Friday, December 21, 2007

'Tisn't the Season

Even though this pyramidal shape could remind one of a christmas tree or, to be politically correct, "a holiday tree" it somehow doesn't, for me, this Christmas. We are having some major challenges to our "reason for the season". A testing one's faith and family commitments is on going.

It wasn't much better at my latest "guest teacher" (sub) assignment. I had promised a friend teacher that I would cover her class the 3 days that she helped produce an annual holiday show at her school and it, at times, was difficult. It wasn't the subject, Art, but the personnel and the administrative lack of support that made it all less than inspiring to that festive, holiday time usually experienced just before the annual two-week holiday haitus. Students at the middle school age are generally so into themselves and each other that they hardly give any signs that they are "festive" or joyful...even with "breeze assignments" in Art. The ones who would normally respond are far out-shouted by the two to three in each class that "take extra attention"...usually the negative kind. They come into class with their own agendas from the previous "passing period" and could care less what they are there for or assigned to do. They then force a confrontation which first involves warnings, chances to comply, then threats of "referral" usually 3X and then, with persistant refusal, and lots of time taken away from the "deserving students" they are given a note and asked to leave. This seems to be, more and more, standard M.O. with "subs". But not this one. Then on the next day when they see that "this one" is still there they don't want to come to class and report to the girl's V.P. in charge of discipline and complain with their calumny. This is where my sponsor teacher steps in and backs me and what I'm trying to teach/accomplish (her lesson plans) This works to a degree although they still wouldn't take any direction from me.

We got some beautiful projects from most of the students, 5 classes of Art with the same assignment: Make a small, black and white, newspaper collage to then decorate with pastels with copied or created pictures, landscapes or abstract designs. Most took to it and enjoyed doing the three-day process with friends, conversation and "tunes" in the background. They, of course, wanted "their choice of tunes" which never pleases everyone so the teacher had picked 4 or 5 CD's and we put them on "shuffle". I stuck in a holiday CD from "Manheim Steamroller"..."oo yuk" was the predominant response.

The one different class, "Yearbook" was asked to write a "critique" on the "show" or interview four of the kids ("student celebrities") who were in it and in their class. Here again we had to threaten a certain few who were trying their best to get out of the assignment or do the minimum; even when I made sure the assignment was from their regular teacher, not me. Finally I had to do the old "exit ticket" routine. i.e. "You get to leave the room when the assignment is given to me at the door with your name on it...even if it isn't done...like a blank piece of paper with your name on it. We had a few that were close to that. When I tried to read and grade them it a rude awakening to what writing skills most lack and don't even know it.

Another "Snafu" transpired on the second day first period. The Art assignment had rotated to "Prep Period" which means no students. Wrong for subs...we have to be available to "cover" for last minute cancellations until they find another sub or a "staff" person covers. This time it was me and I was sent to an "Algebra" Class. The regular teacher was there and doing the last minute lesson plans on his computer. He then explained the to me and handed me the attached packet of individualized assignments. Then another sub come in and relieves me so I give her the packet and the explanations I had just received. I'm not back in the Art room for 5 minutes when I get the call to come back to "algebra" the releaving sub was wrongly sent. But she in the meantime had mislaid the packet and assignment and handed me some "work to return" . Even with a "T.A", who was busily correcting papers, we could not find the original assignment page or packet...even sending the TA to find her and ask her or it. With 5 mins. left in the period and two whole class refusal do do a "supplementary assignment" "Oh we've already done that one" Yes, you may have but you didn't pass it...do it again...nope; we found the packet. I left copious notes to the regular teacher and praised the one student who tried to help me the whole time. I also stopped a girl from chasing another boy student around the room with scissors i.e. "running with scissors" and then she came up to my desk and threatenly operated the scissors rapidly and violently several time not two feet from my face. I wrote that up too. Her parting sarcastic comment as she left and the scissors were laying on the desk, pointing toward me..."Oh be careful, they might get you." Vicious! Most all the problem students, both classes, ones with real issues, were females who were performing for each other and the class.

It seems that at this level the females are much more socially "advanced?" and not really interested in assignments. Hormones are freshly flowing too and that's part of it. This is probably another school I will not return to unless requested by my Art Teacher Friend. She would like to get more of my "artsy ideas" and pick my brain for future times...so she says. We'll see if my "rubrics", although older and tested, might help in what I see as an increasingly challenging scope and sequence of art curriculum. "Have you tried shrink art, simple origami or even napkin folding?" I have. RRR

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Row, Row, Row...Down Stream











The five snap shots above are there to remind me of the full, fascinating and fantastic week and a day I just had. We were coming from the depth of despair with a family member's problems and went to the heights of hope and hilarity in just that brief amount of time. Life is funny that way and it's good to remember that. It can change so quickly if you are open to it, flexible and ready to "keep on...keeping on".
Of course, I couldn't resist snapping the vulture looking down on us in "Club 33" in Disneyland while we ate our sumptuous feast/buffet in that exclusive, upstairs restaurant. We had been invited by some Club 33 Members to the annual "Candlelight Concert" of Xmas music and narrative in the Main Street Square. Mr. Vulture reminded me, as I took pause, of where I had been the previous week with my son. Somehow he and we must "muddle through" these hard times with the hope that healing will eventually come and the "vultures" of death will not win too soon.
I was taken with the beauty all around me at this "Happiest Place on Earth" when I snapped the center piece of peacock feathers at my table and the tiffany dragon fly lamp shade at the "Craftman" Hotel Californian in Downtown Disney. Beautiful images are all around with just the barest notice, if you try.
At the entrance to The California Adventure part of the Park there is this gigantic landscape/mosaic that I also snapped at the urging of my wife. We live in a beautiful state and are so lucky and priveledged to respond to its sights/sites and weather most of the year. We also Soared of California again, our favorite ride.
The concert last Sunday, though very cold for us thin-blooded Californians, was pure joy for me. This is probably the first year that I haven't been associated with a Chorus, Chorale or Choir and sung the traditional carols. I didn't realize how much I missed it. (tears to the eyes) This was a massive group of at least a dozen local choirs (chamber singers, madrigals etc.) plus an orchestra and the Hand Bell Choir from Claremont Congregational (the best, I knew some of the ringers) Then there was the Biblical Nativity Story read by Jane Seymour in her crystal clear English accent. (this time she did no "Dancing With the Stars") What fascinated me most during the whole, hour-long, performance was the American Sign Language Soloist up in front, near us in a spot light. Her movements were so graceful and calming for every spoken and sung word. This also helped me get perspective and forget our troubles for awhile. (it was dark, with spotlights, so no photos)
The next day I was scheduled to work at my favorite Elementary school...as it turned out, all week. Four days in a great 4th grade class and one day in a 2nd. This was the first time I had decided to work/sub (as they call it "Guest Teach") for 5 straight days. Along about the 4th day I had to catch my second wind to stay focused and positive all day. The fifth day was a "rainy-day schedule" but hardly any different. No "stuck in the classroom" all day (recesses) with smelly little bodies. We got our usual breaks and the administration/staff did herculean duty.
It was a joy to be back with my favorite aged kids and explore some of my "pet rubrics" with them. They were shocked and pleasantly surprised at several of them. "Our regular teacher doesn't do it this way." Learning again (finally) became fun and challenging...even the 5, yes, FIVE, tests we had on Friday. We sang alot, played math baseball, did Venn Diagrams of the "!2 Days of Xmas" and the "Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe" etc. We wrote about our dead pets when "Rontu died in Island of the Blue Dolphins". We did Victor Borge Punctuation (sound effects) on our Daily Bites. We had fun...or at least I did. Just before the 5 tests, I taught them my "new versions" of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat":(6 to be exact)
Read X3
A book
Best that you can find
Reading books
Is lots of fun
It helps improve
Your mind.
Write X3
Some words
Best that you can pen
Writing words is lots of fun
It makes you feel like
Ben (Franklin)
Play X3
Some games
Try so many sorts
Playing games is lots of fun
It helps to make
Good Sports
Ve X3
Bote
Rio abajo
Alegre X3
La Vida es su
Sueno
Take X3
Your tests
Try all that are given
Taking tests (can be) lots of fun
It lets you know
You're livin'
Swim X3
Up stream
Make school hard and boring
Hating school is not much fun
What's only worse is
WAR-ing.
So I'm fully ready to continue to flow and row "down stream" and enjoy what time I have left. How about you? RRR





Friday, November 30, 2007

The Twelve Days of Xmas Questions?







