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Thursday, October 23, 2014

When the moon hits your eye

We've been doing a PBL (Project Based Learning) lesson in math class for the past few weeks, and the theme is running a pizzeria.  Recipes have had fractions of ingredients, prices have decimals, menus have numbers.  Lots of good math going on.

Today, I had plenty of laugh out loud moments.  I had asked the kids to add two things to their project folders.  One was a newspaper ad, enticing people to eat at their pizzeria.  The other was a set of job postings, with the intent to hire waiters, chefs, etc.



I told the kids that the job postings needed to include qualifications and payment information.  Here are a few things I overheard and/or read from their folders:

"Do you want a job where you won't get paid very much?"
"Let's give them twenty dollars an hour!"  "HECK NO!!!"
"Nobody with Ebola..."
"Must have good credit." (remember this is an employee search, not a home loan application)
"Now hiring security guards -- Comes with free suit!"
"For managers, you have to have a PhD."
"Must not have diseases or back, neck, or skin disorders."   (Not too bad a request)

In regards to the newspaper ad and pizzeria information, here are a few gems I overheard:

"Come eat our pizza and ride a donkey!"
"We have cheap and inexpensive pizza!"
"You'll die of happiness!"

And just conversations in general:
"Nobody wants to eat pizza at 1 in the morning!"
"Let's have a 'Kids eat free' deal!"        "Dominos and Pizza Hut don't do that!"  "That's because they hate kids!"   "Kids need to be kids under 8, because 9 and 10 year olds eat a lot of pizza!"  "No they don't;  teenagers eat a lot of pizza!"  "OOOOOH, we should charge MORE for teenagers!!"

I was hard pressed not to guffaw several times today.  Though I did finally have to ask the one girl to stop incessantly trying to fit in the donkey angle.  Nobody wants donkey pepperoni.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Reruns are in the air!

Looks like the good folks at Jeopardy have chosen to rerun some of my episodes this coming week!

They won't be showing the Teachers Tournament in its entirety, unfortunately, but they will be showing the second week, which includes the three semi-finals games and then the 2-day finals.  I'm on Monday, Thursday, and Friday, but you really should watch all week long!

Here's a guide for when Jeopardy is shown in your neighborhood:

http://www.jeopardy.com/showguide/whentowatch/

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Teacher of the Year

This summer, I'm going to rerun the Learn Me Good comic strips that my brother and I did a few years ago.  Here's the first one we started with!


Monday, June 02, 2014

Never never

"Oh darn, only one more week of school left before summer break!"


said no teacher ever...

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Learn Me Good 101

Hey, did you know there's actually a class on Learn Me Good?  An actual COLLEGE class!  OK, so the entire class is not about Learn Me Good, but I learned recently that an education class in North Carolina (no, not at Duke) has been using my book as part of the curriculum!  Pretty cool, right?  Even cooler, the professor of the class, Holly Pinter, wrote a guest blog post for me, detailing exactly what she and her students do with the story!

Without any further ado, I'll pass it over to Ms. Pinter.

**********************************


In my position at Western Carolina University, I have the opportunity to teach a freshman seminar entitled “Teachers, School, and Society,” which explores education and its purpose from many angles. In this class, I expect the students to develop a strong sense of whether or not teaching is the right career for them. It is a delicate balance and an important job—we need teachers and we need a sustainable program. On one hand, I need to attract as many people into the major as possible; on the other hand, teaching isn’t for everyone and we want GOOD--no GREAT--teachers in our nation’s classrooms. We want the kind of teachers who are passionate about what they do and who have the staying power to invest in the field of education and make a difference in our schools. To that end, it is my job to outline not only the good, but also the bad, and the not-so-fun aspects of choosing the teaching profession. To meet these diverse goals, I structure my course to look at policy issues, trends and research in education, statistics, teaching strategies, and the day to day life of an educator.

In my class I expect students to take on the role of both student/participant and to assume what I refer to as “teacher brain.” Essentially, as we explore ideas, we do so from the perspective of learning the instructional practices aimed at teaching for understanding. One of my favorite activities from this course is a literature circle. Literature circles are a great choice for an education course because they can be broadly used. Literature circles cross disciplinary lines as well as grade levels. A literature circle could work in a high school history class, but also fit the needs of a fifth grade science class. We first do a mini lesson on what literature circles are; we explore how to structure literature circles from a teacher’s perspective-- emphasizing the importance of student choice, structured facilitation of literature circle meetings, and how to assess student understanding.

