Sunday, April 30, 2006


Guess what? Readers of this blog have raised almost $500 towards science materials for NYC schools - 12% of my $4000 challenge. That's a terrific start! But I know there are more of you out there who support good science teaching who just haven't had a chance to add your $10 to the challenge. So, here's another of the proposals I selected - click on the title to give to this project, or click on any of the DonorsChoose buttons to peruse all the proposals in my challenge. There are only 8 weeks left in the school year - let's fund these proposals before school gets out...

What's great about this project is that these teachers want to show their students that scientific concepts and methods can be applied to the world immediately surrounding them, and to involve the kids in helping improve their local environment. Plus, it sounds like a collaborative project that will involve multiple teachers and many students. What a unique opportunity.

A Grow Lab to Help Us Discover the Environment Around Us

The Academy of Math, Science, and Computer Technology is located on the fourth floor of I.S. 174, in the Bronx, New York. I teach science to the sixth-grade classes in this school. It is an intermediate school, serving fifth-to-eighth-grade students. All students attending I.S. 174 receive free lunch.

The wetlands behind the school are being restructured by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. Members of our school have thought it would be a great idea if students could help this project by growing seedlings and transplanting native plants into the area. In this way, students will be able to investigate the ecology of the area and contribute to the rebuilding of Pugsley Creek Park.

To make this idea a reality, we need a Grow Lab from Carolina Biological Supply Company. This botany kit contains everything we need to get seedlings started and learn about plant life. In addition, students can perform many experiments using Grow Lab, and even raise plants to sell for occasions like Mother's Day. This will help students generate money to purchase materials for additional science projects.

Students will also be able to use Grow Lab to develop projects that require ongoing investigations, and experiment with plants that would not survive in New York or during certain seasons of the year. All in all, this lab will be a marvelous tool for us to learn all kinds of things about our environment and to contribute to making it better.

The cost of a Grow Lab Double Unit from Carolina Biological Supply is $1,415, including shipping and fulfillment.

Web Designer Needed...

I might have a need in mid-to-late May for a few hours of time from a web designer with good aesthetic skills, an aversion to cluttered interfaces, and the ability to clearly explain things like owning one's own domain. I'd be willing to pay a (very) small fee or trade in-kind (I'm not sure what I have to offer but let's discuss it). Email me at ms [dot] frizzle [at] gmail [dot] com if you can help.

Nature & nurture

As I lay there holding her as the doctor was still working on me, I was just staring at her and telling her how beautiful she was. And then I realized I didn't want to just tell her she was beautiful because she was a girl, so I also told her how smart and strong she was. The doctor was, I swear, laughing at me.

I'm not sure what to say in response to this, except that reading it made me so happy all over again for this lucky little girl and her incredible parents.

Friday, April 28, 2006

The directions life takes you...

Corie's getting married. My friends are new parents.

It's been such a rollercoaster of raised and then dashed hopes, that I scarcely dare breathe the words - let alone write them - but it looks like there's a good chance that I'll be teaching in Istanbul next year. I now have a proposed match - the materials will arrive in a day or two - and am in semi-regular email communication with my counterpart. There are more conversations that we have to have before we officially accept the match, and then our administrators have to accept it, which should be a formality but one never really knows... but it's looking much more optimistic.

And wouldn't you know, the message arrived just after I finally decided I couldn't wait for news any longer, and went on-line and submitted my name to transfer to several schools closer to my home. So now I'm not transferring, and I'll have to leave this apartment anyway, so when I come back, I will move closer to my school, and deus ex machina, leaving for a year is a promise to return.

Oddly, I'm not nervous for myself (that will come later!). The anxiety that I feel is all about the success of the match on this end, that she is happy and successful in my school, that we make a good impression, that my students are the wonderful people that I know they can be, that everyone learns and grows.

What makes the whole thing even weirder is that she is going to be one of the most experienced teachers in my school, having taught for nine years. More on that later - I'm running off to see this.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

A collective sigh of relief and a great big...

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Simplification & Science

There is a fascinating conversation going on at WolfAngel in response to the article listing 10 science questions for high school graduates, which I posted a few days ago. Teachers have to deal, all the time, with how to simplify material so that it is age appropriate without simplifying it so much that it is wrong. You can't teach everyone every detail, but you want to build a foundation free of major misconceptions so that students can build on it as they continue their education.