Venn Diagrams are alot of fun. I don't know if "The 12 Days of Xmas" has ever been Venn Diagramed. I have tried it as you can see above. There is a bit of interpretation needed. If you want to check your answers against mine, I'll put them in the comments below. OK?
What has prompted all this might be interesting to you also. I think it qualifies as a "Rubric Cubed" on the syntax and rhetoric of the song/lyrics which can be taught at most levels from Kindergarten to 8th grade. Plus, it is just a "fun thing" to do for the holidays in a classroom. (rubics cubes shown = 13 not 12 i.e. 3x3=9, 2x2=4, 9+4=13 so extra cube is for the "null set")
Anyway, this festive song has been with me and my teaching ever since my sister taught it to me when she learned it in her high school choir. We loved it then and every year, by command performance, had to sing and share it with our family and friends. What made it special was the unique "hand/arm/body/foot motions" that go along with its singing. Every gift has its own set of motions that are comical and appropriate for that day. By the end of the song, the last reprise, back to the first day, if you do it properly, can't help but bring a laugh along with the audience...especially if you go faster and faster.
I just finished teaching it again to this year's crop of 40 kindergarteners and they just loved it. Hand motions while singing are their "thing" anyway. They may sing it as their part of the school's annual "Holiday Show"...you have to be careful now days and not say "Xmas Show".
My sister called last week and said she wanted to teach it to 11 of her choir buddies for a show they are doing this season. We reviewed all the motions over the phone, gesturing blindly and laughing. I'll soon get to go see her this season and maybe help perform them in memory of our childhood and upbringing. Yes, we were silly at times too.
This is what is missing in many of the classrooms I've been visiting lately i.e. a sense of humor, some child-like silliness. Play, a creative, playful attitude, can go along way in many a dry Science class. Most 8th graders are already fighting any/all regimentation to learn/teach any substantive material so why not make a game out of it? I recently brought out the 20 Questions Game for those who had finished their assignment (read the chapt. on Atoms and answer the study questions) This is what passes for Science now days. Those who finished, very few, enjoyed it and we mentioned the importance of Questions and Hypotheses in the Scientific Method. Most have trouble or aren't interested in asking any questions...especially if it gets them more paper/pencil work to do. Sad, but true.
Maybe there should be a Venn Diagram of the typical American school students and their reluctance to learn, question, collaborate, network vs. the other nation's students who are all somehow motivated to do the above and have some fun with their learning. It would be a rather lop-sided Venn I'm guessing. RRR




Saturday, November 17, 2007

Dragons in the Knight's Armory

"Fie on ye! Thy gauntlet has been thrown!...but let's not joust."


These were epithets wielded about for the past two days by eponyms and denizens of "Middle Earth" (local Middle or Intermediate Public School). Yes, I heard them and actually used them in my dealing, as a sub, with 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students of Art. I had been asked back to hold forth for a second round of "clashes" (classes) at this medievil institution.



Actually, for the most part, I had alot of fun with the assignments. The regular teacher had gathered supplies and media for "tooling metal armored knights" and fantastic dragons. Most of the kids "dug" it...especially the boys. Some, as usual, fought it, endured it, reluctantly...determined not to have fun with it. I did. These were the kind of assignments I used to give along with looking up family crests and coats of arms. Fascinating.

My first three periods were older students who had been challenged to tool a highly detailed knight in shining armor with a weapon or a shield. They could trace the outline and then fill in the spaces by pressing extremely hard with a rounded tool. Then they could put in patterns, like chain mail etc. There were no more than a half dozen who could really bare down and stay with it for two days. Most were easily satisfied with a very conventional knight that probably wouldn't last two rounds with a dragon. All my cajoling and exhorting to "buff him up" and "pump him up" did little good. I even xeroxed some design patterns as suggestions for "cross-hatching". One or two had looked up their family's coat of arms and tried to put it on their shields. It amazed me how many wanted to quit early and just sit and talk with their fellow classmates, or tease them, or insult them. One group was competing with each other as to who could tell the grossest "mother" joke. They were having a good time as they looked forward to a nine-day vacation. We only had two girls who insisted on "jousting" (verbally) with me, trying to avoid the assignment, talk of their problems "privately" and then cause an uproar with argumentation and threatening to have their mother come in...for what reason, I don't know...(to discuss how they were refusing to do any "work" (even art) because it was something an adult in charge had insisted that they try?) Or they would call you over to ask the same question again and again just to call attention to themselves and try to bug you. Finally, I just "referred" them and called their regular teacher. She wasn't surprised. One other student came up later and said they tried the same thing in other classes just to get out of work or do their own socializing. Only that one class was "tainted" attitudinally by them. As soon as their "fires" were snuffed out it was a calmer armory.

Two younger classes were asked to trace or draw dragons flying or in various threatening positions, border it and then paint it. About a dozen in all got to the painting and there were only two minor spills of paint that they quickly cleaned up. They were warned to wear a smock and that the paint was indelible on their hands. Here again, several boys especially just couldn't concentrate and complete the tracing. They ignored the suggestion to tape it down so it would wiggle and ruin the outline. One kid, after three attempts, made a paper airplane out of the "onion skin". Several took my suggestion to tape it to the window and trace with "backlight" especially since then they could see and gesture to their "friends" walking by outside. This was something they never had gotten to do before. I wanted to play music while we "created artistically" but there was no CD player in the rooms and none of the computers had been set up for sound from CD's. Pretty soon though, we had two or three cell phones that could play tunes for two minutes at a time. Wow! Then we had some dancing instead of doing their tracings. Oh well, it was creative expression. It was the birthday of one girl and she wanted her picture taken for the "yearbook"...room cameras were all checked out so I snapped her with my cell phone and tried to send it to the teacher's phone...nope. I'll try her email.

We discussed the use of armor in our society now days i.e. football pads, kivlar in the army etc. We skirted the issues of "dragon breath" and personalities that do exist at these ages. Some have already developed their own "armor" in so many ways with each other and especially teachers and other "caring adults" that it does bring out the "dragon" (well-meaning) in all us beleaguered subs. RRR







Sunday, November 11, 2007

Gordian's Knot



Alexander Cuts the Gordian Knot, by Jean-Simon Berthelemy (1743-1811)




The Gordian Knot is a legend associated with Alexander, The Great. It is often used as a metaphor for an intractable problem, solved by a bold stroke ("cutting the Gordian Knot")



According to a Phrygian Tradition, an oracle of Telmissus, the ancient capital of Phrygia, decreed to the Phrygians, who found themselves temporarily without a King, that the next man to enter the city driving an ox-cart should become their king. Ahmidas, a poor peasant, happened to drive into town with his father Gordias and his mother, riding in his father's ox-cart. Before Ahmidas' birth, an eagle had once landed on that ox-cart, and this was explained as a sign from the gods. Ahmidas was declared king by the priests. In gratitude, he dedicated his father's ox-cart to the Phrygian god Sabazios, whom the Greeks identified with Zeus, and tied it to a post with an intricate knot of cornel (Cornus mas) bark. It was further prophesied by an oracle that the one to untie the knot would become the king of Asia (today's Asia Minor-Middle East)



The ox-cart, often depicted as a chariot, was an emblem of power and constant military readiness. It still stood in the palace of the former kings of Phrygia at Gordium in the fourth century BC when Alexander arrived, at which point Phrygia had been reduced to a satrapy, or province of the Persian Empire. (Iraq, Iran today)



In 333 BC, wintering at Gordium, Alexander attempted to untie the knot. When he could find no end to the knot, to unbind it, he sliced it in half with a stroke of his sword, producing the required ends (the so-called "Alexandrian Solution", taken by the Hellenic Army IV Army Corps as their motto). Even though disputed by Plutarch, (pulled out not cut), either way, Alexander did go on to conquer Asia and fulfill the prophecy.



Now days, we have a toy puzzle, similar to Rubic's Cube, which defies solution. (pictured above) In the packaging there is a step-by-step procedural solution for taking it apart (untying) and then, equally difficult, putting it back together (retying). I enjoy these puzzles, not that I'm especially good at them but, I like the challenge. They are maddenly fascinating all at the same time.