I then give students a list of about twenty purposefully chosen books including professional books and memoirs. We do “book talks” so that students hear a bit about the content of each choice, then they rank their top three choices of books. I use Amazon as my choice helper in this task by choosing a couple books I know, and then let Amazon recommendations do the rest. This past semester the choices included a wide range of books including Teaching With Love and Logic by Jim Fay and David Funk for students who are really interested in learning teaching strategies; The Death and Life of the Great American School System by Diane Ravitch for students interested in policy issues in education; Holler if you Hear Me by Gregory Michie for students interested in teaching in urban environments; and of course Learn Me Good, a great choice for students who aren’t leaning in a specific direction, but want something real, fun, informative, and down to earth.

My most recent class had a large percentage of males, which was surprising in a predominately female-dominated major. The book Learn Me Good, attracted the attention of many of the males in the class who formed a tight knit group for our literature circle experience. The first task of the group is to decide how to divvy up the responsibilities and reading load. Each group would meet three times during the month, and each group was individually responsible for deciding how much to read, what homework they would complete (options are described below), and who would facilitate each meeting. From a teaching perspective, this structure is a dream--the work is completely frontloaded so that all the potential choices help to achieve the goals I want, but the work is totally in the hands of the students. The requirements and homework choices for students are the following:
Literature Circle Assignment Options and Descriptions
FOR ALL MEETINGS FOR ALL PARTICIPANTS:
>6 sticky notes for each section of reading including a variety of text-to-text, text-to-self, and text-to-world connections. These sticky notes are to be placed on the page to which you are making a connection. List the page number, what kind of connection you are making, and a brief description of the connection.
               -text to text: Making a connection between what you are reading in the book and something else you have read.
               -text to self: Connecting your reading your own personal beliefs and experiences
               -text to world: Connect your reading to something in the outside world (current events, movies, etc.)

For EACH Literature circle session, participants must agree on and complete ONE of the following options:

Journal: Write a reflective journal about the assigned reading giving thoughts/opinions or questions regarding what was read.

Picture, Song, or Poem: choose a specific and relevant scene from this reading assignment and draw a picture, write song lyrics, or write a poem to match the scene. You must write a brief caption for your picture, song, or poem explaining the scene and its importance to the reader and/or the reading assignment.

Character in a Bag: select a key character or theme/idea from your book and collect artifacts that match your selection. Write a brief description of why you chose each artifact.

CD Cover: Design the front and the back cover for a CD to capture the theme or spirit of your book. Be sure the name of the book, plus the title of the hit single, appears on the front cover along with an appealing sketch or design. On the back, list the other songs from the CD, making sure they relate to the book and to the characters’ experiences.

(These assignments adapted from Daniels & Steineke, 2004; and Bell, B.H. EDRD 631 at Western Carolina University)

Here are two sample homework assignments from this group. The first, a CD cover, has song titles matching the themes in the book. Students were expected to describe in detail the process for choosing their titles and to make explicit connections to the text along the way. The second sample is from the assignment choice “character in a bag.”

The group of students working on Learn Me Good always seemed to have lively conversation. As I walked around listening to conversations and looking over homework assignments, I noted a lot of laughter, creativity, and thoughtfulness in much of the work and conversation. I can only assume that much of the humor and creativity stems from the content of the book—these students were hooked. The truly rewarding part was to hear the students branch out beyond the content of the book into their future classrooms. I would consistently hear, “what do you think about how he dealt with that?” or “how will you handle that kind of behavior in your class?”

This experience completely met all of my instructional goals: students were engaged, thinking deeply about their future teaching, and learning about an instructional tool to engage their own students down the road. Having books like Learn Me Good to give the down and dirty, ups and downs, and all of the fun of classroom teaching make my job of attracting quality future teachers easier. I refuse to sugarcoat what these pre-service teachers are getting into. Teaching, while a noble profession, is far from easy. Learn Me Good offers students a dose of reality along with some laughter. And most good teachers know—to do this job well, you have to have a sense of humor!

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 Year in Review

Happy New Year's Eve, everyone!  As has become tradition (I know, because I almost didn't do it this year, but my wife insisted) -- I've written up a somewhat tongue-in-cheek review of the year we complete tonight.

Enjoy, and everyone please stay safe tonight!



January

We rang in the new year with a barn-burning games night.  Many jokes were told, many drinks were quaffed, many words were slurred.  Baby New Year, AKA Hurricane Andrew, made sure we were up bright and early to enjoy New Year’s Day.

Midway through the month, Andrew enjoyed his first snow day with Mommy.  Of course, this was a Texas snow day, so it was really just a sheet of ice for Andrew to sit on.  DISD did not cancel school.

Determined to stick to this year’s resolution, I went to the gym the first 30 days of January, exercised my tail off, and lost 120 pounds.  On January 31st, I put it all back on – plus 25 lbs – in a Crisco 
eating contest.

