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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Attached Portables

Little boxes
On the schoolyard
Little classrooms
Made of ticky-tacky
Little children
In the boxes
And they all look
Just the same?
My first ever substituting happened yesterday. Yes, the day before a long weekend holiday in hot, humid 106 degree heat. Fortunately the "little box" I was assigned to was air conditioned and had a fan. It also had 34 little hot 4th grader bodies in it. We were there from 7:30A.M. to 2:30P.M. About 11:A.M. the principal came on the intercom and said we had a 1st stage heat alert and no one was to "exert" themselves...get cool in the cafetorium during recesses. We had already attempted to have P.E. Soccer out doors was scheduled between our class and a third grade. Another 4th grade teacher's kids had tagged along so she could "help" in the cafetorium with "dancing". Well, I looked at the 50+ kids squinting in the shadeless heat next to the goal and said, "How many think it's too hot to play soccer today?" More than half the hands went up so...we made an executive decision and went back to our little box. There weren't enough chairs or desks for everyone so we had them around the edges on the floor. We then proceeded to play, a favorite rainy-day game of mine, "balance the board eraser on the head tag". They loved it.
Actually the staff was very helpful for a first-time sub and directed me to the right line-up spot, room etc. I found the three-page lesson plan almost right away and it was very clear and detailed. Helpful "teacher's pets" were named and a room mother, godsend, came in about 8:30 and helped out and also brought snacks. I introduced myself and told alittle about my experience and the fact that the last class I had was a 4th-5th combo. I showed them my "bag of tricks" (bookbag) and my Baritone Uke case. I told them I never had any problems because I liked to sing and have fun when I taught/learned. I then proceeded to do just that within the structure of the lesson plan and tight schedule.
Practice test (test prep) sheets were already passed out on their desks and after the Pledge of Allegence, we were on them. Formatted questions, fill in the blanks about language usage, punctuation, capitalization etc. with large group participation requested. No problem, but how to make it fun and interesting? The back side of the paper had a take off of what I used to call, "alphabet speak". It was almost undiscernable. So... I gave them mine, on the board and orally:
"A B, C D Goldfish?"
"L M N O Goldfish?"
"O S A R,
A B, C D I's?"
With the proper inflections, they finally got it and all tried it together. No writing though. Later,
when the principal came back on for announcements, he made a mistake and said the date as the 30th. We corrected him, then and later and talked about why August has 31 days. Then we all memorized, orally, this little jingle:
Thirty days has September,
April, June and November,
All the rest have Thirty-one,
Except February;
Which in four, adds one more,
Making twenty-nine.
They loved it. We reviewed it on the way out to recess and home. They put their test-preps in their cubbies sans "happy faces" on them. I didn't have a chance to get around and do that. So, I asked the volunteer room mother to do it in the cubbies. She was more that happy to do it while we got on with the demanding lesson plan.
Next, a "spelling bee" was called for to practice the words, right before the Friday Final Test. Here again, I interjected my own form of "Spelling Bee"...much more involving and fun. Boys against Girls, very "in" at the fourth grade, but sitting on top of desks and only being able to spell one letter in sequence when it was your turn...much more difficult. Some words we had to go over and over before they got them totally right and then all the cheering. Girls won but by only one point. Then we took the written test. I suggested they try it in cursive right next to the required printing. Some did. Not asked to use them in sentences (LP), as I would've. I then graded that set of tests at recess and on my lunch 40 mins. Not a grade below 85%. Many had the challenge words, vocab words and "gate words" right too.
Yes, they have "Gate" which stands for "Gifted...something" There were quite a few in this class. They were supposed to take extra words, problems and something called "AR Testing" on the computers. There was charting for it but I saw nothing in the lesson plan about computers so I steered clear of those. Next, after recess and "indoor P.E." we tackled Excel Math. This was a 81/2" x 14" sheet both sides filled with all kinds of math problems and story problems that we were supposed to do "together" using the board. This was much more difficult to keep attention, and follow up and participation with what I guessed was at least 3 or 4 different levels of competancy among the students. i.e. those who were "done" right away, to those who never did finish which then prevented them from doing the fun art project later on... Here again, I tried an interdisciplinary approach. On the counting by -Up or Down - section we tried this song:
"Fifty-four bottles of pop on the wall,
Fifty-four bottles of pop,
Take three down and pass them around,
Fifty-one bottles of pop on the wall..."
At first they had trouble getting into it, then I compared it to "99 bottles etc" and they got into it. We went all the way down to 24 bottles and then I tried to point out the pattern with "threes" looking at the "ones place" for ten "passings around" and see that they are always the same numbers, just different tens, i.e. 50's, 40's, 30's, 20's etc.
We then did some all together group reading with oral volunteers who "had load voices" (very competitive). We read a patriotic section of their Social Studies Books and discussed the meanings of "courage, respect, dependability etc." Then they were asked to "design their own flags" using the construction paper colored only red, white and blue. Several had a problem with the assignment that they didn't have to copy our own Star-spangled Banner, which was just too hard. With sissors, glue and our helping mother, we finally got into them and left them to finish after lunch. Meanwhile, we sang some patriotic songs to help us work...and see if we could sing and work at the same time.
"Your a Grand Ol' Flag..."
"God Bless America..."
"This Land is Your Land..."
They loved it. After lunch, calming down, suggested heads we (lesson planned) read Chapter 6 of "Island of the Blue Dolphins". A favorite. We had 9 questions to answer about our chapter and we did. Piece o' Cake. Back to finishing our flags (and Excel assignments) cleaning up our scraps and mess and then...Gaming time. Yes, Checker board abounded. Some didn't want to, or didn't know how to play checkers (didn't want to learn how at the time) "bag 0' tricks" had a Remote Twenty Questions Game in it and a DS "Battleship Game"...lo and behold...very popular. A few more songs, lots of clean up and we were out of there at 2:05!
"Clean up "Good Night Ladies"
"On Top of Spaghetti"...
"When are you coming back teacher?" "I don't know. When your teacher asks for me again. Have a nice 3-day holiday. You were an excellent class"...and I wrote that in the notes to the teacher with the completed lesson plan. Boy! Was I exhausted. I had fun though and I think they did too. Much learning? Probably not, but maybe an attitude shift about what learning really is...not just testing. RRR