Metaphorically, I can relate this "intractable problem knot" to the "mess" we, as a country, have gotten ourselves into in the Middle East. There doesn't seem to be a ready solution, easy or hard. Maybe our leaders should've "learned from history" and had an exit strategy before they blundered in to slice away with bold strokes.(like Alexander or some eagle) It now appears that the knots have grown and divided into "offspring knots"...or maybe they were there before all the time. i.e. Afghanistan and Pakistan a la the Taliban. These still and always have been "male dominated" cultures or "half-cultures" if you will...discounting the power and importance of their women in roles of leadership etc. (i.e. Pakistan's current struggle) Will stumble in there like Alexander and try to force our ways and values on them all? It reminds me of the scene from "Raiders of the Lost Ark" where Indiana Jones just takes out his six-shooter and dispatches the scimitar-weilding dueler. Why play by their rules? We have our own rules and values and they apply everywhere in the world. Right?

This same situation now exists in many of our schools, districts and classrooms. The systems are all knotted up in procedural rules and ineffective rubrics for learning and discipline. All we seem to have to "fix" them are TESTS AND MORE TESTS. The threat of tests are used everyday and kids have come to expect them. Why do anything extra or out of curiosity if it won't be required on a future test? There just seems to be only one solution to why kids can't or won't learn...finding the right tests or "test-taking behaviors" to train into them. When a "sub" (like me) comes in and questions some of their procedures, i.e. the reason or validity of them; many of the outspoken ones ask, "Why are we doing in this way?...We've never done this before...Our regular teacher doesn't ask or require this?...How many do I have to do to be done right away?" I can give you cases in point at almost every level but mainly at the older (upper grades). Very "closed minded" already by the 7th and 8th grade level, especially in Math. "Just show me/require of me the minimum. Don't make me go through it step-by-step in logical order. That will take too long and I won't finish by the end of the period or I might have to take it home for homework." If they don't get their way, when I insist they try a new or different approach, they try "the game of uproar" trying to get their classmates involved. I'm convinced that most of the regular teachers don't even care anymore and are just "covering the material" take it or leave it...most leave it. Too hard of a knot to untie, takes too long, and it isn't worth it. They can't see into the future of our country or even our state and the hopeless, passive, non-copers we are "educating". I just heard on the radio that California 4th graders are #48 out of 50 in Reading and Math. We wonder why that is? Just look at our schools, their lack of support and their lack of innovative approaches. They keep waiting for the "bold stroke" of decisive solution but are unwilling to try anything that might inconvenience or change their schedules and ADA. Maybe the Greeks i.e. Alexander, had a point or an edge or...a clue? RRR




Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Spotlight on Drama?

"There's no business like show business,
There's no business I know.
Everything about it is appealing..."
In the four middle schools at which I've recently subbed, only one has a "drama class" elective. Some have "Art", some have "Instrumental Music". None have all three. What a shame. These are the ages that kids are beginning to blossom in their personalities and can be the most "dramatic" and expressive "artistically and/or musically". Instead in most of these schools they are scheduled to the minute and shuffled around to seven 50 minute periods with only the briefest of breaks in between. They are required to be there at the "crack of dawn" almost, when, as adolescents, their "juices" might get flowing alittle later.

That first period class is anywhere from 7:50AM to 8:05AM has them staggering in almost "zombie-like". They sit strictly divided on the floor of the double-sized drama room very quietly. As the day progresses, the groups of 35 plus warm up to each other and sit (on the floor) intermixed. They then are much more interactive and even confrontational (dramatically). It then becomes a challenge, as a teacher, (sub drama coach) just to get and keep their continued attention for more than 5 minutes. Fortunately I have a few "tricks" from my former "drama-coaching" days. I love to use and comment on their dramatic individualities and personalities. i.e. answering to the the roll call with a different verbal/nonverbal response from the previous student. doing verbal dexterity exercises for their upcoming "voice-over" skits (with mic) having them "give notes" to their peers that are positive and responsible.

The regular drama teacher was not sick but "paniced" with an upcoming "tech rehearsal" that the "Drama Club" (after school) wasn't really ready for. They had had to miss a week of school due to storms/damage to the local schools. She is a great, well loved drama teacher and each year strives to put on two "musicals" (Fall and Spring) ("Annie Jr. & Tom Sawyer") She does this...like a "business" and usually raises lots of money from it and before it. She involves lots of parents/volunteers and generates a ton of goodwill and PR for the school. However, yesterday I had to give her some time to "unload" to me about the lack of support from the school administration personnel. They won't even get her an in-tune piano, rented or bought. She raises the money and it has to go into the general fund. Athletics still takes presidence over all other extra curricular activities, then instrumental music. There is also an appalling lack of cooperation and team work among skill-related fellow teachers. i.e. music/art/ Lang. Arts They don't want their "classrooms messed up" or available "after hours".

First thing, over the all-school P.A. comes the Pledge of Allegiance, led by an "anonymous adult". Then comes the day's and week's announcements and promotions for "fund raisers" and contests etc. also done by an "anonymous adult". It all seems very hurried and business-like, not to "waste too much time" from first period. Where are the ASB student leaders and their enthusiasm? They could be coached on their "voice-over" mic skills by the drama teacher who, by the way, is teaching that very skill right now. Other Middle Schools in the area have that going at least. These formative years are so trying and hard for some kids socially and emotionally that it seems a no brainer to have them work on and practice these necessary skills with "room for goofing up" Screw the schedule! No wonder so many are hyper, up tight and increasingly hard to focus for more than 5 minutes. Reorganize the day to five or six periods that are slightly longer and allow time for more in depth, personality-developing activities and peer evaluation and coaching. They are more interested in that anyway. Scan-tron tests are quick and easy to grade, process and report on,(to the public) but what are they doing to our youth and our culture's future? RRR


Friday, October 26, 2007

Displaced Kinder



I was alittle excited yesterday because I was finally getting to go to an elementary school that I had missed so far. They had the jobs but always called too late to be do-able. This was an early call (5:AM) and it was a Kindergarten...piece of cake, right? Wrong. It was quite different and rather depressing and frustrating.

The buses arrive late at this outlying site and so school doesn't start until 9AM. I was supposed to be there at 8:20AM. I set out at 7:55AM and then realized, in my excitement, that I had forgotten my badge. You've got to have a badge nowdays to get on campus. Security is tight. So, having never worked there before, I wasn't quite sure of the best and fastest way to get there. I called them on my cell at 8:20 and said I was on my way, in the area and was I correct so far in my off ramps and streets. Yes, but it was very hard to hear. The parking lot was full so I had quite a walk to the office.

Here again the school was being "retro-fitted" and it was totally in the state of fenced-off construction, holes, dirt piles, noise, and kids and teachers routed around it all. My K room was the farthest away portable next to a big mound of filler dirt that a "bob-cat" (mini back hoe/scooper) was periodically moving throughout the day. We closed the door to no avail.

This was another AM/PM double K with two teachers. The AM teacher barely greeted me and not cordially, "Are you full or half-day?"

"Full."

"Well, I'm going on a field trip this morning with mine and your's don't arrive until 11:40."

"No problem, how can I help you now?"

She proceeded to give me some "seat work prep" for the upcoming Halloween themed days. (mostly stapling and folding) She told me my aide would arrive at 10AM and could further help me prepare for mine. There was a typed "lesson plan" but it was rather sketchy and incomplete. Then we got a phone call from the actual teacher I was replacing and she tried to fill in some of the gaps. Her real reason for calling was to get the phone numbers of certain kid's moms who she was going to have to reschedule for conferencing or tutoring. I noticed the remains of a subbing summary from the previous Tuesday. Yesterday, Wednesday, she had been there to take her PM's on the same field trip to the "Pumpkin Patch". The aide later told me she hoped she wasn't having problems with her new home and the recent firestorms or with financial restructuring. Her voice did sound a bit stressed on the phone.

I was having problems finding all the materials for what she wanted done and the aide wasn't able to help much either. Her desk was a mess and so much of what was suggested again was "paper/crayon/pencil" heavy. The aide said to wait until the other teacher came back from the field trip and ask her. That made me feel a bit better and so I proceeded to set up some "alternate plans" of my own just in case...good thing...

The other teacher came back and was very cool, almost hostile toward me, the plans, what I did etc. I'm guessing she was miffed at the other teacher for "abandoning her" and was taking it out on me and "my kids". Her responses were brief if not curt and dismissive. She went to lunch and I was left to my own devises with the "aide" (bilingual) doing workbook prep in the back. So I forged on ahead and did the best I could to follow the plan and when in doubt...add my own...interests, specialties...biases etc. This would be music(Eng./Espanol) and math/lang. games. i.e. We counted the "days of school" (now 41) with pennies, not tiny paper clips on a distant wall. We sang and played the "Magic Penny Song and Game". They loved it but some had trouble counting their actual pennies past "one". Relating counting to actual things in sequence was still a challenge...forget knowing their left from their right.

