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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Future fender benders

Today on the way to the cafeteria, I ran into a stumbling block. Getting the kids to lunch this year has been a logistical nightmare. All of third-grade and all of second-grade go at exactly the same time. The third-grade classes walk down their hallway and make a left-hand turn into the main hallway, but then they're expected to be on the right hand side of the hall to enter the proper cafeteria door. The second-grade classes come into the main hallway from outside and are expected to be on the left-hand side of the hall to enter THEIR cafeteria door.

Somewhere in there, the lines have to cross, and as Egon said in Ghostbusters, "Crossing the streams would be bad."

So today, I find myself stuck at the corner, with a wall of second graders to somehow get through. So I thought I would suggest taking turns, in much the same way that cars (are supposed to) take turns at a four-way intersection.

I might as well have been speaking Klingon.

Even with me standing right there, trying to direct the kids to cross over, one at a time, NONE of them understood. Every time I told a second grader to cross over, three more would try to follow her. Every time I directed a third grader to cross over, three more would try to walk right past me.

When we had finally gotten past the mixmaster, one of my kids said, "We were kind of like cars in a traffic jam."

To which I had to reply, "If this had been with cars, there would be a huge wreck scene right now."

I am truly worried about the next generation of vehicle operators...

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

My biscuits are burnin!

Just a general note to everyone --

If you don't have a license to drive a school bus, don't assume that you can operate any of the controls on the school bus either.

When I had dropped off all of my kids at their buses this afternoon after school let out, I noticed that the driver was not present at the bus I monitor. One of the other monitors was inside the bus watching the kids, but she kept complaining about how hot it was. So I figured why have the kids sitting on a sweltering bus, when I could easily turn on the A/C?

So I flipped the knob, and we felt the air coming out of the vents. A couple of minutes later, the driver came back (she had been helping out on another bus), and the bus left.

About half an hour later, I passed the driver in the hall, and she informed me that I had actually turned the heater on.

D'OH!!!

From now on, I'm sticking to my trusty Toyota console...

Monday, September 24, 2007

Inside, outside, upside down

I've been having some back problems lately (OK, ever since summer vacation started back in June), and I've tried a lot of stuff to get rid of it. Not so much to get rid of my back -- I'm kind of going to need that. But to get rid of the back pain.

I had an MRI done in late August, right before the school year started, and it revealed a couple of bulging discs. Nothing requiring surgery, thankfully, but painful and annoying just the same.

I've been to chiropractors, I've tried heat, I've tried ice (I've seen fire, and I've seen rain), and I even tried yoga -- once. I think I might like to go back to that at some point, but my back just isn't ready for it.

But last week, Anonymous Joe let me have an old inversion chair that was cluttering up his back porch. This thing is pretty cool. You hook your knees behind these padded rollers and then swing yourself up and over the apex of the frame so that you're hanging upside down. It really feels kind of cool. You can't do it for too long, or else your eyes will explode (or maybe you'll just get a really bad head rush), but it's kind of soothing and relaxing.

I like to pretend that I'm Batman, or at least some alternate version of Batman who actually hangs upside down like a bat.

Has anyone else tried one of these things? I'd love to hear your story!

Friday, September 21, 2007

A bit of housekeeping

I am currently enjoying a three-day weekend, thanks to the fact that I got my professional development hours over and done with during the summer. So just a few things to blog about today:

1) A reminder that we there is less than one month remaining until the October 15 deadline in the YouTube challenge. If you'd like to win a free T-shirt -- as seen in the sidebar to the right -- all you have to do is leave a comment on one of my videos at YouTube. You can start with this one.

2) Another reminder, the Blogger's Choice Awards end on November 10. So if you have already voted for me, another big thank you, and if you have not yet voted, what are you waiting for? :) Seriously, I appreciate every vote that I receive.

3) I've discovered a new blog worth reading lately, so I thought I'd post a link here and direct traffic that way. Simply Sublime is a good read!