I would argue that for questions about the color of the sky, it's enough for the non-scientist to know that it has to do with the way air scatters different wavelengths of light. Incidentally, I agree with commenters there that the color of the sky might not really be one of the most important science questions of today, but it's included because it is a frequent wondering (in fact, some of my 7th graders are presenting on this very topic next week). Other questions are there because they lead to more questions or startle... I think that's behind the question about the percentage of the earth's surface covered in water - it's such a large number, it might make some people reconsider the importance of understanding the oceans. Some questions (such as the salt on roads) are there because they have practical relevance. And other questions are there because they are important for scientific literacy, necessary for making wise decisions as a citizen. Evolution comes to mind, as does the question about bacteria and viruses. I think everyone needs a solid understanding of evolution and natural selection, and the role that plays in how we fight diseases is important (genetically modified food and anti-bacterial soap, anyone?). The non-scientist needs to know enough to be able to learn more when interested and to evaluate information encountered in the media; that's not the same level of detail or precision required of a working scientist, obviously!

What science questions do you think all students should be able to answer at high school graduation? (And for that matter, what history questions? What math questions? What literature questions?)


I called the Fulbright office on Tuesday, when nothing had arrived at school or at home. They are still thinking about it, I was told, "they" being my counterpart and the Fulbright officials' counterparts overseas. It boils down to concerns about housing in general and the neighborhood where I teach in particular, valid concerns given that (fairly or unfairly) plenty of New Yorkers aren't comfortable in the South Bronx (and to be honest, I'm not thrilled about it after dark). And valid given that there are places in the world where I would not agree to live and work for a year, sight unseen, and it is up to each of us to ask our questions and make the best decision for ourselves and for the students. And yet... it is so frustrating to choose to work in a tough neighborhood where the kids have great needs, and then to feel like that choice might preclude me from getting other opportunities that I want... Is my frustration selfish? It's how I feel.

And then this morning, an email from my counterpart, asking her questions herself. I'm not frustrated any more because, without the go-betweens, the conversation can be so much more productive. We will ask better, smarter, more meaningful questions than any official can do for us, because we are the ones who have to live with the decision. I answered her questions, as honestly as I could, being positive but not trying to oversell the match. I want this to be successful in every way - not easy, necessarily, but successful - or I don't want it to happen at all.

And now I wait, for answers to my questions and for more questions, and, eventually, a decision.

In the meantime, I have visited her school's website and am ridiculously excited - it sounds perfect! And my head is filled with ideas - signing up for language classes, preparing my students this spring by having them correspond with kids from her school and maybe research the country, looking at maps and guidebooks and meeting with people and... you have no idea how much I want this.

I am superstitiously convinced that I will find out if I'm going at the exact same moment that phc has her baby.


We have been measuring the density of different materials to investigate whether density is a property that changes with size or whether it is independent of size. We measured different quantities of water, oil, corn syrup, and glycerin, and we took a bar of modeling clay and found its density, then cut it in half and found the density again. The kids are a little fuzzy on the concept of ratio and proportion.... tomorrow, we will finish up measuring the liquids and then pour them all into one graduated cylinder to see them separate into layers...


The details of our sixth grade end-of-year trip are coming together... sailing on the Pioneer, cultural interpreter programs at the Museum of the American Indian, and archaeology programs at the South Street Seaport Museum. As I talk about it, other staff members are intrigued and interested in joining the sixth grade team as chaperones. Given that we will need at least nine - and probably closer to fifteen - chaperones, I'm all for it. It's about six weeks away, which is an eternity and no time at all, and I think the kids are going to love it.


We are interviewing candidates for next year. We are preparing to give this year's ILS Exam (written next week, performance the following week). Then we have a school curriculum retreat. I'm going away over Memorial Day. Then it is June and the half days, the field trips, field day, graduation, the prom, some attempt at a science expo... and then the year is over. An eternity, and no time at all.


Thanks to EdWonk for including me in this week's Carnival of Education - we've now raised just over $400 for my DonorsChoose challenge, which is 10% of my goal! Click here if you haven't already, and help other NYC teachers get supplies for hands-on science.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Help integrate science & literacy for Brooklyn 2nd graders!

Thanks to those who contributed to my BloggersChoose Challenge! We've already raised $210 towards my goal of $4000. And one of the proposals I selected has been fully funded, in part through this challenge.

Last weekend, I highlighted a proposal from a teacher whose kindergarten class was left out of the science rotation. I've written about the lack of elementary science education many times before. Students enter sixth grade having had anything from no science at all, to science only in fourth grade (the year science is tested), to science every day throughout elementary school. I realize that students who are behind in reading and math need to focus on those subjects in order to catch up, but I think that neglecting science altogether is criminal and shortsighted. A small amount of hands-on science (say, 3 hours per week) can go a long way, especially when science topics are also integrated into reading lessons. Students who struggle to read might get hooked on a topic like electricity or the water cycle as a result of hands-on projects, increasing their motivation to read in order to find out more.

And that is exactly what this Brooklyn 2nd grade teacher is trying to do:
I teach second grade in Brooklyn, New York. About ninety-five percent of the students receive free lunch, and many are English Language Learners. The majority of our day is devoted to literacy, which means that science is not as much of a focus as I would like it to be. Another problem is that I do not have many of the books and supplies necessary to give my students hands-on experiences.

