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Thursday, December 29, 2011

2011 Year in Review

It's almost the end of 2011, and as has become tradition, I've put together a little year-end wrap-up. Enjoy, and be safe during the remaining holidays!

January –

Mrs. Teacher and I kicked off the new year in downtown Dallas, first celebrating a good friend’s birthday then watching the fireworks from Victory Plaza outside of the American Airlines Center.

Grades for the evening – Company: A+ Dinner: B+ Fireworks: A Smell of the DART Rail System return ride home: C-

I surprised Mrs. Teacher by taking her to a quaint little bed and breakfast for her birthday. Unfortunately, to get TO the B&B, we had to drive through the seediest part of Ft. Worth, leading Mrs. T to think I had “scored” something else entirely.

Later in the month, the world was rocked when the Astrological Grand Poobahs declared that there would now be THIRTEEN horoscope signs instead of twelve. Suddenly, I went from not knowing or caring what my sign was to not knowing or caring what an Ophiucus was.

February –

The first day of February was also the first of an unprecedented FIVE days of inclement weather and no school. We played in the snow, we built a snowman, and we cultivated a four-foot long icicle. We were both reminded of WHY you don’t eat the yellow snow.

For Valentine’s Day, I went online, taught myself a new recipe, and served Mrs. T a lovely Italian dinner of chicken parmigiana, spaghetti, and white wine. Proud of my new trick, we had chicken parm three times a week for the next 6 months until Mrs. T finally screamed, “ENOUGH!!”

Mid-month, I took the online Jeopardy! contestant test (for roughly the 13th time). Once again, even through a mere digital avatar, Alex Trebek someone made me feel like a complete idiot.

March –

March is the month of Spring Break, and this year we took a trip down to scenic Glen Rose, TX to witness some good friends get married. The weather was incredible for a lovely outdoor reception by the river, and Mrs. Teacher and I even began a heart-warming new tradition, one which didn’t include cigarettes, swamp water, OR small mammals.

We came home one day to find our front yard torn up and our sprinkler system disarrayed, all courtesy of city workers. Turns out they were pouring a new incline at the curb corners for handicap accessibility. I haven’t seen too many people in wheel chairs use these inclines since, but I sure do get sweet air whenever I jump my Huffy now.

Self-proclaimed Warlock Charlie Sheen told everyone who would listen that he was “WINNING,” but the real winners were college basketball fans. After years and years of getting it wrong, CBS finally got it right and aired every minute of every single March Madness tournament game. The world may end in 2012, but Heaven had arrived in 2011. Still getting it wrong – Billy “Fudge” Packer, who insisted that without being TOLD which game to watch, the general populace would fall into chaos.

April –

Once again, the dreaded TAKS reared its ugly head, like a door-to-door salesman who just won’t take, “Not interested,” “No thank you,” or, “My gecko has knocked the lamp over and now my baby is on fire!” for an answer. To the relief of some, it was announced that this would be the last year for the TAKS. Next year, it will be replaced by the STAAR test, proving that spelling will most definitely not be a major factor during testing.

Having made it through most of the school year without catching anything major, in April, I contracted Strep Throat not once, but TWICE in a row. One of my friends jokingly compared this to someone winning the lottery twice in a row and how lucky that made me. I promptly licked that friend’s fork and coughed in his face.

On a seasonably warm evening in late April, it suddenly occurred to me how simple it would be to develop a low-cost, environmentally-friendly, renewable power source for future automobiles. But right then, an episode of Wipe Out came on, and the big red balls completely wiped the idea from my mind. Oh well.

May –

In early May, Mrs. Teacher made a major life decision and changed her hair color from blonde to brunette. Her students were not fooled for a second, and they continued to give her hell. Several of our more distant, less observant acquaintances, however, did think that I had traded in one wife for another.

It was perfect weather on the day we attended the Wildflower Festival in Richardson with some friends. The headliner of the evening was REO Speed Wagon (just one stop on their “Remember us? PLEASE!” Tour), but we bypassed those geriatric crooners to take in a truly awesome Bee Gees cover band. We were staying alive with ridiculous falsettos all night long.

Over Memorial Day, with less than a week to go in the school year, I decided to invest in red pen stock. My reasoning (from experience) being that there will ALWAYS be kids whose tests scream to be canvases for red ink.

June –

The end of the school year finally came, but Mrs. T and I did something very different this year. We actually worked summer school. Well, not truly summer school, but each of our schools had a short summer camp, and we both signed on. It’s unbelievable how refreshing it is to work with kids when there are no standardized tests looming ominously in the distance.

After summer camp and as the summer vacation began, we had a wildly successful garage sale. Clothes, kitchenware, movies, and more flew out of our carport, finally allowing me to park my car indoors as well. The chances of my remaining three hubcaps being stolen immediately decreased significantly.

Midway through the month, we FINALLY met our neighbors from the house two doors down. Not that we had Google Earthed the neighborhood when we moved in to see which houses had pools and then stalked them for months to get on their good side or anything…

July –

On July 2, Mrs. Teacher and I celebrated our one year wedding anniversary. To everyone who said we wouldn’t last a year – SUCK IT!! We spent the night in the same hotel where we stayed our wedding night, and a few days later celebrated Independence Day with a really cool air show and fireworks display in Addison. We also managed to survive random fireworks set off for the length of that week by our new neighbor friends with the pool.

Proving once and for all that she truly loves me, Mrs. T agreed to undergo a road trip with me. During the last two weeks of July, we visited Charleston, Durham, Ashville, and DC. We caught up with old friends, and even made new ones during a two-hour stop down on I-95. To the lady in the blue halter-top, standing up through your sunroof while honking incessantly the whole time – stay classy, tiger.

While in DC, we saw the final performance of Rock of Ages, featuring Mrs. Teacher’s crush – Constantine Mariachiopolis. She even got to meet him after the show, and somehow her glazed eyes and ear-to-ear smile didn’t make him run away in fear for his life.