4) And finally, a first-time announcement, rather than a reminder. I have been offered a position as weekly columnist for education.com! I won't start for about another month, so I will certainly have the chance to send out reminders, but I just thought I'd give everyone a heads-up. I'm pretty excited, as they have a rather large readership!

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

World Series of Taboo

To put it quite simply, I am a Taboo genius. For anyone unfamiliar with Taboo, it's an incredibly fun and addictive party game where one person tries to get his/her teammates to guess a word or phrase while NOT using certain helpful words. I've played this game a lot, and I'm a really good clue giver and also a really good guesser.

And after today, I feel like there should be some venue for me to win large amounts of cash and fabulous prizes with my great guessing ability.

While reading the chapter about the water cycle with my afternoon class, we started discussing one of the vocabulary words -- precipitation. Precipitation is water that falls from the sky in the form of rain, snow, hail, or sleet. The kids didn't know what hail was, so I explained it to them.

Later, while the kids were busy making a little water cycle representation, one of the girls called me over to ask me about something.

"What's that big circle in the sky?" was her leadoff.

"Um, the sun??" I ventured.

"No," she replied. "You know, that big circle in the sky!"

"The moon???"

"No, it kind of spins," she offered helpfully.

Perplexed, I asked, "Is this something that is always in the sky? It's always there?"

"It kind of spins," she reiterated, not so helpfully this time. "I think it starts with an H. Not hailstones... not hailstones..."

"Hurricane??"

"Yeah!!! That's it! Hurricane!!"

And that was that.

I hereby declare myself Master of the Taboo Universe.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

I blinded her -- with SCIENCE!!!

Last week, one of my little girls presented me with a very odd statement. We had just returned to my classroom after the restroom break that follows our P.E. period (or, if you prefer, the time formerly known as recess). Which means that it was around 12:45, and this class had already been in my room for an hour before lunch and P.E.

Yet it wasn't until that moment that my student, A, chose to inform me, "Last night, I was watching TV, and it blinded me. I can't see my paper." Her paper, of course, being her piece of scrap paper on her desk, a foot and a half from her face.

As you might imagine, I was a bit skeptical. I mean, when MY television blinds ME late at night, I don't get my vision back temporarily in the morning and then lose it again after lunch. Heck, even Han Solo didn't come out of his Carbonite suspension just fine and then go blind a day later.

So when A persisted and wouldn't do any of her work, I finally took her across the hall to my partner's room and asked if A had done any of her reading and social studies work that morning, or if she had been too blind. Ms. Jenn Ed hadn't noticed any blindness that morning, as I suspected.

In the hallway, before we reentered my classroom, I told A that one of the other third-grade teachers had commented on how nice it was that A had picked some flowers for her during recess... er, I mean P.E. I added that it would be very difficult to pick flowers for someone and give them a nice little bouquet if that someone was vision impaired.

A stared at me blankly (yes, this IS the same girl who calls me Miss Teacher) and finally said, "But some of the flowers were upside down."

Is that one of the sure signs of blindness or something? "Flowers were upside down -- driver's license denied!"

I had a talk with her parent that night, and thankfully, I haven't heard any more claims of blindness...

FROM HER...

The very next day, however, most of our kids went outside for used-to-be-recess, but I kept a small group of misbehaviors inside. When my class came back inside, another little girl -- we'll call her A -- approached me and said, "Mister Teacher, I got pushed down outside on the playground and now I can't see. The nurse said I need to have someone in the classroom to lead me around."

Have I mentioned my kids aren't very original?

Strangely, A had no note from the nurse giving me the aforementioned instructions. And our school nurse ALWAYS sends the kids back with detailed notes to teachers. So I found her claim lacking a bit in an area I like to call "FACT."

Ms. Jenn Ed told me a few moments later that the nurse had indeed sent back a note that said that A was perfectly fine. In fact, I believe her note might have actually said, "No blindness detected whatsoever."

This week, thankfully, there have been no claims of sensory loss. I do wonder about their hearing sometimes though, as so many of them just don't ever listen...

