Friday, December 21, 2007

Screaming meme

Thanks for the tag, Ms. Friz. Okay, think think think ....

1. It's my birthday tomorrow!! I will be spending it in the airport.
2. I have read Harry Potter books 1-5 in Spanish. The first one I read was Book 2, the British version, which I bought when I was in Israel.
3. I live with two males. One of them is a box turtle. We know he is a male because he has red eyes.
4. Teaching is something I've wanted to do all my life, but never thought I'd actually do.
5. My uncle is the National Hydrographer.
6. I can do the hustle, the moonwalk, the hora, the audition number from 42nd Street, the merengue, the pas de chat, the cotton eye joe, and the last-day-of-school-before-winter-break dance.
7. I took a year off between high school and college, and take every opportunity I get to advise high schoolers to do the same.

Pass it on, Assorted Stuff, Frum Teacher, History is Elementary, Midwest Teacher, NYC Educator, Ms. Whatsit, and a first year teacher over at EdWize! Here are the rules:

- Link to the person that tagged you and post the rules on your blog.
- Share 7 random and or weird things about yourself.
- Tag 7 random people at the end of your post and include links to their blogs.
- Let each person know that they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

Dementors Mating ...

... is the only explanation for the weather we're having.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Ice Fog

Woke up this morning to the woman on the radio saying there was "ice fog" going on. I've never heard of such a scary-sounding weather condition.

I feel like I'm in some sort of Super Mario ice world, and ever day is some new strange challenge level. Maybe tomorrow it will be bouncing fireballs.

Monday, December 10, 2007


Let's say you have a student whose name is Joel. He's the kind of student who doesn't make it easy for you to love him. But you try and you try, and eventually you do love him. He tries back, and finally it's December, and he still may not be turning in all of his assignments, but some of the ones he does turn in are pure gold.

Now, suddenly, his mom gets a new job in another part of town, and he has to switch schools. On his last day of school he is:

a) proud and all smiles, reflecting on how far he's come and saying goodbye to his friends.
b) a total demon from hell, reminiscent of the beginning of the school year.

In my case it's answer b). What happened?? Why, Joel, why?

Thursday, December 06, 2007


It's alive. Or, Am I really going to eat this?

A coworker gave me a "starter" baggie for "Amish Friendship Bread." There's some kind of yeast or something living in there that froths, and you feed it sugar, flour and milk for ten days, and then you can make it into a babka-like treat.

I'm familiar with the concept of a sourdough starter, and I can basically get the science behind it. But that doesn't really explain how I'm going to leave milky dough sitting out on my counter for ten days and avoid a) a major stink, and b) a foul-tasting end product. Any insights?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Teen depression

I feel awful for the victims of today's mall shooting and also awful for the teen who's suspected of committing it. I feel awful for my students who are so full of scary feelings they don't know what to do, and for the ones who deal with it with drugs and alcohol. I feel awful for the ones who don't have parents around to notice when they're not doing okay. I feel awful for the student who it turns out was suddenly taken off his Zoloft.

There are some things you can't put a positive spin on

Here in the Twin Cities we've gotten around 8-9 inches of snow in the past five days, with more coming tomorrow. Needless to say it has impacted commuters. During the hour I spent in the car on my way home today (a trip that usually takes me 25 minutes), I heard my buddy on Classical Minnesota Public Radio say something like this:
You know, this morning I was out shoveling snow, digging out my car before dawn. It was this really beautiful scene: a sliver of moon in the sky, a few stars, my shovel, and me, on a fine brisk morning. Well, there is going to be more shoveling in store for everyone out there tomorrow.
Call me crazy, but when the temperature is in the single digits, that no longer counts as "brisk."

Friday, November 30, 2007

The Recruit

I've never known anyone who's gotten involved in a cult. But I'm getting that kind of vibe with one of my seniors who is planning to join the military - let's call him Pete. Pete had taken the ACT and was the only one to have also taken the SAT, and was planning to apply to college and study criminal justice, when he got a call from a recruiter. Now he's far more motivated to decrease his time running the mile than increase his chance of getting into college.

My political views aside, I actually support going into the military for some of my students. It is a great way to get job training and money for college. If that's what they want to do, I believe it is my job as the career advisor to help them do it. But something about this situation makes me nervous. Pete's gone from a kid who spends his time writing college admissions essays to one who walks around wearing Army paraphernalia and thinking about where he'd like to be based when he's not in Iraq.

The No Child Left Behind Act tied Title I funding to schools handing over students' information for military recruiting. (You can opt out, and many families do, even in my gung-ho military community.) It would be one thing if that information was going to people whose primary concern was teens' best interest, or even national security. Instead, I've learned, military recruiters get paid for filling certain quotas for certain positions, and they can use some questionable means to do so. One of my students' fathers was an Army recruiter for 30 years, and warned me not to let any student speak with a military recruiter without talking to him first.

I don't know what the recruiters say to my students, but obviously it's much cooler than what I or their parents have to say. There's nothing new about teens not wanting to listen to their parents or teachers. But still I get this cultish feeling. I'm nagged by a story of a former student who was contacted by a recruiter. The recruiter was planning to throw him a big 18th birthday party with all of his friends, but told him not to tell his parents. The idea was that they would have him sign all the papers the minute he turned 18. Long story short, a teacher found out about it and told the parents, who put the kibosh on the idea. The recruiter apparently wigged out on the kid, calling him parts of the female genitalia.

Anyway, I had a parent-teacher conference today with Pete and his dad, during which Pete said there is a "100% chance" he will go to Iraq. The parents are against it but Pete will be 18 in a few months. My concern is not to keep Pete from joining the Army, but to help him make a rational decision that will put him on a good career path and minimize his chances of injury.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Climate change made real

The school of bloggers are back from Atlanta, where we spent Thanksgiving with tons of uncles and aunts and second cousins and so forth. Being in a place with such a threatened water supply left made me acutely aware of how much water I use every hour of the day.

My Uncle Steve (the national hydrographer) and my Uncle Eddie and Aunt Paula, who used to live up there, took a trip up to Lake Lanier. The lake is a major source of water for the northern suburbs, but is said to have less than 80 days worth of water supply left. They took pictures, including this one:

It's sad that this is what it took, but I'm finally forced to think "do I REALLY need to use water right now?" each time I turn on the faucet.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Charter renewal

My school's going through its charter renewal now. Very different from the charter renewal process in New York, which was a yearlong, ulcer-inducing gauntlet for the schools I worked with there.

Our sponsor (or authorizer), the local school district, hired a team of three current and former teachers and administrators to conduct the site visit. Today, Day 1 of their two-day visit, they met with school leaders, students, and parents. After school they met with the teachers (no school leaders) and asked us some general questions about the school model. Tomorrow they will be sitting in on classes.

No one seems too concerned about the charter getting renewed. Stay tuned.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Or, as my students would probably prefer, Guns, Guns and Guns

The Global Studies class I'm team-teaching is starting to read Guns, Germs and Steel this week. I think a few kids will be okay with the reading level, but the majority will struggle. So I'm looking for some sort of teaching guide for the book -- finding nothing.

Anyone know of anything out there? Anyone ever used this book with high schoolers? Am I crazy?

One thing I did was to prepare students for some of the big themes in the book using an anticipation guide. These were the questions:
Agree/disagree: The way the world is today COULD NOT be any different than it is: history follows a set course.

Agree/disagree: It's possible that things could have worked out differently in history and our world would be a very different place.

Agree/disagree: There couldn't be a world without "winners" and "losers:" someone has to win and someone has to lose.

Agree/disagree: It's possible for the world to exist without "winners" and "losers."

Agree/disagree: A person's or group's success in life depends on genetics.

Agree/disagree: A person's or group's success in life depends on what resources they grow up with.