I am asking you to help my students by generously providing funding to purchase 8 science activity tubs. These tubs include books, hands-on activities and supplies for exploring science in many areas. The activities target standards in the characteristics of living things, anatomy and space science, properties of matter and energy, earth’s properties and weather systems, as well as creative and informative writing.

These science kits will allow me to share the excitement of hands on science with my students. They will also provide books that my students can read during our literacy time. This means that I will be able to integrate what we are learning in science into our learning during the rest of our day.

This proposal has already been partially funded by other donors - please help this teacher help his or her students by contributing to the challenge. If everyone gives just $10, it would only take 41 readers to fully fund this proposal. (Geez, I sound like I'm on one of those public television fundraising drives...).

I'd love to see the "edusphere" (or whatever we're calling ourselves) adopt this challenge, stick buttons up all over our blogs, and send these kids some science supplies! (You can get script for buttons from the bottom of the Challenge page). Let's show the rest of the web what we're capable of!

Monday, April 24, 2006

In which they learn a little math while playing a game...

The teacher who normally plans our 7th grade extended day tutoring was out today, so we were on our own. I could have just picked a page from the workbook for the kids to work on, but instead, I wrote out a bunch of fractions and decimals on index cards. I put 0 at one end of the table, 1.0 in the middle, and 2.0 at the far end. Then they had to place the other fractions and decimals one at a time on the number line. I increased the difficulty as we went along, starting with tenths and ending with 0.001, 3/20, and the like. When we'd used up all the cards, I gave each student a blank card and a marker and challenged them to make up new fractions between 0.4 and 0.5. I let them come up with decimals first, then convert their answers to fractions. Some of the kids got really into it and made two or three cards. Finally, I gave each student three blank cards and told them to write any new decimals or fractions that they wanted to. Pretty soon, I had kids begging me for more cards, trying to add the most devilish fractions and decimals they could think of.

I collected all the index cards into a pile, shuffled them, and dealt each student 5 cards. Then I turned over the top card on the deck. The goal was to select a card from your hand as close as possible to the target card; if your card was closest, you got to add the target card to your hand.

Two astonishing things took place:

1. The kids got raucously enthusiastic about the game.
2. The kids got better at playing it as time went on, comparing decimals with something resembling ease.

We are SO playing this game again.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Science Top Ten Lists

Why is the sky blue? Facts you should know. A journalist asked ten scientists to name one question all high school graduates should be able to answer. My favorite is "What is it that makes diseases caused by viruses and bacteria hard to treat?" because it requires conceptual knowledge of genetics and evolution and applies that knowledge to a real issue. I'm happy to report that I got all of them right, although I was off by 0.2 billion years on the age of the first fossils, which is either a lot or nothing at all, depending on how you look at it. Hat tip to the science goddess.

Top Ten Ways to Destroy Earth. Note that we're talking about destroying the whole planet, not human life or even all life. My favorite is definitely #2, both elegant and devious:
A von Neumann machine is any device that is capable of creating an exact copy of itself given nothing but the necessary raw materials. Create one of these that subsists almost entirely on iron, magnesium, aluminum and silicon, the major elements found in Earth's mantle and core. It doesn't matter how big it is as long as it can reproduce itself exactly in any period of time. Release it into the ground under the Earth's crust and allow it to fend for itself. Watch and wait as it creates a second von Neumann machine, then they create two more, then they create four more. As the population of machines doubles repeatedly, the planet Earth will, terrifyingly soon, be entirely eaten up and turned into a swarm of potentially sextillions of machines.

Hat tip for help procrastinating. (And here's some, um, clarification about the nature of a strangelet...).

And I'm not sure I should be excited about the release of this film... but I am.


On Thursday, I went to see the Darwin exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History, before meeting other teacher-blogger types in Central Park for a picnic. I already knew a lot of the material that the exhibit covered, though it is always cool to see original documents and speciments. One thing that struck me was how young Charles Darwin was when invited to join the Beagle expedition: he was only 22 years old, and very much still dependent on his father for permission and financial support. His father thought the trip was inappropriate and dangerous and would not have let him go if it weren't for Darwin's uncle Josiah intervening to support the idea. The Beagle trip lasted five years. When I was 22, I moved to NYC to begin teaching, and have been here for going on six years. Darwin spent the equivalent time period in his life aboard the Beagle. It's such a formative time period, striking out on one's own, leaving university and differentiating from one's parents. By the time he returned to England, his correspondence and specimens, sent home ahead of him, had already prepared a place for him among the respected scientists of the day. Talk about a coming of age story.

