Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Rejuvenating Huntington

This past Thursday I had the invigorating experience once again of visiting the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens with my wife and a "house guest". We hadn't been for quite awhile and had recently renewed our membership. What was extra special about this visit was the grand reopening of the main gallery/residence of the Huntingtons. It had been closed for the past two years for renovation.

We were not disappointed in any way. We got there about noon and found out it had been open since 10:A.M. This is also new. Normally, on a weekday, the complex is closed to the public until noon to allow busloads of school kids to have docent-guided tours from 9:A.M. I used to be one of those teachers with a busload of students. I loved it and mostly the kids did too. It was and is an inspiring place for many reasons. Even now, my wife and I come away from the place with renewed vision and purpose for our lives, even in retirement. She is an artist hobbyist and loves gardening and flowers. I am still an "semi-active" "guest teacher" for students/teacher in local schools kindergarten through eighth grades. I like to specialize in "the arts". This time, our "house guest" was our daughter-in-law who has an Arts Degree. She was thrilled to see this wondrous place for the first time.

It wasn't that crowded yet as we slowly strolled our way through the two-storied former residence of the railroad/real estate magnet and his art-collecting, English wife, Arrabella. The freshness and scale of the gallery is what first impresses. Then the new color coordination of the background walls is exquisitely complementary. Rich, yet muted greens and beiges which almost look like tapestries themselves surround the massive pictures, landscapes and portraits. Pinkie and Blue Boy are back in their same room but at opposite ends, further away from each other. They are still stunningly beautiful. There is more use/display of furniture, pottery and object collections than in the previous exhibitions. With such a vast storehouse of choices this is the current mix and it is truly well done. New to us was the display of the Stained Glass Windows of the ten virtues in a darkened hall stairwell. "Humility, Mercy, Generosity, Charity, Justice, Liberty, Truth, Love, faith and Courage are all depicted in life-sized human forms. It was awesome just to stand there and absorb them all. Diana, the Huntress, graces the entrance hall in all her naked beauty.

We then walked to the Japanese Gardens through the Rose Gardens and were surrounded by living beauty and design. We chose our favorite bonsai displays and touched the stones in the rock garden. We were tempted to sit and meditate in the Zen Garden. The japanese maples were especially fresh and delicately pruned. The ancestor stones place throughout were peaceful reminders of our own destinies sooner rather than later. The bamboo forests were whispery and gigantic. The wisterias were not yet in bloom and gave us a reason to return soon.

We then kept our reservations at the Rose Garden Tea Room. We had three different teas and "tons" of scones, finger-sandwiches, mini-salads, cheeses, and petite desserts. We were stuffed when we waddled out. My wife was slightly disappointed when she found out they were no longer serving a "creme freche" (frosting-like) dip for the strawberries and cookies. Oh well...we did notice that they had raised the price of the tea/ was worth it.

We visited the Scott Gallery next and found it was still unchanged. It holds some of our favorite Impressions i.e. Mary Cassatt. We went to the Boone and found it was closed for renovation so we headed to the new Chinese Gardens. We had watched them being conceived. What a peaceful and serenely beautiful place. We sat and just soaked it all in. We noticed the wood-carved buildings and displays that will be exposed to the weather. A docent named "Ask Me" told us that it was such hard wood and so well preserved with layers of varnish that it would do just fine. This is where the largest lake is located with several stone, hand-carved bridges. Every object, including the bridges and areas are poetically named, first in Chinese and then in English equivolents. ie. "Island of Allighting Cranes" (peace cranes?) There were several venues for refreshment and iced teas were being served and a small shop. The pine trees, which have been growing in this area for years, made this new place very authentic and mountain-forest like.

We then slowly walked over to the Conservatory, a gigantic glass house where we again experienced a "rain forest and cloud forest" It was very humid and close. Parts were closed for renovation and some of the displays needed cleaning and renewing or service attendants. There were no children running around but then, when we went to the Children's Garden, we saw a few younger (non school age) ones. The picture above is from this garden and is one of the favorite fountains of our grandchildren. We plan to bring them again this summer and have their crocks and bathing suits available. There are two or three "cloud/steam" displays where they can get pretty drenched. We worked our way back to the entrance through the camilia gardens all shaded by the live oaks along the side of the massive front yard of the mansion. This is outlined with statues of the Greek and Roman gods. The camelias were passed their prime and bloomed out.