BTW, I know this book is problematic in many ways. But I think that it's a great entry point for advanced high schoolers into a critical understanding of history, and while the reading level is difficult, it's within their "zone of proximal development." (My, I'm going crazy with the education school lingo today!)

Saturday, November 10, 2007


Thank you for reading my mind (and posting it on the internet).

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Happiness ...

... is taking a mental health day.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Trial update

We put Christopher Columbus on trial this past week. The verdict: Guilty.

Who, me?


First of all, I have to recommend the Mill City Museum to my fellow Twin Cities social studies teachers. Small and manageable, the museum does a good job of providing a coherent (if a bit monochromatic) narrative of the city's history. I'd bring students here for examples of material culture and oral history, or for a unit on urban planning and geography.

The School of Bloggers had a lovely day walking around downtown yesterday to the museum from the central library (which I also hope to make into a field trip someday). At the museum, we found ourselves on a double date with a Minnesota Timberwolves player and his (much shorter) female companion.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Hyperbole at the World Series

Last night on FOX I heard the Red Sox announcer call John Williams "the epitome of our culture."

I like John Williams as much as anyone -- I will inevitably like a movie if he is the composer, even if it's The Patriot. But the epitome of our culture?

Sadly, I think if anything is the epitome of our culture it's FOX.

Monday, October 22, 2007


Usually the unsolicited emails we get at theschoolofblog AT gmail DOT com are pretty relevant to our interests. A tip of the hat to the people who troll blogs and manually enter in email addresses to send out press releases on various to-dos.

The most recent one, however, is sort of puzzling and also intriguing: Announces North America’s Oldest Appliance Contest, an appliance parts website, announces North America’s Oldest Appliance Contest. Visitors to the site can enter to win $15,000 in Cash and Prizes.

Buffalo, NY October 15, 2007 – announces North America’s Oldest Appliance Contest. Do you know of an old appliance? We want to see it!


North America’s Oldest Appliance Contest is a nationwide call to find the oldest appliance, working or not, in the United States or Canada. Contestants wishing to enter should send a 2 minute video of themselves and their appliance to .

The contest has six categories and each will have a winner. The grand prize winner with the Absolute Oldest Appliance will win Three Brand New Whirlpool Appliances plus $1,000 in Cash! There will also be winners for the Oldest Refrigerator, Oldest Range, Oldest Dryer and Oldest Washer.


For More Information:

Christine Smith


Even though this is sort of weird and random, I am actually really interested in seeing North America's oldest appliance!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Airport Airblade Air-someness

The bathrooms in the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport have gotten a lot of publicity lately. (My favorite was a song Garrison Keillor sang a few weeks ago -- listen to it here, it's right after the shout-outs.)

But what the bathrooms REALLY should be famous for is having the BEST HAND DRYERS OF ALL TIME.

I have never looked forward to using a bathroom hand dryer before. Now I'm considering taking a trip down to the airport just to use it.

Friday, October 12, 2007


So in my Early American History class we're putting Columbus on trial. I got the idea from the teacher I worked with last year and also from the book Rethinking Columbus, but I'm still finding myself making everything up from scratch. So any resources you all might have would be very welcome!

Last class I had the defense and prosecution teams come up with a list of witnesses. The jury members each had to come up with an identity (past, present, real, fictional, etc). Before they did that I had them examine these images:

(actually it was a different illustration from this same book)

I had planned to hold the debate ON Columbus Day (which we do not have off), but like everything else that plan ganged aft agley.

P.S., in my insomnia I finally got around to updating my blogroll! Apologies to anyone I've left off.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Pence saved are pence earned

I just bought the new Radiohead album for ₤0.65.

I feel like I'm taking part in a big Econ 1 experiment.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

National Anti-Quartering Association

Gotta find some way to work this article into a lesson ...

Friday, October 05, 2007

History alive

I'm team teaching a course in which the students are looking at epidemics in history (bubonic plague, smallpox, TB, etc), leading up to an intensive study of the current AIDS crisis. This was all going to lead up to an event called Peace Jam in the spring, where students would have the opportunity to meet Desmond Tutu.

Now it's not clear if he's going to be able to speak. He's been uninvited from the University of St. Thomas, where Peace Jam is scheduled to take place.

Tutu was uninvited because of this:
The mention of Hitler in the speech comes during a section in which Tutu urged the audience not to assume that the status quo lasts forever, and in which he urged those listening to challenge to “Jewish lobby” in the United States. “People are scared in this country [U.S.], to say wrong is wrong because the Jewish lobby is powerful, very powerful. Well, so what? This is God‘s world. For goodness sake, this is God‘s world. We live in a moral universe. The apartheid government was very powerful, but today it no longer exists. Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Pinochet, Milosevic, and Idi Amin were all powerful, but in the end, they bit the dust.”
I'd be REALLY bummed if the students did not get to meet Tutu. But as a Jewish person with extremely conflicted feelings toward Israel, I'm finding this very hard to discuss with my students.

I am in complete agreement with Tutu (aside from his equating the pro-Israel lobby with the "Jewish lobby"). I find it to be a serious problem the way all conversation shuts down the moment it heads toward a certain comparison. I was once at a training session with a horrible organization called "The David Project" whose mission is to teach adults to work with students to reframe Israel as "David" and the Palestinians as "Goliath," rather than the other way around. At the training they went over how to teach students the "red lines" when it comes to discussing Israel, and what to do when another student crosses the line. Needless to say, one of those lines is any comparison between Israel and Nazi Germany. I was repulsed and offended by their curriculum.

So I support Tutu and oppose his St. Thomas ban on many levels, personal and professional. But when it came up in class today, I became very defensive.

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the other day a student at my school called a (non-Jewish) teacher a "fucking Jew," or that the kids have been known to use the phrase "That's so Jewish" (part of the South Park Syndrome). For some unknown reason, this brings out my defensive pro-Israel reflex.

Anyway, this is something I'm going to have to figure out if I am going to be a social studies teacher. Why am I as critical of Israel as can be when I'm among other Jewish people, but defensive and weird when I'm not?

Monday, October 01, 2007

Discipline part II

Thanks, Ms. Frizzle (or Ms. V) for the encouragement!

Last week was exhausting -- I didn't feel good about any of my classes. I felt like I had been teaching my students from one end of a long tunnel and none of it had reached them on the other side. It took me a while to figure out that part of the problem was classroom management. Even though they weren't being blatantly disruptive, the students weren't really paying attention.

So last night I started reading this book my mom gave me, Positive Classroom Discipline. The first couple of chapters are basically a Klutz Guide to classroom management. It goes through, step by step, how to use body language to communicate to students that you "mean business." There are detailed diagrams of teachers in 80s clothing and various serious faces and poses.

I was so relieved to learn that what I'd heard in grad school -- that if your curriculum is good enough, you won't have discipline problems -- is a myth. And it was really illuminating to see how my body language (smiling, averting my eyes, rushing around, etc) has been working against me.

So today I tried an experiment. I was at the door when the kids came into class giving them immediate instructions. I had them rearrange the tables and gave them new seating assignments. I stopped class whenever someone was not paying attention and practiced my serious face. It was EXHAUSTING. But the students in my classes were much more engaged.

They definitely chafed a bit at the new level of structure. We'll see how they react to day 2 of the experiment.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Saturday, September 22, 2007


With a week of teaching classes under my belt, I have learned a thing or two. One of the biggest things I learned this week was that, even though I'm tens of thousands of dollars in debt to Citibank, I am still very, very glad I got that master's in teaching. When I decided not to apply for emergency certification programs it was with the knowledge that I am a very, very bad improviser. I am still a very bad improviser. But now, when I don't know what to do, phrases like "sourcing heuristic" and "mentor text" come floating to my brain. I can also pull out some good sound bites from my student teaching cooperating teachers, like "I'm sorry, Kendra, can you repeat what you just said so that Joshua [pointing to inattentive or chatting student] can hear you?" Another thing that comes from student teaching is the assurance that even though things may be frustrating for a while, after some point I will love -- really love -- my students, and everything will just seem so much easier.