And then on Friday, I headed downtown to scout out museums for a field trip in June. We're taking the sixth graders sailing on the Pioneer, but it's going to be a long day because we have to split them up into three groups for the sails, and we need activities for them to do when not at sea... I visited the Museum of the American Indian, the Museum of American Financial History, and Fraunces Tavern. I got museumed-out before I had a chance to check out the Skyscraper Museum.

I was most impressed by the Museum of the American Indian, which is a part of the Smithsonian and is housed in a beautiful, grandiose Beaux-Arts building.

Right now, they have an exhibit of Native American pottery from all over the Americas, from thousands of years ago to the present. The pieces are fascinating and the explanation provided is interesting and helpful. The Museum took special care to include voices of Native American potters in the exhibit, and to involve them in the curation of the show. This worked really well. The presence of pieces made in the last few years, by living artists, highlighted the fact that the older objects were also pieces of artwork made by individuals who made artistic choices. And the presence of the older pieces highlighted the continuity of this tradition going back thousands of years. If that makes any sense.

The jar below is supposed to represent a hungry, open-mouthed baby bird. Cool, huh?

Friday, April 21, 2006

Send the Magic School Bus soaring!

Over the years, I've received a few hundred dollars worth of supplies through DonorsChoose, a website where teachers write short proposals for classroom projects, and donors contribute small amounts of money to make these projects possible. So it's nice to be able to turn it around and participate in BloggersChoose, their new fund-raising campaign.

This is how it works: I've set a goal: $4000. I'm averaging 400 readers per day, so that's $10 per reader... not even the cost of a movie ticket here in New York. I browsed the proposals on DonorsChoose and picked out a few to start with. It's vacation, and I'm feeling ambitious, so I think I'll profile one proposal every couple of days (we'll see if that really happens once school starts again). Here's my challenge to you: click on one of the many buttons I've dropped around the site - or click here - and give ten dollars (or more) to help these teachers improve science teaching & learning in New York City! (I already started it off...)

Proposal of the day: Budding Six Year Old Scientists Need Your Help!
I teach kindergarten in Brooklyn, NY. At our school, Science is considered a cluster class, meaning a different teacher provides instruction to my students. Unfortunately, my class was one of the several kindergarten classes left out of the science rotation this year. My proposal is to fund hands-on science experiment kits from Delta Education so that I can effectively provide my class with the instruction they are missing out on.

Next time I'm going to be the strong, silent type...

Which Fantasy/SciFi Character Are You?

With a hearty attitude and a gruff yet caring demeanor, you are staunchly dedicated to fighting the good fight.

Nobody tosses a Dwarf!

Gimli is a character in the Middle-Earth universe. He has a featured biography page at TheOneRing.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

I am beginning to think

that this Fulbright exchange is not going to happen. Over a week ago, I was told at the end of a phone conversation that they were very close to proposing a match for me, and that most likely I'd get the proposal by the end of that week or early this week. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. And the more time that passes, the more certain I am that it's all fallen through. Or, I suppose, they might have mailed the materials to my school. I sort of remember things arriving here last year, but I can't remember for certain... we only get ten days to decide whether to accept or not, so if it's sitting at school during my vacation week, that sucks.

At this point, there are so many big important decisions riding on the possibility of an exchange (including the future of this blog), I just want to know. One way or the other, I just want to know.

I'm not even sure I want to touch this one, but...

everyone else seems to be, so why not?

The first point, which I want to get out of the way quickly because it's so obvious, is that if housing incentives are necessary to recruit new teachers, doesn't that kind of beg the question whether it wouldn't be easier to pay us enough to live on? Then again, a conversation with friends last night reminded me that no one I know is paid enough to afford to live in NYC, and I'm not even doing the worst, by a long shot (though none of them have stayed in the same profession nearly as long as I have). New York has a serious problem with affordable housing that goes beyond any one profession. Ms. Dennis points out that even this new housing incentive is a drop in the bucket. And the offer for the rest of us - mortgage counseling, preference in housing lotteries, etc. - might help but is not impressive, frankly.

I was a beneficiary of recruitment incentives - I got a nearly free master's degree (paid for with my Americorps stipend and by the DOE and Teachers' College) during a short time period when this was offered to TFA teachers willing to stay an extra year. I remember thinking at the time that they were making it too easy; they ought to have asked us for at least another two years, or maybe three to bring us to a five-year commitment. I completely understand people's issues with TFA and the Fellows, and share many of your concerns, but at the same time, some of us DO stay, and I don't think it does anyone any good to allow the existence of these programs to be divisive. The bottom line is that more than 40% of new teachers leave by the end of five years, and that includes a lot of teachers who entered the profession the traditional way. We're in a field that eats its young.

