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Sunday, July 30, 2006
Let me just respond to "Anonymous" by saying I appreciate the support, dude. I can only hope that you use lowercase letters and spell check when corresponding with your steel buyers, though. And I think you've forgotten the lesson Coach S -- The Guam Bomb -- used to promote... Don't do drug.
So what did my buddy, Dr. Cheese, and I do this week? Let's see... We had many drinks of the non-Kool-Aid variety, we admired many fine Texan women, and we enjoyed the fine delicacy that is Freebirds. If you've never eaten at Freebirds, you're really missing out!
We also had a bad movie night. The theme was, "Hot chicks, lousy flicks." We rented Catwoman and Elektra. Needless to say, these movies both lived down to expectations, with Catwoman largely overachieving. But then, what do you expect from a movie directed by a guy named "Pitof?" I ask you, in a scene involving two people having a conversation, do we really need 10 different camera angles within 30 seconds?? And the movie was just plain awful. Halle Berry’s dignity went down faster than the vodka at my place.
Of much more interest and entertainment value was one of the bonus features which chronicled Catwoman through the years. Unfortunately, it was narrated by Eartha Kitt, who informed us that producers chose her because she has a "unique voice." Yeah, so does Gilbert Gottfried. Maybe her unique voice is responsible for scoring her that Old Navy gig several years back as well, I don't know.
Elektra was much better by comparison. Of course, I have a feeling Battlefield Earth would have looked like Gone With the Wind after Catwoman (and after multiple beverages). The directors were wise to delete a scene in which Ben Affleck appears, asking her to come back to him. I thought it odd that he was addressing his dialogue to a potted plant in the corner, but I guess his blind-radar was on the fritz that day.
Dr. Cheese and I visited a couple of spots in Dallas but none so more informative than The Conspiracy Museum. Did you know that John Wilkes Boothe lived thirty-some years after killing Abraham Lincoln? Did you know that Woody Harrelson’s dad was in the area of Dealy Plaza on November 22, 1963? Did you know you can charge someone nine bucks to watch a tiny clip of Kevin Costner in JFK?
We are both resigned to the fact that we probably have our pictures hanging in some government “Agitators Alert” headquarters now. At least now we know the truth. But I still want to know what those numbers mean on Lost.
Hey, some of you have ordered a copy of Learn Me Good and should have received it by now. I’d love to have your feedback! Please put a review on Lulu, B&N, or Amazon!
Friday, July 21, 2006
Well, the end of the summer is fast approaching (even if the temperatures and the lack of water keep increasing). Only a handful of weeks left until I'm back into the grind of the new school year, hopefully with all new stories to regale you with. For the time being, however, I am taking a break.
This is due to two factors.
First: My throat has been bothering me. I don't know if this is because I have been talking too much (I use voice recognition software when I'm on the computer, so I'm talking instead of typing right now), or if I am coming down with something. I visited the doctor today, and he didn't immediately assess me with The Bird Flu or West Nile Virus, so maybe it's just a minor irritation that will go away.
Second, and more important: A good buddy and my former college roommate is coming into town from DC and staying the week. So I will be hanging out with him, looting, pillaging, carousing, and possibly even pruning some hedges.
So don't look for me to post anything new between now and next weekend. In the words of my good buddy, the current California Governor:
Hasta la vista, baby!
Thursday, July 20, 2006
I received this month's electric bill from TXU (cue blood- curdling scream).
I have been reading all sorts of stories about people complaining about outrageous electric bills this summer, but I truly cannot comprehend this bill that I got. According to the experts, I used nearly twice as much juice this month as I did last month. TWICE!! This is ridiculous!
First of all, I haven't suddenly started running a laundromat in my house. Secondly, I have not recently decided to leave all of my lights, appliances, and electrical accessories powered up twenty-four hours a day. Even more importantly, my air conditioner has been set to 80° all summer long! The power companies are telling people they can save money by moving those thermostats from 72 degrees up to 76 or 77 degrees. Mine has been set on 80!! This is partly because I didn't want to have high electricity bills, partly because I don't mind the heat, and partly because I'm just a little nutty that way.
But my point is, I can't use the strategy of "bump it up a few degrees." I'd roast like a demonically possessed marshmallow man in New York!
