Friday, October 26, 2012

What I Learned this Week(ish) #4

1.  I learned what "aegis" means (as I have been doing research for my Athena costume). And also "cuirass" and "chlamys."

2.  I found this amazing quote: “Sound had always been my portal to poetry, but in the beginning sound was imagined through the eye. Gradually the mouth-juice of vowels, or mouth-chunk of consonants, gave body to poems in performance. Dylan Thomas showed the way. Charles Olson said that “form is never more than an extension of content.” Really, content is only an excuse for oral sex. The most erotic poem in English is ‘Paradise Lost.’”  --Donald Hall

3. I learned that guilt can still work on a short-term scale to motivate students to be quiet and listen.

4. I found out the deal with the apps you can add to Google Drive, and they are amazing. There is an online video editing app (WeVideo) in which students can collaborate on video projects. I'm still figuring it out, but I think it will work on some of our newer school computers.

5. I learned how to make and use QR codes.  And I incorporated them into what I think is going to be a fun assignment for class on Monday:  Our Mount Olympus Mixer.  The kids attend a business mixer playing the role of an ancient Greek god, goddess, hero or ruler.  They exchange business cards with a link and QR code to an online profile of their character.  Students can create simple profiles with our class wiki, or profiles on tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Instagram... whatever!!  So excited.

6. I learned I must add John Green to a higher position on my "to read" list.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Stories from School: Substitute Saga

If, in the classroom, I am (policy-wise) interchangeable with a man who walks in, hands out the papers, sits at the desk, points at the board and says "You know what to do," then what does that say about how the institution values me and other teachers?

This is the topic of my next installment of... Stories from School.

Comments welcomed!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Halloweening In Progress

Serious grading-time crisis.  No time to read papers.  I started five online communities in the past three weeks, though, and students have posted writing about neighborhoods, podcasts about themselves, book reviews. A group of students has voluntarily come together to write and talk about writing once a week for an advisory period.  Today we took a cue from Maurice Sendak and the illustrations where Max's room transforms into the forest.  We wrote about a familiar setting, and then transformed it. That was fun.  And I'm encouraged, because they want to sit all in one circle and have in-depth critical workshopping of their work. Yea! I'm excited.

Meanwhile... very little gets graded.

Because the other priority is making Halloween costumes. G's Steamboat Willie costume is coming along. He's going to be Steamboat Willie in black and white. How cool is that? We made him a plaster mask, and just have to paint it. The rest of the costume is ready to go. Except the shoes-- Goodwill Crocs covered in white felt, somehow. I will blog about that costume in detail when complete. I am so excited.

This is actually my daughter showing off the unfinished mask
 (with her bridal Minnie ears from the summer trip to Disneyland)
O is going as a vampire princess. Really, all princesses are vampires, because they suck the life's blood out of any other form of imaginative play a little girl might have. For example, look at the mouse ears she picked out. Princesses are all-consuming. So a princess vampire is fitting. I talked her into a sort of Victorian bustle, and she has a short train on the dress we got from Goodwill.  It'll almost be a sort of a steampunk vampire princess, if I can make the short little cape work over the bustle. I'm not much of a seamstress, so we'll see. I do better in plaster-maskage as a medium. But her veil with a red and black rose and a homemade papier mache/glitter tiara should be cool.

Me?  Athena.  In honor of kicking off Homer's Odyssey with my froshies.  Sneak peek... (I still need to fashion a helmet out of something somehow.  Cereal box and duct tape? Bubble wrap and papier mache?  We'll see.).  I also need to make a spear and shield.  I ordered an owl. 
I have to figure out how to attach the "cape/drape" to my shoulders, and shorten the fabric. 
Then on to making a helmet, and figuring out my hair.  Not bad, though!  Yea!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Things That Peeve the Living Blankety Blank Out of Me

1. The number of typos and amount of lazy typing I do now.  I am writing all day long at a furious rate.  I cannot believe the number of mistakes I make with commonly confused words (its/it's, your/you're, their/they're).  You don't understand.  I don't make mistakes like that.  I mean, I do now.  It must be the 17 years of looking at misspelled words.  These types of errors are only slightly more annoying than my old Blackberry randomly "correcting" my typing into things that are not words at all.  And then, now that I have the iPhone 4S, I can speak text messages.  But they have no caps and punctuation.  So.  There goes my ability to lord all these things over everyone else in the world.  But the tradeoff is quite an active online presence.  Whatever that's worth.

2. Our runty poodle, Markey (short for Skidmark, which has multiple references), who has to take his mouthful of food over to the nearest dominant personality and chew right in front of them.  He has terrible teeth, and eats very slowly, but he won't eat anything except dry kibble.  And he leaves little kibbles and bitten ends of kibbles all over the hard floor.  Feels like walking on tacks.  Or Legos.  Luckily, we have Roxy the Dachshund to run around and clean up the mess.  Except that she's very pushy, and prone to overeating, and usually ends up eating most of Markey's food before he can finish it.  So then we have to feed him little tablespoons of food at a time so he can keep eating.  Tonight, we tried putting Roxy in the dog crate while Markey finished eating.  She didn't eat Markey's food, but he walked over next to the cage and ate each mouthful right in front of the bars, stringing foot-stabbing bits of kibble all around the kitchen.  *sigh*

3. Fricking browser issues.  Why can't everything just work?  I hope we're all going through an awkward phase that will end soon.