A goal for this year is to get better at thinking on my feet, rather than striking a doe-in-headlights pose when something foils my well-laid plans.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Kids and race

This article from The Nation about the "Jena Six," a group of African American students in Louisiana who face trial for retaliating against a student who made a racial slur, comes out at a really interesting time for me. (Disclosure: the writer of this article, Mark Sorkin, is my soon-to-be brother-in-law! He keeps the world up to date on juvenile justice issues on his blog.)

Last year, having only worked with New York City high school kids, I would not have believed teenagers capable of making the racial slurs that prompted the reaction of the Jena Six. After today, I can believe it. I can see something like this happening at my school.

I don't think my white students would ever intentionally make a racial slur against a peer. And I don't think that when they hung nooses from the "white-only tree," the members of the Jena High School rodeo team thought they were being racist. I think they thought they were making a joke.

How did these kids get to the point where they thought this extremely ugly act was an acceptable form of humor? One side of it is what I think of as the South Park Syndrome. Yes, I know how old-fogeyish it sounds, but I think shows like South Park and The Family Guy that make viewers laugh with the shockingly taboo are shaping how many teens in this country think about race -- in a very negative way.

Take a look at this clip from Family Guy, and if you want to be even more depressed, scroll down and take a look at how YouTube viewers responded to it. To me, the leap isn't so far from laughing at Kermit with a shotgun to hanging up nooses on a tree.

The other side of it is the fact that our students know this is supposed to be funny, but they don't really have enough knowledge to understand why it's so shocking. It's on TV, so it's okay to laugh at it. Maybe they have a little twinge of discomfort, like this kid, but they don't understand why this kind of humor is hurtful and harmful.

So the onus is on social studies teachers, I believe, to not only teach kids the historical context for these things, but also to give students the skills and safe space to really be able to think and speak about race.

Now the question is, HOW do we do that?


First day of classes was today. I learned many things on my first day as a classroom teacher, but probably the biggest (and hardest) lesson was this: teens from the Twin Cities suburbs are very different from teens in New York City.

Saturday, September 15, 2007


Now that we've had new student orientation, whole-school orientation, and a four day whole-school trip to Deep Portage, Monday is the actual "first day" of school as it will be for the rest of the year. This weekend I'm typing up syllabi for my three classes (early American history, reading/writing lab, and global studies) and planning for the first week.

I can't express enough gratitude to the people who set up and contribute to the Teachers Network website. There's a section for new teachers that's full of good, succinct advice. This one has been particularly useful. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Thursday, September 13, 2007


I hereby call on Chris to post about his first two weeks teaching undergraduates.

Also, it's his birthday today.

Monday, September 03, 2007

First Days

For those of you whose first day of school is tomorrow, have a wonderful day!!

We had three days of new student orientation last week, but tomorrow is the official first day of school for everyone. I celebrated by reading "The First Days of School" by Harry and Rosemary Wong. The book was given to me by a teacher who said she couldn't stand it and didn't want it on her bookshelf. Other teachers have told me it's the most important book on teaching they've ever read.

As I was just looking up the link on Amazon, I checked out reader comments -- they are similarly bipolar. One five-star review was titled "Don't Walk Into The Classroom Without This Book!," while a one-star review started with "If This Book Is Right, I Want To Be Wong."

Sunday, September 02, 2007


The school of bloggers saw many cool things at the Minnesota State Fair yesterday (including some things we could have lived without seeing, particularly in the "Miracle of Birth" building). But one of the coolest was this sign -- not just the big one, but the little one in the lower left corner. We knew Franken was good, but we were pleasantly surprised to see that "Team Franken" is supporting the striking AFSCME workers at the U of Minnesota.

Friday, August 31, 2007


Three days of school behind me, three days of weekend ahead of me.

This week we had "new student orientation." Working in a high school makes me so happy that I am no longer in high school. High school is tough! Especially when you're a new student. You're either a) trying to let everyone know real quick who you are and what you're all about, or b) desperately trying not to be noticed so that people won't figure out too soon who you are and what you're all about.

Meanwhile I planned an activity for them today where they worked in groups to create a three-minute presentation, which they then presented in front of all 40 new students. What you guys are probably thinking, which didn't occur to me, is that no high schooler is going to want to a) work in a group of strangers and b) do a presentation in front of a huge group of strangers. Oh my god, it was awful. Bless them, they all did the best they could, but I have never seen such mass anxiety.

Fortunately they all have three days to recover before they come back on Tuesday, where they'll be joined by a whole bunch of returning kids for the whole-school orientation.

High school: Less like this .....

... than like this:

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Continuing to pee in my pants with excitement

Good food for thought as I start my job as a career advisor: Minnesota teens do well on the ACT, but contrary to what the research department at ED thinks, most of the fastest-growing careers don't require a college education. Of course fastest-growing should never be confused with highest-paying, as University of Minnesota students will soon find out.

Monday and Tuesday we have parent-teacher-student conferences. Historically the school has had 100% attendance at these conferences, which is amazing considering that when I was in high school I would rather die than have my parents meet my teachers. Since I'm not a "base group advisor" I do not have to attend conferences, but I'll be on hand to answer questions about things like PSEO and college admissions, as well as the seminars I'll be teaching.

This time tomorrow I will have actually met students and families!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Charters in N.O.

In the most recent edition of The Nation, Michael Tisserand takes on the state of Louisiana's attempt to salvage public education in New Orleans through charter schools. One particularly poorly managed charter school is "but one battleground in what some are calling an education revolution." He goes on to imply that charter advocates jumped in to take advantage of an apocalyptic event and further their own goals of the privatization of public schools:
More recently, some advocates have argued that charters represent a superior way to run all public schools. Yet the results of national achievement tests have been inconclusive at best. Those wishing to forge ahead with a full-tilt charter revolution have also lacked a platform from which to launch their crusade. Then the floodwaters rose over New Orleans, sending some 65,000 public school students fleeing.
I tend to agree with Tisserand. The New Orleans charter move came from a sector of policymakers who view charters as "half a loaf," the whole loaf being vouchers and total school privatization. I think putting New Orleans public education in the hands of any nonprofit who stepped forward during a very traumatic time was an extremely misguided, but politically driven, thing to do.

What I don't like about this article is how familiar it sounds. It is basically an illustrated version of the AFT's talking points on charters (and I should know because I used to help write them). Take the argument that powerful people are intentionally starving non-charter public schools and fattening up charters, which don't educate the poorest kids, and which therefore have an unfair advantage in the school market. Tisserand writes that
By selective admissions, parental contracts and grade requirements, charter schools are able to "cream" their students not just by race and class but also by levels of parental involvement.
The New Orleans project, AND the Nation article, represent to me the worst thing about the charter movement in the U.S.: the partisan, Us vs. Them, unions vs. kids, private vs. public discussion. While accusations are being thrown around the think tanks of D.C., charter schools (as well as non-charter public schools) are quietly doing their thing for the benefit of countless needy kids. I'm afraid the lessons of N.O. will get lost in this discussion rather than contributing to a challenging discussion about how charters and districts can work together.

UPDATE: Please take a look at the thoughtful comment left by writer Michael Tisserand. Thanks, Michael, for pointing out where I quoted you out of context.

Staff development

Day 4 of staff development. Kids start making an appearance next week with parent/teacher conferences and a three-day new student orientation. I came home to work since my school is having computer issues and thought I'd write a quick little update.

