to succeed within the system as it exists now; many children want that for themselves. That doesn't mean they are for the status quo, but they might not line up in support of a radical overturning of the status quo, either. And in the end, change has to come from the community itself, not just from teachers, but from teachers, parents, and students.

Food for thought, and some frustration.

How many dollar bills in a ton?

Lest anyone think I've been on vacation today, let me share an activity I put together. I'm teaching the sixth graders how to use the triple beam balance next week. The first day, they'll simply practice by measuring the mass of various common objects, with extra time for playing (measuring objects of their own choosing). The next day, to help them get a more intuitive sense of what a gram, kilogram, and ton are like, I'm having them measure/calculate how many pennies, paperclips, and dollar bills are in a kilogram and in a ton. (A metric ton, of course).

Test your own metric intuition: Predict how many pennies, paperclips, and dollar bills are in a kilogram, and how many are in a ton, and put your answers in the comments. Then, if you have access to a balance, you can measure; otherwise, I'll share my students' results in a few days.

I like teaching this stuff. The kids walk away with skills they didn't have at the start of the week. It's so easy to tell who learned it and who didn't, and to get that sense of gratification of knowing that you actually taught them something.

(NB: They are the large Staples paperclips coated in colored plastic, if that makes a difference to anyone's estimating).

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

And a random mathematical tidbit for Wednesday,

in honor of the math test which we will all be scoring (except those of us who have conveniently scheduled doctors appointments for mid-morning) while the children get a 4-day weekend.

How many NCAA brackets would I have to fill out to cover every possible combination?

Borrowed from someone who finds the basketball just as interesting as the math, and who has the right answer. (But don't you want to try it yourself first?)

And while we're on the subject, just who was George Mason, anyway?
At Philadelphia in 1787 Mason was one of the five most frequent speakers at the Constitutional Convention. He exerted great influence, but during the last 2 weeks of the convention he decided not to sign the document.

As I walked my last period class downstairs,

one of the girls stepped off the line.

Ms. Frizzle?

I nodded.

When we were walking upstairs from lunch...?

Uh-oh, I thought, who did what to whom?

Well, you were standing in front of the window and the sun was shining on your hair, and it looked really beautiful.

That has to be the most eloquent random comment I've ever received from a student. And she saved it up all period to tell me. Have I mentioned that I love sixth graders?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

India: Or, I am posting a lot because I spent 3 hours grading papers this afternoon and I deserve it.

A friend and I are planning a trip to India this summer. We both big nerds who want to actually research India (more than just reading a travel guide) before we go. We are at the stage of planning where it just hit us that India is a Really Big Country.

This week, I finally started reading a history book about British imperialism in India. I borrowed it from the library three weeks ago (in fact, I didn't even start reading it until the day after it was due), but kept putting it off in favor of the New Yorker or just drowsing to music. Guess what? It's fascinating!

I'm only on page fifty-something, and here are some things I've learned:

1. Several major cities in India were founded as such by the British East India Company. These became centers of commerce and government. Madras, Calcutta, Bombay.

Note: A reader emailed the following,
mumbai (vombay), kolkota (calcutta) and chennai (madras) have existed before british india. they grew big as they exist today because of british rule and trade. of course, british (bloody!) rechristened the names.

To clarify my original posting, I never intended to suggest that these cities did not exist at all prior to the British arriving.

2. The word "thug" comes from a phenomenon in India called thugi, in which roving bands of thugs would befriend travellers for several days, then suddenly turn on them and sacrifice them to the goddess Kali. It was abolished and eradicated in the 1930's by the British. (Some claim that the whole thing is a conspiracy theory arising from British paranoia).

3. Kashmir came to be coupled with Jammu when the British defeated the Sikhs in 1846. They offered the Sikhs a fairly generous settlement at the end of the war, but demanded a large sum of money. The ruler of Jammu bailed out the Sikhs in exchange for Kashmir, and the rest is history (or current events).

I'll promote your film screening if I think you're cool...

My friend's roomie organized this:

Please join NYCoRE and Teachers Unite for a special screening of:

Nominated for the International Documentary Association's 2005 Pare Lorentz Award,
is the story of hundreds of thousands of public schoolteachers whose grassroots, non-violent movement took Mexico by surprise, and who have endured brutal repression in their 25-year struggle to defend public education.

THURSDAY, MARCH 30 at the UFT Auditorium, 52 Broadway, 2nd Floor
5:30 Refreshments
6:00 Screening
7:00 In lieu of a panel discussion, a discussion with audience members will be
moderated by Professor Jean Anyon, CUNY Graduate Center, Urban Education

UFT Auditorium, 52 BROADWAY, 2nd Floor
(2,3,4 or 5 train to Wall St., 1/9, N or R train to Rector St., J, M or Z train to Broad St.)

DVDs of the film, Rethinking Schools publications and NYCoRE t-shirts will be available for purchase.

I'm not sure whether I'll be able to make it, but it certainly looks interesting.

There's this line that you cross in teaching,

when you stop thanking the good lord for any break from the usual routine, any day away from the evil monsters students, and realize you'd rather be in your classroom than anywhere else (and not just to keep the kids from trashing the room). Some of the math teachers at the training today were still on the other side of that line, secretly happy to get a few hours out of their classrooms and a short week. I would much, much rather have been teaching. Plus, five of the 14 teachers at my school were out for training today, not a recipe for rigorous instruction...

The trainers made it clear from the get-go that we weren't there to debate the merits of the scoring rubrics or the questions, just to learn how to apply the rubrics consistently in order to ensure fair scoring according to the state's answer key. We were really good for the first hour or so, as we watched a video of a chirpy blond teenager woman reading aloud from the scoring guide. As time wore on, though, we began to have questions. What if a student wrote...? Why did that get a 1 (instead of a zero, or a two, or a three)? Isn't that double jeopardy? (getting penalized twice in the same question for the same conceptual error) And pretty soon, these questions edged dangerously close to debating the merits of the rubric.