I asked for help explaining the "centers" which were called for in the lesson plan and got no involvement or help from the other teacher who was busy on the computer and the phone calling non-cooperative hispanic parents. They were ignoring or refusing notes coming home because they weren't in Spanish too. The non-Spanish-speaking principal had refused (as illegal) this dual way of trying to get their participation in the school. This is usually not a problem at the K level.

The kids wanted things to be like they always were with their real teacher but they weren't and I wasn't getting any help to make them so from the teacher or the aide. ie. switching centers procedure, when and how. So, I forged ahead again...making sure they all had the "Magic Penny" game and a souvenir penny. Then I went to the math table and helped read the directions to those left there. The other teacher was three feet away and couldn't care less what they did.

I realized I was spoiled with my other K class and how well those AM/PM teachers worked together and helped each other for the good of their mutual kids.

Necessity being the "father" of invention...I came up with an "Rr" song for the letter of the day after the story in the big book (I couldn't find) and my own grandson's book on dogs, and a puppet show with "Tuggles" the Drug Fighting Bear. (yes, drug ed at this level) His message today especially to those who remembered to bring their "shades" (sunglasses) "Shade out drugs" "Stop and Think" This kids bearly (pun intended) knew what the lesson was about so we did some other "Stop and Think" activities i.e. crossing the street "Stop, Think, Look left, look right, look left again" and balloon ball...Stop and think before you throw it to your friend (the name you called out) They loved it all. The aide had long since left and the "uninvolved co-teacher" continued to ignore us. She did stop long enough to find the drug stickers in her desk drawer so I could pass them out at the end of the day, instead, as the plan suggested, in the middle.

I then walked six kids to their buses on the other side of the campus and she, reluctantly stayed with the remaining to be picked up at the door. The bus scene was chaos and the "principal" changed her tone of voice when she saw I was a sub, just observing, and was "without a clue" as to what to do. There was, overall a lack of joy or care with all the adults I observed dealing with the kids. Must've been the stress of the fires and air quality. This district kept open this whole disaster week, their neighbor district closed the whole week.

When I got back to the room the other teacher had already started her tutoring. "We wear many hats here," was her quote. One student hadn't been picked up and was near tears.

"Has your student left yet?" I checked, nope still there.

"Shall I take her up to the office to have them call?"

"No, I'll handle it."

"Is there anything else I can do for you in my time remaining?"

"No, I can handle it." (as a whole group of older students were dumped on her to watch)

Too bad for her, she didn't know, they used to be my specialty. RRR

Saturday, October 13, 2007

What was old...is new again.

This week I finally had the opportunity to work at this district's oldest school twice. Then I ended the week by working at its newest school. Comparisons and contrasts follow here.
First of all the setting for the oldest school was tree-lined and I mean big, old peppers. Beautiful. It is also on a divide city lane that is being widened. It was hard to park around the school what with all the drop off traffic and buses. First I was placed in a portable 1st grade. No problem except that the cooler weather had triggered the heater and it was too hot and humid in the room. I called for the custodian and we opened some windows until the district A/C men could be called. The other problem? was that this very neat and organized teacher had placed those plug-in room deodorizers all around the room and it was overwhelming at first...sort of a pine scent. Other than that, we had alot of fun with two switches AM and PM with other classes to make an effort at individualization. In the AM, I had two aides who came in and took small groups of 5 or 6 without a word to me about what or who. They seemed to know what they were doing. We did phonics analysis and primer reading together and I, for the first time, cracked out my "penlight" for highlighting the syllables, blends and sounds. It helped to focus these easily distractible 6 year olds. We also reinforced with mucho Espanol. I taught the rhymes I remembered for "la semana" etc.
This group also seemed very well adjusted to the program and knew/corrected me when I strayed creatively. They did like our song we made up, sang and memorized about the school. This is my signature move now at all the elementaries I attend/sub. This one was done to the tune of the "B-I-N-G-O" song with the name of the school spelled out. They loved it with the hand claps. We even had a scheduled P.E. i.e. run around the track for 10 mins. (I walked with them, "but teacher, you stay back there and watch us..." that would be no fun) Then the rest of the time on the new, jungle jim. I was impressed with this teacher's organization and use of chant for learning.
The next half day I was in the old wing of this old school. This was a much bigger room with a higher ceiling. This was a third grade and much more capable. I was warned about certain boy students but had no trouble and used their energy. One was a continuously sketching artist and gave me several drawings. This teacher, a L.A. mentor in the district, was very open to me doing my music and things and she had scheduled the weekly "music teacher" to come in for 40 mins. and work with their "flut-a-phones", actually small "recorders" in plastic bags. I was jazzed because I always bring mine in my uke case. Not to fast there...she, the "music teacher," had planned a "test" w/o names to see what they had retained about the "notation" of music. They hadn't learned the finger positions for more than 4 notes on the instruments and she was checking their comprehension/memory of "Every Good Boy Does Fine and F A C E" the lines and spaces of the treble cleft. She also wanted to know if they knew the whole note and the half note in writing, not in practice. She was very serious and emitted "no joy" in the process. She told me she had over 200 students in the district like this and went from class to class as a former "orchestra teacher" The kids were so disappointed they didn't get to play their tooters so after she left, we did. I played BINGO for them and they realized they hadn't learned those fingers yet. The music teacher was not open to any of my suggestions, which were few and in the form of questions. So my wish/dream that more music be taught in the schools again, was somehow tarnished and diminished with the introduction of her and her methods. Too bad.
Then, I finally got an invitation to the newest school (elementary) in the district, just opened this year. The floor plan was almost an exact copy of three other newer school in the district. However, this school had a big grass field on a lower level that the kids were actually allowed to use, even during recess. This first grade teacher was also testing and only needed me for half day. She lived in the area where the school was and was very enthusiastic about the school, the area etc. Her kids were darling and so helpful with the routines. They loved to tattle on each other and we worked on that, as ususal. What was new, unique and very educational about this teacher's regular routine was that so much of her early phonics and phonetics drill and trainings was not only chanted but "danced to" and "cheered to" The kids were really into it and taught me alot. The girls were better at it and took the lead. They also enjoyed helping me make up a new "School Song" for them to the tune of "This Land is Your Land". It just fit syllable-wise. This room, obviously had all the "modern conveniences" and computers, electronics etc. and yet she was going back to "kinesthetic learning modalities" Kudoes to her. I'd like to see more of this with this aged child. Muscle memory is so much a part of what we retain...even in Language Arts. RRR

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Retro-Unfit Learning?

I had quite an active week subbing this last week. I worked 4 out of 5 days and the free day, Monday, I volunteered at my favorite Kindergarten class. By week's end I was really tired and it showed as I tried to manage a "Lang. Arts/Social Studies" post at a local Intermediate School. They were two groups of 30+ sixth graders in a school that responds to them like adolescent "Jr. Hi'ers" (so they act like it) and they are not using their "academic skills" at the 4th-5th grade level. It was very depressing to see what passes for "education" there nowdays.

I had avoided going to this school once before by declining a 1/2 class while the other half was on a field trip. Guess which half was staying behind. I'm not seeking those kind of challenges anymore. This was a Friday assignment and usually the kids are even higher on that day. Fortunately I got there early and talked with the teacher. He was making "lesson plans" on stickies. It wasn't going to be hard: the final weekly spelling test, a quiz on a chapter already read? and a drawing/labeling of ship from the story. Then we'd have some "fun free time"...yeah, right! There is always a few at this level that do their best to do as little as possible and annoy (one of the spelling words) everyone around them including me. They do this by arguing and contradicting almost everything that is suggested. "Do I have to do that?" (I just want to do the minimum) They say this in so many ways but first of all with their body language. It was as though they were performing an expected "role" for each other. Then there were attempted "kick me signs" and the throwing of trash bits and snatching books from each other. Oh, it is a challenge to just stay somewhat "civil" in combating all this so the majority can get their work done and actually be instructed on how to do it better.