August –

The heat in Texas continued to rise, and while we missed setting a record string of 100+ degree days by a single day, we most definitely set a record for FaceBook pictures showing car thermometers with triple digits. Good times, good times.

On the first day of the new school year, I released my second book – Learn Me Gooder. My older nephew, Ethan, graciously agreed to appear on the cover with me, and upon seeing the cover for the first time, my younger nephew, Josh, noted, “That’s Ethan, and that’s Uncle John – with a RED face!”

School year ’11-’12 began, and Mrs. Teacher and I both worked hard to get to know our new classes and bond with our new kids. Days later, we worked even harder to keep getting up and going to work and not cause bodily harm to those new kids.

September –

While I was watching Monday Night Football, Mrs. T came into the living room and handed me something that looked like a blue highlighter. I took it, realized it was a pregnancy test, quickly taught myself how to READ a pregnancy test, and discovered that we were going to have a baby! The names “Krzyzewski,” “Boba Fett,” “Snake Eyes,” and “Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged” were quickly suggested and summarily rejected.

(I did some quick math and ruled on the possibility of it being Constantine Marigoldilalaland’s child.)

This exciting news did put just a LITTLE bit of a damper on our September tradition of wine sampling at Grapefest. However, we had already paid for it, so we still went, and while Mrs. Teacher did not drink, she WAS able to get samples at each booth and pass them over to me. Therefore, BEST. GRAPEFEST. EVER!! We ran into some old Grapefest friends and made some new ones, and nobody puked on anybody else.

Someone passed on an article that described some people who had a fear of ketchup. Good thing they don’t have a fear of being mocked mercilessly, because that would be a nasty double whammy.

October –

Midway through the month, we attended a Murder Mystery Dinner with a group of friends, one of whom was having a birthday. Though it took a while to warm to the prospect of “interrogating” fellow guests for clues, we eventually lost our shyness and grilled a few suspects. Unfortunately, the first guy I probed for answers turned out not to even be one of the main characters. Our guess for the murderer ultimately proved incorrect, but after loudly arguing and haranguing the host for 45 minutes, the fact that we were thrown out and ordered never to return proves that deep down, they knew our scenario was better than theirs.

At the end of the month, our neighbors threw a Halloween party, and we all went dressed as Justice League characters. Mrs. Teacher and I were Supergirl and the Flash, and neighbors included Batman, Robin, and Wonder Woman. Conspicuously absent – Gleek and the Wonder Twins.

October marked a new life experience for me as, one day while bored, I cut through a tin can AND a tomato in the same setting.

November –

After having Mrs. Teacher’s old condo on the market for nearly a year, we FINALLY had a buyer in November. Sure, the guy whittled the price down so much so that we metaphorically had to sit crying in the shower for an hour afterwards, but the money pit was finally off our hands. The day before closing, I left a special housewarming gift in the condo for the new owner. Wonder if he’s discovered where that smell is coming from yet.

We celebrated Thanksgiving with Mrs. Teacher’s parents down in Blanco (now with TWO stoplights!). We all drove in to Fredericksburg the evening after for a musical performance at the Rock Box Theater, which was highly enjoyable. On the way home, several suicidal deer jumped out in front of me, but thanks to my lightning-fast reflexes and my inherent dislike of venison, those deer did not meet their maker that night. I may have crushed a careless turtle, though.

Two days after Thanksgiving, I was visited by the 69-year-old version of myself, using a time machine that I will apparently co-create with Mark Cuban, Papa John, and The Situation. I told myself that the Kardashians WOULD eventually go away, and I was very relieved.

December –

Choosing to be surprised earlier than later, we learned that our growing “quark” was a boy! Mrs. Teacher was just a little disappointed at first, as she really wanted to be the one to break the “Pearson curse,” while I breathed a sigh of relief that our child would never appear on an episode of Toddlers and Tiaras.

Mrs. Teacher and I once again split the Christmas holiday with our families, spending Christmas Eve in Arlington with my folks, Christmas Day in Blanco with her folks, and roughly 3 hours on I-35 with random folks. Upon arriving in Blanco, we found a rifle laid out on the bed. I think that if my father-in-law did that to send a message, he is the worst procrastinator in the universe.

We plan on finishing out the year by having a nice, laid-back, quiet evening at home, relaxing and enjoying each other’s company. Oh, and finishing off the 2 gallons of blue drinks left over from our Christmas party. Well, ONE of us will be drinking them, anyway.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas party gems

Friday was our last day of school before the Christmas Break, and there were SEVERAL stand-out moments from the day to last in memory for some time to come. I thought I'd take a minute and list some of them...

- I wrote the daily word problem on the board to include the name of 3 of Santa's reindeer -- Blitzen, Comet, and Dasher. The kids had no earthly idea who these were, and to my amazement, there was only one kid in each class who had even heard of RUDOLPH!!

- A little girl gave me a candy bar, something called a Bubu Jubu or Lubee Boobee or something. It was a chocolate covered, marshmallow and jelly candy. Pretty tasty. When we left the room to walk to PE, I told the little girl that it was tasty and thanked her. The little girl in front of her heard me and said, "I gave that candy to her this morning." RE-GIFTER!!

- Before our party started, I asked the kids to write one thing they had learned about Force (our science focus for the past few weeks) on a notecard. One boy wrote, "I lern Force is so good to hos." Somehow managing not to bust out laughing, I asked him to read his sentence to me, and he said, "I learned Force is good to us." Someone really needs to focus on their spelling.

- The holiday party time was very clearly set at 1:00 - 2:45, according to mandate by our principal. Why then, was there a fire drill at 1:30???

- During our party time, my room was where the games were being played. One group was playing a money-related game that apparently was missing some coins. A student came up and told me, "We don't have any sense!" (cents)

- Another boy asked if he could have an empty bottle to play truth or dare. When I asked (for my own curiosity) how one played such a game, he basically explained the game of Spin the Bottle (minus the kissing) to me. Needless to say, I did NOT provide a bottle.