The scoring rubric is a fascinating mix of questions that are scored so loosely as to render the mathematics all but meaningless, in my opinion, and questions that are graded with draconian pickiness about details that seem all but meaningless (also in my opinion). An example of the latter is a question like this (no, I am not quoting the exact question):

On Tuesday, Julie saw a certain number of elephants, e. On Wednesday, she saw 5 more than 3 times the number of elephants she saw on Tuesday. Write an expression for the number of elephants Julie saw on Wednesday.

The right answer, of course, is something resembling 3e+5. The children lose a point automatically if they include an equals sign, because that makes it an equation, not an expression. I understand that as they move towards algebra, the difference between an expression and an equation will become more and more important, and therefore am willing to concede that the rubric is probably fair.... but many math teachers in the room were up in arms about this question. And consider the kid who writes 3e+5= and doesn't put anything on the other side of the equal sign. Or the kid who writes w=3e+5, introducing a variable to represent Wednesday's elephants. Sure, it's an equation, but is it wrong?

Interestingly, the very next question on the test went something like this,

Gwendolyn is comparing two expressions. The first expression is 5^3. The second expression is 8^2. Which expression is greater?

Acceptable answers included both 5^3 and 125. Can an expression be an integer, alone? I don't actually know the answer to this question.

Here's another interesting math fact that I learned from the grading training:

When a child writes something like 3*6=18*2=36, showing each step of a sequence of operations (compare to 3*6*2=36), that's called a "string" and is not considered acceptable in 6th grade. I'm assuming this is because it is a sloppy habit that could make algebra more difficult, although many adults use strings as shorthand (it's easier than 3*6=18 and 18*2=36, which would be okay). Never mind that we understand the child's reasoning perfectly, we can't count it as acceptable showing of work.

Okay, fine. I'll grant you that one. A few questions later, we see a child who has multiplied numbers in sequence, a la


Isn't that a string? I ask, raising my hand. No, that's not a string. A string has equal signs. But isn't the line at the bottom of the multiplication problem essentially an equal sign? I mutter to myself, knowing this is not the time for arguing the meaning of mathematical terms. I just hope the sixth graders have been informed of the subtleties of using and avoiding strings...

But this is my favorite:

Solve the equation for m. m-5=12 Show your work.

Now, when you're eleven, or really any age, there are two obvious ways to solve this problem. The first is to use inverse operations, and add five to both sides. The other is guess-and-check.

Remember "guess-and-check" -- try out some numbers until you find one that makes the problem correct? (One of my own math teachers jokingly referred to it as "search and destroy"...).

Guess-and-check is an acceptable strategy for solving this problem - if and only if the student shows evidence of having tried at least three numbers before arriving at the correct answer!

So the student who writes
and then puts 17 on the answer line
gets only partial credit,
because he or she did not show evidence of using inverse operations, and did not show evidence of guessing three times before arriving at the answer.

Outcry: What about the lucky guesser?!

If the kid happens to guess right on the first or second guess, he or she needs to make up additional wrong guesses in order to have three guesses altogether. Really. I'm serious.


As my friend put it, "That's three hours of my life I won't get back..."

Saturday, March 25, 2006

So Shortsighted

Schools Cut Back Subjects to Push Reading and Math - and note that it's not just k-3, when it might be justified in order to provide a solid skills foundation (although, honestly, I think even in the early grades, kids ought to at least read about science and social studies topics).
"Narrowing the curriculum has clearly become a nationwide pattern," said Jack Jennings, the president of the center, which is based in Washington.

At Martin Luther King Jr. Junior High School in Sacramento, about 150 of the school's 885 students spend five of their six class periods on math, reading and gym, leaving only one 55-minute period for all other subjects.

About 125 of the school's lowest-performing students are barred from taking anything except math, reading and gym, a measure that Samuel Harris, a former lieutenant colonel in the Army who is the school's principal, said was draconian but necessary. "When you look at a kid and you know he can't read, that's a tough call you've got to make," Mr. Harris said.


Dr. Julia Rankin spoke briefly at the SCONYC conference. She said the city and state were starting to pay more attention to science, Carmen Farina talks about it all the time, resources have been allocated to improve science.... the examples she gave, which she said we ought to celebrate, were that we now have the money to put one set of science trade books (probably 4-6 books on one topic) into every k-8 classroom library, and that money was being made available to buy equipment for some k-8 schools. I appreciate that in reality these are improvements and probably do deserve celebration, but it makes me kind of sad because science books and basic equipment seem to me to be such a minimum, essential resource, not an exceptional opportunity or special gift or milestone.


I arrived early for the conference, materials ready, butterflies flapping around in my stomach. Every time I step foot inside Stuyvesant High School, I am jealous of the kids and teachers who spend their days in such a shiny, modern building with views of the harbor. On the other hand, it's an enormous school - 10 floors! - and I don't envy them the size.

About 20 people attended my session, nearly all pre-service or first year teachers. I presented a model of inquiry where you introduce a topic, do an experiment as a whole class, and then design follow-up experiments in groups. The idea is to scaffold the students to the point where they can identify variables and design experiments on their own. It seemed to go well - everyone listened attentively and asked a few questions, and at the end, we had about 10 minutes left, so I gave them a choice - either to discuss how to get kids writing lab reports, or to take time to work on designing their own inquiry units. They voted, overwhelmingly, for talking about lab reports, so I am taking that as a sign that at least something I said was useful. Anyway, they seemed happy enough. That bridge has been crossed.