Of course the condition of the room and the teacher's desks didn't help. They were a "big give away" as to what kind of room it was when I walked in. First of all, I unlocked and walked in the "back" door...which was a "no-no". "We don't use that door." Desks were blocking it in straight rows. The front "captain's" desk and big cushy leather chair were the teacher's mess...and I mean mess. Paper and debris all over it and not in real stacks either. Some piles were being corrected? and had a rock paper weight on it, on top of an overhead projector, on top of a chair. A box of colorer pencils were on the floor for the "art work" later. There was a thick layer of dust on the big TV and DVD player on a big viewing cart nearby. There were some faded posters around the walls of a motivational? nature and two bulletin boards in the back with "student work" (writings) from the recent past. The back desk was occupied with a new computer from which the teacher could access emails to 50% of the parents to warn them of grades coming home soon and assignments not turned in. He was unsuccessfully trying to see if he had had any responses from the 30 email he had sent the previous night. He didn't really apologize for the state of the room but simply said that they were, "overdue for a retro-fit" as many of the the old buildings were in this district. There was a small A/C unit in one of the windows. I had worked last week at a school that was going through the process (retro-fit)primarily for earthquake prep with fenced-off buildings, noise, const. mess and all classes in portables around the edge of the campus. He was looking forward to this and wasn't planning to do much until it happened.

This had to effect the student's? attitude toward learning and the importance of it and how it prepared them for the future job market. But when you are 12+ and "cool" you aren't looking that far ahead. You are asking if you can go to lunch early. Many didn't come with a pencil and just sat there proclaiming it. I guess they thought I was going to bring them one...wrong! Like they were doing me a favor to even try to do the assignment. So...once again...I had to get "grumpy" as I like to call it and raises my voice. I had worn my "Grumpy Dwarf Hat" just for this reminder. I told them it was to remind me not to get...G r u m p y. But good luck with that. What I did do was challenge the "civil members" of the two core classes that if they could think of the 7 names of the dwarves, I'd give them a "good report" big deal! Only one even tried at the end of the period. She got them all except "Dopey and Bashful".

The basic words for the weekly spelling test were on the "ou" "au" "oi" dipthongs. Is this 6th grade? We tried some "bee activity" by having each sequentially spell out a word one letter per person at a time. We almost went through the whole class before getting one right. They were just not used to paying attention to one thing that long. (the length of a spelled out word) Sad, I know. It is just not a "value" for them right now...so why are we trying to do it? The story from their reading/SS book was about an old "square-rigger" ship and a girl trying to survive as a crew member on it...again, not much interest. Drawing a ship with labels did appeal to some, especially the boys. One girl stole a better sketch from my desk and was copying it...I let her, but said, "Next time, ask when you take something from the teacher's desk."

They perked up a bit when I offered to play my CD of Ben Harper, former English student of mine. They hadn't really heard of him. They liked the album cover picture of his group, "The Innocent Criminals" One class even got to use the 20 Q's globe and that fascinated many. It was able to guess their subjects (nouns) "A Pit Bull" and "A Motocross(motorcycle)" In lines going to and from the room, they are so busy dis-ing each other that they have to be stopped and yelled at (whistled at) by the yard proctors dressed in bright green vests. They are used to getting tough, and talking that way too.

What are they really learning from all this regimentation and institutionalization at such an early age? Might is right? Threat is supreme? Class behavior is to push the limit and do as little as possible under duress? Is there a better way to "retro-fit" these future citizens of our illustrious society? I think there is, but we don't have the money or the means to do it. They respond to individual attention and electronic/computer learning. We need to make more of this kind of learning of Lang. Arts (English) and Math, non-social for them and non-performing for others. The majority would respond and are, even now, trying to respond. But it is ruined by the few who want to have the negative attention which may be all they are used to from home. It is a sad, blue, dismal, unfit future I'm afraid. I loaned the teacher a copy of my "Readers' Theater" plays of the the ancient Greeks and Romans i.e. "Prometheus Bound" etc. and he was interested too. Maybe these "actor/acter-outers" could get into these ancient themes, their "choruses" and learn from a previous civilization what happens to "iconoclasts" "rebels" and "sociopaths" that we still seem to have with us. Can we learn from History? RRR

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Tessellating Learning

M. C. Escher is probably best known for his "tessellating art". Actually it occurs throughout Art History, ancient architecture, nature, modern art and computer graphics. This was the reason and subject of my latest "subbing" at a new,(for me) local middle school art class. My learning and theirs tessellated exponentially.

A tessellation or tiling of the plane is a collection of plane figures that fills the plane with no overlap and no gaps. The more intricate the compensating interconnections the more difficult to visualize and illustrate. This was the challenge for the day at three art classes for 8th and 9th graders. Many had made their initial "pattern templates" too complex for tessellation and they kept looking for familiar "figures" (flowers/animals/sea creatures etc.) and they were impossible to see, let alone tessellate. The K.I.S.S. rule applies here. (Keep It Simple Stupid)

The art teacher I was subbing for was hosting an on-campus inservice for other teachers from around the district in "Computer Graphics" and how to teach it to this age. Here the problem again is, too complex a software program for the antiquated computers that still reside at our schools. This is a continuing problem: technology can't slow down for our schools. The potential is there for exponential learning especially with something like tessellating. There are Math and Science connections aplenty. Historical and Religious ties are there too. I mentioned our recent vacation/tour to the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey and the "tessellating art" on the walls in the form of "worship" since "graven images" are forbidden in Islam.

Most of the kids were "into it" as long as they could socialize as they "traced and colored". Several had trouble doing both at the same time (like chewing gum and walking at this age) Very few actual behavior problems or challenges; which were easily circumvented or "tessellated".

Two younger classes (5th-7th) had a DVD on Performance Art as in "STOMP, OUT LOUD". They were somewhat fascinated by it and filled out the response sheet with incomplete sentences, no capitals or periods. (come on, this is an Art Class) We had some "sponge time" so we experimented with some of our own "performance art" They enjoyed that...because it made rhythmic noise. We also "tessellated our hands" with some meshing gestures which was also enjoyed.

I met a Physical Science teacher in the teacher's lunchroom and he took my card and agreed to call me. I like this school so far. It has a better overall spirit with less heavy-handed retribution visible. This is an unfortunate reality at the other middle schools. I had a "year book class" and they were full of "school spirit" and ideas for the annual. We had less "dominance testing" or fake illness complaints or runs to the restroom. These are valid meaures at this level I'm afraid. The motivation to "fit in" and adapt is primary at this level and so metaphorically "tessellation" in their burgeoning lives. Can they do it and succeed academically and in life? RRR

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Having A Ball?

Now that "Dancing with the Stars" is back on TV, I too feel like dancing and having a ball. These last two days have been just that at my favorite "subbing school". (if you don't count the bloody nose I got just sitting there)

Monday I was assigned to sub at the classroom where I usually volunteer. So...I thought, piece of cake, right? You would not believe how hard a kindergarten teacher works. You have to be on your toes (dancing?) You have to be quick to change direction and go with the moment. They come up and tug on your sleeve and have a comment, usually excitedly, that is totally off the subject. This is an all-day assignment with 40 kids. The first half starts at 7:50 AM but you are there at 7:15 preparing. There is your co-teacher who is responsible for her "PM" group of 20 little ones who come in at 10:40 with their backpacks full of homework and snacks. So there is an overlap of about 50 minutes where you have 40 little "squirmies" on a carpet squared off for 25 (each square is an alphabet letter/picture/color) Then the co-teacher attempts to teach this large group all about the calendar, colors, alphabet letters, and "news of the day" and still keep order and attention. She has me and an aide to do it but it is a constant retrieval of attention from the perripheral ones.

So I'm just getting going with my small group of six and the others are at their "centers" when I feel that unmistakeable nose running trickle and know I have a nose bleed. I have no kleenix and stride to the nearby office for it. None. Paper toweling will have to do. I'm now dripping "blood-borne pathegens" enroute. Kids are pointing. "Nothing's wrong," I assure them, "just a little nose bleed." Luckily there is the co-teacher and a parent so I can leave to the men's restroom and decorate that floor. I'm seriously considering going home or calling my wife to drive when I get it to subside enough to go back into the classroom with toilet paper sticking out of my nose hole. "Mr. B. what is that sticking out of your nose?" "Oh, just some TP." Needless to say, I was very cautious the rest of the day, especially with my breathing.

One of the kids had a birthday so we had his mother's bought cupcakes outside at recess. I gingerly picked up after the messy ones (most were not). After lots of "leg hugs" and sincere goodbyes I said, "Goodbye" to my 20 who had to be given directly to their waiting parents (in the shade, thank goodness) and then I got my lunch. The other teacher took over and I helped her, more or less as an aide. I had to stay until 2:45 so I cut out seatwork for the next day for the remainder of the time after the kids left. Mindless work but so intense with those precious little learners.