I am peeing in my pants with excitement about the new school year. It's a new feeling for me to be overwhelmed with stuff to do, but not feel stressed or depressed about it.

During new student orientation, I will be subjecting some kids to the story "Everything Will Be Okay" by James Howe from the collection of memoirs When I Was Your Age. This collection is used a lot in reading-writing workshop, so some of you may have read the story. If you have, you know it is one of the saddest stories ever written. If you haven't, I'll limit myself to saying that it involves a boy who finds a sick, dying kitten in the woods. As Michael Vick could tell you, stories about the suffering of animals are MUCH sadder to the general public than stories about the suffering of humans. I read this story for the first time in a class full of eighth graders, and was only saved from bursting into tears in front of all of them by the lunch bell.

Anyway, that and many, many other things have to be planned, so I'll post another update when I can!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Eine kleine history lesson

The school of bloggers saw the musical 1776 last night at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. It was very, very good – surprisingly funny for a musical about the Second Continental Congress debating whether or not to declare independence from the British Empire. The best performance was by the guy playing Edward Rutledge, the delegate from South Carolina, in a number that charges the New England delegates with hypocrisy for condemning slavery, when they themselves profited from the Triangle Trade.

The production also included this great number, which was taken out of the film version at then-President Nixon’s request:

One more thing - an illustration of what one of my NYU profs called “the New York discount:” after we got our $20 rush tickets and were walking to the theater, I looked down at the tickets and noticed with dismay that their regular price was only $47. They can’t be very good seats, I thought. Then we got to our seats and they were four rows from the stage – we could see the spittle mists coming out of the actors mouths’ and the seams of their powdered wigs. Pretty amazing.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Check in

The School of Bloggers' hearts go out to everyone affected by the I-35W bridge collapse. Thankfully, Chris and I were at Yosemite that day, and no one we know is missing.

It has been a busy summer, which is my only excuse for being such a slacker blogger. I did attend a week-long conference on the EdVisions model of project-based learning held at the Minnesota New Country School. I met some amazing educators and can't wait for the school year to begin. But before that I'll be spending a week with my sister and new baby niece, Lila!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Dig if you will the picture

After three days of packing, two days of driving, and one day of puttering, I am here in my new apartment in Minneapolis. First thoughts:
  • Why don't there seem to be any banks in Minnesota that also have branches in New York? This is frustrating, but it is also oddly consistent with the fact that Minnesota does not have teacher certification reciprocity with any other state (certainly not New York).
  • I may have left Brooklyn, but I'm living in a neighborhood called Prospect Park and teaching in a suburb called Brooklyn Park.
  • In New York, where there are only a handful of Targets, my closest Target was a mere three subway stops away. In Minneapolis, the breeding ground of Targets, it's impossible to get to Target without a car. (Or bike, Chris says.)
Meanwhile, the weather is gorgeous, my new place is wonderful, the people are friendly, and the locals are concerned about the integrity of their children's small intestines. (And oncoming saw blades.)

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Who's the boss?

I think this is fascinating but I'm going to refrain from commenting on it, at least for the next two days.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The hardest thing ...

... about planning for the upcoming school year is knowing I won't be able to do everything in my first year that I've always wanted to do. I'm sure this is one of those times where I'll look back and laugh at myself for thinking so naively that it's going to be so easy to implement all these grand ideas, that the kids are going to love them, etc.

But for now I'm psyched. Stay tuned and maybe you'll get to see my descent into total cynicism and despair.

Anyway, one of my grand ideas, encouraged by NYU professor Diana Turk, is to base a quarter-long early U.S. history seminar around the study of material culture. The teacher finds a few really, really good artifacts and brings the objects (or good, clear images of them) into the students so that they can hold them, discuss them, write about them, and learn history through them. The idea is that kids will become experts in this particular method and will be psyched about doing the work of "real historians."

What I need to find are some really, really good artifacts. The class will cover the Americas: pre-colonization, colonization, and slavery. The Minnesota Historical Society has an online catalog of its holdings, which include numerous Ojibwe artifacts, but I haven't found anything quite awesome enough. I have a box of cotton bolls that I used in the eighth grade slavery unit, and it would be great to get a hold of some sugar cane. eBay has a lot of historical replicas, but I'm not sure if that will really do it.

So basically, this whole endeavor won't work if I can't find awesome enough items. Any suggestions you might have, any at all, would be extremely welcome!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Live Free or Die Hard

Prediction: this movie is going to keep New Hampshire social studies teachers busy clearing up confusion for decades to come.

Friday, June 15, 2007

It's hard out there ...

I saw a lot of cute and funny things yesterday as I was helping to score the DBQ/essay section of the eighth grade social studies test. The DBQ had to do with the Great Depression, and students did a great job of bringing in outside information. One kid, when discussing remedies to the Depression, repeatedly made reference to an economic strategy called "pimp-pump priming."

Her teacher remembered teaching them about "pump priming," but couldn't guess how the pimp got in there.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

All opposed, say NAEP

... sorry, that's the best NAEP joke I could come up with at 5 a.m.

Via Eduwonk, this post shows how the NAEP history test prepares students for the real world.

Seriously though, I think it's a bit of a stretch for ED to pat itself on the back for rising NAEP social studies scores. It's clear to anyone who's seen standardized social studies tests that they are 90% a test of literacy skills and 10% a test of social studies skills/content knowledge. But does ED really want to admit that? Also, in this statement Spellings is basically crowing about how social studies scores improved despite NCLB. But doesn't that raise the question of whether reading and math scores are improving despite NCLB as well?

On a related note, I'm going to be spending the day on Thursday helping to score New York State eighth grade social studies tests. I'll let you know how it goes.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Podcast update

We've spent the past two weeks putting together the WWI podcasts, and I think it has been a really good way to end the school year. Some kids weren't that into pretending to be reporters from the field, but a lot of them really got into it. They loved using Audacity, the (free) audio editing software we used. One student, who struggles in every one of his classes (and will not be moving on to 11th grade next year), shone on this project. Kids who otherwise would not be coming in for the last few days of school said they came in just to record.

Most groups have finished recording, editing, and adding sound effects, and are now working on the self-evaluation component. On Monday they're going to present them to each other.

Friday, June 01, 2007

The Treaty of Versace

... is going to be the title of the book I write someday aout funny ways kids mispronounce things in Global Studies.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Very exciting

I've accepted an offer for a social studies teaching position in the Twin Cities! My very first teaching job. It's at one of the project-based schools I was describing before, and I'll be teaching several seminars, including team-teaching a global studies humanities class.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Spellings and Stewart

This was surprisingly bearable. I still appreciate that she talks about "poor kids" but thought the way she and Stewart talked about teachers was weird.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

More on how people learn ...

I am so psyched about the project-based schools that are doing some really wonderful things for students in the Twin Cities. So far I have visited five of these schools, and I've been consistently impressed with the intelligence and collegiality of the staff, the high-level work and maturity of the students, and the general positive vibe at these schools.

Here's how it works: students enroll in the school (often after being unhappy or unsuccessful at a more traditional school) and are assigned an advisor. The advisor works with that student to come up with a "personalized learning plan" for how they're going to meet all the requirements for graduation. To meet those requirements, students must complete a certain number of projects that tie into specific standards and/or attend faculty-led "seminars," which are also project-based.

On a typical day, a student might come in, check in with her advisor, and then make herself a schedule for the day to indepedently work on her projects. Many of these schools also have required, structured math classes to make sure that students can pass the graduation test.

At a school I visited yesterday, one of the projects students had initiated and implemented was creating a student-run library. Global warming also seemed to be a common theme for projects this year.

Friday, May 18, 2007

"Truancy court"

Via the PEN NewsBlast, a very interesting feature about Seattle's answer to truancy, and more fodder for this discussion.