Monday, September 17, 2007

Kill and drill

Apparently, we had a quota to fill today. Three weeks into the school year, and we hadn't done any sorts of drills as a school community.

So today, to make up for that, first we had a fire drill, then we had a lockdown drill. Thankfully, I had some advance warning on the fire drill, so I was able to make my expectations very clear to my class and even have a trial run before the siren went off. During the drill, my class behaved very well.

The lockdown came as a surprise. I hadn't gone over the procedure with my kids, so I had to quickly bark at them, "Get on the floor, under your desks -- no talking!" as I turned the lights off, closed the shades, and locked my door. Some of the kids thought it was a blast to huddle together under their desks, so keeping them quiet was a bit tougher this time around.

After that, I was expecting a tornado drill or a duck and cover or SOMETHING!

Hey, it's not like we were doing much today anyway, right?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

A bad seed?

Yesterday, for my science test, I gave the kids a blank sheet of notebook paper and asked them to write down the answers for five review questions at the end of the chapter we had read this week. The chapter was mostly about seeds -- what they contain and how they are spread.

Most of my kids did not understand the whole concept of an open book test. I told them that they could use their book to find the answers by looking back in the chapter we read. While some began flipping back pages to look for the answers, I saw one little girl looking forward into the chapter about lizards and birds. I'm pretty sure that chapter doesn't contain any information about germination or seedlings.

Yet I still saw many of them just making completely random guesses at the answers without using the book. Often, what they wrote didn't even make any sense or did not answer the question. For example, question one was, "What is a seedling?" Roughly twelve kids wrote, "A seedling lives inside every seed." That's nice, but it doesn't tell me what a seedling IS. Just finding a sentence with the word in it does not always answer the question. If I ask someone, "Did the Cowboys win this weekend?" hopefully they will not respond, "The Dallas Cowboys are a professional football organization, located in Irving, Texas."

But my favorite part of grading the tests came with question 3. The question was, "What are some ways that seeds can be spread from one place to another?" Some of the answers to this one really showed that the kids were listening when we were talking about this part. A lot of them copied the caption from the book about cockleburrs latching onto a dogs fur. But one girl took the idea of an animal carrying seeds, and applied it to an animal that isn't listed anywhere in our science book.

"If a jaguar finds an apple and he does not know what it is and he carries it to somewhere else."

Helpful jaguar!!

Another girl wrote, "Some animals can help people carry things." I went ahead and gave her credit for this answer, assuming that by "things," she meant "seeds."

But the best answers came from the kids who remembers our discussion of how birds help spread seeds. There was a picture of a bird standing on a branch that ended in a group of berries. The caption explained that birds eat the berries, swallow the seeds, and the seeds passed through the digestive system unharmed. And thus the bird drops the seeds in a faraway location.

So I got a couple of priceless answers to question 3:

"A bird can eat the seed and can poopoo in another place."

and

"A bird eats the seed and they did their business and the seed falls."

These kids clearly understood the concept! Mr. Bloom, you might need to add another level to your Taxonomy, because these kids are marching up the ladder!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Carnivals are elementary

If it's Wednesday, it must be Carnival Day! This week, the Carnival of Education is hosted over at History Is Elementary.

Don't be a cipher... Go check out the Carnival!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Cipher on the go

Yesterday after school, we had a lengthy staff meeting which consisted of watching three videos in the auditorium. No doubt, after reading that sentence, you are envisioning me sitting strapped to a chair, with my eyelids taped open -- and that's sort of how it felt, seeing as how they are the same three videos we always have to watch, year after year after year.

But I'm not here to talk about those videos. At least not today -- I may have something to say about them in the next couple of days. And I'm not even here to shamelessly plug my OWN videos.

Today, I'm interested in discussing a film that one of those videos reminded me of; a short film that I saw all the way back when I was in grade school. It was called Cipher in the Snow.

If you have ever seen this movie -- Cipher in the Snow -- PLEASE leave a comment and let me know that I am not the only one who was traumatized thusly as a child!