- At 3:05, right as I started calling kids to line up at the door, a child handed me about 20 envelopes with kids' names on them. He told me that another child had brought them and wanted to pass them out. Way to not wait till the last minute. And no, I didn't even get an envelope myself...

Enjoy your time off, and Merry Christmas, everyone!!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Break it down!

'Twas the night before Christmas (Break), and all through the house,
Just one creature was blogging, while using his mouse.

Tomorrow is our last school day before break, day 77 for anyone who is counting. You would think 77 days would be a long enough time period to establish a routine or two, but my kids seem to take the adage "Every day is a NEW day" QUITE literally. Still, we will be having a little bit of a party after lunch tomorrow. Nothing major, just some fun time for games and snacks.

On the way out the door, one girl asked if she could bring Twister. I told her that she could, but not to expect me to play. My body doesn't contort like that anymore -- not that it ever did.

I know that some teachers are still teaching through mid or even ALL of next week. I feel for you, I really do. But hey, at least you will be out of school for longer than I am at the beginning of 2012.

Lastly, please be sure to check out Carol's latest Carnival of Education, where she's listed her 12 favorite bloggers. Look who scored the "Golden Rings" position! WOOT!!

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Vote for a teacher!

The good folks at Worth Ave. Group are sponsoring a contest to give away a few nice hefty technology grants to America's favorite teachers. Check out their Giveaway page, and see how you can vote for your favorite teacher (or even get yourself nominated!).

Monday, December 05, 2011

Sounds like a Plan

We frequently do word problems in class. And the method that we enforce is called UPSC, which stands for Understand, Plan, Solve, and Check. (We actually say U-P-S-Check) Not that any of the kids will actually USE UPSC on a test, when I'm not physically in the room with them, but it's a pretty darn good solving model.

Today, I was midway through walking the kids through the solution of our word problem, when lunch time arrived. We had already filled out the Understand box, and we had reasoned out whether our initial Plan should be to add or subtract.

In the Plan box, I wrote "Add," followed by the usuals -- "Draw a picture," and "Number sentence." Then I wrote, "Go to lunch," as I announced it was time to eat.

Let's just hope none of the kids actually ever write "Go to lunch" as their plan during a test!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Lord, give me the length...

Our focus for this week in science is strength and direction of forces.

This morning, when I asked my homeroom what "strength" meant, I was met with nothing but blank faces. Of course, I often encounter this even when I ask what "subtraction" means, as my homeroom tends to be a really lazy, really low, really apathetic group.

I prodded the group by asking, "Doesn't this word sound a little bit like 'length?'"

"Oh yeah!" they replied.

"And do we remember what 'length' means?" I asked, fully expecting for them NOT to, as they did NOT remember what congruent or symmetry meant earlier.

But a few did venture, "How long?"

So I tried to scaffold even further -- "So if Length means how Long, and they both start with the same letter... then maybe STRength means...?"

Almost all of the kids shouted, proudly even, "How long!!"

I'm gonna need to get me some extra long Tylenol for the rest of this year...

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Christmas time is almost here!

Hey everyone,

It's time to get your Christmas shopping done, so I'd like to make aLinkvailable a couple of ideas for your loved ones.

First, I still have a wide variety of T-shirts and such at the Spreadshirt store, including the phrases, "I teach, therefore I am... poor," "Houston, we have a word problem," and "You give math a bad name"

Secondly, I'd love to send you a signed copy of Learn Me Good or Learn Me Gooder! Just shoot me a comment or an email letting me know what you'd like, and I can get them in the mail in time to beat the holiday rush. You'd be getting the author's signature PLUS beating the Amazon price...

Happy week back to school!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Girl with the Turkey Tattoo

Hey all,

It's Thanksgiving Thursday, and I've been fighting off the turkey sweats and tryptophan coma, watching my fantasy football team get obliterated, and I've seen countless commercials for a certain movie, so my blog post title was chosen accordingly.

It sure has been nice having this whole week off, even if there isn't a whole lot to do at the in-laws'. But I figured it's a good time to reflect on what I'm thankful for, and share a few of those things here.

Things I am thankful for:

1) My (bratty) wife, who insisted she be number one on this list
2) My family
3) My little wingnut, arriving in May
4) My job (and by extension, my income)
5) My students (or to be completely honest, SOME of my students)
6) My friends
7) Learn Me Good Groupies (Both of you)
8) My house
9) My health, even when it's hidden under a hacking cough, watery eyes, and enough mucous to choke a walrus
10) Cheez-its
11) Sweet tea vodka
12) The Big Bang Theory and Modern Family
13) Duke basketball dominance

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! And to all a good night!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Extra information, begone

Sometimes I cringe to think about the way I used to have the kids solve word problems. In our standard problem solving model, where the first "box" requires the kids to write down important information from the problems, I would have them start at the beginning of the story and write all of the numbers with their corresponding units. But this can lead to a really packed, overbogged-down first box...

Last week, I gave the kids this problem:

Mr. Teacher has 37 hats, 28 baseballs, 19 gloves, and $640.00. He bought 3 cookies for 50 cents each. How many more hats does he have than gloves?

With my OLD technique for problem solving, most of my kids probably would have bogged down on all of the extra information. But with the NEW way, nearly everyone in the class got the question correct.

Now, instead of starting at the beginning, I have the kids start at the end. They always write the QUESTION first, and then focus in on the unit that the question is asking them to count. In this case, it's only hats and gloves. The kids were able to ignore the baseballs, the dollars, and the cookies.

The few kids who DIDN'T get the question correct are the ones who still think "how many more" is a prompt to add instead of subtract.