They keynote speaker, Liz Hood, spoke about using public television and radio in the classroom, and pointed us to some excellent web resources, which I'll post separately. Then I attended two workshops, one about using songs in the classroom (I bought a CD of chemistry songs), and one about using water as an analogy for electricity. And then I was exhausted and had a headache, so I walked home to take a nap.

Friday, March 24, 2006

250,000 liters

I taught one of my favorite lessons today. I gave each group of kids two metersticks, a box of markers, and a piece of chart paper, and they had to measure/estimate the volume of the classroom in liters. We pretended that the classroom is a perfect rectangular prism without any furniture or weird ventilation shafts projecting into the space. I started them off by going over the calculations necessary to show that a cubic meter would contain 1000 liters. I showed them roughly how big a cubic meter would be by holding up three meter sticks touching at the corners. I went over the assignment and provided a few hints and ground rules...

No standing on furniture, and no jousting with the meter sticks, or you sit out the rest of the period.

Ms. Frizzle, what does 'jousting' mean?

And then as they lined up to leave the classroom at the end of the period, a discussion began about whether we could really seal off the classroom and fill it with soda. I pointed out that if I had the money to afford that much soda, I'd buy a nicer apartment and take more vacations, and anyway, the custodians wouldn't really appreciate it. The kids suggested that we could put tape around the door and just pour the water in (through the ceiling? I asked). And then one boy at the back of a line started doing a little swimming dance straight out of some undersea mermaid cartoon.

The last time I did this lesson, the kids took nearly two full periods and were still rushed, and their answers varied from about 100,000 L to almost 1,000,000 L. It speaks to the incredible-ness of this year's sixth graders that most groups had an answer before the end of the class period, and that nearly all their answers were between 200,000 and 300,000 L, despite much leeway in their methods for estimating the height of the classroom. One or two groups were off by a power of ten, but they quickly realized their mistake when I went through their math with them.

And after school, another teacher said that the seventh graders must be liking whatever it is we're doing in Science (the seventh graders? Really?). Apparently, during PE class, one of the girls claimed/joked that her shot did not go into the hoop due to the Coriolis effect. Awesome. Anything to create really geeky kids who will over-apply science concepts to explain away their lack of athletic prowess!

Teaching is fantastic. I could not be more in love with my job.

And I hate my job, and had an awful day, and am seriously considering leaving. My interactions with a few of my colleagues are really tumultuous right now - and I'm not generally a tumultuous person - and it's not always their fault. Today it was mine. I don't want to go into it any deeper; it just upsets me because I am not always the person I want to be, and occasionally far from it.

It's weird how things can be so good and so bad at the same time, how I can feel like I've contributed to creating the most amazing school, and how I can feel like I want to escape so badly, how I can yearn for leadership and recognition and to make a bigger difference on the one hand, and long to be allowed to just teach on the other.

Do you ever stop growing up and feel like you've figured things out? (And would that even be a good thing?)

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Even the Coyotes take Amtrak

I'll bet this was a scene. (Keep reading for Amtrak).
Suzanne Kelly, who was working on the wardrobe department of a movie crew filming in the park, said she saw the coyote at about 8 this morning. She said it was near another woman walking her small dog. At first, Ms. Kelly said she thought the coyote was another dog.

"She tried to shoo it away," she said of the dog walker. "I saw it coming toward me. I purposely turned away. I have bad luck with dogs. I thought it would try to bite me."

Monday, March 20, 2006

All my thoughts are short.

Morning commute: grumpy. Life is good, but I am SO OVER my morning schedule. Here are my options: new school, new neighborhood, car. Ruby slippers.


The sixth graders' essays were not what you'd call good. Still, most of them got the structure more-or-less right. Pity they didn't use any supporting details to speak of. One. Step. At. A. Time.


Have I mentioned that I am presenting a workshop on inquiry at the SCONYC (Science Council of NYC) conference this weekend? Or that this is the first time I've ever presented to adults outside of a grad school class or PD at my own school? Or that I am terror-stricken by the whole idea?


In the grocery store. A little old lady fumbling with her purse and cart full of groceries knocks over her cane: Awww, shit! I lean over to pick it up for her. Thank you, dear.


More than 100 people in line outside Trader Joe's. I'm excited, too, but dude, in the end, it's just a supermarket.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Sometimes I just get quiet.

So listen to this instead:

When We Get Famous
Math & Physics Club

When we get famous
we won't move to New York
we'll still ride our bikes around town
we'll still take the bus to the mall

I'll pretend I don't believe you
when you say you're not after my money
at first you won't think it's funny
but then you'll smile
'cause you know me better than that.

Thursday, March 16, 2006


Sadly, I am (about to begin) grading a whole lot of papers instead of having a beer at Mo Pitkin's and listening to David Jacobs-Strain, who is ridiculously talented (I saw him a few years ago at a summer festival - and it turns out my brother goes to college with him). It seems that I have to add "young musical stand-out" to my list of careers that I no longer have any shot at, with "Olympic gymnast," "star figure-skater," and "young literary stand-out"... but I'm glad someone else is doing it. By the way, you can listen to Ocean or a Teardrop and Stuck on the Way Back at NorthernBlues Radio (along with a bunch of other great stuff) but he is better live, which is why I have the took-my-work-home-blues.

Thanks to me mate Iron William Read...

My pirate name is:

Captain Jenny Flint

Even though there's no legal rank on a pirate ship, everyone recognizes you're the one in charge. Like the rock flint, you're hard and sharp. But, also like flint, you're easily chipped, and sparky. Arr!