Tuesday I got the assignment off the website for a 2nd grade at my same favorite school. All Right! Maybe today I wouldn't bleed or have a leaky pen. This time I lucked out. The teacher was there and was pulling kids out to "pre-test"...she needed and got ($$) a sub to do this. On top of that, she had a "student teacher" so I just had to help her and observe. Another piece of cake, right? Well, maybe. This class had a "special student" who needed constant attention so he had his own teacher sitting right by him for 3 hours. I was assigned the 4th hour. Fun! I got him wrapped around my finger with lots of attention and praise. We did our assignments and then played games. He was happy and very good at it too. He didn't bother the student teacher or the kids the rest of the day. Earlier the class went to it's monthly, in-school library visit and he was all over the place during the story about Ben Franklin's inventions. Excellent library experience for most of the kids although they didn't have time to check out more than one book...have to keep to the schedule, especially if your are a student teacher. Here again, lots of "test practicing" in almost all assignments including the homework. Kids who came to me in small groups either wanted to get on with it or just "talk" (socialize and get to know the "sub with the guitar case"). We had "Team Teaching Swap" and my groups just wanted me to give them the "word-making cards" and let them copy them...no thinking, reasoning as to why certain blends and dipthongs made certain sounds (direct teaching, like I wanted to do) Two Hispanic girls glomed onto me and wanted to tease and "flirt"...they are 7 year old, 2nd graders. I had to walk away.

P.E. and our group of the 4 second grade classes was assigned to walk/run around the gigantic field. This is the one that I had never seen them use. There is a asphalt path around almost all of it and it is fenced off with high, sturdy iron-bar fences. There were two backstops but no base paths or marks. (seldom used) No soccer goals. Down at one end is the "primary/K yard" with a giant "toy" or obstacle course type jungle gym. Birds had taken residence so it must not be used on a regular basis either.

Afterschool I again had time so I started correcting the turned-in papers of the day and homework. No stamps, just happy faces with my marks. Soon four other 2nd grade teachers came in and they had a "grade-level" team meeting which was required on Tuesdays. I finished my papers with the student teacher and excused myself. I did hand out another "business card" to the next door teacher who said she needed a sub on the 17th. No problem. This morning, late (7:25AM) I got a desperate call from this same school secretary. I had to decline because I already had a job for today, half day at another school. Too bad...but I think I need a break with all this "dancing and ball-having". RRR

Friday, September 14, 2007

An Uneasy Age...to come?

Well, I survived my day in one of the "local institutions" but I'm not ready to repeat it anytime soon. I could've been working there again, today, in another math? class? but I declined. I'll continue to reject these assignments until I get one from this district in my area of expertise(?) i.e. Elementary, Primary, Music, Drama, Language Arts etc. Only one has been offered unofficially, on my cell phone, from a principal? looking for a "long-term sub-permanent teacher" and I'm not going to do that, as I have previously explained before for "sub money".

This was a ancient, central city school with original administration buildings and satellite portables. I was in one of them with an 8th grade "Math/Pre-Algebra" assignment. I thought I'd give it a try even though it has been a few years since I've even thought about Algebra. Well, no need to worry, these kids are still in chapter one and starting to process positive and negative integers, exponents and powers. (right down my alley with this blog's theme, right?) Well, not quite. My first period was "free" a conference period and, being a sub, I had no one to conference with. Two kids came by, one wanting double-sided tape from the "student store" to hang some dance posters and another wanted to buy/sell dance tickets, nope, all locked up.

The secretaries were very nice and polite, but a bit unprepared and had to duplicate all the papers/forms I needed to start a first time assignment. They also warned me that they may call and ask for me to "cover" a class during my free period in case they hadn't found a sub yet. I had to wait for the attendance office clerks until after 7:45AM since they didn't open until then. I got my 5 class lists for the day and noticed right away that four of them were duplicates. So, I was going to have two "core" groups for two 50 minute hours. Problem was, the lesson plans were very brief and didn't outline enough work or activities for all that time. The kids seemed to know that they had almost two hours to do 37 problems(#'s 38, 39 bonus word probs.) and a word search on money or candy and then they could "socialize or distract others". The first class was 32 strong and right away we had our "dominance testors, back-talkers/questioners, disrespectors, defiant ones who tried to take control and get the class off to a "yelling start" I had to give warnings and threaten to call the "dean of discipline" I started to write one kid up and walked toward the phone. There were a few, innocent, quiet, on-task students who seemed to be oblivious to all this reminstration and recalcitrance. They got on with their assignment and then read.

So Junior High, Middle School hasn't really changed for subs all that much. The other class was supposed to be the "leaders" of the school, the ASB Class. Virtually no assignment, a word search, 3 tried to take the "student store (on wheels) out for 1st lunch and came back 1/2 hr. later with minimal sales. Four other girls wanted to go out and sell dance tickets but they were no where to be found. Two went out to stick up dance posters. These folks seemed to go unnoticed by the campus security "sweepers"...out without a "note" or permissions - a big "no-no". The others asked to do their homework or read from other classes. OK. We had a break in the two hour cores where they wanted to go and get a drink, socialize and then I was told to "lock them out" if they didn't make it back by the bell. (I didn't)

I tried to establish a "connection" with the "cores" by showing them my latest CD by "Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals" (they didn't get the connection). I told them that when I taught 8th grade before, Ben was in my English class and he wrote well and did his homework. Now he writes all his songs for his group and sings and plays his "do-bro" (sp?) guitar. I used the "carrot" of his CD playing on a dusty, skipping classroom player and about the last 15 minutes we were able to play a song or two since all the papers were in. "Too slow...can I play my CD, I just happen to have in my backpack?" No. Then can I play it on my portable CD player with earphones I also just happen to have? Yes. I also told them about Mark McGuire, who I had taught in elementary. Very few, maybe two, knew of him or Ben. I showed them a news article from the current Times about a new company worth 1.5 million from a game they started to play in Middle School called "Flick it-Kick it" with little folded paper (leather now) triangles. Some knew about it and started to make them. OK. I showed them my "Balzac" an entrepeneur Middle Schooler girl invent and put on the internet and is now a millionaire. Basically just a cover for a big balloon you can then play with indoors. The second core group, much smaller and better behaved got to play with it in a form of "hush ball" (without the hush) One girl wanted to do dramatics the last half hour so we played "charades" They loved it. They had all finished their math assignment and word searches. Two guys volunteered to sweep and clean the whole classroom carpet, I think to get closer to certain girls etc. I had to move one guy who came in, sat in the back with his "girl" and continued to play with her hair. After I moved him, and had confrontational words, he was one of the first to get his assignment done.

The campus was so barren and uninviting with little shade, grass and not enough tables to sit and eat/hang out at. I hurriedly walked past them on my way to the similar staff room. I ate my usual "carried lunch" and talked with a "long-term sub" of math who warned me that they get worse after lunch...mine didn't. He was a frustrated real estate agent needing the $$. Enough said. Depressing conversation overall. My afternoon went better and I was able to help several students who raised their hands on the more difficult "word problems" ("we only have to do one out of the three, why not try them all?") I found many in this group didn't know how to do short division or the Volumn formula for a cube. In the morning class, we didn't get that far, most didn't want to know or didn't care if they got most of the second half of the assignment wrong...just turn it in. A quote from the lesson plan, "Absolutely no talking and no calculators" Yeah, right! They wanted and did push their desks together and share answers and calculators. I didn't fight it. I think what I would've done for the second half of the core class, after practice tests were turned in would be to have a "Rubric" on the board which capitalized on their wanting to get together and socialize and still teach/practice the subject. i.e. Create a group project to show/display the meaning of "Exponential powers" using art materials or dramatic skits. Little cubes or dots or people placed in an array to show "squared-ness". I started to correct the 1st core's papers and made an answer sheet but didn't get very far before my paid time was up. As I left, checked out, got my time card, turned in my attendance to the seated clerk who couldn't move, the principal was having trouble over the intercom getting all the regular teachers to attend a "celebration" for "improved attendance". (of students) Now, I can see why they are asking for subs for teachers the most on the system. These kids are in an "uneasy age" to try to work with in large groups...and it takes some pretty special and patient souls to continue to try it everyday. More power to them...exponential power. RxRxR

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Do Two Halves Make More Than a Whole?