I have a low group of kids this year, and they have trouble retaining concepts. But they are definitely getting better at problem solving, especially when the target the question and the important units first.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

No bout a doubt it

Thanks to Matthew at Look at My Happy Rainbow, I have a new top blog to check out on a regular basis.Link

He posted an excerpt on Facebook from Heidisongs Resources, the blog of Heidi Butkus. I have to share this excerpt as well, because it is fantastic. While Heidi (and Matthew) teaches kindergarten, and does NOT like to be told that teaching older kids (or adults) is the same -- I think we can safely apply much of what she says to all of elementary school.

This is her list of...

The Top Ten Signs You Work in Public School

1. The best person that can be found to teach K/1 teachers how to teach any subject is someone who has only taught high school.
2. If you were to add up the hours it takes to teach all of the required lessons in all of the teachers manuals in all of the subjects, they would total more than 22 hours of direct instruction per day.
3. Your current reading program is very similar to one that you have used before, way back two generations ago when the curricular pendulum swung the other direction. (I guess the advantage is that if you don’t like what you currently have, wait around for a couple of years and another curriculum or theory du jour will be in vogue to take its place!)
4. The curriculum that was chosen for you to use in Kindergarten was based on how well it works in some other grade level.
5. There is a teacher at your school that regularly calls in sick more days than she actually teaches, and somehow manages to hang on to her job.
6. You have had an LCD projector mounted on your ceiling for two years, but there is no money for a screen so you cannot use it. Or vise versa.
7. Three years after you have been given a new math program, they find the money to train you on how to use it.
8. Your legislature is thinking of increasing your hours but not your pay.
9. You know what your kids need to learn, but you don’t have time to do it because of all of the required programs.
10. The best way to make sure your kids learn (and therefore keep your job) is to close your door and do what you know works for your students!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Pardon the Interruption

Lately, we've been having a lot of interruptions at my school. I'm not talking about the kind that involves little Billy bursting into tears because he's shoved a crayon up his nose, or rabid opossums wandering into the classroom and curling up in a basket of place value blocks.

No, these interruptions are coming from the front office. Throughout the day, there seems to be an endless stream of announcements over the PA.

"Time to pick up the kids."
"Send some kids to pick up fliers."
"We need this form filled out by noon today."
"Whoever left the severed head in the teacher's lounge refrigerator -- very funny."

Being in the full swing of a fantastic fantasy football season, I started thinking how it might be nice to apply some NFL rules to our school's front office.

NFL coaches get 3 challenge flags to use throughout a game. If they make a challenge in error, they lose one of their time-outs.

I propose that our administrators be allotted 3 announcements to use throughout a school WEEK. Any of those 3 PA announcements that is deemed by the faculty to be unnecessary or irrelevant will result in the loss of an after-school meeting.


We were talking about simple machines in science class today. Actually, before I even mentioned simple machines, I tried to "engage" them by presenting a scenario. I said that we had a 200-lb box on the floor that we needed to put on the top of a shelf. I asked them to brainstorm with their group all of the possible ways that we could get that box up to the top of the shelf.

Most of the solutions involved lifting the box. Either 10-12 kids could lift the box at the same time, or Big Show of pro wrestling fame could come in and lift it for us.

But then a couple of kids suggested using a lever, and I was very impressed. They didn't use the WORD "lever," but what they were describing was most definitely a lever.

One boy's action plan was hilarious. He said, "Here's what we're gonna do. We're gonna get a big board and put it on a rock like a see saw. Then we put the box on one side of the board. Then we drop a BIIIGGGG rock onto the other side, and the box gonna fly up to the shelf."

I started to thank him for his input, but he was lost in thought, stroking his chin, muttering, "... or maybe we have a really fat kid jump on the other side..."

FINALLY! The kids are starting to THINK in my class! Let no one interrupt them!!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Flintstones chewable ginseng

Tutoring started this week, so now I get to answer the question, "Is today tutoring?" about 512 times every day. I would normally expect my kids to remember that Tuesday and Thursday are the tutoring days, but since I have proof that some of my kids cannot even remember how OLD they are, I have no aspirations that they will remember which days are tutoring days.

Seriously, I have at least one child who doesn't know how old she is. We went to the library to browse at the Book Fair yesterday after lunch, and this little girl brought a book to me. She asked if she could write down the price so that she could remember how much to bring the next day. I saw that it was $7.99, so I THOUGHT I could help her easily remember how much to bring. I asked her, "How old are you?" (thinking she would say 8) She replied, "I do not know. My mother never told me."

The librarian looked at me in horror, and I just sighed and said, "Yeah, that's my life this year."

Back to tutoring, I worked with a group of kids today that were also suffering from Youth Alzheimer's. I asked them to "find the sum" of two numbers -- something we have been doing all year long. They looked at me as if I had said, "Jibberjab the doohickey." In Russian.

After reminding them that "Sum" means the answer to an addition problem, I asked the point blank what "sum" meant. Dasvidaniya, all over again. And again, and again.

After tutoring, only 2 of the 4 tutoring buses were on time. Most of the teachers were herding the kids into two lines to wait for those two remaining buses. "Herding" is the perfect word for that, because these kids definitely have a herd mentality. After waiting for about 10 minutes in a line, they bolted wildly for the street as soon as they saw the bus pull up. Any semblance of a line was gone, and it was every kid for himself. Including my new friend, "Steven Segall," the 2nd grader who likes to chew on acorns and draw all over his own face with a magic marker.

As I hurried after the herd, I passed one of the buses that had been sitting there for a while, and as I glanced in, I saw a kid (who obviously did not see me) stand up and shout, "SHIT!!" Not in anger, not in pain, not in surprise -- he said it like he was taking it for a test drive.

Which made me wish that kids would try out new academic vocabulary with the fervor and frequency that they try out the forbidden vocabulary. I think I need to start using math words in the context of curse words to try to entice the kids to start saying them.

"Sum you!"
"Go estimate yourself!"
"Son of a difference!"