Thursday, May 17, 2007


Hey -- has anyone out there ever worked at, gone to, or sent a child to a Core Knowledge school? If so, please please email me at theschoolofblog AT gmail DOT com.

Thank you!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The purpose of public education

Via Eduwonk, a column by Diane Ravitcb against the Khalil Gibran International Academy charter school that will focus on Arabic language and culture in Brooklyn. Ravitch writes that
Our city contains immigrants from every nation in the world, who speak many different languages. If we were to create special schools for each group that wants to preserve its cultural heritage, it would be the end of the historic ideal of public education as a common training ground for future citizens.
First of all, I think it's important to note that this is already happening, de facto, in charter schools (and probably non-charter public schools) in New York City. I've written about this before -- sometimes groups tend to flock to certain schools, and those schools end up having a distinct ethnic or cultural character.

Second, this is also happening in charter schools around the country. I worked with a group in Philadelphia that was trying to start up a charter school to meet the needs of a large African immigrant population in West Philadelphia. The kids' needs were simply not being met in the traditional public schools.

And this seems to be what charter schools in the Twin Cities are all about. I visited a school there that was, as the director kept telling me, "100% Hmong"; a school where special hand-washing stations were built to facilitate the religious needs of Somali and Ethiopian students, who were a majority; a bilingual charter school created to celebrate Latino culture.

I felt that each school was teaching kids, as Ravitch says it is public schools' job to do, "to think critically about the world they live in and at the same time to prepare them to take responsibility as American citizens." But they also do what, in my mind, charter schools are supposed to do -- they meet the educational needs of kids whose needs aren't being met in the non-charter schools, as a result of a grassroots, community effort.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Dehumanizing kids

Something about this column, about a man who gets assaulted by some high school kids, makes me angry. For one thing, he could be talking about kids from the school where I'm student teaching -- we're a high school near Columbus Circle where the kids leave the building en masse around noon for lunch.

There's something about the author's portrayal of the kids that makes me angry. I would never want to blame the victim, and I'm sure what happened to him was frightening. But his characterization of the kids -- even before the attack -- makes it sound like to him, they're already junior prison inmates. His reference to them "counting chin-ups on the crossbeams" makes it sound like that activity isn't something any teenage boy would do given the proper terrain, but rather some sort of foreshadowing to the prison yard.

The image that accompanies the column shows a bunch of students with no faces, just nondescript clothing and hoodies. I walk around that same area every day and have never seen anything resembling what he describes.

That this man feels this way is one thing, but that the NY Times publishes it is another. I find it particularly disturbing following a recent conversation with a student who wasn't feeling well. I asked if he thought he'd have to go home.
"It depends on if I feel like getting picked up by Truancy."


"Truancy -- the cops that pick you up if you're not in school."

"Do they take you back to school?"

"Well, if they don't like your attitude they'll take you to the precinct and your parent will have to come get you."
I couldn't believe it when he said they take kids to the precinct for not being in school. To me this seems very, very wrong. Yes, truancy is a problem, but is the answer to give kids practice in what it feels like to be arrested? To treat them like criminals?

Meanwhile, the adults all around them treat them like they don't belong in the same vicinity as the Time Warner Center. The author of this column is so afraid he fantasizes about buying a switchblade and "gutting" the teenagers who messed with him. How could you have such a thought about a group of kids unless you barely thought they were human?

Friday, May 11, 2007

"Graffiti Hurts"

Just came across a really bizarre organization. Apparently graffiti is not only a crime, it's a moral hazard that only "quick and effective eradication" can prevent. Of course the most quick and effective method of eradication, according to the site, is using a lot of paint to cover the graffiti. Fortunately the organization receives funding from the Sherwin Williams Company.

The site even provides lesson plans for teachers to teach students "why graffiti is harmful to them, their neighborhood, and their community." Actually I would love to do one of the lessons with my students, which includes the following assignments:
  1. Students write a story, poem or essay that includes his/her feelings when seeing something defaced with graffiti.
  2. Students imagine they are a wall defaced with graffiti.
I think it would be a really interesting conversation.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

What I saw on the subway this morning

Good question

AFT Ed and Quick Sara pose a question that's been weighing on me recently. There was definitely a flaw in my plan to go to a private university in New York City and then leave the New York City school system.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

NCLB assessed

The Nation came out with a useful primer this week on the issues around NCLB, including an overview by Linda Darling-Hammond and responses by Pedro Noguera, Velma L. Cobb and Deborah Meier. All respondents seem to agree on the problems with NCLB, including the lack of focus on socioeconomic barriers to student achievement and the misplaced accountability scheme. As Noguera puts it:
In the area of accountability, NCLB has opted for the path of least resistance, holding accountable the most vulnerable (students) and the least protected (principals), but not other parties--elected officials, senior school administrators, teachers and parents.
Darling-Hammond makes several recommendations for how to fix NCLB, including a "continuous improvement model," rather than the Adequate Yearly Progress model of the current legislation, and more investment in teacher education.

How people learn?

My mom's third grade class recently read a story, Roxaboxen, about a group of kids who create an imaginary community in the desert. They thought it was so cool that, without any prompt from their teachers, they created their own Roxaboxen at the end of the soccer field during recess.

Other third graders have joined in. Their teachers stand back and watch while the 50 or so kids heft logs and branches to construct their community. The actual physical space is not too complex, mostly sticks, pine cones, rocks, and found objects. But little by little the kids are creating a highly complex society, including family units, currency, the media, an airport, and even war (or at least rumors of it). There is a law enforcement agency to keep away mean fifth graders.

The teachers have done nothing but facilitate a blog on the community's happenings. Still, my mom says that they have learned more at recess about how a community operates than any of her previous classes has learned in social studies.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

No, Joe!

Just read that the blogger formerly known as the Chalkboard is making his exit from our little blogging community and his entrance into a very important organization.

I'm a Democrat for education reform, Joe! If there's anything I can do from my perch out in Minnesota, let me know.

Literacy and social studies

As part of my job hunt I’ve been frequenting the job board at the Minnesota Association of Charter Schools. Today I went on and saw a social studies opening for Paideia Academy in Apple Valley. I got really psyched because of my associations with a school of a similar name in Atlanta, where the social studies courses are inquiry-based and connected to present day issues. I visited the MN school’s website expecting something along those lines.

Then I saw it. Core Knowledge.

I’ve tried to have an open mind about Core Knowledge, and I understand the whole idea that students need to have “cultural literacy” if they’re going to achieve high levels of literal literacy. I even heard E. D. Hirsch speak once at a panel on literacy during my glory days as an intern in D.C. But try as I might, I just don’t feel comfortable with it. Maybe I would need to see it in action, but I don’t understand how Core Knowledge can possibly work. In my experience, students learn and retain concepts best when they’re really interacting with the content, rather than simply copying down pre-written notes.

The Core Knowledge website has a sample unit on Imperialism for eighth grade social studies. The content in that unit is very similar to the content we are covering in our current unit on Imperialism with the ninth and tenth graders. But there’s something very different about the two units. Take, for example, their lesson on “White Man’s Burden” versus ours. For one thing, they have the students reading the actual Kipling poem, which, due to our students' reading levels, we forewent in favor of showing them this image:

Then there’s the discussion. In the Core Knowledge unit, the “discussion” consists of guiding students to understand the full historical context of this poem. Which is appropriate and fine. But there is no opportunity for students to grapple with the text on their own, to come up with theories and really understand the context.

When I did it with my class a couple of days ago, I had students look at the image with a partner and jot down things they noticed. This led into a discussion centering on how Europeans justified Imperialism. The students came up with all kinds of wild things I would never have thought of. One student was (and still is) convinced that the meaning of the document was that the Europeans were trying to bring soap to native peoples to lighten their skin. Her theory gave me the opportunity to clarify things a bit, but conceptually she also wasn’t so far off.