We have neat teachers and lots to learn.
Down by our Riverside School,
Down by our Riverside School,
Down by our Riverside School.
Where Toad Day's fun in air conditioning...
Down by our Riverside School.

These are some of the very creative lyrics made up by students in two different classrooms yesterday. Obviously it is to that old tune and we inserted the school's name. Very catchy tune and they really sang it loud. Then we did our usual "point and increasing erasure" technique for learning it and they did! I'm sure the fascination with my baritone uke is part of it. To have a classroom teacher, singing and accompaning them is very unusual these days in the primary/lower grades. These were a 4th and a 3rd. Both teacher's absences were doctor/child related. i.e. a young, expectant mother and one with a sick infant at home. So, I agreed to do two 1/2 days to equal one.

This particular school has an almost identical floor plan to the one I just attended. It might be newer. However, it has a big usable, green grass field with its blacktop. Still no backstops or soccer goals or baseline marks and no trees for shade. (Time out, I just got a call for subbing at a Middle School in a Science Class, sorry, I had made other plans for today...too late)

I arrived early and the secretary wasn't ready for me. She went to a classroom with me and opened the door and didn't give me a key. It was just a 1/2 day assignment. No problem. But just before recess, the classroom phone rings and, "Would you be able to take a third grade class on a short notice, emergency - sick baby?" "OK, sure. I brought my lunch anyway, why not?"

Lesson plans were easy and clear. Thirty-four in the 4th grade class and they were well-behaved. Before they entered, I had cued up a barbershop rendition of "You've Got A Friend in Me" from Toy Story. They liked it as they got in their seats after stowing their backpacks. I suggested that this is where you could start to make "life-long friends" and that I still had some from this grade. Lots of math sheets to do, mostly review...so why not a song or two? We helped individuals and the first two or three done got to play 20 Questions with our "class/remote model". That motivated some to finish. Then there was an attempt at "Team Teaching with the other Fourths in the same hallway for Reading and Math. I think I had the mid to low group but there was some confusion with the others not expecting a "sub". My assignment was to read a scarey chapter of their current "Goosebumps" which, I guess, is still quite popular at this level. We discussed word meanings and how to make a story exciting and interesting with discription.

Later, before lunch, the homeroom class was to go to the library for the first time and check out two books. About 6 kids had text books to check in and back out. I guess they were recently moved from another class. The librarian was the "typical librarian" now days at these schools. i.e. very cross, business-like and "put-upon" having to scan all these books into the computer. No more library cards to lose or forget. Less work for her and the visiting teacher. More time for her to prepare a little lesson on "the love of books, stories, authors" but nope. The kids were actually very well behaved and quiet overall. She helped no one find a book, I did. I found an old Judy Blume book "Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing" So I gathered the group, Indian sat on the carpet and read them the first page. I asked how many had checked out: two books, fiction, nonfiction, chapter, picture books etc.? Got the mixed, unenthusiastic response. I asked how many had read any of Judy Blume's books? Several eager hands went up and named them. The majority hadn't read any. I proffered: "How can any kid get through 4th grade without reading, "4th Grade Nothing"? How many have little brothers like Fudge? Several. Boy! I just don't know...anymore. We snuck back to class with our new books and worked on the Language Arts/Spelling lesson. Fill in the blanks, (some really difficult ones) and then rip out the page and turn it in and then their regular teacher came back and sent me, without key, to the 3rd grade.

They had one Social Studies lesson/chapter to read together before lunch...no problem. It was about "urban, suburban and rural life" We could relate. They were very curious and open to my uke case and recorder. I promised we'd sing and play. This teacher had a "permanent aide" who was actually a credentialed teacher assigned to a boy with "learning challenges" - like he came up and showed me his purple "Barnie and Friends" She kept tabs on him and kept him "on task". When she went to lunch later, and we created and learned our "song" about school...he didn't like that I adlibbed a verse about "Barnie and Friends" in it.

At lunch in the teacher's lounge, the 4th grade teacher wanted to know if I would consider a "long-time sub job" after the New Year when she has her baby...yes, I'd consider it...but now I've thought better of it. To have to make lesson plans, correct all those papers and not get paid anymore than subs now do...I think not. We can discuss it more, but I'd prefer my "freedom" to come and go and have it planned already. After class I got a call on my cell phone from another distict in the area from a teacher at a school that I hadn't even been able to find who wanted to "interview me" for a long-term position which could turn into a permanent position...no thanks again, I'm just too old for that now.

After lunch, with no P.E. planned, we just decided to have a "hootenanny" remember those? One girl requested "the 12 days of Xmas"...why not? So I taught them the version with the hand motions a still remember from my sister. Another long math lesson to be done quasi-together. Some want to go ahead and maybe get them wrong, others can't keep up and follow where we demonstrate the problems on the board. I taught "casting out nines" to the fourth. They thought it was too much work to check your work like that...imagine adding going sideways? It reminded me of "Wayside School" with the stacking of classrooms...why?

Releasing kids is such a chore now in the heat. Other teachers stay with them with a shade umbrella. Parents mostly are on time but there are always a few left over and then, after a half hour in the blazing sun, you have to march them back to the crowded office to wait and eventually call. A few ride the bus and fewer stay at "Connections". The Super Aide said she had tidied up the room but I went back to leave "good notes" These kids were great! I didn't correct any papers. I was tired. I went up to the secretary to check out as usual and was put off. She was too busy and I'd have to wait...and I couldn't wait near her. So I waited in the teacher's lounge for about 20 minutes. Each school has a different expectation from their subs on "when they can leave". I was informed that it was 3:PM at this school. "No problem, I'm retired"...nothing else to do." I think this maddened her more. She had to make up a special sheet with two 1/2 day jobs and I wasn't going to leave until I saw the job number and had signed it.

So, I came away with a unpleasant feeling, even though I helped out with the extra half-day on the spur of the moment, so to speak. If, and when I work there again, I'll be careful not to come to the office to check out before 3:PM and I'll probably not get there early either. RRR

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Awesome and Amazing by the Numbers

Thirty bottles of pop on the wall,
Thirty bottles of pop.
Take five down
And pass them around...
Twenty-five bottles of pop on the wall.
(and so on, counting down, by 5's to zero)

This was a particularly popular song in the third grade class I had yesterday. They were studying multiplying by two and five, the commutative property and "repetitive addition". Counting up by 5's was too easy, but counting down...even my two's...that was harder and I had to pause in the song longer for them to think ahead of what number came next. Otherwise, Math, as a school subject, has just degenerated in to duplicated fill-in sheets that most need help on. (my observations so far) And then, of course, that prepares them for the paper and pencil tests that the State/District mandates.

This particular school was a "Title I Award Winner" last year and is going for it again. Key to that is test-savy kids not only in Math but in Reading and Writing. So I'm seeing an awful lot of fill-in-the-blanks, stem questions, proper answers etc. These were third graders and some of their work was already on the fourth grade level from my recent experience. This is an "ideal school" if you look at the leadership and attitudes promoted. You would be amazed and awed by the "positive talk", mottos and expressions on the public walls and even in the teacher's lounge. The principal is very personable and is out meeting and greeting more than any other I've met recently. This particular day she was leading the Friday A.M. before class patriotic celebrations and announcements. She got the kids to cheer because there was 97% attendance the day before. She only came on the intercom, apologetically, to announce some major room/teacher switches, which is bound to happen almost every year from a lack of fore knowledge about how many, at what level would actually be attending after a week. Yes, kids were disappointed to lose a favorite, looked-forward-to, teacher or a group of friends they had been with from K. These kids all just love their school, their teachers and their principal. She has brought in a Vice Principal, new this year and he probably is her opposite, although he is tall too.

Instead of the "lesson planned" quiet reading I decided to teach them a new song. They loved it:

You are my sunshine,

My only sunshine.

You make me happy,

When skies are blue.

You'll never know kids,

How much I'm learning

'Til I share my sunshine with you.