I'm not against recruitment incentives, per se. Teaching certainly wouldn't be the first profession offering lures to bright young things - I found it a bit rich that an ex-boyfriend, who worked in the financial industry and made three times what I did (at least), had his moving expenses and master's degree paid for, not to mention an on-site gym, subsidized Starbucks, etc., etc. But as nearly everyone pointed out in the comments, retention is the neglected side of the coin. Jonathan asks, What would we want? Pay us more? Improve our working conditions? 4 classes instead of 5? Supplies? Reduced class size? Curricular control?

This document from the National Commission on Teaching & America's Future contains some interesting statistics about who stays, who leaves, and why. High poverty public schools have nearly 20% annual turnover, with slightly more than half of that teachers leaving the profession altogether (as opposed to changing schools). Contrast that with low poverty public schools, which have about 13% annual turnover, which is close to the average for all professions (11%). Teachers leaving high poverty schools cite working conditions, such as poor administrative support, as their reasons for leaving, while teachers leaving low poverty schools cite low salary and poor student motivation as their primary reasons for leaving. This suggests that a key to retention is improving working conditions. Specifically, poor administrative support, lack of faculty influence, classroom intrusions, and inadequate time are the top four reasons for leaving high poverty schools, followed closely by salary and student behavior problems.

So, if I were trying to improve retention in the city's schools, I'd start by looking more closely at these figures. Why not start by replicating this survey here in the city, to identify the specific factors driving people out of schools here? Does the DOE do exit interviews? Maybe they should, for a randomly-selected sample of those leaving. And maybe they should look for clusters of leavers and do more exit interviews within those clusters, to see if certain schools, regions, subject areas, grade levels, etc. are pushing people out faster than others. Gather data, then address the problems.

In her post about this, Ms. Dennis points out that the city neglects really basic improvements to physical plant, yet invests millions in recruitment.
The city is going to be paying about $1.5 million for this. But they can't fix the ghetto floor in my classroom (as my students call it)?

I'm with her on this one; I'll bet there are investments in improving working conditions that could directly benefit students while simultaneously improving retention. It's hard to explain to someone who works in a comfortable downtown office all day long, the subtle wearying effect of working in ugly, broken-down classrooms, always and unpredictably the wrong temperature, with unreliable access to internet and other technology, unreliable plumbing, cockroaches and mice, and so on... and this wearying effect is on both teachers and students, sending us a message of neglect. Spend a few days in schools where the atmosphere is always tense, voices raised, curses flying, and see what it does for your blood pressure and ability to sleep well at night, and your desire to return the next morning.

I've written before about the need to improve the middle levels of this bureaucracy, to find or create good principals and regional administrators who are smart and flexible, able to see and reward good instruction, able to empower good teachers to be better and to help others improve, able to balance standards and equity and caring... I won't beat a dead horse. Just look at those top concerns cited by teachers who leave, contrast the experiences of teachers like TMAO (I can't find the post I'm thinking of) with those of Ms. Dennis, and you'll see how much difference a good principal can make.

The UFT claims that this new incentive program came about in response to a concern that the state would force experienced teachers to involuntarily transfer to the hardest-to-staff schools. It makes me wonder, what would it take to convince experienced teachers to voluntarily make this transfer, so that programs like the Teaching Fellows would not need to place their vulnerable new teachers in the lowest-performing schools, which might help improve retention?


I don't have a problem with being called to account for how I voted, though I don't see the logic in taking me to task for having a problem with something that wasn't part of the contract, because I should have sensed the poor intentions of my union leadership. If you think the union leadership is out to get you, that's all you're going to see, everywhere you look. I prefer - and I readily concede that I might be naive - to believe that our union leadership is legitimately trying to do well by us, although not always succeeding. For the record, I also believe that members of opposition parties legitimately believe that they have better strategies for getting us what we need. Let's debate policies and strategies rather than arguing about other people's intentions.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Really Subtle Analysis

It's not fair!!!!! I could use a subsidy for my housing, too! I'm a science teacher! I teach in the public schools! I've been doing this for SIX years!

I will leave the arguments about supply-and-demand, merit pay, etc. to others.

Science & Music

I arrived home Saturday to find an odd-looking instrument on the living room floor: an oscilloscope, my mother explained, borrowed from... well, I'm not sure from whom. It's a large-ish industrial-baby-blue box, with a screen and various dials on one side, and a microphone snaking off to one side. She's tutoring an Italian student in English and borrowed it to help her tutee "see" the different sounds of our language. Back when my mom was a full-time English teacher, before I was born, she borrowed an oscilloscope from the physics department every year during her unit on poetry, to show the kids what different sounds look like, crisp T's and D's and more sibyllant sounds. I got an immediate hankering to take it back to New York with me (not least because it would push the envelope of odd things that I've carried on the train!) but of course, it wasn't mine to take. My mom assures me that there is software that will do the same thing. Anyway, sound and light is one unit that we often skim or skip, running out of time at the end of the year.