I came home today with a pounding headache. I am super thankful that tomorrow is Friday. Which, despite the confusion, is NOT a tutoring day.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Working for the weekend

Man, is it nice to sleep in on Saturday (unlike my poor wife who had to get up and go to a math training today).

A few quick hits today.

First, speaking of my wife, we had an ultrasound done last Friday, and it was pretty spectacular to see our little 8-week-old wingnut, looking like a little spaceship from the old arcade game Defender. He's got a pretty huge head, and a really rapid heart beat. I'm guessing he'll be a ten-pounder at least, like his old man.

Next up, a friendly reminder and request to everyone who got a free copy of Learn Me Gooder a few weeks ago. Please don't forget to write a review online when you are finished. So far, only about 3 people have made good on that exchange. Thanks to those 3!!

I encourage everyone to check out the current Carnival of Education over at Bell Ringers. Carol is great about including posts from Learn Me Good, even when I forget to submit one! Thanks, Carol!

The Teachers Certification Degrees site has included Learn Me Good on its list of Top 50 Elementary Teacher Blogs. It's really just an honor to be nominated.

And finally, a few quick hits from the week at school:

-- The "Fruits and Vegetables" program has been upped to TWO days a week this year. So yesterday at around 2, we were asked by PA (it was either the 2nd or 3rd of about 5 announcements in the afternoon, but we're very "flexible" that way) to send a couple of kids to the cafeteria to get the veggies and then to let the kids eat them in class. This is because the kids have proven a tendency to use the veggies as projectiles when allowed to take them on the bus. My two gophers returned with buckets to broccoli and cauliflower. YUMMY!!
Oh, and the stuff was STILL all over the floor in the 5th grade hallway at the end of the day.

-- We practiced measuring, with a tape measure, this week. The kids enjoyed it. We measured body parts (get your mind out of the gutter) and then turned that data into bar graphs. In fact, I was in the process of demonstrating how to measure the circumference of one's thigh when the fruit and vegetable announcement came on. I now have proof that my thigh is bigger around than most kids' heads.

-- In my latest attempt to get my homeroom to actually participate in class, I made an appeal to the "excellent students" in the class. Without naming any names, and without visibly averting my eyes from kids I know NOT to be excellent students, I asked the "excellent students" in the class to please help me out by actively monitoring their partners while we did boardwork. I think this may have helped a bit. We'll see.

-- The kids SEEMED to grasp how to make change after we practiced, practiced, practiced nearly all day Monday and Tuesday, but on the quiz I gave yesterday, it became clear that most of them had forgotten again. In a scenario where two apples are being bought for 65 cents each, and a $5 bill is being produced to pay for them, a couple of kids STILL tried to add 65 + 2, many kids added the two apples but left that as their answer (not the change received), and a few still think you should subtract items you are buying. In this case, that means 65 - 65, resulting in the opinion that ONE apple costs you money, but buying TWO apples gets you both of them for free.
Is it any wonder our economy is in the toilet?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The money train has passed us by

I've learned over the past few days that my kids have absolutely no working knowledge whatsoever of money. Sure, most of them can identify a penny and a dime, but how it works in the real world, they are clueless.

Or WERE, I should say (and I should hope), after two intense days of money boot camp. Monday, they were telling me that they would subtract to find the total amount spent at a store and add to find change. Today, some of them were still telling me the same, but many were starting to catch on. Tomorrow, I have no doubt that some of them will stick to their story (after all, Youth Alzheimers DOES seem to be rampant in my class this year), but hopefully most of them will have mastered it.

I put a menu up on the board today (coke -- $2, hot dog -- $4, massive headache -- priceless) and started assigning them tiny little projects based on that menu and piles of fake money on their desks. I gave them a certain amount of money and a food order (2 hot dogs, 4 cokes, 2 chips, and a cookie) and their group had to figure out how much change they would get back if they bought that order. It took a while, but they finally started to get it, for the most part.

I still did have a few kids trying to subtract 17-40 or trying to find change by subtracting their food total minus the price of one hot dog, but overall, by the third mini-challenge, most groups seemed to be getting it.

Though the actual USE of money still eludes some. One boy asked, "You can buy something with five dollars?" in a tone of voice that suggested that I was telling him that skunks provided the best floral-scented handsoap. I asked him, "Have you seriously never seen a commercial for Subway sandwiches?"

To which the other kids chimed in, "YEAH! 5... 5 dollar... 5 dollar footlongs!"

Of course, by the time I see them tomorrow, they will have slept (presumably), so it might have flown out the window. I did have one little girl who was absent Thursday take a make-up quiz on rounding this morning. The first question said, "Round 583 to the nearest hundred." This little girl started writing, "5 - odd; 8 - even; 3 - odd." When I pointed out the word "Round" and asked her to ROUND, she told me, "I do not remember rounding." This is something we did all last week, but she's completely forgotten the skill already.

I really do NOT have high hopes for the STAAR this year...

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Night and Day differences

Teaching two sections of 3rd grade, I've often commented on how the 2 classes seem like entirely different entities. But never so much as this year.

One of my classes gets into the lessons, almost everyone participates, they listen and remember, and they give me a standing ovation when I announce that I'm passing out homework.

The other class contains only about 3 kids who participate on a regular basis, they often forget things that we've discussed ten minutes prior, and they seem to be recess-resistant.

The second six weeks of school began yesterday, so my partner and I flip-flopped the order of classes. I now have HIS homeroom in the morning and MY homeroom in the afternoon.

The past two mornings have been wonderful. The kids have brought their completed homework, we've had plenty of time for science as well as math, and the kids can tell me that estimating means the same thing as rounding, and that both terms mean choosing a close number to make math easier.

Yesterday afternoon on the other hand was nearly fatal to me, and today was only slightly better. Only 6 kids out of 20 did last night's homework correctly and/or completely, we squandered yesterday's science time ENTIRELY because no one would admit to saying something (5 kids finally admitted it, after 15 minutes of stonewalling), and the kids tell me that estimating means the same thing as rounding, and both terms mean... estimating. Or rounding.