February

On the 21st, I turned the big 4-0.  This did not feel much different from the big 3-9 or even the big 3-5, but at least my voice didn’t wildly modulate like it did on the big 1-6.

This seemed to be the month for new teeth, as Drew’s started coming in left and right (well, up and down).  On the first of February, he had 2 teeth.  By the 28th, he had at least 76.

I decided to dive into the business of crowdfunding a movie.  I’m pleased to say I raised a whopping $3.22 and am only $5,999,996.78 away from making Zero Shark Thirty a reality for the Syfy channel.

March

For the first time ever, I heard back from the good folks at Jeopardy.  They emailed to say I had passed the online test, and they wanted to meet me for an in-person audition.  Over Spring Break, in San Antonio, I sat with about 20 other people and tried to impress.  I knew I didn’t stand out as much as the guy in the Strawberry Shortcake outfit, but I left feeling very good about my chances.

One set of college basketball tournament semi-final games was held in Arlington, so Dad and I went.  Our seats were about half a mile from the court, but I’m sure the players could still hear us cheering and yelling, “Go, Duke!”  On a side note, Duke was not one of the teams playing in Arlington.

The Catholic Church underwent the process of choosing a new Pope, and March Massness officially began.  I thought my overall pick of Urban IX was solid going into the Sweet Sistene, but he faltered in the Evangelical Eight, and after the Faithful Four, Francis had it pretty well in the bag.

April

Wanting to take Drew for walks around the neighborhood, but not liking toy wagons or strollers, Tamara got him a miniature car with a pull-handle.  Our son took to it immediately, and thus began the twice-daily car walks.  And thus began the major tantrums on days without at least two car walks.

A Canadian group called Podium Publishing put out an audio book edition of Learn Me Good, and my footprint in the entertainment world grew just a smidge.  For every copy sold, I get a nickel and a coupon for 3 cents off Labatt Blue.

Just for fun, I decided to claim 2,542 dependents on my tax return this month.  About a week after April 15, two unsmiling gents in dark suits and darker glasses showed up at my front door, rapped me on the forehead, and said, “Don’t do that again!”

May

On the 7th of the month, our little boy turned 1 year old.  He really started walking independently about 2 weeks earlier, so I put together a video montage called One Walking Moment, showing Drew’s progression from infant to toddler, all set to the yearly highlight reel song from the NCAA tournament.  So far, Luther Vandross has not sued.

Tamara and Drew began taking a sign language class, and I learned a few signs second-hand.  It’s amazing how the signs for milk, doggie, and diaper change are exactly the same.

I heard that a lot of money could be made selling cookies door to door, so I grabbed a clipboard and a rolly cart and walked up and down my street.  I don’t know if my neighbors were more disturbed by my lack of cookies or by the inadequate fit of my lime green toga, but the police had me speak with some very friendly doctors before releasing me.

June

In the first week of June, the school year ended, and so did my tenure with the Dallas Independent School District.  No more pencils, no more books, no more complete idiocy from incompetent leadership!

This was the month that Drew’s mealtime habits made the transition into extreme sport.  Other parents might look at his actions and wonder if something was wrong with the child, but I prefer to give him the benefit of the doubt and say he’s testing his throwing range and accuracy as well as experimenting to see what other parts of his head will take food into the digestive system.

Just to cross it off my bucket list, but against Tamara’s advice, I gave time travel a whirl.  I’m sorry to admit I may be inadvertently responsible for “What Does the Fox Say?”  On the other hand, Whipped Cream flavored vodka!  So you’re welcome, universe!

July

On July 2nd, Tamara and I celebrated our 3rd wedding anniversary.  We left Andrew in the care of his godfather, and we spent the evening in lovely Tyler, Texas.  Come to find out, someone was in a pranking mood on the anniversary gift page of Wikipedia, so Tamara wound up getting a lovely pleather jacket.

Late in the month, we hit the road with my side of the family for a week’s stay in Destin, Florida.  We had good weather, great waves, and mild sunburns by the end of the week.  Drew learned a very important life lesson – never eat yellow sand.

Fueled by a long-repressed passion for sculpting, I finally gave in to my creative side and began sculpting Wax What-Ifs ™.  Tiny but detailed blobs of paraffin depict Michelle Pfeiffer as a harried bus driver, Michael Jackson as a Wal-Mart greeter, and Snooki as a tolerable human being.

August

The new school year began, and I found myself in a new district, at a new school, with new colleagues and new students.  On the downside, it’s a 45-60 minute commute to work.  On the upside, the district’s theme is superheroes, and I was asked to dress as Batman for the convocation.  Win.