I don't know how I could possibly have used so much juice this month. I've been in this house for almost a full year now, and I've never even approached 1000 Kwh. Now suddenly I've run up over 1500??
If anyone out there reading this works for a power company, please explain to me how this might have happened? If I'm going to go broke, I'd at least like to be able to set my AC to 75 or so...
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
Once again, it's that time for the weekly Carnival of Education -- and this time it's being held right here in Texas! Over at Mike's site, Education in Texas, where as he says, "It's so hot, a Speedo is now considered formal attire." Good news for Phineus, since he actually enjoys wearing his extra-medium banana hammock around town...
Head on over for the Carnival, and stay for the ambience. Education in Texas is a great blog to read on a daily basis, and some days, you might even catch a full moon!
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
I'm thinking now that I really shouldn't just cut and paste the guy's blog entry, and that might be seen as a blatant act of plagiarism, even if I am citing my source. So instead, I'll just point you in the right direction.
Mr. Chalk has written a field trip permission slip that expresses everything that a teacher has ever wanted to include in such a form. Nothing is held back here. A few of the comments and references are cringe worthy (such as the comment about the music teacher), but overall this is pretty darn funny.
Friday, July 14, 2006
Most of the memes that I have read actually tell you a bit about the person filling them out. I hope that no one expects that from me. I have my own method of filling these things out, and it usually doesn't involve anything resembling fact or accuracy.
With that said, I present to you my version of the meme that I've found over on La Chucheria:
I know Rafael Chan. Personally.
I believe that my kids REALLY have to use the restroom when they tell me, "My bowels be runnin'!"
I fought the dark Lord Sauron with my trusty blade, Anduril -- The Flame of the West! This was on the PlayStation, mind you.
I am angered by college basketball officials who can't seem to pull their heads out of their... well, you know where.
I love ketchup.
I need oxygen, tempered with a small amount of nitrogen and other trace elements, to breathe.
I take pleasure in answering calls from telemarketers and messing with them.
I hear that Christie Brinkley is single once again.
I drink Super Gulps -- 64 fluid ounces of Mountain Dew -- far too often.
I hate ants, and all they represent.
I use Right Guard, for that special summer breeze scent.
I want money. Loads of it. And maybe a little Chicken Parmigiana while you're at it.
I decided that I will use my Best Buy gift cards from Christmas to purchase the second season of Lost when it comes out on DVD.
I like fuzzy navels and buttery nipples, and sometimes I like the drinks that go by those names also.
I am considered to be one of the world's foremost experts on Chilean chicken byproducts, by those in the know.
I feel pretty. Oh so pretty. It's a pity how pretty I feel.
I left my coin purse in a barbershop one time when I was 5 years old. It was in the shape of Barney Rubble's head, and I still miss it.
I do regularly stay up past midnight to watch MXC and Blind Date on Spike TV.
I hope that I will one day be able to jump into the air, do ten roundhouse kicks, and then return gracefully to my feet, like Neo in the Matrix. Because right now, I keep falling on my face before I've even finished the first roundhouse.
I dream about having four aces in the World Series of Poker and going all in against Phil Hellmuth, who has four Kings.
I drive 20 mph in school zones, which makes me the only person who does so in Dallas.
I listen to THX, because I am part of the audience, and like it says, "The audience is listening."
I type very quickly, having taught myself to type by playing lots of text adventure games like Zork and Planetfall.
I think Evangeline Lilly, Eva Longoria, and Shandi Finnessey are three of the hottest women on television right now.
I wish I had a legitimate superpower. Right now I've got super-bendy thumbs, and the ability to communicate with Grape Nuts, but I'm talking a REAL superpower.
I compensate for lift and drag by letting off on the thrust just a bit.
I regret choosing Miracle Whip Light over regular Miracle Whip the last time I went to the store. It might have half the calories, but it also comes with half the taste!
I care a lot. Don't let anyone tell you differently.
I should probably get around to taking care of that huge gaping hole in my bedroom wall that always has bugs and small woodland creatures swarming out of it.
I am not always serious. Can you tell?
I said "Are you her brother and sister?" to a couple of people that I thought were related to one of my students. The one I thought was the brother answered, "I'm her mother."