It was so long ago, that I don't remember ALL of the details of the movie, but the opening scene is really what stands out. A school bus drives down a deserted country lane, surrounded by snow-covered fields. The bus comes to a stop, and the doors open. A kid, around 10 years old, slowly trudges down the steps and out of the bus. He takes a couple of steps away from the bus and then falls on his face in the snow, dead as a door nail.

(Cue the Law and Order sound effect: DUN DUNN!!)

The rest of the movie is a flashback, as I recall, showing the events that led to this nerd's tragic demise. Excuse me, this CIPHER'S tragic demise. You see, the poor, doomed lad was a social outcast -- friend to no one -- and his lack of self-esteem eventually manifested itself as a blood clot the size of an ostrich egg. Or at least, it led to his death.

Yeah, we watched some strange movies at my tiny little elementary school. Between Cipher in the Snow, with its foreboding existentialism, and Peege, with its gratuitous scenes of the old grandmother slowly gumming her chocolate pudding, it's a wonder I can even set foot into a darkened auditorium.

But I really am getting tired of that stupid sexual-harassment video...

Monday, September 10, 2007

Measurable growth

I have decided that one way or the other, my students this year will have some sort of measurable growth. So far, here in the third week of the school year, many of them are choosing NOT to exercise their "brain muscle," and so I'm not sure how much mental growth they'll be displaying.

However, for these kids especially, there will definitely be physical growth -- I decided last week to begin implementing push-ups in the classroom. Already I could tell that taking away minutes from recess or taking away prize potential wasn't having much of an effect on some of these kids. So I've adopted the mentality of "drop and give me ten."

I have a feeling that a few of these kids might be resembling Conan the Third-Grader before the school year is over, if they keep on their current pace.

Today turned out to be a push-up bonanza when we graded our place value test from last week. I have my own policy for test grading. Really early in my teaching career, I got tired of handing tests back with grades on them and then seeing hardly any kids paying attention as we went over the questions together. So I decided to do things slightly differently. When I grade the tests, I don't put any marks on them -- I just record the grade in my gradebook. So when I hand the tests back to the kids, I tell them that I already know the grades. We're going to grade them together, and when we're done, I'm going to ask them what grade they got. If their grade matches my grade, then I'll know that they were paying attention. If their grade DOESN'T match my grade, then I'll know they were NOT paying attention -- and they'll owe me 25 push-ups.

After having explained all of that up front, I was amazed this morning at how many kids received a workout for their pecs. In my second class, THIRTEEN OUT OF TWENTY-ONE did not have the correct grade on their paper!! And what's worse, half of them got up laughing and talking about how much they love to do push-ups.

Maybe it's time to introduce push-up's twin brother, sit-up. And if that doesn't work, it'll be time for push-up's redheaded step cousin, leg lifts...

Sunday, September 09, 2007

They call me Mister Teacher

I have a little girl in my class this year, I'll call her A, who doesn't quite seem all there. She's a sweet enough little girl, and in the first two weeks, she appears to be doing all right academically. However, there are frequently times when I talk to her face to face, and I can tell that there is just no comprehension there whatsoever.

Case in point, she ALWAYS calls me "Miss Teacher." She's not being malicious or trying to cut me down, she just feels for some reason that that's what she should be calling me. When I try to explain to her that I am a man, and therefore I should be addressed as "Mister," she gets a puzzled look on her face, as if I was telling her that Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy were not real.

I thought for a while that perhaps she just called everyone Miss, and was completely unfamiliar with any other prefix. But that was disproven a couple of days into the school year when her aunt dropped her off in the morning in front of the school, and she ran by us yelling, "Good morning, Mister Anonymous! Good morning, Miss Teacher!!"

Maybe it's just me. I do consider myself to be somewhat manly looking, though. I don't think that she actually views me as a female. So I'm just at a loss as to why she can't understand why I would be MISTER Teacher.

I just can't shake the image running through my head of what would happen if I lined up a bunch of people and let her to greet all of them.

"Good morning, Mister Bilingual!

Good morning, Doctor Cheesy!

Good morning, Professor Plum!

Good morning, Monsignor Cross!