Anyway, thinking about sound and science reminded me that I never posted about the SCONYC workshop I attended on using music in the science classroom.

The workshop was led by Mark Rosengarten, a high school chemistry teacher who's produced an entire CD full of songs written to help his students learn and remember content. Now, I have dabbled in scientific songwriting before, but I've always started with existing songs and just changed the lyrics. Rosengarten writes all his songs himself, from rap to rock'n'roll and roots. The songs are cheesy in a way that ensures you'll walk away singing them, which is perfect for students, but make sure you are ready to to have verses like these stuck in your head before listening: (this is just a sample, other samples are on his website)

What the Heck is Light?
Mark Rosengarten

Look at the electrons, all happy in their shells
zipping right along, their life is pretty swell
Each one has their own amount of certain energy
and they will stay forever, if you let them be...

But if you kick an atom squarely in the pants
electrons get excited and will do their special dance
Some absorb the energy and move to higher shells
and leave behind light places in the spots where they once dwelled...

Rosengarten's not the only one turning science into song. My friend W. invited me to go along with her to hear the Physics Chanteuse sing on Valentine's Day. I had other plans, alas, and had to miss the performance, but I've since visited her website, where you can hear mp3's and download lyrics for a dozen songs (and buy the CDs!), including my favorite,

Carbon is a Girl's Best Friend
by Lynda Williams

A lithium dose just might cure your depression
but carbon is a girl’s best friend.
Gold may be grand but it won’t start a fire in y our
BBQ or put the toot in your choo-choo.
Life on Earth is carbon based.
It came here on rocks from outer space and
formed organic compounds till
the carbon-cycle went round and round!
Carbon is a girl’s best friend!

Unlike Rosengarten, Williams doesn't write her own music - she adapts jazz standards and eighties pop songs - but her singing's at least an electron shell above his... (and she doesn't call herself a "chanteuse" for nothing).

Still waiting.

There has been nothing from FedEx, or in the mail. And so I'm still waiting. I found a Turkish class at NYU, but I am waiting to enroll until I know. I'm not good at waiting. It makes me do things like sit at home on sunny days, thinking that any minute the doorbell will ring, the package will arrive, and then I will go to yoga. Or, after being out of town for three days, I take a cab home from Union Square so that I can arrive in time to stop at my building's office just in case something came while I was gone. And then there's nothing, and I'm still waiting.


Making it all the more suspenseful, I have actually received postings about at least two teaching jobs that sound amazing for creative, experienced science teachers. I can't apply to either at the moment, but if you're interested, send me an email and I'll pass the info along to you. And of course, my current school is also hiring, and is also an amazing place to work. I'm only thinking of leaving because the commute is taking years off my life. So, if you're a super-fantastic science teacher in NYC or the Bay Area, and you need a new job, get in touch!

Friday, April 14, 2006

Bent 2006

I went to one of these workshops last year... fun and supremely geeky.

The Third Annual Circuit Bending Festival of Music and Art in Downtown Manhattan. A week of concerts, art installations, and workshops celebrating a most unusual art form. The first and only festival in the country where one can see a musical instrument built from a singing teddy bear, this year's event will be held April
19-23, 2006. The festival will bring together musicians, performers, and visual artists from around the world who not only push the circuit bending genre forward but are on the cutting edge of the contemporary music scene. In addition to evening concerts, novices and experienced benders of all ages can participate in workshops led by the best in the business during the day.

Tuesday, April 18th: Festival Kick-Off party with R. Luke Dubois, Michael Ostrowski, and Tristan Perich.

15 Nassau Street, Manhattan
7-9p; $free


And speaking of events, there's a teacher-blogger gathering in the works for next week... drop me a line if you're interested and have not already received an email. Please let me know who you are and where you write... thanks!


the stories we tell
to cover up our mistakes: fibs.

in homage
to Fibonacci
so much geekier than haiku.

Strange Geometry

Here's the song behind the title of the post. The whole album is melancholy sixties-style pop, very mellow, you'd swear you hear the Beatles here & there.

Since K Got Over Me
The Clientele and their blog.

I get on my knees
Speaking in tongues
Of washed out sun and
Perfect clarity

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Because it was the day before vacation...

(There were 653 jellybeans in the container. The closest estimates were 650, 648, and 660).

Monday, April 10, 2006

Nothing will be certain for at least a week, but...

Friday, April 07, 2006

Remember the olden days,

when at Easter time, it was easy to find a Cadbury Creme Egg, the real thing, not a Snickers Cream Egg or any of the other paltry imitations of this classic?

Anyone in NYC know where to get them these days?