Get your own pirate name from

Mars Attacks! Roving

Another teacher and I took 30 kids to see Roving Mars today at the IMAX theater on the Upper West Side. We took a combination of my robotics students, her filmmaking students, and others handpicked based on their interest in things technological. It was a rambunctious group, made more rambunctious by the vast quantities of sugar they managed to consume before and during the trip, and it was not my favorite field trip as far as behavior was concerned. Also, as we walked home from the train station, we took a short cut between two housing projects, and a group of kids from another school began throwing rocks and sticks at us - at 30 kids and two teachers!

That said, the movie is awesome. It's short - only 40 minutes - but fantastic. About 10 minutes in, one of my students leaned over to me and whispered, "It's like being in the lab!" It is. It's narrated by the lead scientist on the mission, who does an excellent job of explaining what's going on, some of the challenges and joys of engineering and discovery, without dumbing it down. I think it's one of the best advertisements for being a scientist or engineer that I've seen recently. Plus, Spirit and Opportunity, the two rovers, become life-like as we see them being built, tested, and doing their thing, landing with a series of bounces, unfolding their wheels and arms, scanning the landscape and making decisions about how to navigate, boring into a rock to see beneath the weathered surface. These robots are ingenious and adorable.

Many of the kids liked it and had questions following. Several expressed an interest in becoming astronauts or working on robots.


(At least) one child had never been on the subway before this trip.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Happy Birthday, Dad - and Happy Pi Day, everyone!

The voices in my head

apparently talk to TMAO, too! (This is so going to be me in a couple of days. I'm collecting first drafts of writing assignments from BOTH the sixth and the seventh graders. I didn't plan it this way, it's just that you lose a teaching period here and there, and all your careful staggering is for naught).


After school, as I walk out of the building. From behind me,

Goodbye, Ms. Frizzle!

I turn, and see one of my sixth graders, a spunky girl who occasionally uses her spunkiness for evil, but is, at her best, cheerful and enthusiastic.

I did your homework already!

That's great! You wrote your whole paper?

The whole thing!

Wow, I can't wait to read it!*

And I can't.

*Yes, I use a lot of exclamation points in my job. Unfortunately, it doesn't get me any tax breaks. What can you do?

Monday, March 13, 2006

In which Ms. Frizzle attempts to instill basic essay-writing skills in her sixth graders...

Two days of research on an energy source (solar, wind, hydroelectric, oil, natural gas, nuclear), using books and print-outs of webpages (it's a damn shame, but the thought of using the laptops in class last week made me so tired I went Luddite). One day of outlining, using a table I made with a row for each paragraph, and three columns - one describing what the paragraph should contain (e.g., Introduction - thesis statement, summary of your evidence), one providing a model in the form of my example outline on coal, and the third blank, for their own outline notes. I walked them through completing this, row-by-paragraph-by-row.


Miss? Um, I can't fill this out, I don't know any of this.

Let me take a look at your notes.... Hmmm, okay, do you feel like you used your research time well?

No. Sheepish look.

Did you learn anything from this experience? Okay, you can use this period to do more complete research, but then you'll have to finish the outline at home. Next time, when I say you have only two periods of class time to do research, please try to stay focused during that time.


Today, I got them started on their first drafts. I modeled how to turn the outline notes into coherent paragraphs. The introduction is the hardest part.


Your introduction is like a roadmap for the person reading your paper. It's a plan for the journey you're going to take, so they know what to look forward to. But you save the details for the body of the paper.


Your introduction is like the preview to a movie. Does the preview give away the whole story? No! Does it introduce most of the important characters and give you an idea of what the story will be about? Yes.


Funny, I said almost the same things to my college friends when I read their papers, only I was allowed to be much more saucy in my comments.


Okay, I don't want to see you writing, "I think..." It's obvious that this is what you think! You wouldn't be writing it, otherwise!


Yes, mom, I learned all this from you. I was paying attention. But you're still not allowed to read anything important.


Listen, in the preview to a movie, does it suddenly zoom out and show you the people with cameras, the director, like, "I made this movie and here's what I did...." --?! No! So I don't want to read, "I did some research and..." We know you did research - that's the whole point. You don't have to say it. Cross it out if you wrote that and just start with what you learned.


Okay, now in the conclusion, you have to sum it up one more time. I know that sounds really repetitive, like, why are we writing the same thing over and over? But you're only writing six paragraphs. In college, you might write twenty pages, - audible gasps - and your reader might get to the end and forget some of what you said at the beginning. So, you go back and remind them. And then you write one or two more sentences with one final, really strong idea that will bring it all home. Your reader will put it down and think, Wow, I really agree with this author!


They have to take a side: Should the US invest in this particular source of energy for the future? Why or why not? They have to provide on paragraph of background information explaining how their energy source is used to produce electricity, two arguments in support of their thesis, and then they have to describe and shoot down one counter-argument.


Miss! This is hard!

Sunday, March 12, 2006

"I'm either way behind the bandwagon or way ahead of it." (overheard)


The single most arresting image in the whole fair, I think, a photograph of performance artist Zhang Huan in a scene from his piece My Boston. The jpg doesn't really do it justice. I was actually a little disappointed to find out that it was performance art and not just a brilliant photograph, but he's doing something right and I will absolutely go see him if given the opportunity.

This is not the photograph by Dionisio Gonzalez that I saw, but it gives you an idea. PULSE had a piece called Santo Amaro, which showed a street of ramshackle houses in Sao Paulo. Upon closer inspection, some of the houses were ramshackle and others were modern, angular structures, which he created and added to the photograph. The sky is more interesting in Santo Amaro, that luminous yet threatening grey of a storm just beyond the picture.