My homeroom is also the one that, when they DO participate, tell me random math words in the hopes that one of them will be the answer to my question.

Me: "What math word means the answer to a subtraction problem?"
Kid 1: "Expanded form!"
Kid 2: "Estimate!"
Kid 3: "In all!"
Kid 4: "Estimate!"

Last week, our Daily Depositor had two addends that ended with an 8. I asked the kids what we called it when we are adding the same number twice (having seen a SECOND grade friend whose kids all seemed to grasp doubles pretty firmly).

One little kid, A, raised his hand triumphantly and answered, "Regroup!"

Later, when we had just written a number in word form and I asked what form the original number was in (standard form), I saw several hands go up, including A's. I said, "And please don't say 'Total,' or 'Sum.'"

A's hand slowly went down as the most dejected look formed on his face. Poor kid.

Report cards come out next week, and 7 of my homeroom kids are failing math. And every day, on the drive home, I hear in my head the voice of the woman who gave a presentation on the new STAAR test -- "This test will really evaluate the LEVEL of your teaching!"

And every time I hear her say that in my head, it pisses me off just a little bit more. The level of my teaching isn't the full problem here, or (dare I say) even most of the problem. The level of attention and retention of many of my kids is the problem here.

Here's hoping that one day soon, I will stumble upon SOME motivation or incentive that will actually matter to these kids. I'm going through my bag of tricks pretty quick here...

October quick hits

Catching up time here. I've either been too busy, despondent, or hungry to post much lately, and a little housekeeping is in order.

First of all, I have put the Kindle edition of Learn Me Gooder and the Nook edition of Learn Me Gooder on sale for only 99 cents through this coming Sunday, October 9. If you haven't snatched it up yet, please do so now, and tell all your friends that have an e-reader!

Secondly, a big thank you to those of you who have made good on your end of the free-book-for-a-review swap that I offered last week. I really appreciate it! And for anyone who is able, please copy your review onto! Thanks!

Nextly, Carol of Bellringers was kind enough to include one of my posts in the latest Carnival of Education, so here's a little linky love for the Carnival.

Lastly, a big shout out to Paula at who featured Learn Me Gooder on her site today! If you have a Kindle, you HAVE to have dailycheapreads bookmarked!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Um, that wasn't the question...

There's a local radio station here in Dallas called The Ticket that had a really funny interaction a few years ago, and they still play the clip every once in a while. One of the radio guys was interviewing the chief of police, and he asked him, "So do you like your gig?"

The police chief replied, "Yes, I love my job!"

The radio guy immediately cut him off from replying further, saying, "That wasn't the question. Do you like your JOB?"

I had an interaction in class today that made me wonder if I wasn't aware myself of the questions I was asking.

Pretty sure I was asking the right questions, but the kids weren't answering the questions I was asking. Like grand master chess wizards, they were already thinking 5 moves ahead, and answering 5 questions down the road.

I'm giving them LOTS of credit here...

We have a routine called Daily Depositor. We have a running total of the days of school so far. So on day 1, the total was 1. On day 2, the total was 2+1, or 3. On day 3, the total was 3+3, or 6. And so on. Each day, we add the current school day to the existing total to get a new total. While doing this, we've been using the words Sum and Total.

Today, our existing total was 300, and it was the 25th day of school. I made the comment that whenever I saw the number 25, it made me think of something else, something that I carry around in my pocket, see almost every day, and sometimes use in the store. I asked, "Does this number make YOU think of anything like that?"

I called on the first kid with hand raised. "Sum?" she ventured.

"Um, is a SUM a thing you carry in your pocket? What does this specific number, 25, make you think of?" I asked.

I called on another kid. "Total?"

"No." Pretty much my response.

I don't want to leave anybody in suspense, so I'll reveal right now what answer I was actually looking for:

The password is... QUARTER.

Some kids FINALLY narrowed it down to money that I was looking for. But the scope remained wide.

"Twenty-five monies?"

"Twenty-five dollars?"

And then the one that I almost cracked up on... I called on one kid, who stood up and formally responded, "Twenty-five dollars, put on a credit card."

Somebody FINALLY guessed quarter, after what seemed like an eternity. Then we were able to check the addition problem and move on to the question that had been prematurely answered twice -- "And what do we have now that we have added?"


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Who wants to read?

I've been thinking it over lately, and I've decided to go ahead and do it. It worked (somewhat) with the first one, so maybe it'll work with this one.

From now through the end of September (that means midnight this Friday), I will email a copy of Learn Me Gooder to anyone who sends me an email (learnmegood2 AT yahoo DOT com) asking for one. The catch is, I am asking you, if you do read that email copy, to then write a review of it on Amazon and/or B&

Of course, if you REALLY like it, I'd love it if you spread the word to friends and family (yours, not mine), join my facebook page, request a copy at your local library(s), and write letters to Entertainment Weekly asking them for a 2-page spread featuring my books.

But I'm going on good will and honesty here, so if you ask for a copy, I'm trusting you to follow through with the review later. Good or bad. Just honest.

Thanks in advance, and you're welcome in advance.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

On a dime

It's truly amazing how quickly things can change, on a dime, as the old saying goes. This week has proven that.

Monday was one of the most frustrating days of the year. The High Level Task was a difficult one -- it would have been difficult for a class of high-achieving, non-apathetic, English as a First Language students -- and it drained me. It drained my energy, my patience, and our class time. Just going over the directions took forever. I wanted them to repeat the directions to me, in their own words, to make sure they understood what to do. So we spent a LONG time on each step of the directions. Then we did a couple of example steps, so they would know how they were supposed to record their explorations.

Finally, I gave them the green light to start the task with their groups. With most groups, you would have thought I had merely handed them the paper and said, "Go."