One week before school began, I received a call from Jeopardy inviting me to participate in the Teachers Tournament.  My new students seemed very impressed when I told them, but also confused by my teaching style of explaining everything in the form of a question.

After seeing Miley Cyrus do her thing on the Video Music Awards, I decided to try my hand (and my butt) at twerking.  I woke up 26 hours later in the Emergency Room with 3 bruised ribs, a shattered kneecap, and a sprained taint.

September

Tamara became a consultant with an online jewelry company called Chloe and Isabel.  She enjoys it quite a bit, and from all accounts, Chloe is an absolute sweetheart, though Isabel can be quite the hard-drinking, rageaholic biz-nitch.

Not even a year and a half old yet, Andrew began the road towards his PhD, attending Mother’s Day Out preschool one day a week.  He looked so very proud walking around the house with his new backpack and lunchbox.  The first day brought lots of tears, none of them from Andrew.

Watching some old reruns of The Six Million Dollar Man inspired me to make some cybernetic/bionic upgrades to my own body.  So far, all I’ve done is strapped a tiny flashlight to my forehead, but I’ll go ahead and unveil my new moniker – The Buck Fifty Man.



October

2013 was my year to choose Halloween costumes, so Drew was Yoda, and I carried him around on my shoulders as Luke Skywalker.  Since Mommy knows nothing about Star Wars – or how to take turns – Drew also got a Mad Hatter costume to go with her Alice in Wonderland.  Next year, we’ll just combine the two, and he can be the Jedi Master Hatter.

Right before Halloween, I flew out to Hollywood to be on Jeopardy.  Incredibly, Weird Al Yankovic – Mr. “I Lost on Jeopardy” himself – was on my flight, and that proved to be a good omen.  The next three weeks were tough, as my students tried their hardest to learn whether I had won or not while trying their best not to learn any math I taught them.

Christmas lights and decorations seemed to go up even earlier than ever this year in our area.  Not to be outdone, we flooded our front yard with Valentine’s Day signs and memorabilia.  In addition, I wrote several articles for the local papers decrying the War on St. Patrick’s Day.

November

My Jeopardy tournament episodes finally aired, and I no longer had to keep the results secret.  I won, I got $100,000, and Alex Trebek is deathly afraid of cinnamon.  Nearly all of the prize money went towards paying off my bookie for some ill-advised but costly youth badminton wagers.
 
We spent Thanksgiving down south with Tamara’s parents, and Andrew once again entertained us all by acting like a turkey.  Before we came home, we had our family pictures taken down by the river.  It seemed to be a popular day for shooting – not just pictures – because we heard lots of nearby rifle fire the whole time.

At the request of some neighbors, we watched over their pet pig and pet turtle.  Just for fun from a genetics point of view, I thought it would be interesting to see what would happen if we crossed the pig and the turtle.  The result:  dead pig and turtle.

December

Tamara flew to New York for a jewelry party over the first weekend in December, and that weekend we had a major ice storm here in the Dallas area.  Drew and I stayed warm at my parents’ house while schools were closed, but Tamara had to fight to get home as flights were canceled.  She finally hitched a cross-country ride with a van full of wandering bobsled/piccolo/guacamole enthusiasts.

To get him in the holiday spirit, Tamara took Drew to see multiple Santas over the weeks leading up to Christmas.  Drew’s reaction varied from uninterested to pissed off.  On Christmas Day itself, Drew seemed much more interested in Daddy’s iPhone than in his own brand new presents.

To close out the year, I splurged with a bit of my newfound Jeopardy money and bought myself a new car.  I was looking for either a time-traveling Delorean or a flying George Jetson-like space car, but I wound up settling for a new Toyota Corolla.  I’m confident that with a few minor upgrades, I’ll have it flying and time jumping within a few weeks.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Cards, anyone?

The short and funny story is...

A couple of my girls asked me yesterday if I would teach them how to play poker.


The story with a little bit of context is...

Because it was so cold outside, we had inside recess, and it was my day to host it in my room.  So I had about 75 kids crammed into my classroom, all of them playing with the available materials -- dominoes, flash cards, bingo games, puzzles, and of course, playing cards.

As I was walking around, I noticed two girls playing go fish, and I saw that one of the girls had an Ace, a King, a Queen, and a Jack.  I commented that she had a really good poker hand, and both girls looked at me quizically.  I then saw the other girl had three 4s and two 3s, so I told her that she had one of the highest poker hands there was!

A few minutes later (enough time for me to have forgotten our conversation), those two girls came up and asked me to teach them how to play poker. 

I declined, saying their parents might not be too happy if the math teacher was showing them how to gamble...

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