Good morning, Special Agent Johnson!

Good morning, Second Leftenant Fielder!

Good morning, Miss Teacher!"

Ugh. In another instance of school policy that A didn't seem to understand, I noticed that she was writing notes at her desk while we were going over the homework. When I told her that she needed to be paying attention and grading along with us, she looked shocked, and replied, "But I was writing a note to YOU!" I told her that that was very sweet of her, but that she needed to do that at home, not during math class. Still affronted, she continued, "It's a note about how you're my favorite teacher!"

I finally convinced her to stop writing notes and to pay attention in class, but I still get the feeling that she didn't understand the reasoning behind her actions.

Oh well, at any rate, I'll probably be getting a very lovely note tomorrow morning along the lines of,

"You're the best ever, Miss Teacher!!"

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Rainman cometh

Cloud break.

Gully washer.

Torrential downpour.

All of these terms could have been used to describe the rainfall this morning. After an incredibly soggy Texas summer, we had a couple of weeks with nary a drop of H2O falling from the sky. But that was broken over the past 24 hours, as many of us had an inkling to look up cubits and start building an ark.

My drive into work this morning wasn't that bad, but I am incredibly thankful that God invented golf umbrellas, because if I hadn't had mine, I think I would STILL be soaked and shivering.

Between 7:15 and 7:45 this morning, the rain fell down harder and faster than Michigan football in the polls. The street out in front of the school was practically a river (or as people down here say, a "crick"), and at times, I almost invoked the good name of the Gorton's fisherman to come and loan me his trademark outfit.

And for some reason, the heavy rain did NOT in the least cause a decline in the crazy driving out there. One guy parked his car in the middle of the street, and got out to walk his daughter across the other lane and onto the sidewalk. Even with me shouting, "Sir, you need to move your car -- there are six cars behind you!" he just nodded at me and said, "I know," and then proceeded to do exactly what he was already doing.

Oh well, I'd still take that crosswalk job over the gym monitoring job any day of the week. It might be wetter, but it's still a lot more fun.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Popular Page

Wow, it would seem that my "Welcome to school" letter post from last week is quite the attention getter! The number of hits to my blog has risen dramatically over the past week, and over half of them are as a result of search engine queries looking specifically for such a letter. Well, perhaps those people were looking for a more serious welcome letter, but they served on in to my version.

At least I finally have a search string that is beating out the infamous "kids go pee pee" related searches...

Just as a reminder, you can still enter to win a free T-shirt (selections seen in the sidebar) by checking out my Learn Me Good YouTube videos, and posting a comment. You can get up to four entries by posting a comment on each of the four videos. The deadline for entry is October 15, but don't wait until the last minute!

Also, please vote for Learn Me Good at the Blogger's Choice Awards!!!

Monday, September 03, 2007

I chew-chew-chews you

Last week, I did an introductory science experiment with my classes. It was called the Bubble Gum Lab. In addition to the fact that it was listed on our curriculum planning guide, I thought it was important to conduct this experiment because of a question that popped up on last year's science benchmark test.

"Mrs. Flower's class was conducting a bubble gum experiment. They wanted to see what would happen to the mass of a piece of bubble gum when it is chewed. What is the best hypothesis for this experiment?

A) the mass of the bubble gum will increase.
B) the mass of the bubble gum will decrease.
C) the mass of the bubble gum will stay the same.
D) the mass of the bubble gum will change color."

I might not have gotten the wording of the question exactly right, but it did basically boil down to, "Which would be the best hypothesis?" Now my fellow science teachers can help me out here, but I'm pretty sure that when it comes to hypotheses, there really are no better or worse. A hypothesis is merely a prediction that you hope to prove or disprove over the course of your experiment. If you already knew what was going to happen, you wouldn't be making a hypothesis -- you would be stating a conclusion or a fact.

So it seems to me that this is a horrendous question. But since I am merely a commonplace third-grade teacher (ie, lowly peon), no one who actually writes these tests listens or responds when I bring this up.