4. The amount of money we pay each month to access information and data on all platforms:  cable, cell phone, internet access, Netflix, Kindle books.  It's really crazy, when you think about it.  But I don't want to cancel anything.

5. I have no time to grade papers.

More to come... there were things I was thinking of that I can't remember now.  Gotta go to school.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

NaNoWriMo Multitasking

I'm (was) grading papers (a minute ago) (not yet).

I'm starting to get some ideas for NaNoWriMo.  Shall I post them here?  Even half-baked?

Will anyone join me on this literary terror-ride of obsessive indulgence in the imaginative?

My novel from last year still sits on my nightstand.  I re-ordered it into a notebook, but never did any revisions to the original document.  Such a mess.  I wonder what I would find if I re-read it?  Parallel "narratives," "real" and imagined, amputations, drownings, selkies, mother-daughter tension, romance, failed romance, coming of age and tsunamis.  Maybe it should have been a whole series.

OK, current ideas:  A school lockdown.  Students and teachers huddled along one side of a room.  Two teenagers stalking the halls with automatic weapons (or some kind of guns.)   Some characters get introduced in the classroom(s).  Not sure whom (who?).

It is revealed:  the school shooters are the Trelawney twins.  Not sure who these guys are before they do this... but... okay, so this part seems to have potential:  It turns out the neural pathways of the Trelawney twins' brains have been taken over by, basically, a computer virus.  It is an A.I. that, was developed at nano level to simulate the growth of various biological communities such as bacteria, virus, fungus (or something... need to research here).  They were using them in the biotech class to run simulations to study evolutionary biology.  Somehow the twins became infected.  So a rudimentary AI has combined its consciousness, which is focused mainly on survival of the species, with the consciousness of a teenage male, which, in its own way, is also extremely focused on survival of the species.  This whole dynamic worries me because I really don't want to get into issues of rape... but I'll have to figure out how I can not go there.  Still working out the details of how these two minds exist side-by-side in the same brain.

So, why have the twins shot some adults so far, but no students?  Perhaps a political statement?  Had they been somehow victimized?  No.  Turns out, for survival of the species, teenagers offer more potential as hosts than the adults, whose neural pathways are less plastic, more rigid, harder for the AI to work with.  Something about small children doesn't work out, but really that's irrelevant b/c teenagers were what was available in the location the AI escaped (the lab.)

At some point later in the story, as a possible escape plan, one of the girls in the classroom reveals that in fact, she is not a human, but a Cyborg, part human part robot.  Interesting:  Her brain is organic, but is occupied by an AI.  If she can convince the Trelawney twins that she is one of them, that she can help them, maybe she can get out of the classroom and find a way to help the students trapped in the school.

That's what I've got so far.

It could easily get out of hand, just like last year.  I need more characters.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Parenting Techniques

I promise he did this to himself.

Poodles, after all, are among the smartest breeds.  Even the runty ones, I suppose.  :)

Friday, October 12, 2012

Moment of the Surreal

in our front yard

(The sounds are central to the surreal of the everyday in this very short video.)

Monday, October 8, 2012

Get it off! Get it off!

Having had no luck in getting technical support for podcasting at school, except for our very generous newspaper teacher Mr. Bourland, I really hope I do not react as the child above during class fifth period tomorrow. I'm counting on my students' prior digital literacies... and their ability to coach each other through.

I took the photo outside of BICAS in Tucson last week when we went there to try to find training wheels for my daughter's bike.  Someone on FB asked me if it was Banksy, a street artist (in the U.K.?)  I doubt it, but at least now I know who Banksy is.  I like the idea of guerilla art.  I want to do something with that idea in my Creative Writing class this year. Somehow, without getting in trouble.

Okay.  Back to setting up my class wikis.  Here's one promising result of my online efforts with students:

Although, speaking of teachers having to resort to guerilla tactics in support of their students, check out this story about a middle school ban on student-to-student hugs. I'm sorry, but I would feel like the hugest jackass in the world writing up a student for giving a simple, friendly, supportive hug to another student.  That's ridiculous.    

Friday, October 5, 2012

Invisible Data. Stories from School.

My latest Stories from School blog entry for the AZK12 Center both recognizes the wealth of data that good teachers have about their students, and also questions the usefulness of that data outside of the classroom walls.

I have a really hard time staying under 800 words for these entries, but this one got a comment immediately.  Yea!

I definitely have more to say on the subject. When do I not have more to say?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

What I Learned This Week(ish) #4

1. I made my first tres leches cake for my birthday.  I used Alton Brown's recipe, but converted the weights using this site.  I know better, of course.  There are good reasons for using weights vs. volume measurements.  However, the 9-volt battery in my kitchen scale was coopted by a child to be used in a racecar remote control. And now it's dead.