Update: They are, indeed, available at Rite-Aid, which I normally avoid because the Rite-Aid in my neighborhood is so dingy and unkempt. And, according to a reader's very kind email, Cadbury's and other British treats can also be found at Tea & Sympathy.


Why do people call Friday afternoon and leave intriguing messages about the future that one will not be able to follow-up on until Monday? Do they purposely leave me in suspense?


I'm going upstate this weekend. My friend Mike has a show at the Center of Photography, in Woodstock, and I'm driving up with a friend for the opening and celebration afterwards in New Paltz. See you in a couple of days!

Thursday, April 06, 2006


In my seventh grade science class, in the middle of a discussion of evapotranspiration and the water cycle, a boy raised his hand and asked, You know how they say everything's like, connected? So, when there's a drought and a plant is, like, wilting and dying, does the sky know and give it rain just in time?

I responded that the sky doesn't "know" that plants need water, and doesn't care, and that even among living things, most beings are out for themselves. In the ensuing (two minute) discussion of altruism and self-interest, a girl sitting near me quietly pointed out that humans are pretty much the same.


In robotics, one of my sixth graders, the kind of kid who is like a spring perpetually uncoiling, asked if he could take his sweatshirt off.

You can if you have a uniform shirt on underneath.

He did, but as he walked away, I noticed that his fly was gaping open. The kid is tiny, but he still manages to wear the most enormous pants, and the fly was equally enormous.

Psst! I got his attention and hissed, Zip up your pants!

He couldn't hear me. I beckoned him over. As he was walking over, he realized what I'd said.

Oh, I know what you're talking about. It's okay - it doesn't work right! But it's okay!

Um, no, I think you'd better put the sweatshirt back on.

I love that this kid would have, apparently, been perfectly content to walk around his middle school after school club with his fly unzipped, no shame. Sixth graders. Gotta love 'em.


Telling this story to a colleague on our way home, she told me that this same kid, during a film on ancient Rome, could not contain his question. Ask him to save a question for later, and he sits tensed like a sprinter in the starting blocks.

You can't wait until after the movie is over? she asked him.

No, it's really important!

Okay, come on over and whisper it to me.

The boy walked up to where she was sitting.

Could people in ancient Rome, like, choose to be gladiators because they wanted to?


And we both agreed that teaching has made us OCD about our flies being zipped. I'm like the person who locks and relocks the door a dozen times before leaving the house; I check, and check, and check again that everything is fastened, buttoned, and zipped properly.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

A ton of money...

Here are our results:

About 400 pennies have a mass of 1 kilogram, which means that 400,000 pennies have a mass of 1 metric ton.

About 800 jumbo paperclips have a mass of 1 kilogram, which means that 800,000 paperclips have a mass of 1 metric ton.

And a dollar bill has a mass of 1 gram (pretty much perfectly), so a kilogram of dollar bills is $1000, and a ton of money will make you a millionaire.

This was a much harder project for the sixth graders than I was expecting.

(The next question, of course, which I think I'll have to save for a half-day or something, is How much space would you need for all these pennies, paperclips, and dollar bills?).

My head overflows...

It's a close call in New York City whether the trees or the people keep their spring clothes in easier reach. The trees seemingly kept flowers tucked into the nooks of their branches, ready to be unfurled at the first touch of sun. And in the same moment, sleeveless shirts and melon-colored flip-flops reappeared on shoulders and feet all over the city.

So today, I'm teaching the seventh graders a lesson on reading weather maps. We're trying to make some predictions based on high and low pressure systems and the blue triangles and red semi-circles of fronts. The kids are being bad; I'm being impatient and mean strict. It's snowing! someone calls out. My back is to the window. It's not the moment to turn around; it wasn't even a good joke. I continue with the lesson, but sneak a glance over my shoulder. Oh. It is snowing.

What kind of front is that? someone asks.

Four hours later, I place my yoga mat on the floor in a swath of sunlight, feel it warm my toes.


Sometimes I feel more affected by the seasons than the people around me, although I guess everyone feels more awake and alive in spring.


Any day now, I could come home and find an envelope in my mailbox from the Fulbright Teacher Exchange. It's probably a few weeks away - if I even get a placement - but it could be tomorrow. So many things depend on the existence and contents of that envelope.

And if I'm feeling anticipation, I can't imagine what she's feeling.


I found a writing class, Finding Your Voice in Nonfiction at the New School.
This workshop focuses on essays, memoirs, narratives, humor, and satire. Students develop their own voices and styles, showing through example and anecdote and incorporating dialogue and other fiction techniques. Contemporary nonfiction has limitless possibilities, as demonstrated by writers like Joan Didion, John McPhee, Anna Quindlen, Russell Baker, and E.B. White.

I'm trying to figure out if I can fit it in my schedule for summer. I haven't taken a writing class in 8 years, since my last poetry writing workshop junior year in college. I write more now than I did then, and I'm itching to learn something new. Doesn't it sound like fun?