Of course, I replaced the sunshine with the school name. Familiar tune so no problem to have one kid at a time come up and using a pointer, helping the class focus on the words. Then he/she was asked to erase two or more words not side-by-side and then pick another student to do the same as we sang it again. Pretty soon we had no words on the board and, I pointed out, that the lyrics were all inside their heads and that that was "learning"...rote learning made fun.
Friday spelling tests were the same as other places except there was an attempt to give harder words to a few. I suggested they also try to write them in cursive and use them in a sentence. Immediate protests, "We don't do that yet." My response, "Why not try it? I won't mark you off if it is wrong." Only one or two did. They were rewarded. Part of the problem, was the newsprint paper passed out to take the test was cut to narrow to accomodate sentences. What a shame. Written and Verbal Responsiveness and Recreation has to start somewhere.
At my old school, that I retired from, there were some giant, sculpted numbers 0 through 9. Kids loved them and climbed on them. One time, our 6th grade project was to paint them each the different colors of the rainbow (ROY G. BIV) with a white and black too. Unfortunately, I see no opportunities like that here at this "super school". Before school, all the kids are crowded on a small blacktop area with 4 tetherball poll and 4-Square lines and a couple of basket ball courts. Right behind them is this beautifully green and gigantic "city park" field...THAT I HAVE NEVER SEEN ANYBODY USING! Some of it is lower like a drainage catch basin for rain run-off...but we haven't had any rain for years now. (perfect draught) It is all fenced off and there are no backstops or soccer goals that I can see. What a shame! Kids learn and interrelate so differently on that kind of a playground. They were frantically playing jump rope with the ropes almost touching each other and the boys getting scolded for rough-housing and group-jumping to where someone got bumped in the head. "Back to single file lines," ala V.P.
Because the school is so big with lots of classrooms in and out of hallways, kids are asked to line up and stay in line as they move from/to playground and classroom. They are asked to "Zip and Flip." This means to close their mouths and fold their arms on their chests so they don't touch each other or the walls as they pass. Problem with this is, they are all carrying backpacks of overwhelming size and they are busy lugging those. Some are allowed to put them by their classroom doors if they access the outside, but not in the interior halls. No lockers anymore anywhere.
Another new custom is the massive parental pickup after school at the "locked gates". Cars and trucks, SUV and Vans all over the place and kids frantically greeting and hugging their parental units and or step units with "long-time-no-see" glee. Teachers are asked to stay and "supervise" until all have been picked up or taken to "daycare" which is now called "Connections". I had one, with a note saying her real mother was going to pick her up for the weekend with her boyfriend. My, was this child nervous and on edge...why hadn't they showed up yet, what car would they be in? Finally, after a half hour, they appear and apologize. They were waiting at the old "lower grade gate"..."Oh Mom, don't you know, I'm in third grade now."
The teacher I was subbing for must've been a "pro". First time there's been a lettter on the board to the class telling them to show the "sub" what an "Awesome and Amazing" third graders they really are. I liked that. She had everything organized and monitors rotating for every task. Third grade is perfect for this, they are so "bossy" and "routine loving" I decided to depart again from the lesson plan with alittle P.E. indoors (...but we never have P.E. on Fridays...) and alittle "Twenty Questions". They loved them both. P.E. indoors is sometimes called "Silent Ball, Hush Ball or Shhhsh Ball" The hardest part is being quiet as you toss around a sponge ball or balloon. "20 Q", as it is called commercially is an electronic game with a remote that tries to guess what a group/individual is thinking with only using 20+ questions. It is really fun because it teaches question-asking, logic producing skills. i.e. Animal? Vegetable? Mineral? Size? Use? Feel? etc. Are we even teaching "QUESTION ASKING" OR "LOGICAL THINKING/PROBLEM SOLVING" anymore? It is not used just with numbers ya know. Where will our future lawyers come from? RRR

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Reluctant Refusal?



I could tell this was going to be an "interesting" day of subbing. First of all, the A/C wasn't working at 7:20A.M. and it was already 90 Degrees. I reported it to the office and a custodian came almost immediately and reset the thermostat.

It appeared that this 1st grade teacher had been absent the previous Friday of this long, holiday weekend. So there were notes from the previous sub and they weren't that good. A challenging class? Another thing I noticed was all the "systems" set up for misbehavior and how to warn, punish and report same. I'm just not into that as a sub. Fourtunately, there were only 20 on the roll sheet and one was absent. Another one left within the first hour for a doctor's apt. and never came back. This shouldn't be too hard...to work my magic and apply my "bag of tricks" right? Wrong.

First we had a very "helpful?" take-charge student who came in and started to tell me how to do all the routines and what to do if certain kids didn't cooperate. He seemed very intelligent and communicative. He wasn't mentioned in the lesson plans or notes as a leader or helper. Oh well, role with it...right? Not quite. Pretty soon I started to question his motivations.

The principal came on the intercom as usual and this time announced the wrong day. i.e. Monday instead of Tuesday. He then gave the "word of the week" for "Primaries" (K-3) as "necessary" He wanted kids to use it in a sentence and memorize its spelling. Our class, to a child, didn't know what it meant. I suggested, "It was necessary to know the day of the week. I wrote it on the board. The principal then announced the birthdays for the week and told them to come to the office for a "gift". Suddenly, my gung-ho student said his name had been called and he wanted to go off to the office. Some of the other kids disagreed but, what the heck, I let him go. When he came back we were singing a group song (listening to me sing mostly). I think he wanted us to sing to him (Happy Birthday) At the time, I didn't think it was appropriate since there was some disagreement.

The next large group assignment, and they all were, asked to do the next pages in a workbook they each had. Most were content with that and went ahead. He came up and said his booklet was complete and he had nothing to do and he wanted "free time"...this is a percocious 1st grader, indeed. I checked over his work and spotted some incomplete pages and lack of color-coding. He went back and quickly remedied that. Obviously, he was way ahead of the others.
As I was helping others, he went back, on his own and got out some shapes, puzzles and locking blocks and started to construct, with another student...without permission. I probably would've let him if he had asked. "Sorry, back to your seat, not now. It is almost time for P.E. and Recess." This is held early (9:15-9:45A.M.) because of the heat index. He was not a "happy camper" and reluctantly obeyed.

He hung back in our lesson planned P.E. activity. Obstacle Course "follow the leader" over the "Big Toy" (a gigantic piece of multiple climbing/sliding equipment) I noticed there were several who were "afraid" of sliding down the poles or climbing up the curved-pole steps. I helped them and they were encouraged, egged-on, by their peers. Most of the little girls were "little monkeys". We had some time before recess, so I introduced the "swinging contest" with the 8 swings available. They liked that, but several didn't have a clue on how to pump. Again, our "star student" was reluctant and not wanting to "take direction". I ignored him.

On our way back from recess in the heat they wanted to stop for drinks. OK, maybe less requests to leave the room later, I thought. I did my usual "drinking fountain timer rhyme":

"One, two, buckle my shoe...(you're done)
Three, four, shut the door...(you're done)
Five, six, pick up sticks...(you're done)
Seven, eight, lay them straight...(you're done)
Nine, ten, a big, fat hen...(you're done)"
(Start over)
They loved it. But the body of the class had gone ahead, lined up by the door and gotten into "trouble" from the next door teacher for excessive noise. Mr. Reluctant was involved it that.
From then on, he refused to do anything. First he had an "eye ache". I suggested he just cool down, relax, put his head down. Then it went into a "headache" and "stomach ache". More refusal to do work that had been so easy before. "Did you hurt yourself at recess?" "Yes." "How?" "I don't know." So, I had my student aide take him to the office to be checked out. They came back, asking for a "note" from me. No problem.
In 10 minutes, he was sent back, without a note. He continue to do nothing and lay around. I ignored him mostly but kept an eye on him. It wasn't long and he was asking to go home. No problem, I wrote the note and sent him alone. I peaked out the window, then door and saw him running...in the heat. (our room is quite a contrast, almost refrigerated) "My you must not be very ill if you can run," I commented. He had forgotten his backpack. Later, when I went to the office on a break, he was still waiting there for his father to come.
Of course, I'm wondering if I couldn't have done something differently. I'm not his regular, sweet, female teacher. I'm assertive, even as a sub. I'm positive and tend to ignore potential trouble makers and tattle tales. But, I'm thinking there is more to this "reluctant refusal-er". He was acting like he "didn't fit" with the rest of the class, more advanced, verbally for sure. But also, he just didn't seem to want to try to participate once "his will" had been crossed. He wasn't wanting to deal with much "frustration"...which is also a sign of high intelligence, even at this age. (6 yrs. old) How are our schools still not working with these brilliant "little pyramids"? They've always been there. I think three out of four of my own were that way. i.e. low in frustration tolerance, demanding perfection, first time, or give up... Maybe his everyday teacher has already discovered a way to work with him, motivated him and keep him learning and growing. I hope so. RRR