I wonder who wrote the book of love?
I changed the radio station when that freakin "You're Beautiful" cacophony came on for like the twenty-third time in the same hour.
I cry when someone plucks out one of my leg hairs.
I am Virginian by birth, Texan by life.
I am not going to worry about aliens from Uranus invading our planet and forcing us all to become dirt-munching, piccolo-playing slaves.
I lose interest in girls when I see them light up a cigarette.
I leave now. Hasta la vista, baby.
Thursday, July 13, 2006
While some of you might be scratching your heads saying, "Huh? What on earth is he talking about?" my interesting fact for the day is that I actually tried out for this program. Let me take you back to early April of this year...
I had seen a full-page ad for The World Series of Pop Culture in my most recent issue of Entertainment Weekly, but I had instantly dismissed it as being one of those shows that only featured contestants for whom Paris Hilton and her daily exploits were their very life. Not long after this, however, Mrs. Educator and I were talking, and she told me that her husband had put a team together and filled out the application online. Not only that, but she informed me that his team had been contacted by someone at the show and invited to a tryout in downtown Dallas.
I mean absolutely no respect to Mr. Educator, but that piece of news got me thinking, "Well hey, if HE can get accepted, then I certainly can!"
The format of the show calls for a team of three people, so I went home and recruited my brother, Phineus, and another local friend, Flipper. We knew that our combined knowledge of all things pop was a force to be reckoned with, and we even got together the weekend before our Dallas tryout. We put ourselves through an intense training session that must have lasted for, oh, at least two hours. It was the most rigorous game of DVD Trivial Pursuit ever known.
I came up with a name for our team, and it's one I'm rather proud of, still. While our fellow auditioners had rather lame names like "The Texas Connection "and "the Vampirates" our moniker actually reflected an honored piece of 80s nostalgia. We were (and are, if you like) "And Knowing Is Half the Battle."
In case you're not familiar with this phrase, I will now explain its origins. It is the last half of a famous saying that was uttered at the end of every episode of G.I. Joe. After the main cartoon had ended, there would be a sort of public service announcement involving kids doing something dumb, like swimming during a lightning storm or drinking milk that was two years old. Okay so they were never doing anything quite THAT stupid, but sometimes they would be about to take aspirin without parental supervision, or riding their bikes over railroad tracks -- that sort of thing. Sure enough, an elite member of the G.I. Joe strike force would happen along and say, "Hey, you dumba--!! Knock it off!" Actually, I'm kidding again. He or she would explain kindly to the kids the error inherent in their actions and set them on the right path. At this, the kid would invariably claim, "Now we know!" To which the soldier would reply: (all together now)
"And knowing is half the battle."
So, armed with our fantastic name and our even more fantastic knowledge of movies of the 80s and 90s, we set foot into the ballroom of the hotel in downtown Dallas (which I don't remember the name of). There were about 28 teams there, and we all sat at long tables with pencils and an envelope in front of us. At a given signal, we were instructed to open the envelope, removed the test from within, and answer as many of the 50 questions as we could. When the time was up, the tests were collected, and we were told only that every member of the team had to pass the test in order for the team to move on. We were not told what exactly "passing" entailed, or how many questions each member had to get right, so all we could do was cross our fingers.
When the people came back into the room with the official results, they read off the names of the teams who had passed the written exam. Out of the 28 teams there for that audition (and there were eight or nine audition periods that day), only four teams passed the written exam. And Knowing Is Half the Battle was one of those teams that passed.
So after many high fives, Phineus, Flipper, and I moved into the hallway with the other three remaining teams and awaited our turn for the on-camera interview. In retrospect, the interview portion is probably the reason that we did not make the actual tournament. We're just too darn nice! All three of us are pretty laid-back, with a dry sense of humor, calm and collected. Judging by the teams that I have now seen this week on the televised program, they were looking for people a bit more flamboyant. Perhaps we should have acted out one of those G.I. Joe public service announcements or jumped up and down in our seats with every answer, like Tom Cruise would have done. Instead, we were our usual selves, and we were not invited back to enter the tournament.