Most of the class (BOTH classes) were utterly clueless. They didn't know what to do, they were moving their token the wrong way on the 1,000 scroll, they were either not recording things at all, or recording them the wrong way.

I was majorly frustrated.

Then on Tuesday, something clicked. The kids were participating. They were telling me correct answers. They were showing their work on the paper. We seemed to have achieved something.

Wednesday was great, too. It was a review day for the Unit 1 post-test. We went over place value, pictographs, number forms, greater than and less than, number patterns. The kids were telling me how to show their work. They were creating and labeling pictographs. They seemed completely set for today's test.

Then Bam, they must have hit another dime. I was again majorly frustrated today, this time with their efforts on the test. Granted, some of the kids did a great job, but in the case of my morning class especially, I was mentally screaming as I walked around the room seeing kid after kid filling in answer bubbles with absolutely no work shown. The second question was a pictograph - something we had JUST done so well on the day before - and only a handful of students were labeling the pictures before choosing an answer.

Even when I made a big deal about NOT just choosing an answer choice without showing any work, I still had kids who just filled in a bubble and then waited for the next question.

If looks could kill, I'd have multiple counts of manslaughter against me today.

Thankfully, they can't, so I just have multiple fragments of a major headache.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Morning sickness

Just a couple of quick hits today:

First, the new Carnival of Education is up and running over at Bellringers. The theme is Meet the Teacher Night, and there are several great posts to check out.

Next up, I had to call in sick yesterday due to feeling like crap. Felt like it today too, but since the doctor told me yesterday that I didn't have strep, I figured I needed to go and face the children.

However, the best piece of news I got also came yesterday, when my wife and I went to HER doctor and confirmed that she (my wife, not the doctor) is indeed pregnant! I'm gonna have a kiddo of my own!

I'm thankful for the last nine years of seeing various examples of how NOT to raise a child. I can't wait to be a father! :)

Monday, September 12, 2011

I say "math," you say "YES!"

As is so often the case, my morning and afternoon classes seem to be so widely different in their attitude and attention. In my morning class, I feel like I spend more than half my time BEGGING the kids to answer questions. I could ask, "What is 1 + 1?" in that class, and only 3 hands would go up. Out of 20. The same 3 that ALWAYS go up. If I call on one of the other 17, odds are that that kid will stare at me -- either because he/she didn't even hear the question, he/she has no interest whatsoever in even attempting to answer the question, or he/she truly does not know how to add one and one.

In my afternoon class, usually when I ask a question, nearly half the hands go up, and a good 3/4 of the OTHER half at least appears to be thinking about the answer. There are really only about 5 kids in there (out of 22) that have the apathy of the morning group.

Today, the afternoon class gave me a giggle. Right before we went to lunch, I said to the class, "When we come back from lunch, we are going to continue talking about..."

I trailed off, because the kid sitting closest to me appeared to be having an epileptic seizure, albeit the happiest, most attention-seeking seizure ever. As I gave him, "The Look," one of the other kids tried to finish my sentence.

"Math?" he said.

I kind of smirked at that. "Well, yes, we ARE going to continue talking about math," I began, intending to finish with the intended statement about pictographs, which we had begun on Friday. I was unable to finish my sentence though, because at that point, I was interrupted by a smattering of applause.

The kids were clapping because we were going to continue talking about math. In math class!!

When I did continue with pictographs, I got even more cheering. Over half of the hands went up when I asked who remembered what a pictograph was.

In the morning class, only 1 kid could tell me what a pictograph was.


During a small group activity today, one of my kids was stuck on 15 + 4. I had finally gotten him to stack the numbers vertically so that he was just adding the 5 and the 4 in the ones place, but he was stumped. He was staring at it, not writing anything, not making any move to write anything, possibly not even contemplating the solution. I stood by him and asked what 5+4 was, and he just stared. Most kids, even the strugglers, would start counting on their fingers, but he was showing no signs of having ANY addition experience at all.

I asked him to hold up five fingers with one hand. Then I asked him to hold up four fingers with the other hand. Then I asked him how many fingers he was holding up.

"Five and four," he replied.

"OK, and how many is that altogether?"

"Five and four."

It took me about one and three minutes to finally get a total out of him.

It's been a VERY challenging year...

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Old habits are born hard

I just finished grading the math test we gave yesterday at the end of the first 3rd weeks. This was a short, 5-question test that covered a few pretty basic topics that we've been going over. One question was about place value, one was expanded form, one was word form, one was a number pattern, and one was completing a piece of a hundreds chart.

Overall, I can't be too displeased with the grades. There were several 100s, which is always nice. I made a HUGE deal while monitoring the test about how I would be taking off points if work was not shown. We've talked about making place value charts, displaying the rule for a number pattern, etc. I did have to CONSTANTLY remind certain kids of this possible point deduction throughout the course of the test, but it does seem to have sunk in with several of the kids. Nobody made a 100 who didn't display their thinking and work.

Usually, at the beginning of the year, getting the kids to show their work is like pulling teeth or catching a leprechaun. VERY difficult and arduous. It's been no different this year. The homework situation has NOT been pretty. But this test I graded shows me that the tide IS turning.

That's always a positive note.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Worrisome curriculum

I'm having a bit of trouble with our new math curriculum. I actually like how detailed it is, and how there's a pretty good script to follow for talking with the kids. However, I don't always feel like I'm getting a lot accomplished.

The big push this year is to implement a lot of "High Level Tasks" or HLTs (not to be confused with TLC). The tasks themselves have been interesting enough, but they seem more designed for a class full of take charge, go-getter, ACTIVELY PARTICIPATING students, as opposed to newly minted, reluctant, shy, often-lazy 3rd graders.

Several times, the kids have not completed the task in the time allotted. Including today, when I even broke down and modeled the first part for them (after seeing absolutely no progress for the first 15 minutes) -- then proceeded to see a few instances of decent partner work, but little to no recording on paper.