We had to visit the darkened library which is probably the oldest building other than the residence. We saw the original Canterbury Tales Manuscript and The Guttenburg Bible. My wife likes the Jack London display and we actually talked to a docent/guard about the scholars who come daily and use this facility and all its written resources in vaults behind the scenes. (even the "stacks" up above on the railinged second floor). We made a brief stop at the gift shop next door and found we were able to resist any major purchases. (I got a booklet of 10 pirate tatoos for "Camp Gramma/Pa" coming up this summer)

We walked to the car in "cactus III" with very weary feet, full tummies, and exhausted eyeballs, but we were renewed and rejuvenated. For me, and I suspect for many a teacher/student, this kind of "field trip" is necessary and very needed periodically; especially at this time of year. I had just subbed in a class that had some very challenging issues and individuals. I was a bit depressed by their behaviors and lack of discipline and/or training. I was beginning "to take it personally" which was not very wise or productive. I had gotten a "complaint" about the class's behavior and my reaction to it. This is why I knew I needed "a renewing break". The Huntington has done just that over the years and now it was doing it again. Eureka! RRR

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Duck! Duck!...GOOSE!

It was turning out to be a blustery day. I was glad I had an extra sweatshirt available. Substituting on a rainy day can be a challenge. Of course you don't really know the kids and who might be the potential "stir-crazy" problems. I have several ideas for indoor P.E. in my "bag-of-tricks". I noticed that I was scheduled to have 45 minutes of P.E. out on the field with two classes of the four, 2nd grade rooms. It called for running a lap and playing that old favorite standby "Duck, Duck, Goose".

Before school, I was told I was early, I checked with the office for the phone numbers of the three other teachers named in the plan just in case we had to cancel because of the inclement weather. I later met them in the halls and at lunch. They fully planned to go ahead because two of them had a "free period" while the other two of us took their kids. That was valuable time for planning and paper correcting. The kids, from the moment they arrived, were reminding me of P.E. "Today was a day they had it." I could tell they wanted it badly and needed it. These types of day always seem to make them more "physically interactive"...especially the boys. I also noticed that this school went an extra half hour to allow for an extra P.M. recess just before P.E. I didn't have "the duty". Most of these schools now days have hired extra playground aides to handle all recesses. They dress in bright green vests, carry megaphones with sirens and "brook no guff"(?) from anyone. They are in charge out there. Kids freeze and squat at the ending bell/buzzer and, when they are quiet and motionless, key ones are to walk the equipment back to the cart. i.e. balls, jump ropes, hoola hoops etc. Then they are whistled to line up at their designated spot to march to their rooms or to the field, led by their assigned teachers. Most teachers show up on time. Straight, quiet lines are striven for as they return to their "salons of learning".

I've had 40+ kids for P.E. before. No problema. We usually warm up, stretch and run a lap. The we get to the assigned games. The weather was permitting, the grass was thick and unmowed, so we went for it. The boys were being so rowdy that I, early on, decided, on the spot, to separate the boys from the girls. We, of course, had our usual "I hurt myself at recess" ones and "I need to sit out or go to the health office"...and "take two other girls with me." Yes, there were even tears. So off they go to the office. (soon to come back, all better, only to "get hurt again" during the game). Meanwhile, the boys just couldn't help "dog-piling" on each other. I'm used to this having had four boys who loved to play, "kill the guy with the stick" on our front lawn. So I got the boys going first with making a big circle and starting the game of D.D.G. with the traditional chasing around the edge until you made it back to your original seat on the grass. They were "diggin' it". Then I went over to get the girls started. They were a bit more "delicate" about how to do it and what the "rules" were. After a while we felt the need to add some "creative alterations" to the game runles. i.e. If you got caught, then you had to turn around and chase the chaser back to their previous spot. If you didn't catch them, you were in the "mush pot" (or stew pot as a "cooked goose") Then you could say, "Quack, quack, honk" instead as you touched the top of each succeeding head. The girls were enjoying that version until I was told that the boys were "fighting" by tattling girls. Yes, they were piling on again. So, I broke up the big pile and gathered them and made them take another lap "since they didn't really want to play my civilized game". Moans...but off they went.