Now that the show has been on a couple of times, Flipper and I are not sure whether we are more disappointed or relieved that we didn't make it. We e-mailed each other right away and said, "I could've answered those questions!" But if you've seen the show, then you know what I mean when I say the production values are not exactly high. It sort of has the feel of a spelling bee -- and not the national bee. But it does seem to be done in the spirit of fun, and I have to admit I'm enjoying watching it.
Maybe there will be a season 2, and our chance will come again. If we want to take it, that is.
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
Once again, it's that time for the Carnival of Education! This week, the 75th installment comes to us from the official blog of the LA Times -- School Me! Not too dissimilar sounding from my own blog, eh?
Go on over, walk around the midway for a spell, just be sure to stay off the Tilt-a-Wirl for at least an hour after eating...
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
I saw an article in the paper today talking about how the Arlington school district is cracking down on violations of their dress code by disallowing "grills," among other things. Are you familiar with grills? Yeah, I thought I was too -- though I haven't eaten at Burger King in a while. Flame broiled? No, that's not what I'm talking about.
Grills are described as "mouth jewelry," though I'm sure to the users, they have much fancier associated adjectives, along the lines of "six-diamond, white gold, oral enhancers."
It wasn't so long ago that kids hated even the thought of having to wear braces. Yet now they are em-bracing (sorry, couldn't resist) these new accessories. I have to admit, I don't really think that I've ever seen the real thing. I know I've heard the term though, because I've had some kids who have taken their Nestlé crunch bar foil wrappers and molded them down over their teeth and called them grills.
You can't possibly eat with these things on, and I can't imagine that talking is easy either. Of course, some of these kids are hard to understand on their best day anyway, but that's beside the point.
The engineer in me can't help but think about the conductivity levels of a mouth full of metal. I keep getting images of the poor little boy from Poltergeist, and his Braces Gone Wild.
Let's keep the grills in the backyards for barbecues and on the fronts of old cars! And perhaps we can find some other way for our kids to get their daily dose of iron...
Monday, July 10, 2006
No doubt I will be talking about this more as the time approaches (and let me just go ahead and apologize in advance for that), but since I just got the news today, I figured I'd go ahead and post it while it was fresh. So if any of you are in the Dallas/Fort Worth area in late August, please stop on by!
And if any readers of this just happen to have done a book signing before, PLEASE contact me and give me some tips and advice (beyond the standard, "Bring a pen," or, "Comb your hair.").
Tuesday update: my book is in three stores in the Dallas area now! Two of them are new and used bookstores -- Paperbacks Plus and Books 'n Stuff -- but as of today, Learn Me Good is in one of the predominant teacher supply stores in central Dallas. A Teacher's Aide on Mockingbird and Abrams now has it in stock! If you live in the area, be sure to check it out!
Sunday, July 09, 2006
Here is an excerpt from the article, describing this growing epidemic:
"Youthful Tendency Disorder (YTD), a poorly understood neurological condition that afflicts an estimated 20 million U.S. children, is characterized by a variety of senseless, unproductive physical and mental exercises, often lasting hours at a time. In the thrall of YTD, sufferers run, jump, climb, twirl, shout, dance, do cartwheels, and enter unreal, unexplainable states of ‘make-believe.’”
Sound familiar? Indeed it does. We see multiple cases of each of those aspects played out on the playground at recess time. Now picture in your mind that same scenario unfolding simultaneously at thousands of elementary schools every day, and you began to see the scope of this pandemic.
I have been a teacher for three years now, and it is scary to think how many children with YTD have passed through my school, undiagnosed. Thinking back on the actions of several of my students, I realize now that what I mistook for silliness, frivolity, even tomfoolery were really just the early warning signs of a severe medical disorder. I am ashamed of my rush to judgment, based on my preconceived notions.
I used to get so upset that these kids could recognize every single entrance theme of every single professional wrestler, and yet if I asked them to name the current Supreme Court Justice -- a man who makes decisions that affect the very way we live our lives every day -- they couldn't answer.
The good news is that foreign scientists are working around the clock for a cure. Again quoting from the article, "Help for families struggling with YTD may soon be on the way. At last month's annual AMA Convention, Smithkline-Beecham unveiled Juvenol, a promising YTD drug which, pending FDA approval, could reach the U.S. market as early as next spring. Already available in France and Sweden, Juvenol, the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet reported, resulted in a 60 percent decrease in running and jumping among users."