The discussion tied into our essential question, “why are there ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ in history?” The kids were able to think about the person who created this document and how he or she might answer that question.

At this point in my job search I don’t really feel like I can immediately discount any available social studies position. But I also have the feeling that I just wouldn’t be happy at a Core Knowledge school. If anyone has any positive things to say about CK that might change my mind, please post them!

Monday, April 30, 2007

Inclusion update

Today was Day 2 of our unintentional inclusion experiment. Day 1 didn't really count, since it was a rainy day and most of our new students didn't show up. Today they were all there, bringing our class sizes up to about 25 kids. I know some of you out there are probably saying "Cry me a river," but 25 big teenage bodies is a big difference from 20.

How did it go?

It was a challenge. The formerly-self-contained kids are used to a much different classroom environment. One reportedly commented that "our old teacher never used to make us do so much WORK!" Most are acclimating well, but others are bristling at being in a classroom where they aren't allowed to get up and walk around the classroom on impulse.

Stay tuned.

Unions and charters, part XVIII

Via Let's Get It Right, AFT President Ed McElroy's statement for National Charter Schools Week.

I'm curious to find out more about this:
To that end, the AFT also announced it is organizing a charter school teacher network – the Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff, or ACTS – to represent the interests of AFT-represented charter school educators nationwide.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Does inclusion work?

Tonight was the last night of my "Teaching Students with Special Needs" class, and as a final assessment we had a whole-class debate on the topic of "Does inclusion work?" Starting tomorrow I'm going to find out for real.

After I subbed in a self-contained class for a week and a half for a teacher who is not coming back, the final decision was to split the kids up and send them to the gen-ed global studies classes. We're getting 4-6 new kids in each of our classes starting tomorrow.

The one important thing that this situation is missing is the push-in support that makes inclusion work. So we will see what happens. Stay tuned.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Another request for help

Does anyone know anything about the Cristo Rey Network? If so, please email me at theschoolofblog AT gmail DOT com.


I’m currently taking a class on teaching students with special needs, which is, as our professor told us the first day, an “attitudes course” rather than a content course or methods course. We are learning the correct attitudes toward special education, primarily the idea that inclusion of students with special needs, rather than putting them in a self-contained class, is morally, legally, and in all other ways the right thing to do.

We’ll leave aside for now the weirdness of being in a class that teaches you, and assesses you on, a certain set of values.

After a week of substitute teaching a self-contained class, I no longer need to drink the Kool-Aid. I am a true believer.

I was really surprised to find out that the school where I’m student teaching, a progressive high school that is affiliated with the Coalition of Essential Schools, has these self-contained classes. Into these classes goes any student who may be difficult to teach, including English language learners, students with speech and language disorders, students who can’t sit still long enough to write down their name, and students with serious behavioral issues.

Despite all of this, I would say that the students in the self-contained class (those who didn’t cut class, anyway) learned as much about the Industrial Revolution last week as the students in my “regular” class. I had to make some modifications, but the content remained the same.

Still, it was the most exhausting week I have had so far. Their regular teacher broke her arm and decided not to come back for the rest of the year. I can see why. To have all of these students with all of these very different needs in one class is not fair for anybody. The kids are aware they’re in the “special class,” which does not encourage them to work hard or be nice.

When the principal announced that the regular teacher would not be coming back, the other teachers began to freak out. If a permanent replacement could not be found, then all of those students would be coming into their classes. I’m secretly hoping that this will be the case. In the meantime, I will continue to sub, and continue to do the best I can.

Modern day slavery

Kristof delivers a disturbing but wonderful and succinct account of modern day slavery. I would really like to find some way to work this into a lesson. We are about to start a unit on imperialism, which will lead into a unit on World War I.

Any ideas?

Saturday, April 21, 2007

On an unrelated note

I will admit it: every now and then I do something so stereotypically girly as to read the Weddings section of the New York Times. And I have to say, out of all of those heartwarming profiles, the best one I have ever read is this one: Laura Shoop and David Milowitz.

Rather than the usual riding-off-into-the-sunset fairy tale, Laura and David's story is one of indecision, insecurity, therapy, family conflict, doubting friends, and awkward moments.

I want to see Laura and David's love story in a romantic comedy. Working title: "All Right First Date."

Friday, April 20, 2007

Mortar bored?

BusinessWeek takes a look at online charter schools. It's particularly relevant for me since I had a conference call interview for an online charter school teaching position last night. Ultimately I decided that teaching outside of bricks-and-mortar schools is not for me at this stage in my career, but it was interesting to consider an alternative. I know online schools help a lot of kids who have some sort of physical, geographical, or some other barrier to schools of their choosing. I'm just too excited about having a little pile of bricks and mortar of my own.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Pangaea panacea

This is why I love working with teens: On days like this, sometimes the littlest thing a kid does can cheer me up. Today I was working with one student when another student walked in and asked, “You remember when – I mean, you’re not going to remember this, but – you know when all of the continents were one big continent? What was that called?”

Just the fact that he felt the need to clarify that he knew I wasn’t on this earth before continents existed makes me smile.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

"More pain ahead."

This is why I'm a little nervous about finding a teaching job in the Twin Cities.

Meanwhile ...

... this. Maybe part of the reason for the problem below is an avoidance of discussing sex in general in school.

"Prejudice tolerated is intolerance encouraged."

Food for thought in my ongoing struggle to figure out how to respond to my students' homophobia.

Friday, April 13, 2007


Has anyone out there ever worked in an online charter school, or known anyone who has? If so, can you please email me at theschoolofblog AT gmail DOT com?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Surprising facts I learned while in Minnesota

1) Even though MN passed the first charter law (back in 1991), there are still major tensions between school districts and charters. One school leader told me that in an effort to discourage charter schools from using district-provided tranpsortation, the Mpls school district announced that district buses will tranpsort CS kids at 10 a.m. What parent is going to wait until 10 a.m. to put their kid on the school bus? I guess it's better than this.

2) The MN system of having multiple charter authorizers, much touted by these people, creates some really interesting quirks, especially since religious organizations can "sponsor" charter schools.

3) Twin Cities area charter schools seem, on the whole, MUCH less stressed out about test scores than do their counterparts in New York. Again, a quirk I think that comes from the system of multiple authorizers.

4) There are very, very precious few secondary social studies positions available in the Twin Cities.

5) Anything you can possibly want to do in the Twin Cities, you can do at a co-op.

6) Sometimes it snows in April. Really.

On subbing the first day back from spring break

I hope it's a position I never find myself in again.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Sometimes it snows in April

Writing from chilly Minneapolis. I am so excited to get involved with charter schools out here -- yesterday I visited a really interesting school called Lighthouse Academy of the Nations, where nearly all of the students have been in the U.S. for three years or less. On Monday I'll be spending a good chunk of the day on the city buses heading to schools like this one, this one, and this one.

The schools are so cool it almost makes me forget that it's April 7 and it hasn't gotten above freezing since Wednesday.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007


Via The Essential Blog: The new NCLB logo is a little frightening. What was wrong with the old one?

Monday, April 02, 2007


Kevin at the Quick and the Ed clarifies for readers that when people say things like "There must be a special place in hell for these Privatizers, Charterizers and Voucherziers," they should really say "three special places."

I agree with Kevin and find myself having this very conversation all the time. To be fair, though, it's not entirely true that vouchers, charter schools and school privatization are three totally distinct movements and that the only place they intersect is at Cato. I have worked with charter school supporters who see charters as "half a loaf" (with total privatization being the "whole loaf").