When they got back, I decided to introduce three "wrestling games" among them. "Bad decision?" We'd see. I had them pick a partner for "combat". They were game and groovin' on it. These were forms of "Indian Wrestling" that I have used, successfully before in such situations. The girls continued to play D.D.G./ Q.Q H. serenely just 30 feet away. The first "matches" had them lying side-by-side on their backs facing in opposite directions. They hook elbows and on the count of three, they touch opposing toes over their heads. On the third count, they hook at the knees and try to topple each other over on their heads and shoulders. They loved it. Next we had them stand toe-to-toe with right feet sides touching. They shake hand (the thumb-wrist way) and proceed to try and pull/push each other off balance for a "fall". They loved it. Lastly, they were challenged to engage in the age-old thumb wrestling confrontations. They hook opposing fingers in a hand shake and count out three thumb-touches going side to side. On the third touch, they try to pin the other's thumb for the count of 3. That was their favorite.

P.E. was over and they were all happy. Physical tensions were released and they could get their homework packets and go home. There's no denying they all needed this kind of "education" and it too is sadly neglected or omitted altogether from today's curriculum. We are missing the boat here. Let's educate and involved the "whole child" not just the "test-taking" pencil pushing one. RRR

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Last of the Orff-Schulwerk Teachers?

This is a picture of the late Carl Orff. (1895-1982) He was a 20th-century German composer, most famous for "Carmina Burana" a very strange and stirring choral work that I have had the priviledge and challenge of singing as a tenor. He was also successful and influencial in the field of music education. He was from a Bavarian family that was very active in the German military. He served in WW I. He co-founded the Guenther School for gymnastics, music and dance in Munich in the 1920's. He is best know for his "Schulwerk" (1930-1935), translated into English as "Music for Children" It means "school work" and combines movement, singing, playing and improvisation. There is a great website with a video that further explains:

This last week I had the thrill and honor of observing and participating in a local school district's class led by a local "AOSA Member" (American Orff-Schulwerk Assoc.) This was a 2nd grade class that I helped with for two days. The music class was only 45 mins. on Tues. It was amazing what was attempted and accomplished during that time. Evidently, in talking with this teacher/member, she has four local schools and spends 12 weeks with each sharing all aspects of the Orff-Schulwerk Method including all the percussion instruments, recorders, ribbons etc. and the the very precise, almost militaristic verbal stimulus/response that is called for. The kids loved it. She speaks and they respond in rhythm, cadence and inflection almost poetically. They were practicing for an all-school assembly/performance with parents invited coming up in June. (over 100 2nd graders I think) They did a rousing version of the Marine's Hymn with marching and American Flag waving. They did another folk tune using all the xylophones, drums etc. I felt honored to lend them my baton from the L.A. Philharmonic. She immediately improvised and had a student lead the whole number. Later I played along with my baritone Uke and even ribbon-danced with a rainbow ribbon I happened to have. The kids were totally focused, actually the best I had seen in my two days there.

You almost have to have a special room laid out just for this music class because of all the various sized instruments and extra stuff. You need space with no desk in the way to "perform" and move physically in response to the music and rhythm. It reminds me of "Push Back the Desks" by Albert Cullum. He was a drama teacher who inspired many a play production of mine. Teacher don't use him now and haven't even heard of him. There isn't much time for his kind of teaching or that of Carl Orff's anymore with all the testing requirements and the preparation for them. Too bad. Their ways are what made learning/teaching fun for me and the kids over the years.(1962-2000) There is very little of that "fun/discovery/creativeness" anymore I'm least from my point of view and what teachers ask me to do with their lesson plans. Just a "hand-full" allow me to do some of my "stuff" (which is mighty close to AOSA) for even 10 to 20 mins. Sometimes I sneak it in as a "sponge" between two subjects or recess when there is time. Here again, the kids love it and respond in kind. When are we going to get back to "letting childhood be fun" in learning? Is this truly the end of this kind of teacher/learner? RRR

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Las Cucarachas

La Cucaracha, La Cucaracha

Ya no puede caminar

Porque no tiene

Porque le falta

Dinero para gastar

To help Celebrate "Cinco de Mayo" I decided to share this song with a couple classes. One is a "Dual Emersion" classroom. I wasn't able to sing and play it for them because they were "testing". In fact, I've gotten no calls so far this week because both the districts I work in are "testing" for the State's future money and recognition. I was able to sing it in my volunteer kindergarten class and they loved it. I suggested that they "act it out" with pantomime. They didn't know what a "cockroach" was. Here are the rest of the English:

La cucaracha (x2)

Running up and down the house

La cucaracha (x2)

Quiet as a little mouse.