But until this miracle drug is perfected and readily available to the American multitudes that need it, we as teachers will have to continue to face this issue. At least now we are armed with the knowledge that it is not the kids' faults; they have a documented condition. And the more we can raise awareness of this disorder, the faster we can help our children.
Friday, July 07, 2006
My air conditioning stop working on Wednesday -- but the repair man came out today and fixed it, so we're back under 85° in the house once again!
I was in an auto accident on Wednesday (don't worry, I'm okay -- but the at fault party was uninsured), and I'm still waiting to hear how that is going to be settled and when my car is going to be fixed, but I probably won't have to do much driving over the weekend, so all is good on that front.
And the coolest thing of all, I'm surfing around my favorite blogs, and lo and behold -- Mike in Texas over at Education in Texas has dedicated today's post on his site to my book, Learn Me Good! He got it in the mail just the other day, read it, enjoyed it, and is now recommending it to his readers (much like I have been doing)! How cool is that?
If you haven't visited Education in Texas, you're really missing out. The link to his site has been in my Hall Pass section for quite a while now, and I try to read his posts everyday. They are entertaining and often full of good ideas for science lessons. In fact, one of his recent posts had a really cool site for teaching solar system lessons, and he had posted one of the pictures of a representative model. Check it out, and thanks, Mike, for the plug!
Thursday, July 06, 2006
I have not yet visited my local Cineplex to see Superman Returns -- so please don't anyone ruin it for me by telling me that the boat sinks, he's really been dead the whole time, or that the chick is a dude! But I was talking to a buddy last night, and he told me that before his showing of Superman, he got to see the trailer for next summer's Spiderman 3. This of course made me scramble to my computer to download it.
And if you're into these kinds of things, it was well worth it.
Here is the link, if you want to check it out.
Spiderman was always my favorite comic book growing up. And I have been incredibly impressed with the job that Sam Raimi has done on the first two movie installments. Judging by this short but exciting trailer, it looks like he's made the superhero hat trick. Thomas Hayden Church looks EXACTLY like the comic book version of Sandman. And the alien suit... The black symbiote outfit... I'm already salivating with anticipation.
Wednesday, July 05, 2006
Monday, July 03, 2006
The pressure of performance is bad enough -- students feel the pressure to pass, teachers feel the pressure to have high passing rates, administrators feel the pressure to have high ratings for their schools -- but now the geniuses from the state have decided to throw money into the mix. They're calling it "incentive pay." For some people, this apparently has become incentive to cheat.
Much like the district's spending (see my last post), the tests had not been very well supervised, until recently. Last year, someone finally woke up and said, "Hey! Maybe we should send someone to monitor these schools, and make sure the teachers aren't actually taking these tests!" In some schools, this wasn't too far from what was really happening. Last summer, stories started emerging about teachers giving the whole class answers during tests, giving nonverbal hints (I can just imagine the teacher standing in front of a student's desk, clearing her throat noisily until the student finally bubbles in the correct answer), and even changing answers on the tests at the end of the day.
For anyone who doesn't know the sad story of Wilmer-Hutchins, this is an entire school district that was dissolved because of unethical practices. An extremely large percentage of their schools were determined to have been cheating on the 2005 TAKS, and they were basically given the death penalty and absorbed into the Dallas Independent School District. Now I am in NO way condoning cheating in any form, but I have to say that these teachers at Wilmer-Hutchins were not very bright in the way they went about their efforts. I mean, if you're going to cheat, you do it subtly, so as not to draw attention. In the schools that red-flagged the monitors, not only did the passing rate go up from about 50% to 100% -- suspicious enough in its own right -- but every kid aced the test! These students were not just passing the test, they were getting every single question correct -- EVERY STUDENT! What did these teachers expect? To have George W. Bush himself come down and give them the Medal of Honor?
"Congratulations, Texas teachers. Whatever strategery you've used with these kids has caused their grades to go nucular!"