Maria Friberg

Zane Lewis, color by number paintings with all the color fallen out of the paintings. Playful and well-done. I didn't find much to laugh at in this fair, even though contemporary art can be (purposely or not) so funny. There was a trend towards larger-than-life objects made with high fidelity of unusual materials - giant boots covered in white cotton, gray felt roses nearly as tall as I am, an old-fashioned car made of cardboard, a table of painting supplies, also in cardboard.

Then again, many pieces involved toys, or toy-like models created specifically for the artwork, often photographed to appear life-like, often among the more striking images at the fair. My favorite of these were unsettling yet fascinating snowglobes by Walter Martin and Paloma Munoz, dark or simply off-kilter scenes taking place in gentle snowy landscapes.

Indulging my interest in rethinking fairytales, Rachel Selekman had a large plush pumpkin purse, sitting on the floor with a delicate high-heeled shoe chained to it. Hanging above it, a separate piece, I think, an oversized green object that was sort of a purse, sort of a plant, sort of a watering can, suggestive in a sneaky way.

Again, this isn't the exact painting by William Steiger that I saw at PULSE, but it's the closest I can find. His website displays many of his paintings, which are clean images of the geometry of buildings, amusement park rides, landscapes. The piece I saw was a view from an odd, underneath angle of a ferris wheel. At first it just looked like a jumble of green lines, an abstract work, and then shaded in areas, the seats, became visible. There were a lot of images of amusement parks, rollercoasters, ferris wheels, by many different artists at this fair. What does that mean?

Angela Fraleigh's paintings are gorgeous - bold, sexy, a little bit violent, beautiful. This is similar to the one shown at PULSE. I would take one of these over any of the ubiquitous paintings made with big globs of textured, fluorescent paint that are just doing nothing.

Frank Breuer - containers and poles - and Farm Forms Portfolio by Jeff Brouws go together I think, simple, clean photographs of places, neither nostalgic and romanticizing nor self-consciously ugly, neither a condemnation nor endorsement of the changes to the landscape.

Mark Flood, The Demon, a painting in gold and blue of a torn piece of fabric - is the demon created by the shape of the fabric, or is this all the demon left behind?

Mary Mattingly's strange, disturbing, sometimes Dali-esque photographs commenting on nature & technology. Among the best combinations of meaning and image in the show.

That's all.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Out like a lamb... (Answers to your burning questions).

What happened to robotics?
We had an extended break due to the change in the after-school schedule & the new tutoring, the vacation, and that icy snowstorm, and we also allowed all the kids to choose new clubs if they wanted to. So, I met with my new group for the first time on Thursday. I have several kids returning plus several newbies. Only seven kids showed up on Thursday. I split them into two groups and gave them the challenge of building a robot that could drive straight to the end of the table, stop right at the edge, reverse, and back up to its starting point, and it had to use the rotation sensor. The problem is, none of us (least of all me) has an elegant way to attach a rotation sensor to the wheel. We all remember seeing teams do it at the competitions, but no one remembers how. So we spent a somewhat frustrating couple of hours playing with gears. One group built a robot that made a go of it, but it was godawfully inelegant and not very robust. I helped the other group for a while and found a solution, except that it's a robot that will never be able to turn, so it's not really going to help in the long run. Can anyone point us to a website with building tips? The programming is proving much easier than the building - which might reflect my own strengths, to be honest.

What differences, if any, do you see in teachers from TFA compared to teachers that majored in Education?
Most of the teachers of my generation with whom I work got started in either the TFA or Teaching Fellows; most of the teachers I know who did not start that way are a generation older. So, I wouldn't be sure that differences were due to the path into teaching or simply differences in age and experience. Anyway, everyone at my school is extremely committed to righting educational injustices, regardless of how they got started. TFA and Teaching Fellows teachers might have a stronger feeling that they control their own destiny - if you don't like a school or teaching situation, change it or find a new place to work. We are not willing to complain without taking action to change things. For some, that means leaving education altogether, for others, finding a school where they feel more empowered to make change, for others. Of course, I'm generalizing a lot here.

So now that time has passed, would you be willing to share how you voted on the contract?
Sure. I voted for. Not because I liked the contract that much (I didn't) but because, assessing the political situation, I thought it was the best we could get (and I'm not talking about just the money). I wasn't seeing a lot of willingness to walk out, and Bloomberg had just won the election. Of course, the TWU strike changed everything, and I see now that I may have assessed the political situation wrong. The problem with telling you all how I voted is that now, posts which are intended to report on the extended time will be taken as whining. Please be aware that I fully own my decision and its consequences.

(On a side note, I found the rhetoric against the contract to be very off-putting and unpleasant, far less civil than that of the pro-contract side. Granted, it's always easier to be in favor of something than against it, but the comments on Edwize were so nasty that I did not want to be allied with people who would express themselves in that way. Sure, both sides made some unpleasant comments, but overall, the majority of the nastiness seemed to come from those against the contract).

What changes would you have liked to have seen in our contract and union?
I don't want to be a doormat any more - we need a new contract before or immediately after our current contract expires. I want more action taken to correct the root cause of so many teachers' problems: awful administrators. If we had better administrators, we wouldn't need some of the protections that end up shielding the bad teachers as well as the good, we woudn't be afraid of opening up the hiring process so that our principals have greater ability to choose their teachers. As someone who works at a school with a decent principal, I see how much better an organization is when it has leadership that pulls everyone together to work towards the same goals. Being able to choose your staff is an important part of that. I don't want to be part of a profession that is reactionary and defensive. Right now, I believe the key is getting really good people into principalships.

What is education like in different countries?

This is a cross-posting here and on the Young Caucasus Women Project - please visit that blog and read what the young women have to say about education in their home countries!