Even less extreme, many people in the charter movement are MBA-holders who simply believe in applying the business model to all public services. (Apparently, at some point in business school they run you through a machine that permanently wires your brain to "unions are bad.") What is privatization to some is simply efficiency and common sense to them.

However, the vast majority of people I've encountered who teach in, work for, and send their children to charter schools have no grand scheme for privatization. They are attracted to the specific mission of their school, the (typically) small size, and the (typically) high level of parent involvement.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Presidential candidate has appropriate sense of humor

Fodder for the Richardson lovefest. Notice what gets the big cheer in his litany of "we've got to's ..."

Spitzer gets his charters

A few months into his term, Spitzer gets what Pataki could not. Haven't had time to read or digest, but here's the scoop.


I took a year off between high school and college and volunteered with the Israeli Scouts, the "Tsofim." The Tsofim have a small staff of adults in a few centralized locations, but for the most part teenagers run the show. They run the daily activities, they plan the camping expeditions, and for one week over the summer they orchestrate a gigantic village for their "tribe" out of rope, long poles, and a lot of youthful creativity.

The teenage Tsofim are big on something they call "deestantz" (distance), their way of widening the small gap between themselves and the scouts they're in charge of. In leadership sessions they discuss ways to maintian the appropriate deestantz, including ways of dressing, speaking, acting, etc.

Deestantz is something I've been thinking about a lot recently with respect to my own students. I've never felt fully comfortable with the idea of creating an artificial barrier between yourself and your students to maintain some sort of authority. Then, for one of my classes I read a tome called The First Year Teacher's Survival Guide by Julia G. Thompson, which has this to say on the subject:
Just as actors create characters when they are at work, you will need to develop a strong image of yourself as a teacher. ... You will realize that when your students are critical of you, they really do not know you at all. They are only reacting to your professional self -- a person who has to set limits and correct mistakes.
My first reaction to this is "really?" I mean, obviously I am not going to reveal everything to my students that I would to my friends, but do I really need to invent a fake self to stay sane?

Is deestantz really necessary?

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Will the cap follow me from NY to MN?

Stay tuned.

Midnight musings

It's way past my bedtime but I'm lying awake with a migraine and a leaking bathroom ceiling, so I'll put this question to my readers: Is differentiated instruction unegalitarian?

Our students are in the process of writing their first essay in Global Studies: "What political, economic and social conditions lead to revolutions?" The students have done a lot to prepare to write the essay, and we are beginning to work out outlines. The class for whom I am primarily responsible will be starting their outlines tomorrow by coming up with thesis statements.

I've been having minor discipline problems in that class from kids who are either way ahead of everyone else and bored, or way behind and lost. Writing an essay, I fear, is only going to amplify that problem. So I proposed differentiating: doing a mini-lesson on writing thesis statements, and then breaking out into groups according to level to write thesis statements of varying complexity. The students who need the most help, for instance, might write a thesis such as "There are many conditions that lead to revolutions," while more advanced students might come up with something like "People start revolutions when they feel life is unfair and they have no other way to change it."

I pitched the idea to my cooperating teacher, who responded that he has never grouped kids according to ability level, and sees doing that as "tracking." In his words, shouldn't all the kids have the opportunity to see what thesis statements of varying complexity look like?

I definitely see where he's coming from, and I'm torn. His perspective is egalitarian: it holds all students up to the same standard and provides them all with the same level of support. And don't kids rise to the expectations we hold for them?

I don't know what the answer is, but I thought I'd throw it out to the more experienced teachers among you.

Harry Potter and the BTM

... Bad Teenage Moustache, that is. I've worked with enough adolescent males to recognize one when I see it (who can forget the BTM hero of Final Fours past?). Now Daniel Radcliffe is trying desperately to shake his Harry Potter image by baring it all and sporting a little facial hair.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Civic values

Much has been said about the fact that Americans are more interested in participating in reality TV democracy than in political democracy.

I'd love to participate more in this discussion but brain meltage will only allow me to contribute this: just a minute ago on "Dancing with the Stars," Tom Bergeron just said something along the lines of "our forefathers said we were endowed with certain unalienable rights. Vote for your favorite dancing couple now, and somewhere Thomas Jefferson will be smiling."

This ranks up there with the President's Day commercial for Marshall's that asked "what would the Presidents want you to be doing on President's Day? Go shopping!"

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Snag -- can you help?

We've run across a snag in the WWI podcast project: GarageBand. We have no idea how to use it, and were mystified when we tried to figure it out. That means it's going to be that much harder to teach to a whole class of 9th and 10th graders. (Although, in reality, they could probably figure it out faster than we can.)

Has anyone out there used this program? Do you have any tips? Do you think it's user-friendly enough for students?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

TV trivia Thursday

After nearly two years of untamed growth, I got my hair cut today in Astor Place. As in,
An Astor Place cut
and she thinks she's Joan of Arc,
something something something,
slut of Washington Square Park.
Ten participation points to anyone who knows where that comes from (without Googling it)!


I'm really excited about a project we're planning for an upcoming unit: World War I podcast of soldiers from the field. My cooperating teacher was a bit wary when I first brought it up (I wanted to do a podcast when we were studying Napoleon), but he went to a PD over the weekend with these guys and was convinced we could do it.

The unit question is going to be something like "what was it like to be a soldier during World War I?" What I'm picturing is that students will get together in small groups (of 4?) and choose a nationality to focus on. Then they will do research to learn about what it was like for a soldier. They will have to write a script that will go through a peer critique process. We're going to use Mac laptops and Garage Band to record and edit their voices, and add contemporary music.

Anyone have any experience with this kind of thing? Any suggestions? Possible pitfalls?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

On falling on your butt in front of 25 teenagers

It almost happened to me today. Never before have I had the attention of such a high percentage of the class.

Richardson '08

One more reason New Mexico is awesome on education.

From the legislation:
"K-3 plus" is created as a six-year pilot project that extends the school year for kindergarten through third grade by up to two months for participating students and measures the effect of additional time on literacy, numeracy and social skills development. The purpose of K-3 plus is to demonstrate that increased time in kindergarten and the early grades narrows the achievement gap between disadvantaged students and other students and increases cognitive skills and leads to higher test scores for all participants.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Elite it ain't

Erin at the Quick and the Ed posts some very interesting news about Davidson's announcement that its students will no longer need loans to afford tuition. Erin's taking the news with a grain of salt, but I'm taking it with a healthy helping of naive optimism.


Incidentally, I picked Davidson (a small college in North Carolina where I spent a summer) to win in the first round. I also picked Penn (my alma mater) to win its first round game, Duke (where my parents met) to advance two rounds, and Wisconsin (my sister's current school) to win it all. Needless to say, my pool hath run dry.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Student teacher discovers the obvious

I learned an important lesson today about NOT CONTINUING CLASS UNTIL ALL STUDENTS HAVE STOPPED TALKING. The lesson was that if I stop talking, the students will stop talking.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Ask not ...

This may be a "you had to be there" kind of moment, but it made me laugh and also remember why I love high schoolers.

The other day I had a group of four students with me for a current events discussion. Each class has one 1-hour period a week devoted to reading and writing about current events, and I use this time to work with a small group to get to know them better and informally assess their reading, writing and discussion skills.

These kids decided to read and discuss this article about new scanners (inelegantly called "backscatters") coming into use in airports. The backscatters use x-rays to see through your clothes to detect any sort of suspicious object hidden on your person.

The kids were 100% against anybody seeing them nude, even if it meant they would be more safe. Borrowing a line from the article, I asked, "But what about terrorists? Aren't you ready to get naked for your country?" Without missing a beat, one ninth grader retorted, "Is my country ready to get naked for me?"

I'm still not sure what exactly her point was, but it was well taken.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Why blog?