Similar investigations were going on down in the Houston district last year. Now THIS year, many Dallas schools are under investigation. From what I've read, this seems to be more a high school problem than elementary school, but the outcome will affect us all. In fact, about a month ago, there was a Dallas high school student that was quoted in the papers, telling reporters exactly how one could cheat on the high school TAKS. And according to his method, it would not be difficult at all.
Now the state governor's office has proposed giving a bonus to teachers whose students show a marked increase in performance -- i.e. higher TAKS scores. Bonuses up to $10,000 per teacher! Now you tell me, you don't think this is going to inspire even MORE cheating??!?
If so many people were already cheating, just to bring their passing rates up and make themselves look better as educators, how many more are now going to succumb to the temptation of cold hard cash? It's all about the Benjamins, baby.
Personally, it makes me almost physically ill that people -- ANYONE, whether they be students, teachers, principals -- would feel the need to stoop to cheating on these tests. Yes, the pressure can be intense. Yes, there are a lot of eyes upon our programs, judging us by our passing rates. But that doesn't excuse the behavior of these cheaters.
Who really pays the price when an entire school district is dissolved? I feel bad for those students, but at least they are still going to school. The real losers are the honest teachers, those who did NOT break the rules, but who have to suffer the consequences regardless.
I'm guessing that the people that cheat on the TAKSes are the same people that cheat on their taxes. I mean, po-tay-to, po-tah-to...
Sunday, July 02, 2006
See if you can guess which of these items were paid for using a DISD credit card --
a) an iPod for $399
b) a "buckaroo cowboy" throw blanket for $139
c) a vibrating leather seat cushion for $199.95
d) a series of lap dances at Silver City Cabaret for $160
**Answers at the bottom of the post.
It would seem that the district does not have a very good program of accountability in place when it comes to credit card purchases. According to the article, there are around 1200 credit cards actively in use, and the card users basically have carte blanche privileges. They are supposed to keep their receipts, but they are not required to turn these receipts in to any sort of central storage facility. They do not have to get their purchases pre-approved, and the district does not often ask to review the purchase receipts.
In a tabulation presented in the article, charges totaled over $42 million between January of 2004 and March of 2006. In a somewhat related note, I can claim to have spent under $500 over the past three school years on items for my classroom and my students -- on my own personal credit card, that is. I am not one of the fortunate "magic plastic" possessors on DISD's payroll. Not like this local high school teacher, who spent over $2000 in 2004, a total which includes that 400 buck iPod. The iPod, according to him, was purchased to be a prize for the best-behaved student in his class that year.
HUH??!?? Giving away an iPod for good behavior? Color me extremely cheap then, as I tend to favor novelty pencils and plastic water bottles, which typically put me around two or three dollars out-of-pocket...
A related story in the paper singled out one individual, a secretary in the district who reportedly has used a district credit card to spend $383,788 over a two-year period. Oh yeah, and she's also conveniently lost most of the receipts. What is this, Brewster's Millions?
This article raises several serious questions in my mind. Number one, where is the accountability in the district? Number two, how do these people sleep at night, knowing that they are ripping off local taxpayers? And most importantly, how do I get MY hands on one of these precious pieces of plastic??
**The iPod, the cushion, and the throw blanket are all are real charges, according to the news article. The lap dances at Silver City are not real -- they actually were purchased at The Gentlemen's Club.
Saturday, July 01, 2006
It's an excellent post, actually. Very informative, very accurate, and full of great advice. If anyone reading MY blog is a non-teacher, looking to become a teacher, I would highly recommend that you hop on over there and check out her column. She'll have you saying, "Who is this Wang guy again?"
Just to add some emphasis to one of her major points -- plan out your rules and your systems in advance! You need to have these in place on the first day! Don't try to play it by ear, or think you can just wing it -- YOU might be able to adapt rapidly, but the kids will not. Think of the ten most important rules to you, and then combine similar rules and eliminate unnecessary rules until you are down to your top four or five. Always putting the caps back on markers may be very important to you, but it is not important enough to warrant a major Class Rule. Believe me, five rules will be hard enough to enforce; you won't have any luck with more than that. Spend the first week going over and practicing these rules. Throughout the school year, you will be able to reinforce them, but only if they are set firmly in place from the get go.
Again, go read Ms. Cornelius's post. It's well worth it.