SO, when I saw the Bubble Gum Lab listed as an opening week activity, I decided that my kids should definitely have the experience and know the conclusion, just in case this awful question rears its head once again on the benchmark.

On Thursday, I passed out spiral notebooks to be used as science journals, and together, we wrote out all of the introductory steps. Problem, hypothesis, materials, procedure. The hypothesis was, "I think that the mass of the bubble gum will _____________ when it is chewed." I let each kid fill in their own blank with their own opinion, with the choices being increase, decrease, or stay the same. Thankfully, no one even suggested "change color" as an option. When I took a quick poll in each class, the three options all had takers, and there was no overwhelming favorite.

On Friday, we actually carried out the experiment. I'm sure that the intention of the original writers of this lab was to have each individual child weigh their unchewed piece of gum, then again weigh their piece of gum after each minute of chewing, but I calculated that if we did it that way, it would take us roughly 217,089 minutes of class time. I figured we didn't really have that much time, so I decided that all of the kids would be able to do the chewing part, but that everyone could watch as I weighed my piece of gum each time.

So I borrowed a triple-beam balance from the fifth-grade science lab (yes, for our THIRD grade experiment, a triple-beam balance was indeed specified). And I went out and bought a few packs of Orbitz chewing gum.

When I pulled the packs out of my desk and started to unwrap the container, several kids called out, "What flavor did you get?" I replied, "Lemon-lime," and suddenly there was a unified chorus going, "OOOOOOOOOOOOOHHHHHHH!"

You would have thought that I had just parachuted out of a helicopter and into the classroom, holding a ginormous bag of cash in one hand and a PlayStation 3 in the other.

I had somebody pass out a piece of gum to everyone, while I set the balance up on a table in front of everyone. The first step of our procedure was to unwrap the piece of gum, so we all did that, and no less than eight kids in each class held the wrapper up to their nose, inhaled deeply, and then shuddered with satisfaction. I know it sounds vulgar, but it really did remind me of Booger from Revenge of the Nerds, sniffing a pair of unmentionables after the panty raid on the girls' dormitory.

Moving on from that disturbing image, the kids held onto their gum while I weighed my piece on the balance in front of them. I called out the measurement, and everybody wrote the number down into their Results table in their science journals.

Then we started chewing. We used the red second hand on the wall clock to chew for exactly one minute. At the end of one minute, everyone took the piece back out of their mouth, and the kids held their own pieces of gum while I weighed mine.

During this time, many of the kids commented on the flavor of the gum. There was one or two comments along the lines of, "Thanks, Mister Teacher -- this gum tastes great!" But most of the comments were more like, "This tastes SOOOOOOO good...." -- spoken in a tone of voice that I would more commonly relate to a nicotine addict who has involuntarily gone an entire weekend without access to their smokes.

After the first minute, we chewed for another minute and weighed again. Chew, weigh, record. Chew, weigh, record. Lather, rinse, repeat. We did this until we had officially chewed the gum for five minutes.

And you know what our conclusion was? It certainly wasn't what I was expecting. The mass of the gum DECREASED -- by about half of its original mass!

With my morning class, I let the kids continue to chew their gum until it was time to switch to their other teacher. Then I held the trash can for them to spit out their gum as they filed past me out the door. However, my afternoon class and I finished the experiment at about 2:55, so we really hustled to get everything ready to get out to the buses to go home, and I forgot to have them spit out their gum before they left.

As we were walking down the hall to get outside, the PE coach noticed, and asked one of the kids, "So they're letting you chew gum now?" I heard him and replied, "Yeah, it's for science."

Like that's just the world's greatest blanket explanation for everything.

If my kids picked up on that, I can imagine hearing about this conversation next week:

Teacher: Did you just kick him in the privates??
Student: Yeah, it's for science.
Teacher: Oh, OK then. Carry on.

At any rate, it was a nice way to end what had been a very frustrating first week of school. And who knows, maybe my kids even learn something -- I know I did. Now we'll just see if that awful question pops up once again on the benchmark test, or if someone with sense has actually changed it.

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