In college, I took a class on comparative education - studying education in different countries. While I learned some interesting things, I felt, when the class was over, that I still knew very little about the day-to-day realities of education outside the United States. Now that I'm a teacher, I have even more questions:

What do people see as the purpose of getting an education?
Here in the United States, most people would tell you that the purpose of education is to give you the opportunity to choose a career that you like and that will allow you to support yourself and your family. It's the idea of the "American dream" - that through education, we give everyone the opportunity to get ahead in life. That's the simple answer. The more complicated answer is that many business leaders think that schools are there to create good workers who have the right skills. And many people believe that schools instill the values and skills that we all need to share to participate in a democracy - tolerance of others, critical thinking, and so on. Finally, we depend on schools to teach our children basic information about health, the environment, and other important issues. What do people in your country see as the purpose of education?

Do all children have equal education opportunities? Or are there some groups that receive a better education than others, maybe based on their gender, culture, religion, or income, or the part of the country where they live?
I work in a school in the south Bronx precisely because some children in the United States do NOT have equal educational opportunities right now. Children whose families are poor tend to go to more crowded schools. Their teachers are less likely to be "highly qualified" and the schools often have fewer resources such as art and music classes and science labs. And the result is that some children leave school much more prepared for college and a career than others:
Ours is a country where nine-year-olds in urban and rural areas are already three grade levels behind nine-year-olds in wealthier suburbs, where less than half of high school students in urban areas graduate, and where those who do graduate often read below basic levels. Ours is a country where a child who happens to be born in the Bronx or in Compton is seven times less likely to graduate from college than a child born in Manhattan or Beverly Hills.
Of course, like everything else in education, this is not a simple problem. Children growing up in poverty may have greater needs than children from more stable middle class homes. They may have more health problems and more mental health problems (many have seen traumatic events). They may have fewer books in their houses and fewer adult role models who have attended college. Figuring out how to address the inequality is very difficult! What about in your country? Do all children have equal opportunities there?

What controversies are there about education in my country?
Here, education can be a surprisingly controversial topic! Everyone believes education is important, but once you start trying to change things, you realize we all have different values and priorities. We disagree on everything from what to teach, to how to teach it. When I read articles about education in other countries, I rarely read about controversies - these articles make it sound like everyone agrees all the time. I find that hard to believe! I'm very interested in what aspects of education are open to debate in your country! Here are two hotly-debated issues in the US at this time:

The teaching of evolution: As a science teacher, I know that the theory of evolution by natural selection is the most widely-accepted theory explaining the diversity of living things. Yet, there are people in the US who believe that God created all living things, and that teaching children about evolution is against their religious beliefs. They want the public schools to teach "creation science" as an alternative theory to evolution. Others think that we should teach children the theory of "intelligent design," which is that evolution cannot explain some of the complicated structures in living things (such as the eye), and that the only explanation is that some intelligent creator must have designed them. They want this theory to have equal footing with evolution in the science textbooks. Is evolution taught in your country? Is it controversial? Are there other topics that are controversial to teach in your country?

Standardized testing: You might have read or heard about the "No Child Left Behind" act, or NCLB. This is a new law that requires each state to give tests every year to measure children's progress. Schools have to improve their students' scores by a certain amount every year, or they can get put on a public list of "failing schools." The good thing about the law is that it requires schools to show that they are helping all their students, including minority groups who might otherwise be overlooked. But the law is very controversial! Many educators believe that standardized tests are biased against certain groups of children because of the way test questions are written. Others believe that standardized tests focus on memorizing facts rather than thinking about ideas. Schools think it's unfair to label them failing if only one group of kids falls behind. And schools with large numbers of very poor children, or children with learning disabilities, or children whose families don't speak English, think this law is unfair because the tests may be much harder for these children. Some educators even think that this law is secretly trying to label all the public schools as failures, so that they can create a new system! Do students take standardized tests in your country? When and for what purpose? Does everyone believe the tests are fair?

I don't want to overwhelm you, so I'll stop here. I hope that you've found one or more of the questions above interesting, and that you can give us an inside view of education where you grew up!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Loss of Innocence

The sixth graders began their transformation into seventh graders this week. Looking back, there were warning signs - changes in social behavior, quality of work slipping, increased bouts of rudeness. And the theft of a girl's cell phone, followed by prank phone calls to her mother by a child claiming to be our pregnant art teacher. Omens, indeed. My sweet babies, changelings: eye-rolling, gum-popping, cat-fighting, homework-neglecting, hallway-dawdling darlings. My inner anthropologist wonders if it is inexorable, or a product of our society's creation of adolescence, or of our school's social structure. My inner sixth grade team leader vows that we will get them back, those children we once knew. My inner - and outer - pissed off teacher self yelled at them (really yelled at them) for the first time today... oops. I know full well that isn't going to improve the situation.

On the bright side, in spite of it all, a few kids in one class decided, unprompted, that they'd done enough research and began writing their essays about energy resources. Wait, I said, use this, and handed those kids the outline worksheets that I'd been planning to use tomorrow. Hands began to go up as the period ended. Can I start my outline, too? We'll get 'em back. Or we'll go with them and come out the other side. They'll be okay.

School this week has sucked. Life in general, pretty good. Glamour informs me that I am a somnorexic - deny myself sleep on weeknights, binge on weekends. And reading the health risks in black & white made me want to do better. And yes, I not only read Glamour, I subscribe.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Joan Didion, and a Mystery

When I was in high school, I was very close friends with a girl whose father is a well-known writer, social critic, anti-feminist, and technophile, among other things. We ran and cross-country skied together, sneaked out of school for bagels even though you weren't supposed to leave campus unless you had a study hall before lunch, drove all around the county in her farm-smelling station wagon with hay in the trunk, did our honor society community service together at Recording for the Blind, rented movies, giggled about boys, you know... hung out. Her whole family was lovely - her mom always had fresh bread rising or just out of the oven, her nearest younger sister was an incredible athlete and wanted to become a missionary, and the younger ones were cute and adored their older sisters. Her father pushed us to go into science, told us that the boys were intimidated and would come around one day (and eventually, a hundred years later, they did), offered me a part time job writing for his tech newsletter when I was a student in California (I couldn't take it - no car, not enough time).