He gets in trouble, a lot of trouble

Snooping here and everywhere

La cucaracha (x2)

You must keep the cupboards bare.

Then one day when cook was baking

Wondered he, "What is she making?"

For it looked so appetizing

With the batter slowly rising.

To the edge he started skipping

Then he found that he was slipping

In the pie so hot and blazin'

Now he's just another raisin.

La Cuc...(x2)

Wandered in a dressing room

A lovely lady, a pretty lady

Couldn't see well in the gloom.

La Cuc...(x2)

Fell into her make-up bowl

When she had painted, she nearly fainted

Thought her face had grown a mole.

Later on when he was older

Then he found the nights much colder

'Til he saw a sleeve wide open

Snug and warm as he was hopin'.

'Twas the time and place for napping

'Til somebody started slapping

Woe betide the little midget

He had made the owner fidget.

La Cuc...(x2)

Met a little pekingnese

La Cuc...(x2)

Bit his nose and made him sneeze.

The little doggie, the little doggie

Though he dug and dug and dug,

La Cuc (x2)

He was safe beneath the rug.

Then one day when he was thinner

He just looked around for dinner

And he tumbled, never thinking

In the soup and started sinking.

"Oh!" the cook began to holler

Grabbed the butler by the collar

Out the window went the platter

But our little friend was fatter.

La Cuc (x2)

Woke up on election day

La Cuc (x2)

Heard the things they had to say.

A lot of lying and alibi-ing

Empty heads without a plan

La Cuc...(x2)

Said, "I'm glad I'm not a man!"

Then one day he saw an army

Said, "The drums and bugles charm me

Still if all the world are brothers

Why should these men fight the others?

Guess it's just for love and glory

Who'd believe another story

These are men so brave and plucky.

Look at me, boy am I lucky!"

La Cuc...(x2)

Wondered where his love could be

La Cuc...(x2)

Wandered on so mis'rably.

The bees and beetles and old boll weevils

Chased him off with many "Scats!"

First they would scold him

And then they told him

They were bug aristocrats.

Then one day while in the garden

He just said, "I beg your pardon,"

To a lady cucaracha

And he said, "Now I've gotcha!"

She was coy but she was willing

And for years their love was thrilling

They met at half past seven

Up in cucaracha heaven.

La cucaracha (x2)

Just the same as you and I

He got the jitters, the sweets and bitters

Lived and loved and said, "Goodbye!"
Here are some of the "facts"(?) about cockroaches I learned on Wikipedia. Some have a direct or metaphoric relationship to our Public Schools and their plight with all the "testing": They are seemingly ubiquitous, the ultimate survivors. They will probably be here long after we are gone as a species. It is popularly suggested that they will "inherit the Earth" if humanity destroys itself with a nuclear war.
Only about 10% of the homeowners in the U.S.A. feel that cockroaches are a threat to their family's health. Development from eggs to adults takes 3-4 months. They live up to a year. Females may produce up to eight egg cases in a lifetime (300-400) and only need to be impregnated once to lay eggs for the rest of its life. They are among the hardiest insects (largest too) and can remain active for a month without food or a limited amount (glue on the back of a postage stamp). Some can go without air for 45 minutes and slow down their heart rate. The first fossils of our modern "roaches" appear in the early Cretaceous Period. Their ancestors with external longer ovipositors lived 354-295 million years ago in the Carboniferous Period. Termites are in the same family. They are omnivorous and like warmer climates. They breathe through a system oftubes called tracheae and don't need a mouth or windpipe. They can survive sterile surgical decapitation for very long periods epecially if recently fed. (a few weeks) They retain a limited capacity to learn even though hampered by no feelers or sight. They can survive 6-15 times the radiation we can and only the fruit fly beats it. They are mainly nocturnal and exhibit emergent behavior. They can communicate and cooperate as groups and follow scent/fecal trail to safer places. They can associate vanilla and peppermint with a sugary treat. Their allergens appear to worsen asthma symptoms especiallywith inner-city children. Most common: American, is found in both North and South. Most exotic sounding: Madagascar Hissing and True Death's Head conger up images of dread and "tasty treats for "survivors on TV". Freezing and chemical may be the best pest deterants at this time. Sulfur burning and the "Vegas Roach Trap" may last up to ten years.
Here's the rubric. What can we learn from them? How are ourpervasive tests and the training for them hindering/turning off our youth's abilities to learn and adapt? Are we testing out of them any new emergent/learning-adapting behaviors? Does anyone care anymore? RRR

Friday, May 2, 2008

1000 Paper Cranes

I just had the privilege of returning to one of my favorite classrooms. It was at their request. (the teacher's) I had asked her to call me back when she had completed her project of "1000 Paper Cranes" and teach me how to origami fold a "crane". The kids were so happy to see me again...mainly because I played "Silent Ball" with them. They have very little they say. So I made them "a deal". Show me how to fold a crane and I'll let them play Silent Ball again. Mission accomplished.