This is a first for me -- my Fairy Blogfather, Peter Pappas, has tagged me in a "Five Reasons Why I Blog" meme. I am honored! And I will do my best to reflect on my blogging as ably as my Friday-afternoon oatmeal-like brain will allow.

1. I'm obsessed with sharing news stories. My friends and family, and even casual acquaintances, will corroborate that fact.

2. I'm an introvert, but deep down I really thrive on connecting with other people.

3. It's a little bit transgressive. Especially when I do it at work, which I'm doing right now.

4. "Community" is one of my favorite words.

5. I'm a writer at heart and love clicking on the word "publish."

In the ~3.5 years I've been blogging, I have never stopped to think about why I do it! In the spirit of community, I'm going to go ahead and tag some fellow bloggers who are (or have been) social studies teachers, and who help me to keep on chugging: Leo, He Who Can't, Dan, historyiselementary, and Polski3.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Still Boyz, not quite Men

Now that I'm an adult working with kids, I've had an interesting realization about my youth: I bet the reason Bar and Bat Mitzvah DJ's never failed to play Boyz II Men's "I'll Make Love to You" was that they were amused watching pre-teens' discomfort as they tried to negotiate slow dancing with the opposite sex and trying to ignore the lyrics.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Ninth grade humor

Also, does anyone know how to correctly pronounce "Sans-Culottes"? We've been pronouncing it "sahn COO-lo," which gives our Spanish-speaking students a little giggle.

How do you do it?

Kelly Vaughan has this to say about the decreased tolerance for student shenanigans that comes with being hungry. It reminds me of something I've been meaning to ask all the teachers out there:

Is it normal to be totally STARVING and EXHAUSTED by noon when teaching? Will this get better once I've been at it longer? Should I be worried that I have some sort of wasting disease? And what do people do to combat hunger and fatigue (other than eating students' lunches and taking illicit drugs)?

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Dreaming in Minnesota

Yesterday I went to a rally for the Minnesota DREAM Act, a bill that would give undocumented high school students who attended high school for three years in Minnesota to pay resident tuition at state colleges and universities here and be eligible for scholarships. From what I can tell, the bill has a lot of support in the state legislature, but Gov. Pawlenty has threatened to veto it. His argument: undocumented kids shouldn't have rights that residents of other states don't have. It's an incredibly disingenuous argument - these kids live in Minnesota, and they didn't choose to come to the U.S., they came with their parents. Plus, denying immigrants access to college almost guarantees that the brighter undocumented kids will be denied higher paying jobs, a twisted logic that helps anti-immigrant politicans continue to justify claims that immigrants don't contribute to society.

Anyway, the 700 or so high school students that attended the rally and meetings with state legislators were awesome. A group of students ran the rally and training, and I went around with five 9-10 graders to talk to two legislators from rural Minnesota. One of the kids was an immigrant (legal) and the rest were white Americans. Even though they didn't know any immigrants that wouldn't be able to go to college, it was amazing to see how passionate they were about the cause. They actually convinced one the legislators to support the bill (he was new and hadn't heard much about it), and the Republican (undecided) also really listened and took the kids seriously. It made me really hopeful about the Dream Act - how can you tell a group of kids that you don't want to provide opportunities to all students, regardless of how they came to this country. I know it's a very small piece of reform that has a lot of bipartisan support (and it still hasn't passed at the federal level, although a number of states have), but there was so much energy among both immigrant and non-immigrant students that has the potential to spawn a real movement for change.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Get a job

The school of bloggers might have found a place to live in Minneapolis! It even has a garden:

Now I just have to find a job ...

Speaking of which, I took the LAST and the CST yesterday. Having heard very negative things about the New York certification exams, I was pleasantly surprised by how much they seemed to focus on critical thinking and general understanding rather than knowledge of obscure facts.

Still, I found myself guessing a lot on the CST on topics ranging from the Gulf Stream to Reagan's Contra policy. I lucked out with the essay topic, which had to do with Lincoln, the Civil War, and slavery (which I just taught).

Meanwhile, I'm working on an online teaching portfolio. In the interest of preserving my anonymity I won't link to it here, but if you already know who I am, I would LOVE any sort of feedback. Email me at theschoolofblog AT gmail DOT com and I'll send you the link. Thanks!

Friday, February 23, 2007

The knights who say NAEP

Has cramming facts into my brain (such as the definitions of tundra and taiga) for the past week made me a little loopy, or did Beth from the AFT just endorse Core Knowledge?

Meanwhile, I have not had the chance to look too closely at the NAEP data, but I can believe that high schoolers' reading levels are comparatively low. However, I don't think the correct response to "today's students aren't reading as well as students in our parents' day" is "let's go back to teaching the way our parents were taught."

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

50 degrees + sunny + February break ...

= I am in such a good mood right now!

Even the fact that I've been spending my free time this week studying for my 8 a.m. content specialty test (aka, what the hell is a Visigoth?) on Saturday hasn't dampened my mood.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Blogroll updated

It's been a really long time coming, but I have finally updated the blogroll. Thanks for keeping us company up there on the sidebar!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Homophobia and defensive teaching

The other day, in the middle of class, one male student called another a "faggot." I gave him the evilest eye I have, and he seemed genuinely shocked and confused by my reaction.

On another day during advisory, my cooperating teacher split the class into two teams and had them do the trust-building game where you have to get every member of your team standing on a small platform at once. One team was an even mix of girls and guys, but the other team was almost all male. While the first team succeeded by grabbing onto each other and carrying each other on piggyback, the second team refused to do anything like that because it was "too gay." (They lost.) I asked my CT later why he didn't say anything at the time, and he said, rightly I now think, that it's an issue that requires a much bigger conversation.

So in light of all these incidents, I've found myself engaging recently in "defensive teaching" when it comes to this issue. In our current events class I intentionally excluded articles on gay sheep and John Amaechi. I just didn't want to, or know how to, respond to the homophobic comments which would certainly come up.

Yesterday, we had a big debate over whether to use this image when talking about the causes of the French Revolution:

One teacher felt that the kids would not be able to handle it; they'd be hooting and hollering so much that they'd miss the point of the image. Another felt that they'd certainly remember this image and therefore the concept.

I'm leaning toward not including it, just because I don't know how to handle their certain homophobia. But by not including it, I'm denying them something I believe has educational value, and also the opportunity to deal with this issue.

But is my CT right? Is it impossible to let students know that it is simply NOT OKAY to say some of the things they routinely say in class about homosexuality without having a major conversation? And in the meantime, should we just avoid it at all costs? What hope do I have of changing kids' minds when this is an acceptable Super Bowl ad?

Has anyone had any success with this?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

On just an ordinary day like today

I have to give a shout out to this post (via this post) on a day like today, when, fortunately, we had ample heat and no leaking radiators, but unfortunately, the doorknob fell off the door, locking us in the classroom.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Overheard in Global Studies

  • One student [after taking a sip of other student's Starbucks bottled beverage]: That tastes nasty!
  • Other student: It's mocha. White people drink it.
And ...
  • Question: What did you find interesting about today's lesson [about the Bill of Rights]?
  • Student: I plead the first.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

More on the v-word

Utah is channeling the spirit of Milton Friedman, who was, I believe, the one who said "a [voucher] program for the poor is a poor program." It will be interesting to see what happens there.

Friday, February 09, 2007

From the Onion

Teacher's Leave Of Absence Shrouded In Legend
February 9, 2007 Issue 43•06

MOBILE, AL—Students at Adams Middle School have been feverishly speculating about the true circumstances surrounding seventh grade history teacher Mr. Benson's unannounced second-semester leave of absence—now approaching one month—raising the mysterious disappearance well into the status of legend among the student body at large.

Read on.

Meanwhile, this is what Chris is probably doing right now.