One day, after I'd slept over at her house, her father told us about a friend of his, someone who had known or been friends with or was in some way connected to Joan Didion. Anyway, this guy, a writer or maybe just an intellectual or an adventurer, would arrive in a town, sit down at the local bar, strike up a conversation, and end up moving in for days or weeks with whomever he happened to find interesting. Eventually, he'd move on. My friend's dad told a story of this friend dropping in on him once and taking him out to a very fancy party. They didn't have invitations. They didn't have tuxes. He thought that would be the end of it, but his friend had ambitious plans. One by one, they walked in backwards - with so many people coming in and out, the doormen only see you for an instant. If you're facing out, they think you're leaving, they turn to someone entering, and you're in. And they were.

The story lost all its magic in my re-telling, maybe because I was only 16 when I heard it, and that was a long time ago. It captured my imagination. That summer, or maybe the next, I happened across Slouching Towards Bethlehem, a collection of essays by Joan Didion. I read and liked them. It wasn't like anything else I'd been reading (and we had a pretty off-beat and liberal high school humanities curriculum). I didn't understand all of it; she wrote about that time period just before my birth which was neither history nor current events, and about places I'd never been and classes of society about which I was only dimly aware. But I liked it.

Last week I read The Year of Magical Thinking, and I remembered why I liked Joan Didion's writing. It's so spare, and matter-of-fact, and yet she gets away with using wordy little phrases that subtly shift the meaning of her sentences, but would just be wordy when used by the rest of us. Her husband died suddenly, and her daughter was very, very sick:
In August and September, after the Democratic and Republican conventions but before the election, I wrote, for the first time since John died, a piece. It was about the campaign. It was the first piece I had written since 1963 that he did not read in draft form and tell me what was wrong, what was needed, how to bring it up here, take it down there. I have never written pieces fluently but this one seemed to be taking even longer than usual: I realized at some point that I was unwilling to finish it, because there was no one to read it to. I kept telling myself that I had a deadline, that John and I never missed deadlines. Whatever I finally did to finish this piece was as close as I have ever come to imagining a message from him. The message was simple: You're a professional. Finish the piece.

It's a beautiful book. At first, you think, how awful, but I don't know these people, this is a meditation on death and grief and sickness and loss of control, but it's not my grief or my loss of control... and then you find yourself wet-eyed as she revisits her daughter's childhood, little stories and memories, and keeps returning to certain phrases, dragging you into her numbness, disbelief, and self-pity.

Reading this brought to mind that old story, made me wonder who the character was who crashed fancy parties, whether the story was true, how much of it I'd even remembered correctly. If anyone has any clues, tell me, please. Perhaps I dreamed the whole thing, except that I know Joan Didion was mentioned because it made me buy her book.

It made me want to track down my friend, send her an email; once upon a time, we promised each other that when we turned forty, a million years from then, we'd still be friends and we'd write each other's autobiographies. It was my slip of the tongue, autobiographies, but that's how we put it from then on. In any case, I couldn't find her. I'll call her parents the next time I'm home, maybe.

And it made me want to take a writing class. I've only ever taken poetry and fiction-writing classes, but all I do nowadays is non-fiction. Reading someone who treats this as a craft makes me want to learn and polish, and take all this writing to another level.

Monday, March 06, 2006

A former colleague

visited my school today. Without giving too many details, she was basically my AP for the first two years I taught. Seeing her brought back many memories, some good, some bad. But here's something I hadn't thought about in a while: she had agreements with various kids' parents that if their children misbehaved, she could hit them (to save the parents the trouble, or as a prelude to what they'd get at home). I was in the office while some of these agreements were made. There is really nothing quite like being a first year teacher and having your AP march into your classroom, call out a kid's name, take him out into the hallway (or not), and cuff him in the head or across the back of his hand. Nothing.

This paragraph should be about how I blew the whistle on this. It's not. I'll spare you the excuses.

Burning Questions.... the "in like a lion" edition. Got any?

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Odds & Ends

Checking out books at the Donnell Library Center. The librarian scans the first few on the pile, then pauses and looks carefully at the titles. Teacher? she asks, looking up.

Yeah. Why, other adults don't take out 2 copies of the same children's book on hydroelectric power?

Well, you're not supposed to, she says, scanning the second copy.

I went to three different libraries and lugged home 10 books on energy resources, one extremely old educational video on the ozone layer, and 3 grown-up books on India for a little independent study a friend and I are doing in the hopes of travelling there this summer.


My friend forwarded me this incredible opportunity for K-12 teachers to participate in a scientific research project in the Arctic, aboard an icebreaker. I would go in an instant if it weren't for the dates and the possibility of the Fulbright. Anyway, I don't know how many teachers are able to take the first month of school off, but what a fascinating experience it would be - I hope whoever goes blogs the trip!


I may use this article when we study astronomy: Rotation of the Earth Plunges Entire North American Continent into Darkness. Actually, it would be a fun assignment to have the kids read this and dihydrogen monoxide and then write their own humorous articles on science topics. To do a good job, they'd really have to get the science. It might be better for high school students, though.


I'm thrilled to see I'm in the "living people" category... lol.


The Streets (sweet British hip-hop) make me so happy. I don't have the new album yet (editor's note: maybe that's because it's not released yet?), but this song from the old one about sums it up... A kind reader even sent me an mp3, which is, of course, for evaluation purposes and will only be here for a few days, so check it out quickly. And then buy the whole album, because it is full of funny & charming surprises and the songs even tell a story when played in sequence. (Please tell me if the mp3 link doesn't work; I'm still new to this).