When we DO finish the task (and even when we don't), there's almost no time left for anything else. I typically like to have some time to spiral back on what we've done before so they don't forget; to practice things in a slightly different way; to work with small groups of lower kids; to go over HW when it applies, etc. But there's just no time allotted for that with this new curriculum.

We also apparently don't even get around to covering addition and subtraction until the end of this first 6-weeks period. And I have a LOT of kids who don't know how to subtract, or even how to align numbers vertically to add them.

Today was the 12th day of classes. It has been a very stressful 12 days of school so far. I haven't even gone into all of the "stuff" (being nice here) that's being asked of us outside of the actual teaching.

Anybody else out there want to sound off about your year so far?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Identity Crisis

The second week of school is off with a bang. A kid fell down in front of me today and somehow lost his pants -- seriously, there was suddenly a full butt staring us all in the face. Another kid told me that it's probably ok to inhale strange chemicals in science class because you might get super powers. One of my little girls who can barely be heard when she speaks in class was the one yelling at the top of her lungs in the bathroom after lunch.

A relatively short post today, so I thought I'd supplement it with a freebie chapter from Learn Me Gooder (available now!). Thankfully, I haven't had anyone this year that doesn't seem to know their own name, but I certainly did once...

Date: Monday, September 14, 2009

To: Fred Bommerson

From: Jack Woodson

Subject: Identity Crisis

Hey bud,

That’s right, I called Priya a time sink. Heat sinks, which we are intimately familiar with, draw away heat from a source. Time sinks, like certain children I know, draw away valuable min-utes from a lesson, dispersing them to the four winds, never to be reclaimed again. My time sinks are highly efficient, too!

Once again, it’s Monday, and as some people my parents’ age once sang – Monday, Monday, can’t trust that day. As opposed to Friday, which I would trust with my life, my banking password, and my vintage Star Wars action figure collection.

Still, the Mondays of this year, as well as most every day, have been made brighter by a certain ray of sunshine in my class. Her name is Katie, and she always seems to have a smile on her face. There have been several mornings when I have been ticked off well before 8:15 am – kids not having their homework, kids somehow needing to trade pencils ten times in ten minutes, kids insisting a triangle has four sides – and when I’ve walked around the room like a sourpuss. On these occasions, Katie always has a way of looking up from her morning work, catching my eye, flashing her brilliant smile, and then going right back to work.

After that, there’s just no way I can remain angry. At least not until Lakeisha opens her mouth again.

If Katie is the ray of sunshine, then the new kid I got today is the flashlight beam through murky water.

Ever since school started, I’ve been hearing about this new kid that I was supposed to get named Kevin. He’s a special ed kid, so Ms. Hamm and Miss Knox have been coordinating things and heralding his arrival.

First, it was, “Kev will be here on Thursday.” Then, “Kevin will be here next Tuesday.” Finally, “We’re really not sure why Kev isn’t here yet.”

At long last, Kevin showed up today. I saw the new kid in my line this morning, and I greeted him warmly with the name I had heard most often. “Hi! You must be Kev!”

DaQuayvius immediately corrected me – “It’s Kevin!”

I sometimes think DaQuayvius must have thirty fingers, because he seems to have a finger in everyone’s business. I have no doubt he knows Kevin’s entire life story after spending a mere twenty minutes with him in the gym.

I gave DaQuayvius a quick stink eye then asked the new boy, “What do you prefer to be called, Kevin or Kev?”

He mulled it over then answered, “Well, sometimes people call me Kevin, and some people call me Kev. But my real name is Anferny. My mom just likes how Kevin sounds.”

Not once had I heard the name “Anferny” mentioned in any discussions about this kid, so I had my suspicions. I asked him, “So what should I call you – Kevin or Kev?”

He replied, “Anferny.”

OK, we have a winner. For the next thirty minutes, I called him Anferny. “Anferny, do you have a pencil?” “Anferny, come and get a math journal.” “Did you learn how many cents are in a dollar at your old school, Anferny?”

At about half past eight, Miss Knox dropped by to see how the new kid was doing. When I told her about the name change, her mouth dropped, and she took “Anferny” out into the hallway to speak with him. A couple of minutes later, they came back into my classroom, and the little boy said to me with a sheepish grin, “You can call me Kev now.”


If this happens again tomorrow, I’m going to make an executive decision and start calling him Doofenshmirtz.

After helping “Kev” with his identity crisis this morning, it seemed a little anti-climactic that our after school staff meeting would be all about the Campus Crisis Plan. Back in mid-August, we were each given a document roughly the size of the Greater Chicago Area phone directory and told to memorize it. This document was the Crisis Plan, and in brief, it tells us what to do in the case that a crazed gunman or bomb-toting maniac wanders into our school. Basically, we lock the doors, pull the blinds, and cower beneath our desks. Oh, and we are also supposed to slide a special green laminated card under our door into the hallway, telling everyone that we are A-OK.

Not surprisingly, many of us were wondering just who was going to see that sign, if we were all locked in our rooms. Are we putting out the sign for the benefit of the maniac stalking the halls? If so, should it really be the green sign, or the red “All is NOT OK” card? Or do we slide out the green one, and then once the maniac starts trying to break down our door, slide out the red one – real subtle-like?

In order to test our new knowledge, we played a mock version of Jeopardy. Hopefully, I am not the only one who saw the irony in this.

Not that it’s a bad idea to have a crisis plan on hand. It might have been nice to have one at HPU that time the guy crashed his cocaine-laden SUV into the corner of our offices and then ran off into the sand pit next door. Though it was exciting for all of us to stand around on the delivery dock in back watching the police search the area with dogs and helicopters, I think that if there had been a crisis plan in place, you never would have dared me to rip my shirt off and run wildly across the parking lot. Of course, if I had taken your dare, I doubt I would be here writing you this email right now.

I might instead be trying to convince some scary person that my name really is Anferny as I subtly slide a red laminated card under the door.

See ya later,

Dan Jerzone