I only put the whipped cream on half at a time.  I was going to freeze the second half, but then I found folks to share with so I later ended up doing the whole thing.  Raspberries were my addition, but the cake is usually served with some kind of nut or berry garnish.
I am just learning to use my new iPhone camera, so this didn't focus quite right.  Going onto the bucket list: Photography class.
My cake was a little dry... I wanted more of the leches.  At El Charro Cafe, my model for tres leches cake, they serve it with extra of the milky glaze to drizzle over the top or pool around the cake for dipping. (They order from a bakery.  Once, I asked Tia Sandy how to get a recipe for it and she replied, "There are at least 25 ingredients in the thing.  Just order one!") I may have overdone the flour or sugar slightly.  I also might have overcooked it a bit.

I'm going to give it another shot, once I get a battery in my scale.  I need to wait for a very special occasion, though.  The stuff is so good it's practically lethal.  If you are borderline diabetic, don't make this cake.  It will take you the rest of the way.

Did I tell you I had a pretty interesting dream in which I won a date with Alton Brown?  Weird, because usually my dreams don't have that much of a plot. Unless being chased by someone/something and not being able to run fast enough counts.  Haven't had one of those in a while, though.  Anyway.

2. I learned that, indeed, as predicted, owning an iPhone AND a Kindle Fire has pretty much made a paradise out of life on Earth.  I'm fulfilled, and can now die happy.  Well, maybe if I had a few more iTunes and Amazon gift cards. And a good protective case for the phone.  And if my Kindle could get online at school, and if and weren't blocked.  And if it were easier to read the e-books from the public library on the Kindle.

I guess I can't die, yet. Anyway, my children still need me. Good times with them this week.

3. KSLG out of Humboldt County is a great radio station.  Once you get past all the advertisements for gro-lights and hydroponic systems, the music is great, and I love the community spirit of that area. If we have anything like that in Tucson and I just don't know about it, please, let me know.  I've been streaming it online ever since we got back.  On my Kindle through the TuneIn app.

4. Well, that's about enough for one week(ish).  It's Fall Break, after all, and my birthday week.  Can't be working too hard!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Voting for Education: Resources in Arizona

Please register to vote before October 9.

If you've read my blog at all, you've probably seen some of the entries that express frustration and exhaustion surrounding my work as a teacher.

While teachers have always worked hard and sacrificed personally in order to teach students, working conditions for teachers (and other support staff in Arizona's districts) have come to a tipping point.  No longer do we have the support structures in place to do the job we need to do to prepare students for their futures and workers, learners, informed citizens and happy human beings.  

Working conditions for faculty and staff are learning conditions for students.  
  1. When we work second and third jobs to keep up with the rising cost of a middle-class lifestyle, and to provide our own families with health care, transportation, multimedia communications, college educations, and healthy lifestyles, we reduce our ability to meet the needs of our students. 
  2. When we lack librarians, teachers' aides, admin assistants, school nurses, copy clerks, security monitors, custodians and disciplinary support (such as parent liaisons at the high school level, a position which was abruptly cut in recent weeks in TUSD), we either take on extra responsibilities or ignore important aspects of creating a safe and responsive learning environment for students.  
  3. As a parent, when district services such as after school programs are centralized (to be more "efficient"), the ability of school staff to be flexible and work with parents on payments is limited; tuition money goes back to a central pool instead of back into the schools where those parents' kids attend.
  4. When we lack technical support, equipment, software and training, we use less technology in our instruction.
  5. When we lack money for copy paper, students spend more time copying what is on the board and less time learning.  This is not why districts have purchased sophisticated tools such as Smartboards.
  6. When class sizes are larger, we lack the time and energy to learn about and respond to our students' needs; we lack the time to give good quality, timely feedback on the complex assessments that are required by new more rigorous standards.  
These and many other changes are happening which have VERY concrete and observable impact on schools and classrooms.  As a parent, I wish that I had even more time to invest in researching and advocating for all the issues, especially at a local level.

Here are some resources for voters in Arizona who want to learn more about the issues and who want to vote for propositions and candidates that will support strong funding and a drive for excellence in Arizona's schools.  Of course my agenda here is to support both excellence and to FUND excellence in AZ education.  I'm sure my list is biased toward that goal.

TUSD/ Southern AZ issues/ candidates:
  • Vote this woman onto the TUSD board: a teacher, and a teacher of teachers.  A Southern Arizona Writing Project fellow. Kristel Foster for TUSD board!  I have met her in a variety of contexts, and completely trust her intelligence, knowledge and judgment. She will help to change the conversation.
  • TEA's endorsement for Cam Juarez and Kristel Foster.
Blogs about teaching in Arizona:
  •  Arizona K12 Center runs this blog about how policy affects practice.  See my entries there, of course, while you're there.
Send more resources if you have them!  This is just a start.