Things I want to write about: Neil Young, the guitar I've carried around the country for over 8 years without learning to play, the shadows that buildings cast on other buildings and the ten thousand surprising ways that light illuminates things in my neighborhood in the springtime, bicycles and their personalities, why we need choice (yes, that kind of choice), the day I brought a lobster to school, anger, that feeling you get sometimes when you realize you're made of cells that are made of molecules that are made of atoms that are made of particles that are made of quarks...


My turn to ask my burning questions...

Suppose a person had an idea for a nonprofit organization that would serve teachers - especially science teachers - in New York City. Suppose that idea was modeled after a successful organization in another city. How would one go about preparing oneself for the great leap that it would take to go from teaching full-time to eventually opening such an organization? How would one learn about renting warehouse space in the South Bronx? Or non-profit management? Or fundraising? Or the myriad other things one would need to know - including the things one doesn't even know one would need to know - in order to undertake such a project? And where would one gather the confidence to leap into that particular unknown?

Would it be foolish to leave a school I've invested so much in, in order to work closer to the neighborhood I've come to love, a neighborhood so expensive that if I ever leave my current apartment I'd be unlikely to find another I could afford? Would it be foolish to do this because the Cuban coffee at Juicy Lucy's is so good, or because on a sunny afternoon I can hear be-bop and rock'n'roll on the street corners, or because of the hours I've spent leaning over the fence mutt-watching at the dog-run in the park?


That's enough for one day. But if YOU have any burning questions, put 'em in the comments.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Mathlessness, vol. 2

(See the original post).

Our math AUSSIE came to sit in on my math tutoring session after school today. Only four of my six students were present, and they were as pissy as I've seen them recently, trading insults, kicking each other under the table, and even snapping at each other (literally, with their teeth!). After a certain amount of this, I read them the riot act, which caused three to settle down while the fourth sulked.

Anyway, my AUSSIE brought some worksheets to assess the students' understanding of decimal place value. They'd had it drilled into their heads in sixth grade, but could they use their supposed knowledge to help them solve problems?

One of the problems looked like this:

Angela purchased 4 bracelets. She worked out the price for one bracelet on the calculator. The result was 6.125. How much is that in dollars and cents?

Most of us easily see that it's $6.13. I figured the kids would have trouble figuring out how to deal with the three digits after the decimal point. While they were working, my AUSSIE leaned over and whispered that kids always write $7.25 because they think the 125 is 1.25 and should be added to six. No way, I said.

One by one, the kids handed in their papers. $7.25. $7.25. $7.25. $7.25.

Another question looked like this:

Lily said, "When we put books on the library shelf, we put 74.8 before 74.125 because 8 is less than 125," but Dan didn't agree. Who is right? Why do you think that?

All the children thought Lily was right.

Other problems asked them to sequence decimal numbers, like this:

0.3, 0.6, 0.9, _____, ______ (add on 0.3 each time)

Nearly all the children answered something along the lines of

0.3, 0.6, 0.9, 0.12, 0.15


Paperclips come in boxes of 1000. Jenny counted the loose paperclips in a tray and said there were 1480. Jose said that's 1.48 boxes of paperclips. Could they both be right?

Not one child saw that 1480 paper clips and 1.48 boxes of 1000 paperclips were equivalent. Not one child.

The practice we've been doing in workbooks is just extra repetition of algorithms. Their fundamental understanding of numbers and what we can do with them is so flawed and flimsy, it's terrifying.

Monday, April 03, 2006

from Sputnik Sweetheart

by Haruki Murakami

"I'm always amazed how good you are at explaining things."

"That's my job," I said. My words seemed somehow flat and stale. "You should try being an elementary-school teacher sometime. You'd never imagine the kind of questions I get. 'Why isn't the world square?' 'Why do squids have ten arms and not eight?' I've learned to come up with an answer to just about everything."

"You must be a great teacher."

"I wonder," I said. I really did wonder.

"By the way, why do squids have ten arms and not eight?"

Sunday, April 02, 2006

His fate is still unlearned...

I missed so many more appropriate opportunities to post this, but it came up in my iTunes shuffle today and I thought I'd share it:

Charlie on the MTA
The Kingston Trio

Let me tell you the story
Of a man named Charlie
On a tragic and fateful day
He put ten cents in his pocket,
Kissed his wife and family
Went to ride on the MTA

Here you can read more than you ever wanted to know about the origins of this song (including lyrics to a verse that was replaced by the banjo solo, and mp3 files of some older songs upon which this song was based).


And while we're on the topic of organizing, Norm Scott, of ICE and FLL fame, emailed me (and about a million other people) a response to my post about Granito de Arena. I have a response to his response, but I also have a lot of work to do.