The Story of the Cranes come from a book about "Sadako" in Japan, a victim of the Hiroshima/Nagasaki Atom Bomb attacks. It culminates with a "Children's Peace Statue" and a plea for World Peace. This is a pretty advanced subject for second graders. I'm sure their capable teacher has quite a connection and identity to the concept. She was the first teacher who had a mirror by the door at kid-height level. Above the mirror were the "Class Rules" - just two. Most classes I visit have at least 5 to 8 all stated in the negative. I wrote about them here previously i.e. #1. Be Nice. #2. Mine Own Business. Just that! Short and suscinct, to the point but all encompassing, (That's correct, no possessive, personal pronoun - your) These two simple rules, if applied world-wide could go a long way to stopping us from bombing each other.

I hadn't been to the class for a couple months and so I wanted to see/witness their progress with these simple, yet difficult rules for their age. I was amazed at how responsive and caring they were for each other and their teacher. I had prepared a song and poem for them and the teacher had given me the go-ahead for some creative "bird-walking" off the lesson plan. She had planned a poetry packet anyway. So as I was strumming away on my uke in hootenanny fashion, suddenly the neck broke cleanly off at the hilt next to the body of the the instrument. I had to hold back the tears with my shock. I think I had been packing too many extra songs and sheet music in the case along with a recorder and a rainbow strap. It just got too much pressure from the newer strings and snapped. Like a thoroughbred race horse, I had to "euthanize" her right there. It was sad. I'll try to save the strings for spares on my new one. I tried to get one today at the Folk Music Center but it was closed all day for the Folk Music Festival. The name of the song: "This Little Light of Mine" with all the verses fit to sing by Pete Seeger. Yes, I learned it in Sunday School with religious connotations but his version is much more "socialistic" and "love-child generation". I also included the Haiku from the previous post on Earth Week about "turning toward the light". My mottos: "Bloom where you're planted." "Turn toward the Light and away from the Dark." (just like plants which have no "brains or hearts")

Well, after a session with two or three girls of the class who knew how to fold the crane, and my trying to write down the steps, I thought I had it. After class, with the kids gone, the teacher came back as I was correcting some of her papers. (required). She sat down with me and we did it together, step by step. The results, you see above. It takes a certain kind of slick, glossy paper that makes nice creases. I must now practice and remember how to do them for our up-coming grandkids visit this summer. They want to have an "Oceanic/Sea" theme and that could include "waterbirds". We are planning to "sail the Seven Seas and discover the Seven Wonders of the Natural and Undersea World" It is a sequel to last year's theme: "Around the World in Three Days".

I now play a "game" with my primary kids I sub for. It is called the "M.Y.O.B. Game". It started with this classroom. At the beginning of the day, I bet them that I will probably have to remind them to "Mind their own business" more than 10 times during the individuals and groups. They just love to "tattle and tell" each other what to do at these ages (6-9). The record so far is 17 reminders. The lowest, and winner, is just 5. They actually love to "play games" like this and usually rise to the challenge for brief periods of time.

An example of this in another classroom of 1st graders happened Friday last. I noticed that the name of a character in a story we were supposed to read as a group was "Makoto" and yet on the white board their teacher had printed neatly sentences about "Makato". This level is just learning to read and pronouce multi-syllable words. This was an interior syllable that was "wrong"...either in the book, or on the board. What to do? Many of them didn't want me to correct the teacher's writing on the board. But what about the book? Is it wrong so many places? They like to have a very "well-ordered" procedure and rule-driven world. Here was a challenge. Do we mind our own business? Or correct the board examples (about 4) or just call the book wrong and continue to read it wrong? I had quite an "argument" with one or two class leaders. This is what it is all about for me; being willing to discuss and decide with these "little people" as fully developing "personalities" and see what the consequences are. Learning rubrics can come in all shapes and sizes, in all kinds of opportunities. RRR