Could Well Be In
...I told her I thought it was important,
That you could get lost in conversation.
Chattin shit, sittin in, oblivion
With that person who's your special one.
She said she was the worst pool player under the sun,
But blokes go easy so she always won.
I saw this thing on ITV the other week,
Said, that if she played with her hair, she's probably keen
She's playin with her hair, well regularly,
So i reckon i could well be in.


And one more thing: the South Dakota abortion ban is just so horrifying. I can't believe this is the world I live in. If a woman doesn't want a child, or - godforbid - is pregnant as the result of a rape or incest, exactly what good does it do to force her to have the child?

Friday, March 03, 2006

Fiasco, Unfolding

On March 30-31st, students will stay home from school while every single teacher in the city, whatever their grade level or subject area, will meet at large high schools and spend hours grading the state math tests.

Sometime in the weeks leading up to this, my region (the whole city?) wants every single teacher to leave their classrooms and meet in some other location for training. Maybe simultaneously, or maybe in some kind of system of shifts, but either way a minimum of 1/4 of a school's teachers will be out of the building at the same time. My AP asked the Region's head math coach, What am I supposed to do with the children? He couldn't answer her question.

Next week's staff meeting will be spent grading the practice math test, for practice. Never mind that we have all too few opportunities to meet as a full staff and discuss, plan, get everyone on the same page: we will be bonding over the math test.

A PD session in the fall was devoted to training in grading the math test.

Enough. Enough, enough, enough. I want nothing to do with this.

It's important for teachers of every subject to have a sense of what the kids are expected to do on the tests, even in other subject areas. For that, grading a handful of tests or a good workshop would suffice; we don't need to grade them all.

I work hard. I spend hours planning, and I grade my students' assignments promptly (except posters, which I whinge about and procrastinate over for weeks...). As long as I get per session, I don't mind helping out grading the state science test, since I want to be very familiar with my students' performance. On the whole, I'm not the kind of person who draws lines in the sand about what I will and will not do. Maybe I'm arrogant and over-reacting, but I just don't consider grading state-mandated standardized tests to be a part of my job. Not. My. Job. There are so few hours in the day, and teachers are the greatest resource we have in the schools. Is this really how we should be spending the time we have to work together? I don't see why the burden should fall on our shoulders, and I don't think it's a smart use of resources. Surely, the city/state could find a group of college students or starving artists (or starving art students!) who need a quick buck, train them, and pay them to grade these tests? Or even schedule voluntary, paid grading sessions for teachers to earn some extra money, as they did with the ELA exam?

I can't support this because it isn't how I or my very talented, hard-working colleagues should be spending our time. I can't support this because it allows the government to get away with unfunded mandates, because this is what happens when you schedule more tests than you allot resources to conduct properly. I can't support this because it replaces professional development, which (although often done badly) has the potential to help prepare us to prepare the children better. I can't support this because it requires hours of training which replaces PD and faculty meetings, and I think that's disrespectful of what teachers need as professionals.

But what really kills me is this absurd idea that we should leave our classrooms for hours in the middle of the week, while the children sit at school in ad-hoc assemblies or with hours of substitutes. In this idea, I see how little respect the DOE has for the work I do, day in, day out. Good teaching is about momentum, the flow of one lesson to the next, continuity, building today on what we learned yesterday. So thanks, yank me out of class for a couple of days, then give the kids two days off the following week, because you can't figure out any other way to get this test graded. It's crazy, it's not good for the kids, and it makes me really angry.

I am thinking about not feeling well around the end of March. My principal said that if I feel strongly about this, she won't be angry if I choose not to participate. Another colleague is considering doing the same thing, for the reasons above and because she has never been good at math and feels she will probably mess up, which would be unfair to the kids whose tests she scores.

Are we over-reacting?

(Oh, and the best part is that they are notifying everyone of their locations/times through our DOE email accounts, which, to the best of my knowledge, about 30% of city teachers actually use. I mean, I am clearly comfortable with the internet, and I don't use mine! So, um, good luck with that.)

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Three Days' Worth of Questions (And These Are Just The Ones I Can Remember)

The earth is, like, floating in space, right? There's not a pole or anything holding it up? Okay, so, what's under the Earth? What happens if you drop something, will it, like, fall?

Okay, so for those people who believe in it, if the atmosphere has these layers and then there's outer space... where's heaven?


So, um, Lance told me, I mean, he told me that, um, weed is good for your eyes. Is that true?

This conversation occurred in the insanely noisy cafeteria at lunchtime. So, before launching into a discussion of medical marijuana, I wanted to be sure I'd heard correctly.

You mean, is marijuana good for your eyes?

No, not marijuana,


Okay, Ms. Frizzle, I'm sorry this is off-topic, but, I was wondering, if we know all this science, then why do people still believe myths?

What kind of myths are you thinking of?

Well, like when it rains and people say the angels are crying. How come they say that?


All after-school programs were cancelled due to the icy, slushy snow slicking our sidewalks. (It made for a teachable moment, as the kids got to include some precipitation in their weather journals, even though we haven't set up the rain gauge yet to measure quantity. And the flakes were really thick at the start of the period, and much smaller later on, so I asked them if they could explain why. No one could. I left the question hanging to return to when we talk more about precipitation, to let it knock around in their heads for a while). Anyway, I'm home early. I'm going to make a chocolate cake with mocha frosting. Unless I take a nap instead. And by the way, only two kids wanted to do HS Prep, so I could, with an easy conscience, cancel it and keep my Wednesday afternoons.