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)?